Tragedy on Horner Avenue

It’s bikeweek in Toronto. Appropriately enough, we have something “not on the agenda” happening: a kid riding his bike on a road build for speed was killed, hit by a recycling truck on contract to the city of Toronto.

Toronto’s NOW magazine out today mentions it in its “Upfront” section. They write, in full:

Lanes would save cyclists

The tragic death of preteen cyclist Ben Paskus on Horner Avenue is another horrible reminder of how unsafe our streets remain for people on environment-embracing bicycles. The young man died on a street that has been slated for a bike lane. Construction of the Horner lane remains stalled, along with proposed bike routes on literally hundreds more kilometres of roadways, by budget cuts and a lack of political will.

A group I belong to, Toronto’s Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists, held a memorial yesterday for the kid. About twelve of us turned up, a long ride along sun-burnt streets to the far edge of the city, the TREC windmill whipping around above us and then receding out of sight as we pedaled West. The kid’s mom turned up too, along with her two other little boys, who played on the verge and around a dead tree strewn with flowers and mementos while ARC took a lane of traffic with our timeworn banner, “A cyclist was killed here last week.”

NOW shakes a stick at the bikeplan and dull-witted politicians over the kid’s death, but when you go to the site you see the situation is much much worse than that. The situation is so bad it would make a grown man rend his hair and want to poke out his own eyeballs.

In fact that’s just what “Abdul,” the man who drove the truck that killed the child, spent his day doing the next day. They say he had to be literally dragged from the site at 11 pm the next night by his family. They say he was in the hospital on a suicide watch. The plot thickens with the fact that he’s a new father, with an infant son.

And the dead boy’s mother, meanwhile, is as stoic a person as you can imagine: “There are two victims here,” she told us at the memorial. “At least my son is dead; the driver has to live on in pain.”

It would seem not by coincidence have we a Stoic Mother and a Grief-Stricken Father. In fact the whole story plays out like a Greek tragedy.

There was an inevitable outcome to a) a truck on contract to the city of toronto: i.e., one guy driving a right-hand steered truck with the job of both driving and looking out for blue boxes (why one guy? to save a salary, of course–it’s the low bid that gets the job after all); b) a four lane road that, like a moat, divides a leafy green residential zone on the North, a grid of neat blocks and quiet streets, from a major industrial zone on the South: a huge grey blob on the map that in reality has driveways instead of sidewalks and a continuous “just on time delivery” of 18-wheeled trucks; c) a kid riding home from his friend’s house, on the sidewalk, doing just what mom said to do because if you were to ride on the road in that area you would have to cross four lanes of roadway to get to your street; d) a street as wide and empty as any in the city, but with a throb, regular as a pulse, of motorized traffic beating from a traffic light three blocks over to the one three blocks on; e) bus lay-bys: just the thing to get the buses out of the way of car traffic while they pick up their lonely freight, but here placed just so the right-turning garbage truck, with the driver by the curb eyes peeled for blue boxes, is in direct line with the 6:40 sun, 30 million miles away, blinding him to the kid on the bike hurtling across his path, regular as clockwork.

In Greek tragedy originally the audience could not separate themselves from the action. They had no understanding of the concept of “actors;” for them it was really the gods on stage before them.

As we rode home along Horner, the wind seemed to come down from the East and slow us down. We passed a traffic light three blocks over that’s new: it was put in place about three years back when another eleven-year-old boy was crossing the four-lane street and was killed by a car.

The wind gets in your face you know, it blows dust, into your eyes.

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