WHY I DON’T BIKE IN TORONTO ANY­MORE

ENOUGH WAS ENOUGH

NOW Magazine - - COVER STORY - BY SHANNON WHIBBS

I HAD BEEN STRUCK BY AN­OTHER CY­CLIST, A PEDES­TRIAN AND, FI­NALLY, A CAR.

he thing I re­mem­ber most was the hor­ri­ble crunch of me­tal on me­tal as my bike was about to lose an ill-matched bat­tle against a mov­ing mo­tor ve­hi­cle, and me scream­ing, “No, no, no!” even as I re­al­ized I was pow­er­less to stop it. And then, af­ter con­tact, my body rolling across the hood be­fore fly­ing a few feet in the air and skid­ding to a stop on the pave­ment. That’s how my days as a com­muter cy­clist came to an end.

Did I men­tion that this ac­ci­dent hap­pened on the “car-free” Martin Good­man Trail?

It was Fri­day of Labour Day week­end in 2014. The CNE was in full swing and a mu­sic fes­ti­val was tak­ing place at the nearby out­door con­cert stage. The trail serves as some­thing of a bike Au­to­bahn. Cy­clists move fast, zip­ping around pedes­tri­ans, joy­ful in the very few traf­fic lights and the beau­ti­ful lake­front view. It’s a great way to travel across Toronto.

I knew the path well – af­ter a col­li­sion a year or so ear­lier with a pedes­trian who stepped out in front of me against a red light on King (thank­fully, we both walked away with only mi­nor in­juries) and a num­ber of other close calls, I’d con­ceded de­feat and be­gan my twice-daily com­mute from Park­dale to lower Church along what I thought was the safest op­tion avail­able: a ded­i­cated bike trail.

I was your typ­i­cal cau­tious cy­clist. I wore a hel­met, used lights af­ter dark, did my best to obey the rules of the road and care­fully planned routes. And I took the TTC if I knew I was go­ing to be con­sum­ing al­co­hol. I had no de­sire to be “hard­core” like those cy­clists who rou­tinely blew through red lights and dinged their bells an­grily at me if I wasn’t go­ing fast enough for their lik­ing. Some­times I made mis­takes, but I tried never to make the same mis­take twice. I did have one mi­nor col­li­sion with an­other cy­clist who was go­ing too fast – but ac­cepted part of the blame be­cause I re­al­ized (too late) that my brakes did not work well in the rain. I got that fixed.

All the pre­cau­tions still can’t pro­tect you from ran­dom ac­ci­dents. You never feel more like a frag­ile skin-bag of bones un­til you run into a car perched on a wheeled con­trap­tion made of me­tal tooth­picks.

I don’t hold any anger to­ward the driver. He made an hon­est mis­take: he was just try­ing to cross the in­ter­sec­tion at On­tario Place to the CNE to at­tend a band­shell con­cert. He didn’t know how fast cy­clists move on the trail. He didn’t see me com­ing. He stayed with me at the scene. His girl­friend gave me wet wipes for my abra­sions and a bot­tle of wa­ter. Be­cause he ad­mit­ted fault to the po­lice, I was able to ac­cess about two thou­sand dol­lars’ worth of phys­io­ther­apy through his insurance com­pany. I was grate­ful for that.

It was the po­lice of­fi­cer who was the prob­lem. He chas­tised the driver for ad­mit­ting fault be­cause now he would have to pay a higher fine. He com­plained about hav­ing more im­por­tant things to do (like crowd con­trol at the mu­sic fes­ti­val). He came just short of say­ing I de­served what had hap­pened. I still have his name and badge num­ber from the po­lice re­port. I should have re­ported him, but I was afraid I would re­ceive more of the same treat­ment.

The in­stinct af­ter an ac­ci­dent is to pick your­self up and be on your way. The at­ten­tion is em­bar­rass­ing. You want to see if your bike is ride­able enough to get you home so you can break out the per­ox­ide and Band-Aids. You are in shock. The driver and his girl­friend made sure I got a taxi to take me and my bike home.

It wasn’t un­til a few days later that the neck and shoul­der pain set in. I was un­able to sit at my desk for an eight-hour day without a great deal of pain, ice/heat packs and Advil. I still have some scars. But I re­cov­ered. I was lucky.

I waited to tell my par­ents un­til I saw them in per­son so that I could as­sure them I was okay, even as I was swad­dled in gauze ban­dages cov­er­ing the ex­ten­sive road rash down the left side of my body.

My father is glad I don’t cy­cle any­more. He never stopped wor­ry­ing when I did. I still think cy­cling is one of the best modes of trans­porta­tion and I fully sup­port any­one who makes the choice to get out there, es­pe­cially if it means they’re leav­ing the car at home. But I had one close call too many. And there are still too many deaths on the road. It’s hard for me to think of tak­ing up cy­cling again. This is my choice for now.

When Toronto isn’t con­sid­ered the most per­ilous city in the world for ur­ban cy­cling, maybe then I’ll get back on my bike. 3 shan­nonw@nowtoronto.com | @nowtoronto

I WAS YOUR TYP­I­CAL CAU­TIOUS CY­CLIST – SOME­TIMES I MADE MIS­TAKES, BUT I TRIED NEVER TO MAKE THE SAME MIS­TAKE TWICE.

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