Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Reflections on Last Night's Vehicle-Cyclist Collision During Share the Road Ride, One Day Later

It's been almost 24 hours since 71 year old cyclist Giovanni Leon was hit by a southbound vehicle while travelling southbound on Long Lake Road in Greater Sudbury. This collision took place in front of about 200 cyclists participating in a ride organized by the Share the Road Cyclists Coalition, right after a pause in the ride to pay respects to cyclists injured and killed on our nation's highways. I was one of the cyclists who saw the collision occur, turning around at the sound of screeching brakes. I did not see the circumstances which led up to the collision.

The local news media and blogosphere are all a-twitter over this event here in Sudbury today. First, an update on the well-being of Mr. Leon: apparently, he is in surgery right now at the Sudbury Regional Hospital, where doctors are working on repairing a broken arm and ankle. His condition is described as serious but not life-threatening. Many community members have been thinking of praying for Mr. Leon and his family throughout the day.

Local media have described Mr. Leon as being an experienced cyclist, and a member of the Sudbury Cyclists Club, a local organization for serious enthusiasts which focuses on road racing, mountain biking and touring.

Some further details of the collision have emerged, although police are still investigating. As I suspected, Mr. Leon was travelling south on Long Lake Road, heading toward the police escort when he was struck by a vehicle also heading south. Media isn't reporting in which lane the collision occurred (there are two southbound lanes at this section of Long Lake Road). I seem to think that the cyclist may have been struck in the left hand (inner) lane at a time when the road was relatively clear of traffic. I may be mistaken about this, and I will update this blog should more information become available. What is clear, however, is that the cyclist was heading in the same direction as the vehicle which struck him on a fairly empty road.

Local media is reporting that charges likely will not be laid against the driver of the vehicle. Until all of the facts are known to police and their investigation continues, this seems to be a prudent approach. Certainly the circumstances of the collision were a little unusual. Again, I'll provide my readers with more information when it becomes available. For me, who was at fault here really isn't that important right now. The health and well-being of Mr. Leon and his family is really all that matters today.

What has prompted me to write this blog today, though, is to draw attention to comments being posted online, in many cases anonymously (but not all) on the websites of local media and Facebook. I have to say that I'm shocked and disgusted by the nature of many of the comments which have been posted by members of my own community. The anti-bike expressions of ill-will have been considerable. Others have been quick to condemn the cyclist, Mr. Leon, without all of the facts. For me, it's no wonder that so many cyclists in my community express horror stories while just trying to get around this City. If these comments are representative of even a fraction of Sudbury motorists, I'm surprised that there aren't many more injuries and deaths.

What's also become quite clear to me today is how few people actually know the rules of the road, or respect them if they do know them. Some motorists believe that cyclists must remain on the right-hand side of the road at all times, and never venture away from the curb (which would make left-turns a little tricky). For many motorists in my community, cyclists have no right to be on our roads. Some have gone as far as suggesting that if cyclists want to get around, they should pay for their own bike paths. This sort of ignorance is quite disturbing to me, as I guess I'm one of the lucky few cyclists in this City who hasn't been part of a near-death experience on our roads. I've never even had anyone give me the finger (that I'm aware of).

It's true that cyclists in this City disproportionately drive on the sidewalks in order to get around. I certainly can't condone this kind of activity, but I do sympathize with these cyclists, given the mentality of drivers here, and given the lack of cycling infrastructure which exists here (less than 12 km of bike lanes). For many cyclists, rather than take their lives into their hands by venturing out on the roads, it's better to brave the $120 ticket and the wrath of pedestrians. Of course, that's not the answer either.

I believe that we all need to start doing a lot more to make our City's roads safer for all forms of traffic. The fact is, cyclists aren't going to be going away. With ever-increasing prices of gasoline, and with the real wages of working families not keeping up with the price of inflation, we can expect to see more cyclists on our roads in the near future. We need to begin planning for their safety and convenience now. We should have been doing this decades ago, but we didn't. Now there is an urgency to do so like never before.

One in three residents in my City do not have access to a motor vehicle. The round-trip price of transit is $5, making this option unaffordable to many. An inexpensive, yet apparently dangerous choice is to cycle. It's also a healthy choice. And it's an environmentally sensitive choice. No longer can we except the status quo which has existed here in Sudbury. Quite simply, change is upon is, and we need to react to it, and plan better for it.

This isn't about a war on the car. Far from it. It's not about cyclists “taking back our streets”. What it's about is the peaceful co-existence between all transportation users. It's about recognizing that the car isn't king – and in fact no mode of transportation should claim such a title. It's an egalitarian attempt to acknowledge that we all have rights to our roads, and that we all need to share the roads that we've paid for through our tax dollars. And it's about spending those tax dollars wisely, so that our transportation infrastructure is improved sensibly and for the benefit of all users.

We've a long way to go to educate our Council and city staff, not to mention motorists and cyclists. We've a long way to go as well to actually build the sort of infrastructure which will make cycling safer in my community. We can keep putting it off, but we do so at our own peril, for tomorrow isn't going to be like today. With ever-increasing numbers of cyclists on our roads, it makes sense for all of us to work together to start moving things forward. Or else we can only expect more carnage on our roads, and an increase in the bitter resentment felt by many motorists and cyclists for one another, which apparently exists just below the surface here.

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