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Why I believe in bike lanes — and you should too: Adam van Koeverden

Four-time Olympian and cycling activist Adam van Koeverden has been on the receiving end of enough accidents to know that the bike never wins.

Olympic medalist Adam van Koeverden with his dog Cairo, Toronto, Tuesday, June 6, 2017. Bike Month may soon be behind us, but he says that's no reason to stop riding our bikes— or talking about the safety issues surrounding cycling in Toronto.

Eduardo Lima / Metro

Olympic medalist Adam van Koeverden with his dog Cairo, Toronto, Tuesday, June 6, 2017. Bike Month may soon be behind us, but he says that's no reason to stop riding our bikes— or talking about the safety issues surrounding cycling in Toronto.

Bike Month may soon be behind us in our handlebar mounted rear-view mirrors, but that's no reason to stop riding our bikes, or talking about the issues surrounding cycling in Toronto. 

Considering that “bike month” unfortunately coincided with what turned out to be “rain month”, July might present some more cycle-friendly weather.

But for many people in the city, myself included, cycling isn't a fair-weather activity, it's a transportation necessity. I've been a cyclist in the city for as long as I've lived here. But I also use a car, taxis, Uber, the TTC — or a combination of those things— to get myself around.

The prevailing viewpoint is that there are two types of people in this city – cyclists and motorists. Frankly, that's divisive and absurd. Most people who ride bikes will occasionally find themselves in a car, whether it's in the back seat or the driver's seat, and I'm certain that the vast majority of drivers want safe city streets for their kids and neighbours.

As a driver, I'm in favour of more bike lanes. Let me tell you why.

Olympian Adam Van Koeverden speaks at the Healthy Living Show at the Glen Abbey Community Centre.

Nikki Wesley/Torstar News Services

Olympian Adam Van Koeverden speaks at the Healthy Living Show at the Glen Abbey Community Centre.

In my extensive travels throughout my career as a professional athlete, I've had the opportunity to visit dozens of cities around the world. In fact, I stayed in 6 of the Economist's top 10 'most liveable cities' in 2016 alone.

(It actually wasn't that hard, given that 3 of them are in Canada.)

Lots of factors contribute to 'liveability', including many that don't pertain to traffic and bike lanes. However, one of the things that makes a city great is the ability to get around without getting behind the wheel of a car. Walking streets, promenades, bike paths and great public transportation create a healthier, more active, more affordable and environmentally-friendly city for everyone.

In cities like Adelaide, Copenhagen and Amsterdam, there's a focus on providing safer and more efficient solutions for pedestrians and cyclists. The effort has lead to those cities being lauded for happiness and a high quality of life year after year.

Personally, even with calming music on, driving in this city has never made me feel happy or relaxed.

Another reason I'm a fan of bike lanes as a driver is because I'm afraid of hitting one. Bike lanes provide a clear boundary between where my car should be, and where my friends on two wheels should be.

They don't provide an opt-out clause for checking my blind spots, or my mirror when I'm opening my door, but they certainly create safer streets for everyone— something that everyone thinks is a good thing.

I've been on the receiving end of a bike on car accident enough times to know that the bike never wins.

I've been sideswiped twice by taxi cabs pulling that infamous 'quick u-turn' to grab a fare on the opposite side of the street. Once, I made it up onto the curb. The other time I ended up on the ground.

Thankfully, neither resulted in any more than a scratch. I was lucky.

The worst experience is the sudden cruelty of an opening truck door. In this case, the truck was actually in reverse. I know this, because the red lights told me. As the driver reversed into his parking spot, I rode by slowly, only to receive his door. He opened it while in motion to “check how much room he had”.

I thought that's what the mirror was for.

I wasn't as lucky this time. I took the top corner of the door on my clavicle, went over the handlebars and ended up in a tangled mess in the traffic lane. Thankfully the driver in that lane noticed me, and I didn't get run over.

An ambulance came and I was whisked off to the same hospital where I was born for stitches and x-rays. Nothing was broken, and I raced at the World Championships in Moscow just 3 weeks later with scrapes and bruises.

My luck would have been better if the driver had just looked before he swung his door open.

I look for signs of drivers in every car as I ride past, anticipating an open door. Sometimes they come out of nowhere while the car is in motion.

I have a strategy that I use when I'm parking my own car. It's easy enough for everyone to employ, and becomes a habit in no time. Beyond being convenient, it can also save a life.

Here it is: Once you've parked your car, and you still have your seat belt on, crack your door open just a bit. As you gather your things, turn off your car and undo your seat belt, that slightly ajar door has alerted cyclists that you're about to get out. Now, check your mirror and over your shoulder as you open the door into the danger zone.

If you see someone on a bike, just wait a second. They have the right of way.

Swinging your door open into the danger zone is a sure fire way to send someone to the hospital. I've been verbally “thanked” many times for being patient with my door after parking. Sure beats the alternative!

We live in a friendly city. I think there's room for cyclists and cars and even your occasional Spider-Man on a skateboard.

If you're a driver frustrated by cyclists or bike lanes, try seeing them as another car or taxi on the road you're sharing. They're taking up less space than you, and don't need parking spots at your destination.

Recently I encountered an angry driver who told me that “I don't even pay taxes”. Well, yes I do. As a driver, and a resident in the City of Toronto. We all pay for what we use collectively, and that's why we get to live in one of the greatest cities in the world.

In closing, I have a personal invitation to extend. During the last mayoral election, I asked now Mayor Tory what his policy on bike lanes would be. He said he was in favour of good bike infrastructure, and I thanked him for that.

So, Mayor Tory, I'd like to invite you for a coffee on Bloor Street. Let's get on our bikes at city hall and ride in the bike lanes for a coffee. Donuts are optional.

Adam van Koeverden is a 4x Olympian in the sport of Sprint Kayaking. He's World and Olympic Champion in K1 1000m & 500m and an ambassador for organizations like Right To Play, The David Suzuki Foundation and WaterAID. He lives in downtown Toronto with his Egyptian street dog, Cairo, and he rides his bike rain or shine (but prefers the shine). 

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