Last Word

Cy­cling Safety on City Roads Ed­u­ca­tion and Clean­ing House Come First

Pedal Magazine - - Uci Mtb World Cup 2017 - BY CURT HARNETT

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.

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