NOW magazine published an issue on cycling. In addition to some well thought out proposals from Cycle Toronto, they included the usual set of shop-worn "myths" motorists and cyclists supposedly have about each other.

I have read most of these supposed "myths" before, in fact many times and in many articles. I consider many of the supposed "facts" provided by Now as flat out wrong as the so-called "myths". To try and make a positive contribution to the discussion, I propose a series of "myth-fact" pairs that I haven't read quite so often before.

Myths motorists believe:

1) If you get in front of a cyclist at an intersection, you will save time.

For motorists, trying to dart ahead of us and cut in to get one car length ahead in the queue at a red light or stop sign risks a collision and makes no sense. Queuing behind a bicycle doesn't cost you any time; in fact, a cyclist can get off the mark more quickly than any (non-electric) car, because a human can exert maximum torque at zero revs, which no gas engine can do.

2) An intersection is a safe place to pass a cyclist.

No. Intersections are inherently complex, with pedestrians and wheeled vehicles going, literally, four directions at the same time. Streets have an illusion of width through an intersection, which means that cyclists who turn out to let cars go by can find ourselves in conflict with pedestrians, or outside the stream of traffic and out of road on the other side of the intersection. Just stay in the lane, in order, and wait to pass.

3) It's OK to make a turn in front of a cyclist

Nope. Cyclists should not pass right turning cars on the right, and motor vehicles should not make turns across the path of cyclists.. If you come up behind a cyclist signalling right at a stop sign or traffic light, the safe thing is to queue behind the cyclist and make the turn in order, as you would with a car. If the cyclist is going straight, then pull up behind them and signal, and if they can do it safely, the cyclist may pull out to the left to give you room to turn. Likewise, never pull up on the right side of a cyclist signalling left in order to make a left turn; that creates an extremely dangerous situation.

4) Getting "stuck" behind a cyclist will always slow a motorist down.

Wrong. Except in relatively rare cases, the cyclist you pass will come up to you at the next light.

5) If you hit a cyclist, only cyclist will suffer.

For the sake of argument, let's assume a psychopathic motorist who really doesn't care about killing someone. Our psychopath still has to worry that hitting a cyclist who has life and/or disability insurance will leave one or more large and powerful financial institutions significantly out of pocket. One way or another, somebody will pay for the cost of a crash, and insurers will naturally want to make sure that as much of the cost as possible falls on the driver who caused it. Hitting a cyclist can certainly ruin your entire day.

Myths cyclists believe

1) Motorists have a built-in mad skills detector.

Look, you know yourself as a super-cool experienced cyclist, but when you push off in the dark with no lights and salmon up the wrong side of the road, motorists only see an unpredictable road user, and (good) motorists will react by behaving cautiously. If you find that insulting, don't blame them; motorists can only gauge a cyclist's abilities and intentions by what they can see. And it's hard to see an unlit cyclist in the dark.

2) It matters what motorists think of us.

Wrong. The reason not to behave unpredictably, annoyingly, or in a manner dangerous to pedestrians and other cyclists as nothing to do with the opinions of motorists, individually or collectively. We should behave safely because it's the right thing to do. Most motorists will operate safely whatever they think of us, and sociopaths and emotionally unstable drivers won't behave any less dangerously if cyclists all began riding safely.

3) Political rhetoric matters

We got more protected bike lanes while Rob Ford was Mayor than we did in the eight years of David Miller. The amount of cycling infrastructure that gets built depends on how much we use, and how much benefit the larger public obtains from our use of it.

4) The handful of blatantly anti-cyclist posters on web sites represent motorists.

I doubt it.

5) Bad driving is deliberate.

As someone who has made my full share of driving errors, I don't think so. Relatively few motor vehicle operators intentionally use their vehicles as weapons, and in my experience ignorance and misjudgement cause much more bad driving incidents than malice.

Did you know that Canadian provinces are falling behind many of our American cousins who have been creating Vulnerable Road User Laws, that is laws that provide additional legal protection for those who are more likely to be injured on the road?

(Aren't we all vulnerable road users at some point every day? Everyone takes crosswalks and sidewalks. Many people cycle at least some time of year. This applies to us all.)

Patrick Brown, a lawyer for Mcleish Orlando, a law firm that specializes in litigating on behalf of people with critical injuries, including injured cyclists, has been arguing that Ontario should have such a Vulnerable Road User Law here. Fellow lawyer and cycling activist Albert Koehl and Brown were both involved in the Coroner's Report on cyclist deaths.

They approached the coroner in 2011 about holding an inquest into cycling fatalities — one of the hottest political buttons in Toronto — and a rash of 14 pedestrian deaths in 14 dark days of January 2010. That run of fatalities wasn’t so different from the spate of deaths in recent months in Toronto.

Since then Brown has been motivated to help address the plight of vulnerable road users through provincial legislation:

Vulnerable Road Users [VRU] account for a quarter of traffic fatalities in Canada. While the rate of emergency department visits in 2012 for road traffic injury in Ontario has decreased overall, this is not the case for pedestrians and bicyclists based on a report released by Public Health Ontario.

Since we know that pedestrians and cyclists injuries are not dropping at the same rate as overall road traffic injuries, Brown asks that the government consider a law to protect vulnerable road users.

On behalf of Cycle Toronto, Brown investigated the typical punishments dealt out by the police and courts to drivers "who hit, maimed and killed pedestrians and cyclists".

When I reviewed just what was in my cabinet, I was alarmed to find that many go unpunished or only get a slap on the wrist. For those who are punished, most of the fines being paid are less than $100.00. The Coroners Review also showed a very low percentage of charges being laid after a pedestrian or cyclist is killed due to driver behaviour.

Even worse Brown says that when victims go to court to read their Victim's Impact Statement, drivers are typically not even present to hear it. Victims have the alternative of a civil case to claim monetary compensation. But civil cases are just not enough deterrent and don't hold drivers accountable. This is how the proposed law would work (similar to eight US states where similar laws exist):

When a Vulnerable User is struck by a reckless driver, the legislation would require the court to impose greater penalties against the driver which reflect the fact that the driver struck a vulnerable road. This legislation would provide general deterrence and require the driving public to take greater care when travelling near pedestrians, cyclists and other at risk road users. The legislation would also make it mandatory for the careless driver to attend personally in court at the time of sentencing. The penalties when a driver has seriously injured or killed a VRU would require the court to consider increased monetary fines, suspension of licences, and jail if necessary.

The current Liberal government seems to be more open to new legislation for improving road safety. Let's see if we can get the ball rolling.

I've spoken about protected intersections before. They're really common in the Netherlands and some other parts of Europe. The concept is catching on in the United States (tested on a street in Minneapolis but no permanent installations yet as far as I can tell).

Iain Campbell, Cycle Toronto volunteer and designer, has created a way for us to visualize how a protected intersection would work where Richmond and Peter streets intersect.

Peter and Richmond would be a perfect test case (Cycle Toronto agrees). The intersection is much wider than it needs to be and it allows cars to make turns at high speed. Since there are plans for bike lanes on Peter and protected bike lanes on Richmond the two can be configured to improve the ways motor vehicles and bicycles will intersect.

Protected intersections provide an alternative to the "disappearing bike lane" approach of most North American intersection planning:

In North America, planners figure the best option is to let the cyclists and drivers "intermingle". The big downside is that a cyclist is only as safe as the least safe portion of their trip. Most injuries and collisions happen at intersections. The forced intermingling at intersections is challenging and stressful situation for cyclists. And I daresay it is also less safe given that the Netherlands has worked steadily in removing these types of intersections. A disappearing bike lane creates uncertainty for all road users: motor vehicles don’t know whether to wait for cyclists to pass on the right, or proceed, potentially cutting off cyclists.

Nick Falbo of Alta Planning, borrowed the concept from the Netherlands and is promoting the "Protected Intersection" as a safer alternative. The protected intersection slows drivers down because of the tighter turning radii. When the driver does cross the cycle track they are better able to look straight ahead to see if a cyclist is there (as opposed to straining to look over one's right shoulder around a blind spot). The cyclists are more visible. And it provides a clearer cue to who has the right of way, just as pedestrians have the right of way in the crosswalk.

I hope City planners will take the opportunity of the pilot project on Richmond and Adelaide to try out this really innovative idea; an idea that already has widespread positive data in other countries. Here's our chance to lead in at least one thing in North America.