Making our roads safer for cyclists

Monday, June 6, 2005


Written by Scott Piatkowski

The week of June 5 to 11 is Environment Week in Canada. A big part of that week is the annual Commuter Challenge, which encourages Canadians to cycle, walk or take public transit to work or school – or, if they can, to work from home. In addition, those who take up the challenge are encouraged register their participation online at www.commuterchallenge.ca in order to facilitate “friendly competition” between communities.

So, if this campaign is successful in getting more cyclists on our roads – not just next week, but other weeks as well – what can we all do to ensure that their ride is a safe and enjoyable one?

If you really must drive a car

Learn the rules of the road as they apply to cyclists. If you actually take the time to read the Ontario Driver’s Handbook, you’ll find that cyclists are allowed to (indeed, they are expected to) ride one metre from the edge of the road. In some cases, that means that you’ll have room to pass them in the same lane. In other cases, where there is not room to pass in the same lane, the cyclist has the right to use the entire lane, and you must wait to pass until it is safe to do so – just as you would if you were passing another car.

When I’ve been the object of road rage from car drivers, it’s usually because I’m observing this rule (I’m pretty steadfast in doing so, unless I have a sense of impending death by 18-wheeler). I’ve also seen letters-to-the-editor complaining about cyclists “riding as if they own the road”. Guess what? They do own the road, just as much as you do. The fact that you are spewing pollutants from your tailpipe doesn’t give you any more rights to the pavement than a cyclist.

Bicycles are not toys. They belong on the road and they have every right to ride away from the sewer grates and broken glass at the edge of the road. Give them the space that they need and deserve. Better yet, why not leave your own car at home and join them?

If you’re a cyclist...

Cyclists have to do their part if maintaining a safe environment for themselves and other cyclists. Don’t ride on sidewalks, unless you’re using training wheels (or have just stopped). Sidewalks are for pedestrians, and they have a right to be safe as well. If you’re on the sidewalk and riding across crosswalks, you’re far more likely to be hit by a car than if you stayed on the road. Furthermore, riding on sidewalks reinforces the problematic stereotype that bikes don’t belong on the road.

Obey traffic signals. Stop at stop signs and yield at yield signs. Stop for school buses. Signal your turns. Particularly on shared used pathways, use your bell or horn (and your voice) to warn pedestrians or slower moving trail users of your approach. At night, use a light and wear reflective clothing. If we want respect as cyclists, we have to show respect for others.

Wear a helmet. Your hair will recover. If you choose not to, your head might not.

Many useful tips for safe and successful bike commuting can be found at http://www.biketoworkvictoria.ca/d/BTWWTips.pdf . One of the tips that I particularly liked was:

Have options: Keep a bus schedule if you don't feel like riding or your bike has a flat. Or call a cab (riding regularly will save you more than enough money to cover this ‘luxury’). Know a friend nearby who drives to work? The more backups you have, the more comfortable you'll feel committing to your bike. And, paradoxically, the more you ride, the fewer times you'll feel the need to actually act on those alternatives.

If you’re a transportation planner or a municipal politician

Don’t make planning for cyclists an afterthought. Stop designing cities in such a way as to make car ownership essential. Stop designing roads that don’t make room for bicycles. Cyclists who do ride on the sidewalk usually say that they do so because they don’t feel safe on the road.

Apropos of the suggestion above, Grand River Transit is launching a Bus'n’Bike program. Soon, every bus in Waterloo Region will be equipped with racks able to accommodate two bicycles. Grand River Transit is also in the process of including bike lanes and trails as part of its revised transit map. Kudos to them.

If you’re an employer

Providing space for one car per employee can be both impractical and expensive. Consider providing financial incentives to those employees who bike, walk or ride the bus to work. Make sure that there is a safe and convenient place for your employees to lock up their bikes. If possible, ensure that there are facilities available for employees to shower and change. You’ll benefit from a healthier workforce. A ride to work is a great way of arriving at your workstation with a positive attitude.

The week of the National Commuter Challenge is a good time to start thinking about these issues. But, acting on them will take a year-round commitment.


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