Cycling Safety on City Roads Education and Cleaning House Come First
On a recent trip to London, the topic of bike lanes and shared roads came to my mind. Not because I was sitting under a tree in the English countryside sipping tea but because I was reminded by the narrow winding roads as I drove on the ‘other’ side of the road as to how much we cyclists throw ourselves to the wolves.
Our expectation is that the UK is the new home of cycling internationally. We collectively witness their success on the international stage, be it at the Olympics, World Tour events or the Tour de France. Perhaps we are a bit envious. Maybe just a bit.
With this, coupled with the record membership that the UK Cycling Federation enjoys and the anecdotal evidence as to the sheer number of bike riders out on the roads – be it countryside or city – one would think that UK cyclists are enjoying a utopian level of acceptance. Yet if you read the local papers, they are not.
A trial just concluded in the UK involving a young man who was riding his fixie (a fixed-gear bike, for those who may not be familiar – which is illegal to ride in the UK unless a front brake is attached) in East London and collided with a pedestrian who was crossing the street (not at a designated crossing). That pedestrian, a mother of three, later died as a result of her injuries. The public outcry was such that authorities had to dig deep to charge the bike rider with manslaughter and “causing grievous harm by wanton and furious driving” under the 150-year old Offences Against the Person Act of 1861, which was designed more for horse-drawn carriages than bicycles. Ultimately, the bike rider was cleared of the manslaughter charge but convicted of the (lesser) crime of wanton and furious driving.
I don’t have enough space to get into the details of the incident, but what peaked my interest the most out of this entire tragedy was the tone of the media coverage, which was heavily weighted against the rider of the bike. For example, the last headline I saw in The Times of London was “Killer cyclist facing two years in jail.”
The public, at least from the media’s perspective, seems to be fed up with bike riders using ‘their’ roads and not following the appropriate laws. This, perhaps, should be a warning to cyclists on this side of the pond.
Maybe I am bit over-sensitive to all of this, but I get the feeling that the public isn’t distinguishing between operator and vehicle when they read the headline “Cyclist kills pedestrian” in the same way they would if the headline read “Driver kills pedestrian.”
I am an advocate of bike lanes in Toronto. I am an advocate of bike lanes everywhere. Ultimately, I am an advocate of the bicycle and the need to build the proper infrastructure to keep everyone safe and people moving.
Last year, my daughter wanted to ride her bike to school. Of course, I was excited about this but also nervous as we would have to ride on one of Toronto’s busiest streets to get there. This street is a two-lane (each direction) road with a dedicated bike lane (unprotected at the time) in each direction and is full of both car and bicycle traffic at the time we would need to be on it. It is rush hour.
Here’s the shocker. Were the cars her greatest threat? No. It was the cyclists.
Are you kidding me? In an effort to get to her school safely, I had to ride my bike in the bike lane behind my daughter protecting her like I had to protect my spot in the lineup behind the derny during a keirin race! Honestly, I was in shock.
My point? Before we slide into being public enemy number one on the roads here in Canada, I feel we need to do more to educate and monitor our own actions as “cyclists” and get our house in order before we start asking the public for money to build luxuries like dedicated bike lanes.
Yeah, it took me awhile to get there, but I did.
To achieve cycling safety on public roads we must educate and monitor our own actions as “cyclists” to get our house in order.