Warning: Do Not Operate Heavy Machinery After Reading these Letters

By Ryan McGreal
Published September 03, 2009

I need to stop reading the Spectator's letters to the editor.

I understand that the editors have a difficult job to print a representative cross-section of the various letters they receive to reflect the various opinions of Hamiltonians.

I also understand that the purpose of the letters section is to generate discussion and sell papers, so there's a tendency to lean toward more provocative arguments.

But come on. Lately I swear they've simply thrown everything else overboard in their singleminded determination to stoke the controversy over cyclists and cycling.

Last week we were treated to yet another letter by a motorist who doesn't plan to use bike lanes and concludes that obviously this means no one else will use them either, and to hell with what the actual, you know, evidence might indicate.

Worse, the writer carries on a long tradition of bike lane foes contradicting themselves, in this case by claiming: a) we shouldn't build bike lanes because no one will use them, but b) it's annoying for drivers to have to share the road with cyclists, therefore c) the police should crack down on cyclists and use the fines to help fund other municipal projects.

Take a moment to let that argument sink in.

As if that weren't bad enough, the letters page upped the ante two days later with a letter claiming we shouldn't waste money on bike lanes when cyclists can already ride on the sidewalk.

Never mind the fact that it's illegal to ride a bicycle on the sidewalk. Never mind the fact that the absolute most dangerous and disruptive place for a cyclist to ride is on the sidewalk. Why let mere facts get in the way of some good, old-fashioned anti-bicycle outrage?

Closing out this perennnial trifecta of incomprehension is today's letter, which states:

I walk my dog on a sidewalk parallel to a bicycle path. Frequently, I wander back and forth over the path as my dog leads me on his journey to the grass.

Several times I have been scared by bikes zooming up behind me with no sound.

Here's a crazy idea if you don't want cyclists "zooming up behind" you and scaring you: stop randomly wandering onto the freaking bike path. Train your dog to walk in a reasonably straight line when you're on the sidewalk and stay on the sidewalk - you know, that strip of transportation infrastructure designed specifically for pedestrians.

On a more general note, here's a crazy suggestion for the letters editors: establish a baseline standard of factuality and coherence for the letters you publish. By all means, print a wide variety of opionions - as long as those opinions are at least consistent with the available evidence.

Letters that fly right in the face of basic facts or that directly contradict themselves have no place in a mediated forum for public discussion, at least when there's no easy way for readers to flag them as irrational.

Ryan McGreal, the editor of Raise the Hammer, lives in Hamilton with his family and works as a programmer, writer and consultant. Ryan volunteers with Hamilton Light Rail, a citizen group dedicated to bringing light rail transit to Hamilton. Ryan wrote a city affairs column in Hamilton Magazine, and several of his articles have been published in the Hamilton Spectator. His articles have also been published in The Walrus and HuffPost. He maintains a personal website, has been known to share passing thoughts on Twitter and Facebook, and posts the occasional cat photo on Instagram.


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By adrian (registered) | Posted September 03, 2009 at 11:06:09

I walk on the sidewalk with my child and we veer unpredictably into the street from time to time. Several times we have been frightened by the sound of screeching tires behind us as cars come to a rapid halt.

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By jason (registered) | Posted September 03, 2009 at 11:11:34

the big media is like the new National Enquirer these days. Well thought out ideas and comments are put on the back burner in favour of 'money making' controversial stuff. It's why Rush Limbaugh and Howard Stern make millions. People don't tune into media these days for news, commentary or reasonable discourse. The louder, more controversial and ignorant one can appear is what makes the big bucks. Sad to say, but the Spec is simply following FOX or Stern on a smaller scale.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted September 03, 2009 at 15:40:47

It's not clear what criteria the Spec uses on which letters to publish. I had sent them a very reasonable response to the first insane letter from a fellow Burlingtonian a couple of days ago.

If the Spec doesn't see fit to print...maybe at least a few people will get the message through RTH.

Re: Crack down on cyclists as well as drivers

In the August 29 letter to the editor, a reader lists all of the things that as a motorist, he finds annoying about cyclists. "no helmets, no signal turns, rolling through stop signs, running red lights, no licence plates, riding on the wrong side of the road, etc."

It's very tiring to see your readers continue to paint all cyclists with the same brush.

All too often, I see motorists not using seat belts, not signaling turns, rolling through stop signs, running red lights, speeding, etc. Notwithstanding the fact that is infinitely more dangerous for someone in charge of a two-ton motor vehicle to do these things than it is for someone on a twenty pound bicycle.

Using the letter writer's logic, the only traffic that 'deserves" to have a safe space on our roadways is pedestrians.

I would invite your readers, instead of continually criticizing cyclists for breaking the rules, to get out there on your bikes and show them how to cycle properly. More cyclists makes it safer for cycling. If more of us are out there setting the example, the City of Burlington might actually have a chance at alleviating the problems the letter writer cites, such as inconsiderate cyclists and overused roads.

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By Mahesh P. Butani - http://www.MetroHam (anonymous) | Posted September 03, 2009 at 17:46:46

Here is thought on this... A few years ago I was planning on setting up a web blog called: HamiltonUNPUBLISHED. I never got around to it.

The idea was to develop "HamiltonUNPUBLISHED" into a public repository of rejected "Letters to the Editor". Marketed directly in all the local communities this blog would allow a broader cross-section of ideas and opinions to be aired - and throw some light on the quality and quantity of ideas that are rejected daily by the local media.

If there is anyone interested in setting and moderating this this -- it could become a relevant addition to the growing alternate media in Hamilton.

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By Really? (registered) | Posted September 05, 2009 at 17:12:33

Great idea, Mahesh. It's just too bad that likely the only types who would read those blog entries are the same that read these blog entries!

Hamilton is plagued with people who don't want to have to make decisions; instead they just stick with the status quo. "Hamilton - Meh" (so many slogan oportunities!)

Another problem is that most of the progressive thinkers either move to Toronto, or a different City that understands progress and change.

Those who stick around are often frustrated by a lack of determination/logic/common sense/will to change and, again, leave for Toronto or better.

It seems the only way to get what we --and the rest of City Residents-- deserve is to fight, fight, fight but that brings us back to Problemo Uno: "Hamilton - Can't Someone ELSE Do It!?"

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By Meh (anonymous) | Posted September 08, 2009 at 14:15:35

Yeah, I often think that many of those capable of rational argument have given up on the city and moved on to seek better employment and life-style options elsewhere, leaving the rest of us (me included) to turn out the lights.

That said, when I bike I currently use a combination of backstreets, park paths and sidewalks, especially as I find many sidewalks empty of pedestrians along busy streets. Fact is, cars have so dominated local planning that they've established many of the rules for bikes and pedestrians whether or not the rules actually suit the bikes and pedestrians, and, sometimes, even car drivers. Take those stop signs. On slow side streets on my bike I approach corners slowly enough and high enough to see any cross-intersection traffic approach. If there is none, I keep going. If there is some, I'll wait until all other vehicles clear the intersection rather than risk the penalty of the driver of a two-ton vehicle misunderstanding the first-to-enter, first-to-depart rule. I tend to cross busy streets at lights, sticking close to pedestrian crosswalks, but my point is that when I come to a full stop it also takes me a bit longer to get going again, delaying other traffic at the intersection as well as myself.

It may sound fair if all commuters, regardless of their transportation medium, would obey all the rules but the fact is, I don't need car drivers' permission to ride my bike on the roads. If I followed all the rules I'd be making lefts from the middle lanes, risking injury and delaying car traffic in the process. And although, being a slower moving vehicle I keep to the right, I'm not obligated to hug the curb or parked cars, risking being "doored" to give way to faster vehicles. Just the opposite, as I understand.

I think some people have been spooked by the city PR that something like 50 million dollars will have to be spent to add bike lanes to city roads. As an absolute figure on its own that seems like a lot, but it's a fraction of of the cost of building, say, the Linc and Red Hill Creek Expressway. I expect it's less than the annual cost of just maintaining existing roads for automobiles and trucks. It's the car, not the bike, that require expensive and expanding infrastructure. Bikes require less fuel, too, and don't cause nearly the same amount of damage in accidents, even when the accident is between a bike and a pedestrian. As it is, a recent CBC news show informed me that thousands of bike riders have been killed in Canadian cities as a result of colliding with cars and trucks. I doubt many car drivers were killed in those same collissions. Aside from the sentiment, there's a public cost to indiscriminately killing commuters.

It's not The Spec editors that are misleading the debate so much as our civic administration, when making their public announcements, failing to estimate the alternative cost of expanding our civic road system to keep pace with growing numbers of auto commuters. A similar point could be made about the cost of public transit. Right now the city's west harbour is an area that has developed mostly by building facilities along a trail closed to motorized vehicles. What would be the cost, and probability of success, if that trail had been a four-lane roadway?

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By Bayo (anonymous) | Posted September 09, 2009 at 07:32:50

Fox News, RTH. What's the difference? They both peddle (pedal?) ideology.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted September 09, 2009 at 12:21:01

Biking on roads can be a damned if you do damned if you don't situation. I ride on the road lawfully, obey signals, queue with traffic and everything, and 99% of the time it is fine but I have been at the receiving end of road rage with frightening regularity. Latest examples:

Last week a minivan drove behind me in the right lane honking. The left lane and the rest of the road was completely empty. I kept pedaling with no response or change; I don't respond to bullies. The minivan eventually wrapped around me angrily - only to move into the left lane anyway seconds later because of a stopped truck ahead!!

Yesterday on Fairview (just before the bike lane mercifully starts at the Walmart near Brant) a young female driver did the same thing. I was trying to stay at the road edge as much as possible but the pavement is all busted in spots. She drove behind me honking and eventually passed angrily while her boyfriend swore and shouted at me to get on the sidewalk - only to almost plow into a second cyclist ahead of me using the road in the same way! The car behind her was an angel and gave us space while this lunatic went by ... and the bike lane began seconds later and we were able to get out of traffic's way.

What about the bike lanes that end abruptly and spit you out into a dangerous spot? For example the Plains Road bike lane ends abruptly and turns into a third traffic lane at the QEW/403 on ramps. I ride a meter out in the right lane and pedal hard to get through that spot quickly. If I ride on the lane edge I almost get run over. If I ride a meter out per Canbike best practices (take the lane temporarily) I get honked and yelled at occasionally, but I do not get almost run over - at least I'm passed properly till I can get through and out of the way. I hate spots like that, they leave you vulnerable to lunatics.

The Jolley Cut repaving has started and I see no sign of a bike lane there either so far, still leaving upbound traffic to deal with cyclists. I feel bad for the buses ... they are professionally trained drivers and pass bikes properly but I wish they didn't have to.

Yeah this place is totally assimilated by the Borg. What to do but keep cycling and getting through tough spots patiently and with soundness of mind, and ignoring bullies. Hope I don't have to die for that. Numerous people are going to bike on the sidewalk while stuff like this goes on. Using the road is an extreme sport.

I wondered about attaching a mini sports camera to the bike and posting to the internet video of some of the more demented acts of road rage. I want to be humble and not provoke any negativity though ... is that a wise thing to do?

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By frank (registered) | Posted September 10, 2009 at 09:14:02

The reason the figures are "so high" for creating cycling infrastructure is because, rather than phasing things into current construction projects, in the interim the City plans on continuing to build per the status quo... no bike lanes. It doesn't take a brain surgeon to move some painted lines over creating smaller lanewidths (and slowing down traffic) and adding a bikelane.

I take great pleasure when, as a motorist, I see a cyclist following the rules of the road. I also get supremely ticked when I see a cyclist breaking the rules as they give those who ride properly a bad name and endanger their own lives. And don't worry, I get very angry when I see a driver breaking the rules of the road as well. Sometimes I invite stupid drivers to hit me so that I can prove how stupid they're being. I still get irked by that cyclist who has a line of cars pass them only to ride up beside them at the next light making them all have to pass him again...

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