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May 31, 2010

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Brien Pepperdine

I don't take terrible risks. I wear safety equipment when I use power tools - I wear ear protection - I wear eye protection.
I wear 'all the gear, all the time' when riding my motorcycle, including.. again.. eye and ear protection.
I wear helmet when on my bike.

And I have taken a bicycle to work in downtown Toronto and to a job at Yonge/Eglinton since 1986.

I don't take terrible risks. Riding a bike in Toronto is not a risk. This is a fallacy. Ride at a reasonable speed, keep a look out and ears open and be aware.

I reject this notion entirely. We are free to ride and we should all ride. As far as I am concerned the day we are all as much as possible riding monocoque-equiped enclosed/semi enclosed or open (as the seasons dictate) self powered vehicles almost every month of the year on roads cleared of snow for both cars and self powered vehicles, the better.

Bill Hulet

With all due respect, you don't know what you are talking about.

Two things. First, "riding in the middle of the lane" is not a priviledge, it is often good riding practice. Motorcyclists are taught to do the same thing in order to stop being pushed into the curb or onto a soft shoulder by people who try to squeeze by them. A cyclist shouldn't do this all the time, but there are situations where it is far safer to ride in the middle of the lane in order to force cars to slow down and wait until they can pass the bicycle safely. I commuted by bicycle for 20 years and on my route there were two places where a lane disappeared a way that that an unaware driver could end up having to squeeze next to the curb to avoid hitting another car when the lane ended. In those places I had been pushed into the curb several times until I started "blocking the lane".

Secondly, riding on the sidewalk is dangerous to the cyclist because drivers who are turning at intersections and pulling out of concealed driveways assume that people on sidewalks are going at a certain speed, which is far slower than a bicycle. People who ride on sidewalks at speeds greater than walking (i.e. most---why ride a bike otherwise?) can get hit by the cars that don't expect them. This happens at crosswalks too, which is why lame safety brochures often suggest "dismounting and walking across the intersection" (as if anyone would do so.) I have seen a lot of "near misses" as a result of this problem and see the occasional write up in the paper about someone getting hit by a car as a result of riding on the sidewalk.

I know there are a lot of idiots on bicycles, so it isn't an "us or them" thing. But if you are going to have the priviledge of writing for a newspaper, I would suggest that you have the responsibility of doing research---which is nothing more than picking up the phone and calling someone knowledgible on the subject. I wrote a weekly column for three years and I know what I am talking about.

Brian

Then what can we agree on?

Legally - The same as driving a car, everyone has the *right* to exercise their *privledge* of operating a bike, without being put in jeopardy by someone else operating their vehicle (bike or car) contrary to the law.

From a safety standpoint - If the cars aren't doing anything illegal, but you are at risk as a cyclist, then find a safer spot to ride.

John Spragge

Nonsense, start to finish.

We can change motorist behaviour. We've done it before; as recently as the 1970s, plenty of people thought of a line like "I have to drive, I've had too much to drink to walk home" as funny, and drunk driving as a minor sin. A lot more of it happened, and a lot more people died. Now, although we have a ways to go, fewer people drink and drive.

Not only can we improve the behaviour of motorists, everyone, whether a cyclist, a motorist, or a pedestrian will benefit if we do so. The steel cage and air bags didn't save the lives of 70% of all victims of traffic crashes. Air bags certainly didn't save the life of Tahir Khan; maybe, a permanent ban on driving for motorists whose irresponsible behaviour results in a death might have made the wretched youths who killed him think twice before driving dangerously.

For motorist behaviour to improve, motorists have to give up things. Cars have to slow down. Motorists have to accept that driving a car may mean greater (momentary) comfort, greater cargo capacity, and greater ability to carry passengers, but particularly in the city, it won't get you there any faster. Even without counting parking, cyclists routinely beat motorists through Toronto traffic. We also have to affirm the legal principles behind this: every person not detained by the courts after due process of law has the right, not the privilege, the right, as affirmed in section nine of the Charter of rights, to use public space. You, I and every other Canadian have the right to leave our home and use the public road. When we take along a two-tonne battering ram with (in most cases) a tank of high explosive under the trunk, then we make use of a privilege, for which we need a license. Cyclists taking the road do no more than invoke a common law right going back to Magna Carta.

Finally, your claim that cycling entails risk ignores the net benefits of cycling. Depending on how you crunch the numbers, and how you account for the uncertainty in the data, cyclists suffer a somewhat higher death rate in direct crashes. But the gain in health and fitness cyclists enjoy offsets any discrepancy in the number of injuries or deaths in traffic crashes. The sedentary lifestyle the automobile enables and symbolizes leads to an array of life-shortening, debilitating, and painful illnesses.

I believe we need a strong voice on behalf of motorists making good arguments about the kinds of rules and changes that will and will not improve motoring behaviour, for all our sakes. But the arguments presented here just don't suffice.

Kelly A. Schnurr

Jim,
My Mother used to say (regarding rights and traffic safety and behavior in traffic) "there is no sense in being dead right"!
Smart lady.

Leslie Wung

Mr. Kenzie,
I've been driving in Toronto for thirty six years and what's been amazing me is this attitude of "I am legally right and you will be punished". Rarely people can look at problems at a different angle of "I will be punished and you will be hospitalized". See? I am not arguing who is right or wrong but who is going to suffer (maybe for life). Pedestrians "fighting" for their rights and bikeys too but hopefully everyone will be wiser by thinking the "proper" way.

btw, I've been reading your columns for such a long long time (almost ever since I got my driver licence), I am running out of words praising your contributions (seriously) to automotive culture (and especially on insights re speed traps and radars).

Cheers and keep your spirits high!

Regards,
Leslie

Tony

Well, life is full of risks, Jim. If memory serves, you've been willing to strap yourself into a variety of race cars over the years and enjoyed some at-the-limit (and occasionally over-the-limit) driving. Some would find that behaviour risky as all heck!

Like racing, riding in traffic is an exercise in risk management. You've got to be aware, look for escape routes, be seen and heard and generally ride as if everyone is trying to kill you. Contrary to what some might believe, practically nobody is actually trying to kill you ... but inattentiveness kills just the same.

Using these tactics, I've ridden around Toronto fairly regularly for more than a decade and come in contact with a car exactly once. And while it was technically the other driver's fault (he turned left into me), truth be known, I was riding too fast for the space I was in with very little in terms of escape routes. Fortunately, I yell very loudly and was able to get him to stop and move far enough away that there was no real damage and I rode away.

At the end of the day, we can agree to disagree about the 1 metre rule, but I suspect we do agree the the key to road safety is skills and awareness.

B Huntley

"It's a privilege, not a right, but let's move on..."

No, let's revisit that. No court in the land has ever revoked anyone's cycling rights other than by incarceration. No permit from the government is required to ride a bike (or walk as a pedestrian) although there are, of course, restrictions, such as all those lovely 400-series highways I can't use.

Luke Ventura

You can't really be as ignorant as you sound here.

You've been to Germany, where a sizable portion of urban commutes are done safely on bikes. And the Germans love their cars too, do they not?

Last I checked, the gravitational pull is not much different in Toronto compared to Munich. The factor is built environment, and we are every bit as capable of building safe bike infrastructure as the Europeans are.

Monika Strak

I think it's sad that our society has evolved from one where common courtesy and consideration for others now has to be legislated to the nth degree. In Europe cyclists & drivers mutually respect each other & co-exist quite peacefully, but here everyone on both sides gets into hissy fits. Last night I was approaching a busy intersection where I had the green, and a cyclist crossed right in front of me... if I hadn't had the sense & quick reaction to brake, he would've been flattened. But you know what? He just wanted to get to where he wanted to go, and I just wanted to go home, and everything was fine. No big deal. No need for me to scream & holler about reckless stupid cyclists etc. etc. So why don't we all just try to get along?

Larry

Maybe if there were more cops on bikes, drivers would remember the whole sharing-the-road thing more often and cyclists would be reminded of how to behave. Cops on horseback also seem to put road users on their best behaviour.

Jim Kenzie

Right you are, Bill.

The quotes I used about how dangerous bike riding is all came from experienced cyclists.

Me? I'm not going to get on one of those things in traffic again. Did it; got the whee scared out of me; learned the lesson.

Jim Kenzie

To Tony:

Agreed.

But I'll stack my Snell-approved helmet, five-point harness, roll cage and Nomex suit up against a bike helmet and Lycra shorts every time!

Jim Kenzie


Jim Kenzie

Hi Luca:

I love Munich. It is small, compact, flat, has a moderate climate, and - as you say - has a bicycle-friendly environment. Toronto is/has none of the above, and until it is/does, riding your bike in traffic here is simply dangerous.

That's not ignorance; ignoring the facts IS, and those are the facts.

Jim Kenzie

Larry

So we can't expect car drivers to be aware of other road users, even though it's only common sense, but we trust that truck drivers on the highway won't be oblivious and flatten cars left and right?

And cars turning right that blast through pedestrian crossings even though they are supposed to yield? Nothing can be done there, I guess? It's just too difficult. We should all give up and be prepared to become collateral damage whenever we travel on foot.

If you're not willing to get on a bike to see what riding on the road is like, at least talk to a bike cop to get some perspective.

And as for all this wittering about methane-producing bikeys ... aren't you a little old to be this immature? Honestly, if you keep chortling to yourself in self-amusement in print like that, people will start to mistake you for Michael Vaughan.

Phillipe DeBaurrier

Forgive the tenor of this, but get out of your bubble, Jim.

You have no idea what you're talking about with respect to presenting a balanced view of commuting in the city. In the real world, not everyone can afford a car, and cycling is an extremely viable (and safe) means of transportation.

Think of how much more congested the downtown core would be if the stream of cyclists you see along the road were also one-to-a-car on the road; not to mention the parking factor.
A higher percentage of cyclists is better for everyone, including the drivers that get more space on the road. More so, I'm betting in the long term the fit people you see going by you on a bike downtown are going to live quite a bit longer than the fat pant-loads you see cruising in the SUV.

Try putting yourself in the mindset of a young student that needs a way around the city that can't afford a car (or TTC at $6 per round trip), or someone with a small downtown commute that would rather not choke our air while idling at an intersection or pay $25 a day for parking.

It would be great if we were all entitled rich guys with fancy test cars to take out everyday (who are sure the road belongs to THEM). That's not the case.

Luke Ventura

No need to restrict it to Munich, Jim. Pick any of the following and try explain why they are building bike lanes much faster than Toronto:

Montreal, Ottawa, London, Chicago, New York, Paris, Stockholm, Minneapolis, Vancouver, Portland, Phoenix, Boston... shall I go on?

Oh right, I forgot. Toronto is not like any of these cities! Toronto is different. Toronto is SPECIAL.

Jim Kenzie

Hi Larry:

One thing I have noticed in all this is that bikeys don't seem to have much of a sense of humour! I guess riding around all day with your private parts being bashed up against that hard saddle would take the grin off anyone's face.

But c'mon; Michael VAUGHAN???!?

BTW, it is a demonstrable fact that in at least some urban areas, the air coming out a modern car's tailpipe is cleaner than the air going in. Not sure I could say that about a bikey.

Bikeys do keep telling me how dangerous it is riding their bikes in traffic - as you do again here. All I am doing is wondering why the heck they keep doing it, for all the reasons you cite.

No, I don't have much faith that car drivers will change, nor do I think our politicians have any real interest in improving traffic safety, since they have done little along those lines in the 30 years I've been fighting for positive change.

(BTW, bike safety is WAY down the list of traffic safety priorities numbers-wise, although on a percentage-of-participants basis, it's pretty serious.)

As for speaking with a bike cop, I am in correspondence with a woman who's husband was a cop. I say 'was' because he was killed while riding his bike.

I rest my case.

Cheers,

Jim Kenzie

Jim Kenzie

Hi Phillipe:

Who's in the bubble here?

Not me.

If bikeys were literally in a bubble, maybe it would be different. Maybe a strong Lexan shield might help protect you when you are hit by a car, as you almost assuredly will be some day.

You and some of your fellow bikeys are the ones in a bubble, but only in a metaphorical sense.

Your vision of a nation of ultra-fit cyclists coursing through the streets of Toronto is utopian in extremis. Not gonna happen.

I DO know what I'm talking about, because I used to bike here, and my daughter, while no longer a 'poor student', still does, to my ever-present regret.

And the facts - not the bubbles, but the facts - are that biking in traffic, IN TORONTO, is NOT safe, for all the reasons your fellow bikeys keep telling me. Our cityscape, our local geography, our climate, our drivers, our near-total lack of bike infrastructure, simply will not allow it.

The paucity of bikeys even where there IS bike infrastructure also suggests that there simply is not enough demand for spending public money on expanding it.

Yes, there is a degree of chicken-and-egg here, but I'm betting that if you DID build it, they still would not come. E.g., the Martin Goodman trail on a perfect late-spring day which I mentioned a few days ago.

And because neither cyclists nor their cycles are licenced, they do not contribute a penny to the funds needed to maintain and expand our road network.

Get out of your bubble Phillipe, and try to smell the coffee.

BTW, I hate fat-asses in SUVs more than anyone.

Cheers,

Jim Kenzie

Jim Kenzie

Hi again Luke:

Gotta admire your determination...

Number of cyclists? Number of drivers?

Sorry - it just doesn't compute.

In Toronto, or in almost all of those other cities either.

It's not up to ME to explain the idiocy of their city fathers. If they want to waste taxpayers' dollars, it's their (and their taxpayers') problem, not mine.

While you're at it, can you send me a photo of those bike lanes in Minneapolis in February too?

Thanks!

Cheers,

Jim Kenzie

Luke Ventura

Jim, by your same calculations, sidewalks are also a waste of money and road space. Number of pedestrians? Number of cars? And the sidewalks are even more empty in the middle of February! Just doesn't compute!!

Not to mention pedestrians don't pay gas taxes, or even excise tax on shoes! Why do these freeloaders think they deserve a whole sidewalk to themselves?

Your daughter is far more likely to be in an accident as a pedestrian. I sure hope you don't approve of her crossing the street on foot. Over 900 pedestrians are struck by cars every year in Toronto alone.

Larry

'I guess riding around all day with your private parts being bashed up against that hard saddle would take the grin off anyone's face'

No, my saddle is nicely padded, thanks. And I get plenty of grins seeing pedestrians and drivers tell each other off. Both groups need to put the phone down and focus.

'Bikeys do keep telling me how dangerous it is riding their bikes in traffic - as you do again here. All I am doing is wondering why the heck they keep doing it, for all the reasons you cite'

Because it's cheap, healthy, more direct and reliable than transit, faster than driving in some cases and if you keep your wits about you and choose routes wisely, it's at least as safe as being a pedestrian. I'm not advocating bike lanes everywhere, because it isn't practical or affordable. I'll ride in them if they're there.

You don't let bad drivers who put others in danger deter you from driving, right?

'No, I don't have much faith that car drivers will change, nor do I think our politicians have any real interest in improving traffic safety, since they have done little along those lines in the 30 years I've been fighting for positive change'

But still you keep going. Same thing with cyclists - riding on city streets isn't ideal but we keep doing it (although I've been trying to use off-road trails recently - the problem is that they don't go in the directions that are useful for commuting).

Larry

By the way, I drive too, but it's not always practical, affordable or smart to do it whenever and wherever I please, and I'm under no illusion that it's necessarily safe just because it's more protected than being on a bike.

One thing I don't understand, as a cyclist and a driver, is how other motorists know how to stay away from a row of parked cars while in lane but put a cyclist by the curb and they suddenly have difficulty judging distances.

Luke Ventura

Jim, isn't your daughter living proof of the chicken-vs-egg paradox we are facing here?

I know, I know, she's a unique little snowflake... but did you ever consider that she is only one of millions of people who would bike more often, but are held back by safety concerns?

If your daughter was living in Montreal, then safety wouldn't even be an issue. Not just because Montreal is a small tropical village (it's not), but because in the past 2 years Montreal has built over 100 km of bike lanes. For comparison, Toronto built less than 10 km in the same time.

And today we have battery-assist bikes which allow a commuter to tackle any hill in a suit and tie without breaking a sweat.

It's probably hard for you to accept this, but the newer generations just don't have the same attachment to cars that baby boomers did.

Jim Kenzie

Hi again Luke:

Like I said earlier put bikes and pedestrians on the same paths. Makes a heck of a lot more sense than mixing bikes and cars.

One final question to all you bikeys - why do I have so much more concern for your safety than you do?

Jim Kenzie

Jim Kenzie

Hi Larry:

There's plenty of evidence that most drivers (at least a whole lot of them) don't 'see' anything that's significantly smaller than they are. Which is why motorcycles are in almost equal danger on city streets and highways.

Oh geez; now I'll have the motorcyclists on my case now too...

Jim Kenzie


Jim Kenzie

Hi Luke:

(My editor wanted this blog to be a conversation, so...)

I cannot imagine where my daughter gets her head-strong views from...

But the essence of education is that we learn not from our own mistakes, but from the mistakes of others. Hurts less that way.

Just as Munich is Munich and Amsterdam is Amsterdam, Montreal is Montreal.

And Toronto is Toronto.

My blog does not appear on the Munich, Amsterdam or Montreal newspapers' web sites.

And bike riding on city streets in Toronto as the city is today and will be for the foreseeable future, is - specifically according to the words I've quoted herein of those of you foolhardy enough to attempt it - simply not safe. No amount of wishing on your or my daughter's part is going to make it otherwise.

As for the demise of the automobile as we boomers eventually die off, who then was driving all those thousands of cars I saw, three lanes wide and as far as the eye could see on Lakeshore Boulevard the other day, heading westbound as I was headed east, two days after 'Ride your Bike to Work Day in Canada', a lovely, warm, sunny, late-spring afternoon, at more-or-less rush hour, when I could see only about TEN bikes on one of the best commuter bike-riding trails in the city - the Martin Goodman Trail, right beside that major thoroughfare? Those cars couldn't have ALL been driven by wrinklies like me.

C'mon, Luke - your passion for cycling is engaging, but it is clearly affecting your vision and your reasoning.

Jim Kenzie

Jim Kenzie

Hi Larry:

Once again, you bikeys make my case so much better than I ever could!

Don't those people look like they're having fun?

I wonder if the six-month old shown was indeed all that happy.

One thing - in all but one of those photos there was exactly ONE bicycle in each picture.

Exactly the same number I saw on 'Ride your Bike to Work Day in Canada'.

The revolution has begun.

Jim Kenzie

Luke Ventura

Let me get this right, Jim...

Montreal can go from being a dangerous place to bike and within 2 years create bike lanes safe enough for a 10 year old and her grandma to use it, right through downtown streets.

Up until the 1980s, West Germany had an OFFICIAL policy to remove cycling from all streets. Since then, cycling has boomed into a major method of commuter transportation in their cities.

But Toronto? Nope, Toronto is DIFFERENT. No chance in hell that Toronto could EVER change. Not in our life times!

Luke Ventura

P.S. thanks for turning my point into a strawman.

I said new generations don't have the same attachment to cars. They still use them, but much less so. See all those condos being built in downtown? Go check out the parking garages, the parking in my building is half empty, all day, all night.

Most people in my building do not own a car. When they need one, they use Autoshare or Zipcar by-the-hour rentals. This is something that simply didn't exist 10 years ago, and now have 50,000 members (and growing) who choose not to own a car.

The new generations have smaller families (if they ever have children at all), need smaller houses, and aspire to live in downtown neighbourhoods which were mainly abandoned buildings and crack houses just a generation ago.

In fact, David Olive wrote an article in your paper, on just this a few weeks ago:

http://www.thestar.com/unassigned/article/820160--olive-youth-steer-clear-of-car-culture

John Spragge

Mr. Kenzie, I've had a car run a stop sign and t-bone me on my bike. I have a lot of friends hit of shaken up by drivers, all of whom, oddly enough, didn't see the cyclist. And yet drivers routinely tell us, in comments and in blogs like this, that large numbers of cyclists can't exist because you don't see us.

No sale.

As for your concern for our safety, leave the worries about our longevity to people who can see beyond immediate causes. Depending on the statistics you believe, cyclists may get killed by cars at a slightly higher rate than pedestrians or other car occupants, but we stand a much better chance of avoiding diseases linked to physical inactivity (and thus to car dependence), diseases which kill more people (and often in much nastier ways) than road crashes.

Jim Kenzie

Hi Luke:

Gotta admire your persistence.

Strawman? Is that better than a Tin Man or a Cowardly Lion?

Not sure what you're getting at there.

If we're going to go with anecdotal evidence, I have a friend who lives in one of those Queens Quay condos, and has to rent two of the (very rare) extra spaces for the various cars in the (one-child) family - one of which belongs to the kid (OK, the 35-year old kid. Who, incidentally, is also an avid biker.)

As for the growth of bikes around the world, again, I can only deal with one city at a time, and it's the one I grew up in and live closest to. I invite you to meet me any afternoon during rush hour near Sunnyside Park. We'll count the cars on Lakeshore Boulevard, and the bikes on the Martin Goodman Trail (as I have said throughout this discussion, surely one of the best urban bikeways on the planet). As best we can we'll try to determine the average age of the drivers/riders too.

Maybe we'll invite David Olive and Richard Florida to join us.

Oh, I'm still awaiting those photos of all the bikers in Minneapolis in February you promised to send me...

Jim Kenzie

lukev

I was just at Sunnyside trail this afternoon. It was quite busy with cyclists, but you are absolutely right that Lakeshore Boulevard had more cars on it than the trail did cyclists.

On the same note, the GO train running just north of there was carrying 3000 passengers in each train every 15 minutes, which is far more people than where being transported by both Lakeshore Blvd and the bike path combined. That doesn't make either the street or the bike trail pointless, useless, or a waste of money. They co-exist much like the different modes of transport co-exist in every other city around the world.

It's not a zero-sum game.

But I'll be happy to stand with you at College & Spadina on any weekday and we can count the cyclists versus cars. I am confident that cyclist count in this area well exceeds the 15% of road space which is dedicated to bikes.

P.S. If you want a parking spot at Bay & College, let me know. I can show you hundreds which are free for the taking.

Jeff G

Man, I hadn't looked here originally, or read the original articles (many of my Saturday Stars end up in the blue bin before I can get to them), but I can't believe just how ignorant you are. For one thing, if you would stop using this term 'bikeys' to belittle the people you say you have so much interest in protecting it might be possible to read to the end of one of your blithering posts. They do indeed read like a 'you kids get off my lawn', or maybe even a little Gibson-esque - if I leave you my phone number will we have another internet sensation on our hands?

I've been reading and watching you since moving here in '89, but I think its time for you to hand in your keys, really disappointed in your being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

You know what law might actually work? Making it like the Netherlands where a car driver is presumed at fault until they can prove otherwise, and a few attendant high profile cases where the driver doesn't get off with murder which seems to be the case now in Toronto. For more information from someone with an intelligent and informed point of view on the topic just see http://bicycling.com/blogs/roadrights/ . Hate to include a quote but this is relevant to your 'we can't change anything you should just get the hell off my road' mentality - the following from February 1 of that blog:

"As Andy Thornley notes, when drivers who injure or kill are not held accountable, we send all drivers the wrong signal about what is expected of them, and consequently, they have less incentive to be careful. By filling in the missing pieces of the vehicle code, we send the right signals to drivers about what is expected of them while operating potentially lethal machinery.

This is not just theory; we can see it in action.

In the Netherlands, drivers who collide with cyclists are presumed by law to be at fault; in contrast, in the United States, injured cyclists must prove that the driver who hit them is at fault. Guess which country has the more careful drivers? In the United States, the most common excuse drivers offer after colliding with a cyclist is “I didn’t see him.” Dutch drivers don’t offer that excuse, because it usually won’t absolve them of liability. In that sense, the law is helping Dutch drivers to see cyclists. “Reasonable human beings in other countries see the cyclist,” Andy Thornley notes. “How can we help drivers here to look harder?” Through laws that send the right signals when drivers fail in their duties to others."

Jeff

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