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Aug. 14, 2020 | Friday
Local News
Drivers need to be patient around cyclists, NOTL bike rental shops say
Zoom Leisure Bike owners Rebecca and Steve deBoer. (Dariya Baiguzhiyeva/Niagara Now)

Frustration with cyclists has been a hot topic among drivers in Niagara-on-the-Lake this summer.

Social media and letters to the editor of The Lake Report have featured strong views and criticisms of how cyclists behave on the roads around NOTL.

The operators of several NOTL bike tour and rental shops say they share the public’s concerns and outlined what kind of safety talks they give to cyclists before they hit the road.

Rebecca and Steve deBoer, owners of Zoom Leisure Bikes, said NOTL is a wonderful area for riding and cycling is not a dangerous sport.

Their shop does a big business in bike rentals and a “little bit” in guided tours, and the owners said customers are advised to ride in single file and to use hand signals. They’re also told to come to a full stop at stop signs and to ride in groups of six people or fewer.

“And always use common sense,” said Rebecca deBoer. “Follow the rules.”

They ask the drivers to slow down and treat a bicycle as a slow-moving vehicle. When passing a cyclist, at least three feet or one metre should be left between a vehicle and a cyclist, which is the legal requirement in Ontario.

She also suggested the town should work on better communicating what it wants cyclists to do.

“People need to remember that the person riding the bike is just as human and has just as much right to ride the road as the person driving the car. Roads were built for everybody. They are not just for cars,” she said.

“And if people can remember that and have a little bit of patience, it’s OK, be friendly. And remember, we’re all enjoying this beautiful town in our own way.”

She said riding single file is promoted but some studies suggest riding abreast may be better as it gives drivers a better chance to see cyclists and stay farther away from them.

In an online report, prepared by the Ontario Cycling Association, riding abreast is considered safer as a vehicle can overtake a group of cyclists quicker because there is less distance between the front and the rear of the group.

Grape Escape Wine Tours advises people to ride single file, in groups of five or fewer and to limit the number of winery visits to a maximum of four. When there is a designated bicycle trail, such as on Niagara Stone Road and Niagara Parkway, riding on the trail instead of the road is recommended.

Grape Escape co-owner Richard Mell said he personally thinks riding abreast is safer.

“With the width of our roads, lines and concessions, riding single file creates a longer line of bikers and means that a passing car would have to be in the oncoming lane for a longer period of time. This usually results in the car having to travel at high speeds to pass them,” he said in an email to The Lake Report.

“I strongly believe that riding two by two would be safer as the car would still need to head into oncoming traffic but need to be in that lane for a shorter period of time.”

Vino Velo owner Steve Irwin limits his groups of cyclists to maximum 10 people. He also recommended riding single file and if it comes to drinking, only three one-ounce wine samples at three different wineries are allowed. Irwin said if people feel tired or too intoxicated to ride a bike, the company will come and get them.

“I don’t think there is one safety initiative in town to protect cyclists,” he said, suggesting three solutions to biking issues in town: speed control, a share-the-road campaign and creating connections between the town’s bike paths.

Motorists see cyclists as an inconvenience, he added, with people sometimes cutting cyclists off when they’re on the bike path.

“People ride on sidewalks out of survival because the roads are just way too dangerous,” Irwin said.

Niagara Wine Tours’ owner Lance Patten said his company requires cyclists to return the bikes by 4:30 p.m. and it’s done for several reasons. One is that cyclists won’t stay out late visiting additional wineries and another is that the area gets busier in the evenings with visitors leaving wineries and heading out for dinners and shows.

Patten also recommended riding single file, saying, “It’s the right way to do it.” 

“Cycling is very popular and it attracts a lot of people to wine country,” Patten said. “We encourage motorists to be aware of cyclists and to have some patience and not surprising cyclists or scaring them, coming up very quickly behind them or honking the horn.”

According to the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, drivers must have a minimum of one-metre clearance when passing a cyclist.

The penalty for not doing so could be a fine ranging from $100 to $500. If a driver is found guilty, two demerit points will also be added to the driver’s record. Legally, a vehicle can cross the centre line of the road in order to pass a cyclist when it’s safe to do so.

Cyclists are also required to obey all the rules of the road. Cycling on a sidewalk is “strongly discouraged,” as cyclists ride faster than pedestrians and more accidents happen at driveways or intersecting streets, according to the Ontario Traffic Manual Book 18.

The law does not mandate a helmet for people over 18 years old, but all bike rental companies recommend wearing one.