THE GAZETTE MAY 18, 2010 3:07 AM
Stunned by last Friday’s accident in which six triathletes on bicycles were struck, and three of them killed, by a single vehicle, local and Quebec authorities and the cycling community are scrambling to find ways to keep Quebec’s estimated 3.5 million cyclists safe.
Quebec has earned an enviable reputation as a cycling destination, in large part because of the Route verte’s 4,200 kilometres of paths and lanes. Montreal is also one of the few big North American cities to have carved out a protected bike path through the middle of its downtown core.
Yet last year 16 cyclists were killed. This weekend a separate accident, reportedly involving a drunk driver, killed another cyclist.
Cars and bicycles obviously have not yet learned to coexist, especially in rural areas where cyclists generally use gravel shoulders.
Blame can be apportioned to both sides, but it is up to the government to impose order. Quebec should start with an annual spring information campaign, reminding motorists that cyclists, and lots of them, will soon be back on the roads. The presence of cyclists seems to take motorists by surprise every year. The situation is so bad that some cyclist spokespeople say bitterly that one or two bicyclers must be killed every spring before motorists notice they’re back.
The annual information campaign should remind motorists and cyclists alike of the rules of the road. Motorists rarely keep the 1.5-metre distance from a cyclist considered minimally safe. Too many cyclists still sail through red lights.
Quebec itself might not be adhering to its own rules. Under Quebec law, any road bearing more than 5,000 vehicles a day should have paved shoulders. Highway 112, on which the three triathletes were killed, was to have its shoulders paved within a few weeks. The province needs to pick up the pace on this. Rural inhabitants don’t have options: Roads are used by motorists, farmers hauling hay, people out for a stroll, and also cyclists.
Another problem is that competitive cyclists need a safe place to train. The two hours between 5 a.m. and 7 a.m. allocated at the Gilles Villenueve raceway are laughably inadequate. Other solutions must be found.
Quebec has taken some important steps to promote and encourage bicycling. But much of this progress, from Bixi to bike lanes, has been in the urban setting. There are plenty of city dangers for cyclists, but the needs of rural areas and small towns – and of high-end competitive cyclists – still need more attention.
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