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In Toronto, Bike-Car Road Rage Escalates

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In Toronto, Bike-Car Road Rage Escalates

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In Toronto, Bike-Car Road Rage Escalates

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(Soundbite of music)

RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

There has long been friction on streets that drivers and bike riders try to share and both tend to fault the behavior of the other. In Toronto last week, a cyclist died after an encounter on the road with a prominent politician. Anita Elash has more on that story.

ANITA ELASH: 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 onto the driver's 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.

(Soundbite of cheering)

ELASH: Two days later, hundreds of cyclists protested at the site of the incident. They laid 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. Jordan Antflick said he's been hit three times in the last four years.

Mr. JORDAN ANTFLICK: The other week, I was cut off by a taxicab pulling over to pick up a fare on the road, didn't even see me, stopped right in front of me. And I just sort of went over the back of his car.

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

Ms. CAROL SHENFIELD: I think the basic thing is not following the rules of the road. You think you're exempt. You ride a bike so you can get away with everything.

ELASH: 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 road.

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 street car tracks. Noah Budnic, who heads the Alliance For Biking and Walking, says conditions like that cause stress that can lead to confrontations.

Mr. NOAH BUDNIC: This change going on, on the streets is happening on the fly. 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 on the streets because people don't have a proper set of roads for them and are just making up as they go along.

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

Dr. DAVID WIESENTHAL (Psychologist, York University, Toronto): We know we will never see the other drivers again who are in front of us, back of us, alongside of us. We also have a sense of anonymity so that we'll feel freer to act in what may often be a nasty manner.

ELASH: Wiesenthal 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.

Mr. DAVE PERKS: You're in the bike lane. Taxi's okay. You're in the bike lane.

ELASH: Cyclist Dave Perks held his own protest last 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.

Mr. PERKS: You're in the bike lane. Well, it's getting better. But I had 15 in a row that were cars that shouldn't be in this lane.

ELASH: Really?

Mr. PERKS: Mm-hmm.

ELASH: 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.

For NPR News, I'm Anita Elash, in Toronto.

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