A ghost ride is a moving experience. The idea is to memorialize a cyclist killed on city streets. Throngs of riders mount up and travel to the place of death, bike bells ringing as they go. They leave behind a bike painted all in white, draped in flowers.
Toronto has had three of them in one week. The latest, on Wednesday evening, was for Dalia Chako, 58. She was killed when she was hit by a flatbed truck while riding on Bloor Street near the University of Toronto. Photographs showed her crumpled bike lying in the road.
Cycling advocates told her ghost riders to gather at the corner of Bloor and Spadina. One of them had a big cargo bike with the ghost bike strapped to its carrier. The pack headed off at around 6:30 in a procession that stretched several blocks and included every kind of bike under the sun: fold-up bike, practical city bike, sleek road bike, hipster fixed-gear bike, low-slung recumbent bike, rusty beater bike. Some riders carried their kids in child seats, other filled their handlebar baskets with flowers.
Despite the wave of outrage over road deaths – and the city’s failure to stop them – the mood was solemn but not angry. No shouts rang out. No bitter speeches were given. “It’s not about blame,” said Ms. Chako’s son Skylor Brummans, who came to Toronto from his home in the United States. “It’s just about caring for people.”
He asks people simply to slow down a little on the road. If you feel you are about to lose your temper when someone cuts you off, he says, take a minute, take a breath. Think of the other person.
That was an important note to strike in this heated moment. Since the recent spate of deaths, cycling and pedestrian advocates have been urging authorities to step up their efforts to make the roadways safer for the most vulnerable users. The emphasis, as it should be, has been on the practical steps they must take, from building more bike paths to redesigning intersections to lowering speed limits. One group issued a report this week with 15 recommendations for change.
But along with all the concrete steps, something more is called for: a change in attitude. Travel the streets of Toronto and it sometimes feels as if a war is on. People are frustrated, impatient, angry. Horns blare. Shouting matches often break out between drivers and cyclists or pedestrians. Everyone needs to calm down. Veering and dodging through traffic isn’t going to get you to your destination much faster, but it might just kill someone. People on bikes and on foot can be reckless, too, though they are much less likely to cause serious harm than the person encased in a ton of metal.
Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, put it well last week. He promised once again to accelerate the city’s Vision Zero program for reducing death and injury on the roads. City hall will spend millions more on traffic-calming and road-safety measures. But at the same time, he said, “we have to take responsibility for our collective behaviour as road users – especially drivers.”
The streets of the city are changing fast. There are more bikes on the streets, more pedestrians crossing them – all signs of a thriving city. The day when roads were just for cars is passing. The age of the shared roadway is upon us.
In this time of transition, the various users of the roads seem to be pitted against each other, antagonists in a battle that can have no winners. As the mayor expressed it, “It’s as though we’ve forgotten the social contract that we had with each other... where we cared about each other, that we all had a responsibility to look out for each other. Everybody’s going around sort of saying, ‘I have the right of way.’” Well, that won’t cut it any more. “Whatever frustrations they may face, however much of a hurry they might be in, we all have to take care.”
Quite so. Three ghost rides in one week is too many. Wednesday’s ended with a brief gathering at the intersection of Bloor and St. George. A few remarks, a few more chiming bells, then everyone pedalled off into the slanting evening sun.