In Toronto, Bike-Car Road Rage Escalates

In the interest of the greening of the world, using less gas, decreasing carbon footprints and getting healthy, many municipalities are encouraging bicycle use.

But along with greater numbers of bike riders on the road come increased conflicts with drivers. In Toronto last week, a cyclist died after an encounter with a prominent politician turned angry.

The confrontation took place in one of downtown Toronto's wealthiest neighborhoods.

The police say it started when a Saab convertible and a bicycle had a minor collision. The Saab swerved down the street with the angry cyclist hanging on to the drivers' side. The cyclist, 33-year-old bicycle messenger David Allen Sheppard, hit a mailbox, flew off the car and died a short time later.

The driver, Ontario's former Attorney General Michael Bryant, was charged with criminal negligence and is scheduled to appear in court next month.

Two days later, hundreds of cyclists protested at the site of the accident. They lay their bikes on the road and barked like dogs — a special bicycle messenger tribute. Many said it feels like there's a war going on between cars and bikes.

The War Between Cyclists And Drivers

Jordan Antflick said he's been hit three times in the last four years.

"The other week I was cut off by a taxi cab pulling over to pick up a fare on the road, didn't even see me, stopped right in front of me and I just went right over the back of his car," Antflick says.

As bikers rode away, pedestrian Carol Shenfield walked past. She said she drives — and she blames the bikes.

"I think the basic thing is not following the rules of the road," Shenfield says. "You think you're exempt. You ride a bike, so you think you can get away with everything."

According to the North American Alliance for Biking and Walking, the number of people who ride their bikes in metropolitan areas has grown by up to 40 percent in the last few years. It says the number of crashes and injuries has actually gone down. But cycling advocates say there's still a lot of tension on the roads.

Stress And Sense Of Unpredictability

On Spadina Avenue in Toronto's Chinatown district, the bike lanes are only a couple of feet wide. The bikes weave in and out of car traffic and dart across streetcar tracks. Noah Budnic, who heads the alliance, says conditions like that cause stress that can lead to confrontations.

"This change going on on the streets is happening on the fly," Budnic says. "They're learning how to behave differently and drive and bike on streets that are still designed for cars. So there's a lot of tension because people are just making it up as they go along."

Road rage expert David Weisenthal, a psychologist at Toronto's York University, says it's that sense of unpredictability, combined with a desire for revenge, that leads to conflicts.

"We know we will never see the other drivers again who are in front of us, in back of us, alongside of us," Weisenthal says. "We also have a sense of anonymity so that we feel freer to act in what may very often be a nasty manner."

Weisenthal says cities have to do a lot more to separate bikes and cars. In the meantime, some people in Toronto are doing what they can to try to keep the two apart.

Cyclist Dave Perks held his own protest this week at the corner where David Allen Sheppard was killed. He stood shouting at cars to get out of the lane reserved for bikes, buses and taxis.

"Oh it's getting better, but I had 15 in a row that were cars that shouldn't be in this lane," Perks says.

Others said they hoped that last week's clash could be a catalyst for improved relations between vehicles that run on two wheels and those that run on four.

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