Bike lanes could save lives

A dark, grainy photo from a CTV news video reveals the stunned and haunted portrait of a man with a shattered life. Minutes earlier, he had been former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant, driving his SAAB convertible with his wife after celebrating their 12th wedding anniversary.

A dark, grainy photo from a CTV news video reveals the stunned and haunted portrait of a man with a shattered life. Minutes earlier, he had been former Ontario attorney-general Michael Bryant, driving his SAAB convertible with his wife after celebrating their 12th wedding anniversary. By the time the news cameras stopped rolling, he was part of a high-profile criminal investigation into a car-bicycle altercation that left a cyclist dead.

Assigning blame is the necessary job of the legal system. The necessary job for everyone else is to learn something from this.

There isn’t a city in Canada that has avoided a rise in confrontations between motorists and cyclists on ever-crowded city streets.

In Edmonton, cyclists willingly risk a $250 fine for riding on the sidewalk along the trendy Whyte Avenue boutique-and-bistro strip, because it’s simply too dangerous to traverse the area on the street. Even in laid-back, health-conscious Vancouver, police are publicly asking drivers to cool down around riders.

It is the cyclist’s legal right to ride the street — and to occupy the entire lane while doing so — but there isn’t a city in Canada that will fully acknowledge that legal right, much less enforce it.

In Red Deer, Mayor Morris Flewwelling admits that “only very gutsy cyclists” attempt to ride the city streets and that little has been done to create space for them on those streets.

Last Saturday, a convertible/bicycle confrontation on 19th Street potentially could have gone the same direction as the tragedy in Toronto that killed Darcy Allan Sheppard.

A group of cyclists was finishing a charity bike ride along 19th Street heading east, which is always a busy section of road. One of them could see drivers getting frustrated by having to pass one group of bikes after another along the way, and at one point the driver of an expensive convertible told another rider to “get over,” just he passed.

You know how your mouth gets dry after a long day of work outdoors, and you have to swallow and lick your lips before you can speak? That happened to the rider, so what with traffic noise and the time delay, the driver probably never heard my two-word reply.

That alone could have been enough to keep the event from escalating as the car pulled away and I rode on, fuming.

But for the sake of not letting the issue die here, let’s remember: the cyclist has full legal right to the entire lane and does not need to “get over,” especially when there are no bike lanes or off-street paths, which is the case on 19th Street eastbound.

As well, charity bike rides are specifically licensed by Alberta Transportation, which rejected other much safer routes, eventually approving one that traverses one of the worst-planned streets for pedestrians and cyclists in this city, outside of Taylor Drive.

It shouldn’t take a “very gutsy cyclist” to raise money for a charity, nor even to take a reasonably direct route to work.

The number of riders in Red Deer is increasing — and it’s not just youngsters enjoying their first taste of freedom on wheels. Thirty-somethings to Baby Boomers are rediscovering the healthful pleasures and economy of using a bike as urban transport, in numbers that city authorities may not have realized.

Certainly they never planned for it.

On Saturday, Sept. 12, city cyclists are asked to gather for a 10 a.m. start to a half-hour massed cruise to the Red Deer Public Market by the Arena, where a table has been rented as a platform to keep cyclists, motorist and city officials talking about solutions.

That certainly beats talking about fatalities and shattered lives.

Greg Neiman is an Advocate editor.

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