Building on the good work already done: cycling policy in Ontario
The province of Ontario has finally acknowledged that we could use some cycling love. However, the current proposal put forth by the Minister of Transportation is slim and vague.
Two provincial groups have already prepared reports (STR 2010, COA 2008) outlining their own ideas of what they'd like to see the province doing. The ideas and policies in these reports are all very good ideas, and are also much more specific than what the Province is currently proposing.
However, the last of these reports was prepared in 2010. As we are currently approaching 2013 we need to look at what has changed in these past few years, and identify what other new ideas we need to bring forth that can be included in a Provincial Cycling Plan for Ontario.
I found three items which I think we should add as "priority items." These three are important enough that they should be included in any cycling plan adopted by our province.
In Sept 2011, the city of Los Angeles enacted a cyclist anti-harassment Ordinance (by-law) that was quite different than the similar laws which were passed before; This one is clear AND has teeth! It is important that the laws which we pass be reasonable, but laws are only effective when they are enforceable. Being clear helps the courts enforce what is meant to be enforced. And, by making the costs of suing payable by the driver, it makes it easier for cyclists to get a lawyer in order to sue those drivers whose behaviour is simply wrong. A law like this acts both as a deterrent, and also provides remedy to the afflicted. Other jurisdictions have followed LA's example and have passed their own, similar, anti-harassment legislation. Some jurisdictions have even extended this to include pedestrians and disabled people in their versions of this legislation.
I started with anti-harassment legislation for several reasons. First of all it reflects the first and fourth items of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. It also defines to everyone very clearly those behaviours which are unacceptable and are not tolerable on our streets and roads. It is also a very clear reminder to Law Enforcement, as well as to our entire Judicial System, that our streets and roads must safely include other users besides motorists and motor-vehicles.
For the second of the three, I propose that we get a safe passing law passed. More jurisdictions have enacted safe passing laws since we last looked at it here in Ontario back in 2010, often known as three-feet laws. Ontario's current law [HTA 148(4)] is vague and only states that "Every person in charge of a vehicle on a highway meeting a person travelling on a bicycle shall allow the cyclist sufficient room on the roadway to pass." Bicycles cannot stay upright in a perfectly straight line for very long, we need to use the steering to help keep us upright, which means we always weave a bit when riding (although better riders will weave less). In addition, road conditions are never perfect, so we need to avoid those (usually) small obstacles in our path, even when being passed. Lastly, winds can make it much more difficult for cyclist to hold a straight line, and cars and trucks can do strange things with the wind, especially at higher speeds. Trucks, in particular, can have have a strong pushing wind at their front while also having strong sucking wind at their sides. These winds have caused cyclists to be sucked under the back wheels of the truck. In addition, passing too closely can simply be viewed as another form of harassment. The current driver handbook already states that cyclists need about a metre on either side for their safety (pg 38) and suggests to driver to give cyclists the whole lane (pg 59), so enacting legislation like this is not a big change from the current best practices. Further, both the Toronto and Provincial Coroners cycling reports highlighted legislation like this as a specific need. Setting minimum standards makes it clearer, and simpler, for Law Enforcement and Courts to enforce this law. It's also easier for drivers and motorists to understand and, therefore, follow the law. And this law would mirror the second item in the Cyclists' Bill of Rights, specifically that cyclists should have sufficient space on our streets and roads.
The third, and last item which has changed, and that I think is a "must-have" to be a part of our provincial strategy: "Protected Bike Lanes."
I say "changed" for two good reasons. First is that we've had increasing clear research which shows that protected bike lanes, like those found in Montreal and Vancouver (but not in Toronto!), are at least an order of magnitude safer than ordinary bike lanes, and at least two orders of magnitude safer than streets without any cycling facilities. And, secondly, because 1012 saw as many new protected bike lanes being built in North America as were built in the decade before. In the past year the number of protected bike lanes has doubled - sadly this was not also true in Ontario.
Please understand that It's not like I expect the province to build protected bike lanes, that's usually the municipality's job. However, the province can adopt the appropriate plans, policies, legislation, and programs (incl funding formulas), as well as the sharing of the appropriate expertise, in order to force, encourage, coax, and cajole Ontario's municipalities to build these types of facilities for all of us.
I know that I'm not the only one with ideas like this. What are your ideas? Do you think that I'm overlooking something important? What have you told our province that you'd like them to be doing for cycling?