Deconstructing Bob Hepburn

Today, Toronto Star editorial columnist Bob Hepburn wrote an article vilifying the recently announced (and yet to be approved) University Avenue bike lane trial this summer, calling it “nuts”. So infuriated was I by his poorly framed argument, I decided to deconstruct his article.

Hepburn begins:

Coming to work during Wednesday’s morning’s rush hour, I drove across Wellesley St., then went south on Sherbourne all the way to the waterfront, then headed west along Queens Quay to Yonge St.

I saw only 15 bicyclists during the entire commute, even though all these roads have bike lanes and the weather was perfect for riding.

At work, I counted a total of just 17 bicycles locked up in the bike racks in our building’s parking garage, despite the fact that nearly 2,000 people work in the 24-storey office tower that houses the Toronto Star, a Canada Post sorting facility, LCBO finance offices and other companies.

Well, good for you Bob, you can count. However, you have just decided to base your entire argument on an unscientific survey of bicyclists using bike lanes in the city. So you only counted 15 from your moving automobile eh? I’ll let it go that you were completely distracted for the duration of your 5-kilometre joyride. Still, I just have to say, traffic counts are never done from a moving vehicle. Mostly because you’re moving, meaning there are no time or area constraints for your little study. It would have been more revealing, scientific, and you could have actually credibly based your argument on it if you studied the number of cyclists travelling, for example, along Wellesley between Queen’s Park Circle and Sherbourne from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Perhaps you lack the fortitude to wake up that early.

Oh, and about that bike rack count–that would have been scientific if you included all the other bike racks surrounding your building. Maybe some of those cyclists aren’t aware of that bike rack in your parking garage? Maybe, since it was a nice day, many decided to park outside? Again, one is left to wonder.

Hepburn continues:

Given how few cyclists I saw and how few are actually using the existing bikes lanes, it seems that mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi may be right when he calls the University Ave. plan “sheer madness.”

So, from what we have learned from your study of bike lanes in your 5-km, 10 minute sojourn behind the wheel, we conclude that “few cyclists” use “the existing bike lanes”. You don’t specify which bike lanes you’re talking about, but given your general line of argument, I can only suspect you are targeting pretty much all of the bike lanes in our fine burg.

If it is true that so few cyclists use existing lanes, is that a valid argument against constructing new ones? No. If that were true, the 401, the DVP, the Bloor-Danforth subway, all would not have been built. Sometimes you have to do things in advance to build the city you want. And don’t feed me the Rossi line that it is an “insult to democracy” to build these before the election is decided.

By quoting that beacon of even-keeled rhetoric Rossi, who so eloquently stated that this pilot project is “sheer madness”, you aren’t helping your cause any. Hell, that’s like me quoting Yvonne Bambrick of the Toronto Cyclist’s Union to support my case. Of course Rossi is going to speak against a bike lane– that’s the main plank of his platform.

Oh, and given that Rossi isn’t a transportation planner and has no experience as an elected politician, his quote is an insult to hard-working, well-educated city professionals who actually know what they are talking about. God help him if that’s how he hopes to work as mayor.

More from Bob:

Indeed, the move to convert two lanes of University Ave., a major arterial street travelled by thousands of motorists every day, to bike lanes is the latest sign that the small, but highly vocal, pro-bike lobby in the city and at city hall is stepping up — and winning — the city’s “war on cars.”

If anything, the pro-bike crowd at city hall is being deliberately mischievous and provocative by pushing for the controversial bike lanes in the midst of the current mayoral election. Rossi, who opposes bike lanes on major streets such as Jarvis, Bloor and University, has made the issue a hot campaign topic, winning huge applause from motorists and infuriating cycling activists.

Ah yes, the “war on cars”. I don’t know where that term began, but I can only suspect it was shot from the hip of some right-leaning city councillor, or perhaps another newspaper columnist. Whatever the case, it does not exist. Cyclists have just as much right to the road as an automobile under provincial law. Bob, are you starting a war on cyclists?

Oh, that ever-powerful cyclists’ lobby at city hall. One of many powerful lobbies I am sure. Who will stand up for the thousands of motorists? There is almost nowhere to drive in this town. I mean, the 401 only has 16 lanes for God’s sake! I guess Rossi is the saviour autophiles have been waiting for.

Bob again:

While more bike lanes are a good idea, putting them on major roads is ridiculous. They should be placed on less-busy routes.

Well, if I didn’t think it before, now I know for certain– you have an early copy of Rossi’s platform book. Come on Bob, you are copying and pasting Rossi’s speaking points from his last power point. What about the cyclists that need to get somewhere on University? Should they dismount as soon as they arrive at the intersection of their delegated “less-busy route” and University?

Bob comes to the climax of his argument:

The city staff report claims the impact on University Ave. traffic would be negligible. “Traffic capacity analysis indicates that University Ave. could operate with three travel lanes in each direction in the peak periods with little impact on the current levels of service,” the report says.

That’s just nuts!

Anyone who has been stuck in rush-hour traffic on University Ave. knows that’s not true.

University Ave. is meant to carry lots of cars and truck and removing one lane will likely make it more dangerous by pushing cars into fewer lanes and creating even more congestion, thus producing even more air pollution.

City staff are just nuts! Who are they to be waving their well-founded data in my face! I DROVE EXISTING ROUTES THIS MORNING! I only saw 15 cyclists! FIFTEEN!

Once again, Bob insults the professional city staffers who have actually conducted scientific studies on this idea. But, “anyone” who has been “stuck” in University at rush hour knows its not true. Giorgio Mammolitti knows about the effectiveness of youth curfews on crime.

Despite what staff say from their well-founded study of traffic patterns and road capacity, resident expert Bob Hepburn has his own point of view on road capacity. In fact, Bob says that University Avenue is meant to carry “lots of cars” (that’s from a previous study he did). God knows we can never change roads from their original intent! Wait a minute– the 401 was once four lanes through Toronto. Hmm. Bob continues to pulpiteer  that eliminating one lane will result in DANGER from who knows what, CONGESTION because of all those cars already, and as a result, SMOG! That’s just nuts!

Bob’s just about to wrap it up here:

Like it or not, the University Ave. bike lane trial will go ahead. There’s no way the current council will oppose it.

That’s why it will be critical that the pilot project be conducted openly and honestly.

The evidence can’t just be anecdotal, with cyclists yelling “Yippee, this is great” and producing highly questionable statistics about the number of bikers actually using the lanes.

Before this pilot project is put in place, everyone needs to know how it will be evaluated, what does the city hope to achieve, what will be involved in the evaluation, how will the city know if it is a success or failure, and who will be involved in the evaluation.

Yipee! Finally something reasonable put from brain to laptop. Let’s use real numbers to evaluate this pilot project, and have a sound evaluation process. Good job Bob.

This is my favourite part:

All of this must be determined in advance, otherwise it won’t be a true scientific study.

OHHH, a true scientific study! I was wondering when you were going to bring that up. It almost seems like you know what a scientific study entails. I was beginning to doubt you Bob! Forgive me.

Bob finishes up:

The staff report claims “key stakeholders” along University Ave., including hospitals, the fire department “and the cycling community” will be consulted about the plan and how it is evaluated.

I didn’t see any reference to consulting drivers.

Clearly, they are the losers once again.

Oh, you mean cars didn’t get mentioned ONCE in the staff report? That must sting both you and Rocco. Pity they put the fire department and hospitals above you motorists. I cannot believe the nerve of those city staffers, after all the nice things you said about them, would do that to you! Where do they get off?

I’m sure it’s not personal. I am also quite certain that drivers are not “the losers” once again. This pilot project will go ahead, you and Rocco will be frustrated and pontificate from your editorial page, but the world will not end. The city staff even say so. You do trust them, don’t you?

Hepburn’s article can be found here.

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