When I say that I would love to bicycle throughout the year, people look at me like I am insane. It seems that in the collective psyche of Mississauga, cycling is at best a summer hobby that is done through certain neighborhoods and trails. But as far as commuting is concerned, you drive. The only socially acceptable excuse not to drive is if you are a newcomer to Mississauga, if you’re a highschooler, or, if you’re a senior citizen.
I am 23 and I don’t have a driver’s license. At first, my excuse for being unlicensed was because I lived in the city center. I was able to access downtown Toronto, the University of Toronto Mississauga (UTM), and any other place I needed to be in 30 to 50 minutes of public transit. But when I moved deeper into the suburbs, I realized why most people my age relied on cars.
Mississauga was designed with cars in mind; roads are maintained in the summer and plowed in the winter for the convenience of drivers. I often come across poorly lit and worn-out roads that only a car can navigate. For drivers, they can get through these roads easily and safely, regardless of the time of day, or the weather conditions. Since roads are only plowed if snow is more than five centimeters high, cyclists are forced to share the snowy roads with cars.
In the summer, many cyclists opt to bike on the sidewalks. This is illegal, but the alternatives look grim: access bike lanes and paths that barely exist or split the road with drivers who aren’t too keen to have you. Most cyclists would risk a potential ticket rather than travel on roads that are not safe. However, even that option isn’t available in the winter. It is not uncommon for sidewalks to remain uncleared for long stretches of time. Nor is it uncommon to have snow dumped from roads onto bike paths and trails for the benefit of cars.
Cycling down Mississauga Road to campus is perhaps the clearest example I can give as to how dangerous cycling in the city can get. To get to the UTM campus, I ride down Queen Street. At first, doing so is pleasant due to the presence of a bike lane and the pretty shops on either side of the street. Then, when Queen Street becomes Mississauga Road, the bike lane soon disappears. The road becomes steeper and turns into a bridge. Then the road slopes down and becomes a hill. There is a specifically steep part of the road where there is not even a sidewalk—it’s a sharp turn where you can’t see oncoming traffic. Every time I descend that part of the road, I say a prayer. Because of how steep that part of the road is, it is easy to make a life-threatening mistake.
Once that part is over, I cross the intersection of Mississauga Road and Burnhamthorpe Road. I hate this portion as a pedestrian, let alone a cyclist. When I took the bus down Burnhamthorpe Road in my first year of university, I used to walk from the intersection to my classes as the 44 would either take a long time to get there or be at capacity. Only one side of the road had pavement I could walk down, which was chipped with cracks and collected slushy snow, making for an uncomfortable trek to campus.
Unsurprisingly, it was there that I had one of my most dangerous accidents as a cyclist. Yes, I was pedaling a little faster than usual to get to class. Still, under normal conditions, the speed wouldn’t have warranted this incident. There wasn’t much space for my bicycle at the edge of the road. So, I made the best I could with what I had, going on and off the discontinuous rugged pavement. A poorly leveled part of the curb knocked me off my balance. In a split second, I was able to lean away from traffic and veer off the road, where my bicycle partly shielded me from a great impact, as I flopped onto someone’s driveway.
The issue with cycling in Mississauga is not a result of the change of seasons. It snows longer and harder in Oulu, Finland. Yet, its natives’ cycle with little regard to weather or time of day. I love Mississauga, but I hate that it loves cars to the detriment of cyclists.