WHY I DON’T BIKE IN TORONTO ANYMORE
ENOUGH WAS ENOUGH
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 firstname.lastname@example.org | @nowtoronto
I WAS YOUR TYPICAL CAUTIOUS CYCLIST – SOMETIMES I MADE MISTAKES, BUT I TRIED NEVER TO MAKE THE SAME MISTAKE TWICE.