Viewpoint: Bikes versus cars

Cyclists and drivers need to be more considerate of each other

By Mark Page –

Last month in the Bulletin the merits of Sharrow lanes were discussed – bike symbols painted on the roadway to remind drivers to share space with cyclists.. But Sharrow lanes or bike lanes, we still have a lot of problems with irresponsible road users. Both drivers and cyclists themselves need to be more aware of the issues of safety.

Cycling along Wellesley Street last week a minivan driver pulled right into the bike lane to get around a vehicle that had – without previously indicating – decided to turn left. However, the minivan driver didn’t look and didn’t see that I was already there. The vehicle actually touched my sleeve as I almost rode into the curb trying to avoid an accident. By the slightest margin, I managed to avoid an accident. Ringing my bike bell and yelling were not apparently noticed by the driver, who sped off to turn left at the following intersection, saving all of five seconds on his or her journey time and endangering my life in doing it.

What is needed is not just Sharrow lanes or even bike lanes, but a bike lane protected by either a curb or perhaps a raised bump in the road, much as is used to calm traffic in narrow streets and school zones. That might be enough to remind drivers that they are not meant to be driving there, and hopefully provide a modest safety margin to cyclists. Of course it would be more costly than simply painting a line and a few bike symbols. But it might help to save lives.

There seem to be more and more drivers becoming impatient and driving aggressively. Perhaps that’s just the world we live in in the twenty-first century. But if so, then all the more reason to try to create safe bike lanes to protect lives. Perhaps I simply need to keep my bike lock and chain wrapped around my left wrist so that if it happens again then hopefully the sound of scratching metal and paint will steer the driver clear.

But cyclists need to be more responsible too. How often do I see fellow cyclists riding irresponsibly? Well, pretty much every single time I go out! Cyclists without lights, cyclists on the sidewalks, cyclists going the wrong way down one-way streets, cyclists ignoring red lights. I can understand that there may be instances where a cyclist doesn’t feel safe and wants to ride on the sidewalk. But if we do – though we’re not supposed to – we should keep to a walking speed. A two hundred pound cyclist speeding along at fifteen miles per hour is potentially lethal to a pedestrian who steps out of their doorway or around a corner. And that’s not just for the frail elderly pedestrian or child. And ignoring red lights and the other rules of the road not only infuriates other road users but leads them to regard cyclists as less than responsible fellow road-users. That lack of respect and consideration then plays into the mindset of the careless driver who could be more likely to behave irresponsibly too, putting cyclists and others at risk.

In a global-warming and recession-hit world, where cycling is an ideal transportation solution for those who don’t have to travel more than a few miles, we should be encouraging everyone to take to their bikes. However, we need to build safety into the equation. And that means more effort by the City in creating more bike lanes, and safe bike lanes, as well as more effort from drivers to be courteous to cyclists on the road. But yes, it also means more effort from my fellow cyclists to be responsible and obey the traffic laws.