Photos by Claire McFarlane, story by Tammy Thorne
The New York City-transplant-to-Montreal's book is about a family who escapes from the futuristic police-state of New York to the cycling utopia in Montreal. “Okay, okay,” she said when asked how fictitious the story really is. “It’s my dirty little secret…it’s somewhat autobiographical.”
The futurist and fictitious story does seem to cut close to home. Sokol said she left New York in 2004 for political reasons and now works with new immigrants in Montreal where she enjoys cycling as a commuter and with her family.
The cycling advocate and author read passages from the book that included descriptions of the dreaded “right hook” and then invited local cyclist, Derek Chadbourne, to lead a Q&A with the audience. Chadbourne is a founding member of Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists — (ARC is the group that places white bikes at locations where cyclists have been killed), proprietor of The Bike Joint and is a board member of Charlie’s Freewheels.
The audience was a mix of ex-Montrealers and Torontonian two wheelers.
The discussion kicked off with the question: Which city is more of a cycling utopia, Montreal, Toronto or New York?
Sokol said she definitely feels safer in Montreal than New York when biking where “everyone is trying to kill you.” In Toronto, she observed, “Cars are always parked in the bike path.”
It turned out the Montrealers attending don’t ring their bells at each other that often. They thought it was hilarious how people in Toronto "ring their bells at everything". One audience member said Torontonians are constantly ringing their bells as if it were a desperate call for attention and to say, "I'm here, look at me, I’m here! I’m ringing!”
Indeed, dandyhorse asked readers to ring their ding-a-lings when passing other cyclists in our current issue's Polite Pedaller column. A polite “passing on the left” is great, but not everyone is able to loudly and verbally announce their presence – hence our encouragement to ring your bell!
“Muting your ding is a Montreal thing,” said one woman. Apparently, it’s quite polite to lightly ding and then use your hand to mute the ringing. Noted. Merci!
What about our French friends across the pond? Sokol said, “Everyone seems to know what is going on in Paris” and Chadbourne added, “But they take driving very seriously in Europe and cyclist safety is included in drivers' education.”
We discussed the Idaho Stop – where cyclists are legally allowed to slow down and roll past stop signs at four-ways and treat traffic lights like four-way stops — and how Montreal is considering it. However in Toronto, it will depend perhaps on our new mayor as to whether or not we will receive similar bike-friendly policies in the coming four years.
Protected bike lanes are not universally popular in Toronto and many in the group questioned their efficacy if vehicles could still park in the bike lane. But all factions of the group agreed: sharrows are horrible and serve almost no purpose.
Chadbourne noted that the dichotomy is often framed as “why can’t we all get along” when the reality really is “we all want to get home.”
Sam Yeo said we need to start promoting that all short trips should be made by bike. He said that when he was last visiting friends in Europe they joked, “You North Americans will use you car to even go and buy a screwdriver.”
Tim Groves added, “If we could get all of the politicians to actually ride in the city, it would really help.”
Another great idea that came up during the discussion was that corner stores should sell affordable bike lights.
(But, in Toronto anyway, maybe not bells.)
We may not know (or agree on) what a cycling utopia would look like in Toronto, but we can hope come October we will have a new bike-friendly mayor who wants to make it happen.
Su Sokol reads from her new book, Cycling to Asylum.
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