Fighting for a safer ride of way
Cycling activist calls for provincial policy on ways to share roads
The debate between cyclists and motorists over who owns the road has never been hotter.
Now a prominent cycling activist is calling for a provincial policy she says would clear the air and clarify how to carve up the asphalt.
Eleanor McMahon, founder of the Share the Road Cycling Coalition, organized the first Ontario Bike Summit, running through tomorrow in Waterloo, to talk about how the province can make cycling safer and more accessible.
Like many activists, the Burlington woman found her calling through personal tragedy.
In her pitch for safer cycling, she invokes the memory of her late husband, OPP Sgt. Greg Stobbart, who was killed by a truck in June 2006 while cycling in Milton.
She says it is time the province looked at a law already on the books in some U.S. states that would make it illegal for cars and trucks to pass a bike with less than a metre of clearance.
"It would require an amendment to the Highway Traffic Act here," she said. "In the case of my husband, would it have saved his life? I'm not sure. But the fellow that pulled out to pass him might have just thought twice. It prevents those kinds of collisions."
McMahon also is pushing for a provincial policy that could include dedicated funding for municipalities to build cycling infrastructure – something like the $31 million fund set aside in B.C. – and for cycling education for motorists and cyclists, beginning in public school.
"Our politicians want to do something but they just don't know where to begin," said McMahon. "Most citizens are ahead of government on this issue. Most people want to bike."
The recent death of cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard in central Toronto is, she said, part of a wider problem: declining civility on our roads.
The tension in Toronto hasn't yet spilled into surrounding cites, say some of the planners slated to speak at the Waterloo conference.
"The road space needs to be shared – that's what this conference is all about," said Lorenzo Mele, transportation demand manager for Markham.
"You can have the greatest cycling system in the world and you've got cyclists not obeying the rules and they make life miserable for the other cyclists," Mele said.
Ironically, it's frustrated motorists who are pushing municipalities to expand cycling infrastructure, said University of Waterloo planning professor Pierre Filion.
"In a big city like Toronto, cycling is seen as one of the solutions to the transportation problem. Transit is enormously expensive, so cycling seems to be a more or less natural solution."
It seems counterintuitive that this impetus is in Toronto and not the suburbs, where shorter distances should make cycling a more viable option. But the traffic moves there too fast for cycling comfort, Filion said.
Suburbs around Toronto are seeing more cycling commuters, but officials acknowledge their amenities are largely recreational and the car-based lifestyle still rules.
"We're fighting for space. It's a very car-dominant world. This transition will take time," said Chris Clapham, a transportation planner for the town of Oakville.
You can learn more about the Ontario Bike Summit at www.ShareTheRoad.ca