Bike lanes may come with dan­ger

The Intelligencer (Belleville) - - OPINION - Al­ban God­dard Hill, MD ( re­tired) For­mer Act­ing Med­i­cal Of­fi­cer of Health, HPE; for­mer coro­ner, Province of On­tario; cy­clist Belleville

As a bi­cy­clist who has reg­u­larly braved city streets in all sea­sons for a num­ber of years I took the op­por­tu­nity to try out the planned new bi­cy­cle lanes us­ing the plan­ning mark­ers that re­cently ap­peared on the pave­ment.

Based on this I cau­tion the city about pro­ceed­ing with this pro­ject. Al­though bi­cy­cle lanes may be use­ful in the down­town ar­eas, they may be counter pro­duc­tive in the sub­ur­ban zones of east Belleville where traffic speeds of both two and four wheeled ve­hi­cles are higher.

Bridge Street East is a dan­ger­ous route for bi­cy­clists. Para­dox­i­cally it may be by in­creas­ing bi­cy­cle traffic, con­fin­ing rid­ers to a nar­row and some­times haz­ardous sur­face of pave­ment, and ap­par­ently free­ing driv­ers of the obli­ga­tion to slow down and move left when over­tak­ing the cy­clist, the death and in­jury rate to cy­clists along that route may in­crease as a con­se­quence of cre­at­ing sep­a­rate bi­cy­cle lanes.

The over­ground course and dis­tance away from the curb along which on av­er­age is safest for the cy­clist to pro­ceed is about four to five feet away from the curb. This bi­cy­cle course forces over­tak­ing ve­hi­cles to slow down and move left to pass, and some lat­i­tude is af­forded to the cy­clist on their right side as an es­cape zone into which to move when over­taken by ag­gres­sive driv­ers who do not ob­serve the speed limit or the one me­tre rule, the in­tro­duc­tion of which has been the sin­gle great­est ad­vance in cy­cling safety in On­tario.

My best ad­vice to cy­clists is to stay off Bridge Street in the sub­ur­ban ar­eas. For those in­trepid souls who in­sist on cy­cling it may be that the cur­rent sys­tem in which the cy­clist is given the full lat­i­tude of the ex­ist­ing street, thus forc­ing over­tak­ing ve­hi­cles to re­act ac­cord­ingly, may be the safest op­tion.

Will cy­clists will be legally ob­li­gated to stay within the de­fined five foot lane? Will mo­torists con­tinue to be legally ob­li­gated to ob­serve the one me­tre rule ir­re­spec­tive of where the cy­clist is on the street?

If the cy­clist death rate on Bridge Street East in the sub­ur­ban ar­eas has been low to date it might be best from a public health per­spec­tive not to de­fine bike lanes in that zone. Cy­clists are best ad­vised to take con­trol of ex­ist­ing lanes by stay­ing away from the curb. All bi­cy­cles should be fit­ted with a left side mir­ror to al­low the cy­clist to mon­i­tor over­tak­ing traffic, and a flash­ing red rear light for night use.

The vol­ume of four wheeled traffic in this city is ex­ces­sive. Res­i­dents should leave their cars at home, and walk or cy­cle where it safe to do so, or take the bus. Al­though the con­cept of a bike lane is a se­duc­tive one, we must be care­ful not to cre­ate an il­lu­sion of safety.

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