bike safety

BMW driver and courier in fisticuffs

CTV reports on a fight between a bike courier and a BMW driver.

Driver pleads innocence. No one interviews the courier. Driver has a name: Azid Hamid. The courier has none.

Azid Hamid was driving his silver BMW on Queen near Church Street when a bicycle courier began yelling at him through his open window.

"He called me name and boom! Hit me without no reason," Hamid alleged.

But maybe it's not that simple; it rarely is.

Detectives told CTV Toronto that Hamid became stuck behind the courier at Queen Street East and Church Street, which is in the middle of a construction zone.

"The cyclist went out into the middle of the lane, which is the passing lane -- which he has a right to do because he is a vehicle on the roadway," said Const. Mike Wong of the Toronto Police Service.

"And the driver of the vehicle thought he was slowing him down or whatever reason. As a result, there was a dispute. And it just escalated from that point on."

It's nice that the cop understood the right of the cyclist to be in the middle and to suggest that perhaps that the driver was angered that the cyclist was slowing him down. What did the driver do next? Rev his engine? Honk? Bump the back wheel of the cyclist? All of these can be quite intimidating and aggressive.

Hamid said the bicyclist came up beside him and hit him in the face repeatedly. "So I hit him back."

The motorist kept driving for several blocks before parking his car and getting out through the passenger's side. That's when he started hitting the cyclist back. The bike courier fell to the ground, witnesses said.

Paramedics treated the cyclist for minor injuries.

Police were called but neither man wanted to press charges.

Funny that the cyclist needed to be treated for injuries but not the driver. Funny that even the driver didn't want to press charges. Maybe he didn't feel so innocent.

Dangers of cycling in 1896

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. There are many now who like to moralize almost as much as this doctor, when writing to the medical journal, The Lancet, in 1896 claimed that cyclists were a danger to others and themselves. The doctor was clearly anxious about the reckless cyclists on the road and set out to set things straight. The main difference was that back in 1896 bicycles were the fastest vehicles on the road.

It is a noteworthy fact that in nearly every case where an accident has occured the cyclist has been riding for pleasure, and it is still further noteworthy that by far the larger percentage of accidents are attributable to recklessness or want of knowledge and skill in manipulating the machine. A prolific source of accident and one which seems to present an every-recurring source of temptation to many cyclists to see how speedily they can sacrifice their lives is hilly ground. The moment the brow of a hill is reached the reckless cyclist seems impelled to take his feet from the pedals and to allow the machine to descend with all the rapidity which weight, gravity, and the gathering force give it. To the novice this is especially attractive, inasmuch as it gives him an opportunity of resting his tired muscles. Providing the rider has a straight and clear road it is just possible that no accident may occur, but the story of casualties from this cause is invariably the same; the cyclist loses control over his machine and collides with some object, be it cart, hedge, or wall, with the resulting effect of death or severe injury. A good brake affixed to the back wheel of the machine would have the effect of considerably reducing the number of accidents from this cause, but, unfortunately, there is an idea that the addition of a brake adds an inconvenient weight to the machine. It is true that there is still room for improvement in the matter of brakes, but there is a pneumatic contrivance on the market which is both safe and effective, it being attached to the back wheel and being very light the excuse of inconvenient weight cannot be urged.

City to discuss licensing and mandatory helmets

Councillor Michael Walker is trying hard to appear to be the reasonable voice for citizens of Toronto plagued by cyclists. The solution is to make it harder to be a cyclist. The City's public works and infrastructure meeting will be discussing mandatory helmets and mandatory licensing for cyclists.

"We can't stick our heads in the sand and revert to this idyllic view of cyclists" he said. "We've moved a quantum leap from there. Bicyclists are much more prominently recognized as an alternative form of transportation - that's been in government policy and taxpayers' money."

Pro-cycling councillors are entertaining the ideas for now, perhaps because they can see where the wind is blowing. There's a significant proportion of the citizenry that likes to put the blame on cyclists.

Driving a potential weapon

From Christie Blatchford in the Globe and Mail on the cyclist death on behalf of the former Attorney General, a mainstream view that is surprising in its understanding of the power that motorists wield:

As city planners ensure that roads get narrower for cars (half-assed bike lanes, which give a measure of comfort but no protection, dedicated streetcar lines, one-way roads, various traffic ‘calming' methods, which may calm traffic but hardly drivers), getting around the city takes longer and longer, and cyclists and motorists, and sometimes cyclists and pedestrians, are increasingly at odds over the same shrinking space.

Even if it turns out that the man attempted to choke Mr. Bryant, as some witness accounts suggest, and that Mr. Bryant called 911 – and this is the most benign scenario the former politician can hope for – it isn't good enough.

The mismatch between car and bicycle is sufficiently enormous that the cyclist is inherently always right.

Describing a charity ride where Blatchford felt very vulnerable she concludes:

The Dupont and Dundas Bicycle Mural

Created with Admarket's flickrSLiDR.

Last evening I decided to finally document the bicycle mural at Dupont and Dundas West.
Fine work indeed. Noticed several cyclist taking a walk along the mural just to admire it.

Editor's Note: We will have a full-feature article about these new murals soon, once they are completed. Stay tuned!

Responses to rolling stops

(Photo: ardenstreet

The Star last week counted cyclists at stop signs and found: " We watched 159 cyclists approach a busy intersection. Only 21 came to a full stop." Despite making motorists crazy and being illegal some make a counter-argument for the rolling stop, also called the Idaho Stop:

The rolling stop – or, in some cycling circles, the Idaho Stop – is as popular as it is illegal, and there are those who will tell you it's also perfectly safe. Bambrick, among other cycling supporters and bloggers, is advocating its legalization, citing common sense and a compelling precedent.

Cyclists in Idaho have been legally permitted to treat stop signs as yield signs since 1982. And though the Idaho law was brought in by legislators to help relieve the pressure on a crowded traffic-court system, cycling-savvy proponents of its further spread argue it would make cycling more efficient, more appealing and ultimately more popular. In places bent on curbing car usage, it's a compelling argument.

There was a flurry of letters supporting and opposing the Idaho Stop. One argued "zero tolerance" and that bicycles are vehicles under the Highway Traffic Act:

In this, the police should set an example and prosecute more often. The "zero tolerance" policy has been proven to work exceptionally well in the few places it has been pursued rigorously.

Joe LaFortune (commenter on this forum), argued that rolling stops by cyclists are no big danger compared to motorists doing the same. Cyclists need to maintain momentum yet are relegated to quieter residential streets with an abundance of stop signs.

While the offence may be identical for both vehicle users on paper, it really is not the same thing. Cyclists in Toronto tend to use one-way residential streets for the bulk of their riding, avoiding main roads whenever possible. Traffic is simply too heavy and too fast on major arterials and motorists regularly fail to afford cyclists the space they are legally entitled to, making it unsafe except for experienced cyclists.

Residential streets, the preferred routes for many if not most cyclists, feature stop signs at every cross street for the most part, but there is usually little or no cross traffic. A cyclist rolling through a quiet intersection is capable of stopping within a meter of applying brakes as the average bike is only travelling at about 15 km/h and weighs less than 10 kilograms.

How do you like your streetcar tracks?

San Francisco is looking at how Toronto cyclists deal with streetcar tracks. The answer: not very easily. Toronto streetcar tracks have been the bane of many cyclists, both experienced and green. Being one of just a handful of North American cities with streetcars, Toronto could provide valuable information.

What can San Francisco learn from the Toronto experience? What ways can cities improve the safety for cyclists crossing tracks?

Experienced bicyclists tend to figure out the best way to navigate the tracks, but what can be done to prevent less-experienced bicyclists from getting stuck in the rail depressions so regularly?

In Toronto, where bicyclists also have to contend with a maze of tracks, several at-grade railroad crossings are equipped with a rubber flange filler that is jammed down into the cracks of trolley tracks. The rubber is firm enough that it doesn't compress when a bike passes over it, but when a streetcar comes it squishes down and doesn't cause the train to derail.

The material is not used for Toronto's extensive network of streetcar tracks in the city's core, however, and bikes routinely get caught in the tracks. "The at-grade railroad crossings do have some of that incorporated, but certainly not the main hazards to cyclists, which are the arterial road streetcar tracks," said Yvonne Bambrick, Executive Director of the Toronto Cyclists Union.

"There’s a lot of places where several tracks meet and turn. They’re trickier to navigate, but folks that have been at it for a while have figured out how to do it. It’s not that hard: you pay attention and learn how to do it, it’s all good. It does catch people fairly regularly."

Defuse anti-cyclist road rage

(Photo: torontobikechic)

Two blogs have come out with lists on avoiding or defusing anti-cyclist road rage. Treehugger has a 6 point list and Planet Green has four. Please share your own! I find their tips a bit underwhelming:

  1. Obey all traffic laws. (Drivers hate "salmon biking" and cyclists running red lights.)
  2. Be courteous.
  3. Avoid daredeviling.
  4. Keep a low profile. (Even if the driver is wronged, don't exacerbate it. Concentrate on your biking instead. Ask yourself, are the potential consequences worth it?)
  5. Drive your bike. ("One drives a bicycle, a scooter, or a motorcycle, not rides one. People ride in things over which they don't have control.")
  6. Lobby for the Idaho stop (rolling stop).
  7. Arm yourself with a smile and a wave.
  8. Don your finest, brightest plumage.
  9. Remember biking as a bell curve. (Remember that cycling is not particularly dangerous, and in fact the health benefits far out weigh the risks. The Raise the Hammer blog looks in depth at all the cycling risks including that you're just as likely to die in an SUV crash as a bike crash.)
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