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Niagara Falls
Sunday, March 26, 2023
Opinion: Cycling side-by-side can actually be safer

Frank Hayes
Special to The Lake Report

In your Aug. 19 issue there is an article promoting a new map created by the town's safety committed for cyclists.

The map, available at www.cyclenotl.ca, contains some information that is incorrect, according to Ontario laws, at least.

For example, a highlighted box states, “Ride single file and never side by side. Follow the rules of the road at all times.”

This is incorrect as it implies that riding side-by-side is illegal. It is not – there is no law prohibiting cyclists from riding two abreast on Ontario roads.

If fact, the police in Ottawa actually recently encouraged it. A June article, “The Ottawa police just endorsed cyclists riding two abreast” in Canadian Cycling Magazine spells it out.

Ottawa police on social media pointed out: “Riding side by side is actually safer. It forces vehicles to properly overtake them instead of trying to squeeze by too closely in the same lane. In larger groups, it also allows drivers to overtake the group faster by not having a long line of cyclists in a row.”

I am concerned that drivers will see the notation in the cyclenotl.ca document and believe it, further exacerbating the already high friction levels between cyclists and drivers.

Cyclists are more keenly aware of the rules of the road, because most cyclists are drivers, so they know the rules of the road for cyclists as well as for drivers.

Many drivers barely know the rules of the road for drivers. Cyclists are killed on Ontario roads at an average annual rate of 150 per year and 43 per cent of those are hit from behind, so they never even see it coming.

Cyclists have full vehicle status on our roads, full rights to occupy the full lane, to preserve their own safety to avoid holes in the road or items in their way. Cyclists are allowed to ride two abreast, so long as they are not impeding traffic.

This means that if the oncoming lane is empty, then the driver is fully expected to cross to the other side of the road to pass a group of cyclists.

If there is oncoming traffic, preventing the driver from going to the other side of the road, then what the Ottawa police are promoting is that cyclists riding two abreast are correct in their approach by securing their position on the road.

If they were travelling single file, it is all too easy for a driver to think they can “squeeze by” and not comply with the relatively new one-metre passing law.

In this case, it is no different to when a driver encounters a slow-moving farm vehicle: the driver must slow down and wait until there is a safe opportunity to pass. It is that simple.

But with everyone being so impatient these days, combined with a general hatred for cyclists, drivers will take all sorts of dangerous chances, risking the lives of the cyclists, but not their own, because they are cocooned in 5,000 pounds of metal, with A/C, seat belts, crumple zones, airbags, etc.

A cyclist's only protection is a one-pound helmet.

And why should cyclists have to dress for urban warfare? Heck, they are doing more to benefit the environment that someone in a car pushing out hydrocarbons destroying the planet.

I expect many drivers will be ranting by now, cyclists blow through stop signs, they speed around town, they break laws all the time. That's all true, but drivers are no better: speeding, driving distracted, running red lights, rolling through stop signs, killing pedestrians, etc.

Drivers are expected to be in full control of their vehicles at all times. And in the war of cyclists vs. drivers, the last time I checked, cyclists haven't killed any drivers.

Cyclists have an innate desire to live, we don't think it's a great idea to head out on a bike ride looking to impale ourselves on the hood of a driver's car. No good will come of that.

But instead, drivers detest cyclists, and drivers are always in such a hurry  – for what? Seriously drivers, give your head a shake.

That's not just a cyclist, it's a real live person. In fact, some day it could be your son, daughter, grandchild.

Were we all not proud when our top Canadian cyclists recently took home some Olympic medals? Years of preparation that went into those medals were spent on riders' local roads.

All I am asking is that the note be removed from the cyclenotl.ca article as it is an online piece so a simple edit will have immediate effect.

To everyone who is now probably foaming at the mouth, ready to get to their keyboard with their replies to me, I acknowledge that there are good and bad cyclists, in the same way that there are good and bad drivers.

The difference being that it's the drivers who cause injury, not the vehicles. Our rural roads are littered with signs that say “Share The Road,” but maybe we are all driving too fast to see and read them, let alone absorb what they truly mean.

Almost all recent cyclist deaths have been when the cyclists were riding solo. But this year, two in particular stick in my mind.

In August, an 18-year-old boy was cycling up Avenue Road in Toronto. A large truck passed him, too closely. It hit and killed him.

The driver had to be flagged down later by drivers who saw the horrific incident, because he had no clue that he driven over a cyclist.

I think of the boy, and then I think of his parents: they lost an only child, their lives have been changed forever.

A few months back, an 11-year-old boy was killed by a driver. The child was riding his bike, trying to make the transition from the inside lane just before the on-ramp to the 407, to continue on the regular road. That's an intimidating situation for a seasoned cyclist, never mind an 11-year-old.

I really don't know what the driver was thinking, it was a bright, clear, dry day. Distracted? In a rush? It doesn't matter now because it won't bring a child back. As for his parents, how can they rationalize what has happened to their child?

All I ask is: think, people think. You have two pedals in your car and life isn't all about pressing on the right pedal. Be patient and use the left one too.

Frank Hayes is a driver and a cyclist. He lives in Niagara-on-the-Lake.


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