What was supposed to be a ride to promote cycling safety and awareness in Sudbury turned tragic when a cyclist was struck by an oncoming vehicle on Long Lake Road in front of about 200 cyclists. I was one of the cyclists in the front of the pack who saw the horrible accident take place, after looking up at the sound of screeching brakes. We were taking part in a ride organized by the Ontario-based Share the Road Cycling Coalition, on a beautiful evening in Sudbury. We had just stopped for a moment of silence to pay tribute to cyclists across Canada who have been injured or killed while taking part in an activity they enjoyed.
At this time, there is only a little news on the condition of the cyclist who was struck, although I heard from other cyclists that he was conscious. Emergency personal were on the scene immediately after the accident happened. Tonight's online edition of the Sudbury Star is reporting that the cyclist was injured, but not killed.
This was the second annual ride organized by Share the Road (http://www.sharetheroad.ca/). Eleanor McMahon, founder of Share the Road, gave a little speech before the ride began, and indicated her happiness to back in Sudbury again. McMahon's own story is a tragic one: her husband, OPP Sergeant Greg Stobbart, was killed while on a training ride in 2006. It was this terrible event which prompted McMahon to found Share the Road, which promotes grassroots cycling advocacy and attempts to influence cycling law at the provincial level of government.
When McMahon was in Sudbury for last year's ride, she challenged Sudburians to become cycling advocates. I took McMahon's challenge seriously, and this past Earth Day, with the considerable help of local cycling advocate Dan Barrette, the Sudbury Cyclists Union was born. Throughout the summer, Dan and I, along with a number of others (too numerous to mention here) have begun to build a truly grassroots advocacy organization. Local advocate Pete Paradis has been leading a Cyclists Union ride every Sunday afternoon, leaving from our downtown Farmer's Market at 1pm. The Cyclists Union, although in its infancy, worked with the Coalition for a Livable Sudbury to show support in front of our municipal council for the Sustainable Mobility Plan, prepared by Rainbow Routes. In the near future, we will be showing our support for the Bicycle Advisory Panel's plan, and we hope to be seriously involved in the 5-year review of the City's Official Plan, which should be commencing in a couple of years.
The seeds planted by Eleanor McMahon last year in Sudbury have indeed begun to take root. There is a heightened awareness of cycling issues now in our community, especially since local Sudbury Star staff writers have had their own near-death experiences while cycling on our municipal roads. Cycling has suddenly become a very topical issue, which can only be a good thing in an election year, although Sudbury Star editor Brian McLeod doesn't believe the issue is receiving the attention it deserves, given that Greater Sudbury has been labelled "Canada's Second Dirtiest City" when it comes to carbon emissions from personal vehicles (see: "Debate on Cycling Lanes has yet to take centre stage - Point of View", Friday August 27 2010). Tonight, Eleanor McMahon acknowledged the formation of our grassroots organization in her speech before the ride.
However, I was disappointed to see only one individual running for municipal council actually take part in tonight's ride. Ward 12 candidate Jeff MacIntyre walked the talk (or more correctly, “rode” the talk) tonight, completing the entire 15 km circuit of Sudbury's south end. I wish that I lived in Ward 12 so that I could vote for Jeff.
I rode tonight with the Green Party's nominated candidates, Fred Twilley (Sudbury) and Christine Guillot-Proulx (Nickel Belt). The Sudbury Cyclists Union also had a number of riders participating in tonight's event. What I was surprised and encouraged to see tonight, though, was the number of families who came out to ride together. Children under 12 were well-represented at tonight's ride.
I also saw one rider who was wearing a photograph of her deceased sister, Sudbury native Lyn Duhamel, who was killed this past May 14th while training for an Ironman competition south of Montreal, along with 2 other cyclists. In all, 6 cyclists were struck by a pick-up truck in that terrible tragedy on a rural road which didn't have marked lanes for cyclists or even a paved shoulder. It was good to see Duhamel's sister at the ride, although it would have been better to have seen her under different circumstances. I can imagine that the very act of biking now carries a completely different meaning for Duhamel's sister, and all who have been affected by a cycling tragedy.
And of course, the ride featured Canadian Olympian and Sudbury native, Devon Kershaw. Before the ride, Kershaw received a plaque from Greater Sudbury Mayor John Rodriguez, who took a few moments to acknowledge Kershaw for his outstanding achievements at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Rodriguez was also heard to remark that he was surprised that there were so many cyclists who are also voters in Sudbury. Rodriguez has, in my opinion, started to hear the voice of our cycling community, and I believe that he can be counted on as an ally on Council in the coming years, should he be returned to Council after this October's municipal election.
Devon Kershaw, a true local hero, also has a tragic cycling story. Back in 2001, Kershaw's girlfriend, elite athlete Sophie Manarin, was killed in Sudbury while on a training ride. Tonight's Share the Road ride had just stopped at a memorial erected in her honour close to the Long Lake Road / Highway 17 interchange. It was in front of Sophie's memorial that cyclists paused for a moment of silent reflection, before resuming the ride. Our group of about 200 cyclists began to string itself out along Long Lake Road, heading north, back towards Science North, where the ride began and was to end.
Some of the cyclists got out in front of the police escort, including me. I stopped on the shoulder, along with several other cyclists, as we waited for the rest of the group, and the police escort, to catch up. The police had stopped traffic farther the south, allowing our group to cross Long Lake Road. This section of road wasn't particularly busy at the time, but traffic does move quite fast through the area.
Standing on the shoulder while still mounted on my bike, I noticed that there were some cyclists heading south on Long Lake Road, on the far shoulder. I wasn't sure whether they were part of our ride or not; they may have been riders who got too far out in front, and were circling back to join the larger group. Or perhaps they were just other cyclists just out to enjoy the beautiful evening. I looked back to watch the group still crossing Long Lake Road, and saw that most cyclists had made it across the road and were now heading towards me on the northbound shoulder.
It was then I heard the screeching of brakes. I turned in time to witness the impact: the cyclist, who was in the southbound lanes, had been struck by a vehicle. He was sent flying about 10 feet into the air, and came crashing down onto the front of the vehicle. His bike was mangled, and he came to rest on the asphalt. Immediately, some of the cyclists in the very front of the pack raced out onto the road. All southbound vehicles came to a stop, including a motorcyclist, who may have begun to administer CPR. Another cyclist and myself also ran onto the road and began waving our arms to attract the attention of the police escort who was working to get the last of our group across the road and onto the northbound shoulder. After a moment, the police escort on his motorcycle raced up the street, and he was joined by another police car.
We cyclists stood in horror, shocked in our disbelief. How did a ride, to promote cycling safety, turn tragic in the blink of an eye?. Eventually, we were told to move along and away from the accident. As I rode north past the horrific scene, I heard emergency workers ask the cyclist a question, and I was heartened to hear that he was able to make a verbal response. As I rode on, I passed other cyclists, some in tears. Everyone wanted to know what had happened. No one that I spoke to seemed to know all of the facts.
It's unclear to me where the cyclist had been coming from, or if he was even with our group. He was struck in the southbound lanes, while we were heading north. He may have been tempted to ride across Long Lake Road to join our group, seeing that the police had stopped traffic heading north. Southbound traffic, though, in this location, was still travelling towards where the police escort was located. The vehicle which struck the cyclist was likely going around 70 km/h or so. I can't speculate any further than that, and I'm not even sure in which direction the cyclist was travelling when he was hit. I only witnessed the impact. That was...too much.
The rest of the ride back to Science North was largely carried out in silence. We had all lost our enthusiasm. When we arrived back at Science North, we heard that ride organizers Devon Kershaw and Eleanor McMahon had stayed behind at the accident scene, so we cyclists began to disperse in a somber mood.
Every day cyclists venture out onto the streets of Sudbury, we are taking our lives in our hands. Sudbury has almost no cycling infrastructure (less than 12 km of bike lanes...and this for a City of over 150,000 people). At the first few meetings of the Sudbury Cyclists Union, I heard the horror stories shared by other cyclists, who came out to support and take part in our new grassroots organization. The stories, each unique, resonated with everyone. Far too often, cyclists are in danger just riding around our City, whether it's on their way to school or work, or just out to enjoy a beautiful day on their bikes. Due to the dangerous conditions of our roads, many cyclists in Sudbury use the sidewalks instead, which often puts them into conflict with pedestrians, or with motorists at crossings where the sidewalk enters an intersection or runs along a driveway. The long and short of it is that there are very few safe places for cyclists to ride in this City, and that's yet another tragedy.
Our municipal Council and staff must start taking the needs of cyclists seriously. When repairing roads (which is a cottage industry here in Sudbury), the addition of cycling infrastructure, such as bike lanes or even just painted signs alerting motorists to the presence of cyclists, must be taken into consideration. Rather than build faster roads for more cars, we need to build safer streets for all users: motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. The concept of the “complete street” isn't new, but there is a long way to go yet before it becomes the accepted norm in Greater Sudbury. In the meantime, how many more cyclists and pedestrians will be injured in my community?
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