With the spring comes the sad incidents of bike riders being hit by cars
BY LAURA ROBINSON, OTTAWA CITIZEN MAY 20, 2010
The blossoms are out, the wind warm, and we no longer needed extra layers of clothes outside – tragically, as we move into the best cycling weather Mother Nature provides, we have heard the shattering news that yet more cyclists were killed by a vehicle driver. Wouldn’t it be nice if getting back on the bicycle didn’t also mean desperately hoping drivers will not hit you?
But on May 14 we learned that three cyclists – Lyn Duhamel, Sandra de la Garza-Aguilar and Christine Deschamps – out training single file for triathlons, were killed while three more were injured. The remains of bicycles and equipment lay on the road as the crushing news reached loved ones.
They were on a busy road without paved shoulders near Rougemont, in a province known for its support of cycling. Still this tragedy occurred.
The news hits straight to the gut. Such things have affected our friends; our cycling club members; and only but for the grace of God not us.
Then Saturday, another cyclist was killed in the Laurentians on Highway 117. Police suspect impaired driving was the cause. And on Sunday, a teenage boy was run down and killed by a motorcycle in Ottawa.
On Friday, I abandoned my bike ride and went running. Earlier that week I had ridden 40 kilometres on an Ontario provincial highway that I have ridden on since 1975. It was the perfect kind of day that invites cyclists, and even though the shoulder is unpaved and in terrible disrepair, I headed out, keeping an ear out for vehicles behind me and an eye for those approaching from the opposite direction. If I thought two vehicles plus my bike and I would have to share two lanes at exactly the same time, I moved onto the gravel shoulder. This year I have a bike with tire treads that can handle sharp dives into gravel.
I don’t believe I should have to do this. There have been far too many cycling deaths. Paved shoulders long ago should have become a matter of course in every province during the construction of new roads and repair of old. But even with decades of cycling skill and safer treads, I will no longer cycle on that highway as the drivers simply did not care enough about my life to slow down and pass safely. I might as well have been roadkill to them.
On the way home I took a longer but safer route: One that put me on a local rail trail. However, even here, surrounded, not by asphalt and trucks, but by wetlands and geese, two ATV riders came speeding by spraying dirt; spreading noxious fumes, and gunning their engines. It was as if they were trying to kill all that grows quietly in springtime. Both were children.
I had planned on taking more than a dozen children on that very route four days later, however, after meeting these out-of-control ATVers, I took half that number. Children should not miss out on physical activity because others make the environment unsafe. We encountered two more ATVers, one of whom shouted at us that we should have moved over earlier, putting an exclamation mark at the end of his sentence with a spray of fine gravel. This from an adult.
My first responsibility is to the safety of children I coach. People who drive vehicles can kill and harm those children, along with the rest of us who choose to go by two wheels. One way to limit risk to us is to limit the number of vehicles on the roads and trails. This can be done partly by providing efficient and affordable public transit, and safe bike lanes for everyone so they can get out of cars and onto bicycles. We’d have far cleaner air, too.
But we also need a deeper understanding and respect for bodies – you can’t be a human being without one. Watching a body on a bicycle is a beautiful thing and this alone should make car drivers slow down to appreciate what a miracle it is when human beings balance on two skinny wheels. But it is even more beautiful to be inside that body; paced by a heart, breathing oxygen that allows the body to move forward, spinning and intuitively understanding how to balance: a picture of symmetry.
Yet we are so vulnerable when up against speeding metal and glass. I always wonder if all of those people who hop in their cars to do errands, or decide they want to take in nature, either in an automobile or by ATV (as if that is even possible), have asked themselves if this is the only way on Earth they can get from A to B. Is whatever it is they have to do via the combustion engine worth risking the lives of cyclists?
Laura Robinson is a former national-level cyclist and rower who coaches the Anishinaabe Racers. Her children’s book, Cyclist BikeList: The Book for Every Rider, was published this spring.
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