Archives for posts with tag: cycling safety

I know there are plenty of safe, responsible and aware drivers out there, but it takes just one driver who is on the opposite side of the spectrum to ruin your day. I use my bike daily to get around Toronto. And I’ve tried, but I still have a problem trusting most motorists. And this has nothing to do with cycling advocacy or the war between cars and bikes – it is just the observation of a normal cyclist in Toronto.

It doesn’t matter if a cyclist is wearing a helmet, bright-coloured clothes, using reflective surfaces, lights and other safety accessories – a driver who is not aware of how to drive around cyclists or who is not looking out for them will eventually come into conflict with one.

A recent first-person piece in the Star by an adult cyclist on such a conflict made quite an impression on me. The author, a ordinary guys and a new father who goes to great lengths to be the safest and most prudent cyclists he can be, loses it on a driver who apparently didn’t bother to notice him – even as he was driving across a bike path. I have been in that situation multiple times, and there is nothing like a close shave to get the blood boiling. Even motorists – like the one in the article – who apologize to cyclists don’t do enough to merit the forgiveness of cyclists because of the high stakes involved.

Image: Montreal Gazette

Sometimes, more minor conflicts between cyclists and drivers often seems to come down to each side being representative of a larger debate about sustainability; drivers are part of the mindless march of suburban sprawl, swallowing up land and resources and insisting on dominating their environment. On the other side, cyclists are, as Don Cherry put it, pinkos who impose their alternative lifestyle on others.

But even if disputes between cyclists and motorists often boil down to this level, we shouldn’t forget the most important element of the conflict: safety. So whether you think that the dominance of cars poses a threat to our environment or cyclists are annoying pests who break the rules of the road while delivering sanctimonious lectures, both sides should agree that the reason this conflict is so heated and so emotional is because there are literally lives at stake.

As a cyclist, I am clearly not on the fence. I get into disputes with drivers on a regular basis because some of them do very unsafe things. Many of them are obviously not willing to acknowledge that they share the road with cyclists, nor are they equipped with the necessary competence to drive with cyclists around them. During some of these tense interchanges with drivers, I often ask them to imagine that I am their child and ask them to reconsider their approach to driving. It usually gets them to thinking, which is all I can hope for.

And that leads me to what I hope will eventually become the best solution to this problem is to focus on education – both for those learning how to drive a car and those kids who are starting to cycle on our roads. Cyclists are people — normal people, not lifestyle advocates waiting to get into an argument.

I see that Toronto City Council is being asked to remove a little-known by-law that obliges cyclists in the city to ride in single file LINK. The by-law is a holdover from Etobicoke, and was extended to the rest of city during amalgamation. No side-by-side riding, you lane hogs!

I’m sure I wasn’t the only cyclist in the city to be caught by surprise. Are you kidding? We are legally required to ride in single file? And some cops actually pulled cyclists over for this?

toronto cyclists

“The Commute Home” by happy d/blogTO Flickr pool.

Legally, bikes are treated like cars under the Highway Traffic Act, so cyclists have every right – if they think it’s safer – to ride two abreast or take up a lane of traffic (a cop quoted in the Toronto Star article agrees, making me wonder why some of his colleagues continue to pull over offending cyclist). Two things non-cyclists might want to know here: no cyclist wants to get any closer to cars than absolutely necessary; and riding a bike in traffic requires very careful attention to what you are doing (where you are riding, what is around you and how you fit into the flow of traffic). Most cyclists don’t need to be told how to ride their bikes around cars. In fact, I would say motorists have a stronger need to be better informed and educated about how to drive around cyclists (hint: do a better job of this in Drivers’ Ed) The Ministry of Transportation agrees with me; it’s draft cycling policy makes lots of smart suggestions, many of which were taken from a 2012 Ontario Chief Coroners’ Office review of cycling deaths.

This by-law, for me, perfectly encapsulates the Rob Ford/Don Cherry “bike-riding pinko” school of thought. I’ve spent most of my time on the other side of the debate, biking to work year-round and wincing at the many, many drivers in this city who have no idea how to safely operate a large fast-moving piece of metal around bikes driven by other human beings. How to get around Toronto safely is a more complex topic than this by-law suggests, and laws for cycling should reflect that.

If, as it appears, Torontonians can start to have a mature debate over pubic transit (which is really a larger debate about how liveable we want the city to be), then surely we can include the roles of cars and bikes in that debate. And surely we can start by getting rid of the type of by-law that is as unnecessary as it is paternalistic, and recognize that a city that makes room for lots of people to get around by bike is a city with healthier air, healthier citizens and a higher quality of life.