Monday, September 21, 2009

Gazette says "Do your part" in the cycling revolution

The gazette's Michelle Lalonde wrote a great piece about Montreal's urban cycling revolution. She said to stop shouting at one another and gave several really practical tips so everyone can sahare the roads safely, both car drivers and bicyclists have to give a little and do a few things for safety's sake.

Do your share in cycling revolution

Montreal is experiencing a cycling revolution - a "vélo-rution" if you will - and no revolution is easy.

Michelle Lalonde

Nobody has any overall numbers yet, but it is clear to anyone who travels Montreal's streets on a regular basis that the number of cyclists in this city has shot up over the past couple of years.

First, the city's recent efforts to add more bicycle infrastructure (bike paths, painted lanes, bikeways, bike stands, etc.) has obviously persuaded a lot of Montrealers to give cycling a try. Second, the city's new short-term bicycle rental service, Bixi, has attracted 10,000 members and 98,000 casual users since it hit the streets last May.

The city of Montreal has automatic bicycle counters at five different points in the city. While they can't give the overall picture, these counters can give us a hint at what's happening. For example, a daily average of 3,186 cyclists used the Berri St. bike path between Ontario St. and de Maisonneuve Blvd. over a 42-day period in the summer of 2008. This past summer, over the same 42-day period, the daily average at that spot was 4,129. That is an increase of 30 per cent.

Yet, instead of celebrating the fact that more Montrealers are choosing a healthy, non-polluting mode of transportation, a steady backlash seems to be growing among car drivers who resent the intrusion into what they consider their space.

The horrific incident in Toronto last month that left one bike courier dead and a former Ontario attorney-general facing criminal charges has pushed the issue of conflicts between cyclists and motorists to the fore in that city and beyond. While nothing so headline-grabbing has occurred (yet) in Montreal, recent public debate here seems to focus on the irresponsible behaviour of many cyclists.

My theory on this issue is that there are idiots in about equal measure among motorists and cyclists. But as the numbers of both cyclists and cars on Montreal's streets keep going up, it's clear that everybody has to get smart about sharing the road.

Vélo Québec's director Suzanne Lareau said this fall is a good time for drivers and cyclists to get a grip on the new reality.

"Everybody is noticing the increase in cyclists... and there is frustration among drivers because the city is becoming congested with more and more cars. When you are stuck in traffic all the time, you tend to burn red lights and you get mad when you have to slow down for cyclists."

The long-term solutions to these problems have to come from politicians, she said. We need better public transit to entice people out of their cars. We need changes in traffic laws, public policy and city planning to discourage unnecessary car travel and favour public transit, car pooling and active transportation (i.e. walking and cycling).

But the short-term adjustments will have to come from cyclists and drivers themselves. Here are some tips from Lareau to help drivers and cyclists avoid conflicts and collisions.

Tips for drivers
- Change your attitude and give cyclists rroom. Cyclists have a right to their space on the streets. Think of each cyclist as one less car on the road and be glad they are there. Slow down to pass and wait until you can do so without getting too close. "Some drivers are in their bubble and just don't realize how close they come. It's really infuriating when a car brushes you, and puts your life at risk."

- Look before you open that door. It is thhe driver's legal responsibility to make sure the coast is clear before opening a door into the roadway. Always assume a cyclist is coming along. Proceed with caution.

- Slow down. Driving in a densely populateed city is tricky. Assume there will be cyclists, pedestrians and other drivers, all going too fast and doing stupid things. Speeding can lead to a collision, which will not only slow you down, it could scar you for life.

Tips for cyclists
- No speed training in the city. "If you aare cycling at 30 kilometres an hour, you won't have time to stop when pedestrians, cars or other cyclists do something unpredictable. Keep speed to 15 to 20 kilometres, maximum."

- Stay about a metre from parked cars. A ccar door opening suddenly can be deadly. Ride about a metre from those doors, even if it means you are closer to moving traffic. Cars can see you better if you are not weaving in and out between parked cars, and will pass you when it's safe to do so.

- Get lights - white in front, red in backk. "It's fall. It gets dark earlier. Only about 15 per cent of cyclists in Montreal use lights. I think this is aberrant," Lareau said. A third of cycling accidents happen at night, even though only about 2 per cent of all cycling happens at night. You can buy lights for under $5.

- Position your bike in front of cars at iintersections. At stop lights, don't sit beside or behind a car if you are going straight. A driver may turn right into you, without seeing you. Cyclists should pull right up slightly in front of the car, staying to the right, so the driver has to let you go before turning. Make eye contact with drivers at intersections before proceeding.

- Follow the arrows on those bike lanes annd bikeways. Many new bike paths and bikeways in Montreal have arrows painted on the roadway. If you aren't going in that direction, get off the route and find one going in the right direction. Don't crowd out your fellow cyclists, putting everyone in danger.

- Stop at red lights. It may be unrealistiic to expect all cyclists to make full stops at every stop sign on quiet streets, but red lights are non-negotiable. Traffic lights are generally placed at busy intersections. As for stop signs, Lareau said, cyclists need to use common sense and be polite. Slow down, look both ways, and if there is nothing coming, proceed. If a car, or another cyclist, gets to a four-way stop before you, stop and let them proceed.

- Stay away from buses and trucks. "These large vehicles have huge blind spots," Lareau said. Stop behind them at intersections, not beside them. If they turn right unexpectedly, you can be crushed without the driver noticing a thing.


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