Defensive Cycling in the Blue Mountains

Our cycling columnist’s close call spurs a discussion of road sharing. By Noelle Wansbrough.

Last month while riding my bike on a county road, I was almost killed. An 18-wheeler came within an inch of me, close enough to cause panic among my fellow riders. I’m sure the driver of the truck was frustrated at having to pass so many groups of cyclists out for their weekend ride. Rather than wait he chose to thread the needle between my group and an oncoming vehicle. This unsafe and illegal pass is all too common in the cycling world.

No doubt everyone has noticed the dramatic increase of cycling traffic, especially on weekends. Local governments are working to promote cycle tourism and help increase revenue for local businesses. However, more bikes on the road means more potential for accidents.

A recent Ontario Coroner’s report states that all cycling accidents are preventable. Mutual respect on the part of drivers and cyclists could reduce the number of incidents. The report also indicates more paved shoulders and cycling infrastructure will aid accident prevention. Studies in Denmark, a country known for its vast number of cyclists, have shown paved shoulders and separate cycling lanes reduced the death toll in cycling accidents by 35 percent.

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By Oregon Department of Transportation (Biking the HCRH  Uploaded by AlbertHerring) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons
Photo by Albert Herring, via Wikimedia Commons.
Grey Road 19, 10th Line, and 6th Street have recently added paved shoulders but many roads still need work. The solution isn’t easy since four different municipal governments administer the roads and a 100km cycling route can cross four municipalities and two counties. Lack of common jurisdiction and available funds pose challenges to any type of paved shoulder. The Collingwood Cycling Club and Share The Road are advocating for all municipalities to provide more paved shoulders on key cycling routes, but it is often an uphill struggle. Not all elected officials or public servants support these initiatives, but maybe they should. In 2013, 42 percent of Ontarians indicated they were more likely to vote for a political candidate if they made strong public commitments to fund new cycling infrastructure such as separated bike lanes, paved shoulders and bike-only traffic signals.

 

“This unsafe and illegal pass is all too common in the cycling world.”

 

In the meantime, mutual respect between drivers and cyclists needs improvement and this is a high impact, zero-cost initiative. Cyclists need to obey the rules of the road and drivers need be more attentive to cyclists as vulnerable road users. OPP Constable Piet Huyssen and Steve Varga (VP, Collingwood Cycling Club) are working together on a Defensive Cycling Strategy and plan to present it to groups of interest province-wide. The two-abreast pace-line is a contentious topic between drivers and cyclists. The Defensive Cycling Strategy supports it. According to Varga, “It’s actually safer for cyclists to travel two abreast and the Highway Traffic Act does not outright forbid it. The two abreast pace line, when done properly (tight to the right and in smaller groups) provides safer conditions for a driver to see and pass. It is a shorter pass for drivers.”

Share The Road signage, more paved lanes and advocacy are helping, but in the meantime cyclists and drivers need to be proactive about staying safe on our roads. Remember, cyclists and vehicles are equally entitled to use and share the same road space. Respecting all road users helps everyone.

Postscript: One of my cycling colleagues had the same 18-wheeler pass his group unsafely. His helmet cam recorded it and the Collingwood Cycling Club and OPP contacted the trucking company. The company apologized on behalf of the driver. No formal charges have been laid.

For local cycle resources including maps, check out Cycle Simcoe, Visit Grey, Explore the Bruce, and Friends of the Greenbelt Foundation.

 

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