Transportation

Ghost Bikes and Safety by Design

By Ben Bull
Published May 29, 2008

Today's Toronto Star reports on the latest in a recent spate of cycling accidents to hit the capital's streets.

There is also a report about the growing number of ghost bikes" - solitary white bike memorials - leaning against our lampposts. Toronto's cycling fatalities - 12 in the last four years - are a disgrace, as is the list of serious injuries.

The response to them is not encouraging either. City Councillor Adrian Heaps, in reacting to the latest accident (which happened at the bottom of my street), noted, "there's no point putting in a bike lane if people don't know what a bike lane is."

The Star article goes on to quote Toronto Cyclists Union spokesperson Yvonne Bambrick: "There is an education component for both drivers and cyclists".

I have two thoughts on this:

  1. Who the hell doesn't know what a bike lane is? The only reason a person may not know what a bike lane is in Toronto, is because there are so few of them around.

  2. Education is not the key to improving safety on our roads.

The best way to improve bicycle safety on our roads is by design. Cars and bikes will never share the same limited road space safely. We are as guilty as each other of making improper lane changes, of turning without looking, and it is, of course, the more vulnerable cyclist who always comes out the worst.

But what Toronto (and Hamilton for that matter) needs desperately is an extensive network of dedicated bike lanes - and soon, before our entire city becomes plastered with these sad ghost bike reminders of our unsafe streets.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.

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By nobrainer (registered) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 14:00:47

How about this food for thought: a "bike lane" is not just a line painted on the road. Cities with heavy bicycle use have "real" bike lanes -- separated by a raised curb, painted surface, physical barriers, etc., so cars can't just 'drift' into them or park across them.

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By Bikellist (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 14:04:38

Sorry but I'm just not sold on bike lanes. What happens at intersections? Suddenly you've got a cyclist going straight through, and a driver trying to make a right turn. Kapow! Better IMHO for cyclists to merge into traffic and operate like vehicles.

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By Johnny Demonic (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 14:12:54

I sympathize bikellist, but here's why I support bike lanes -- cities that build connected networks of bike lanes see huge increases in cycling. Cities that don't, don't. Between doing what makes sense in principle and doing what works, I say do what works.

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 15:07:30

Cycling definitely needs to be better thought out. But...I'm tired of cyclists who don't use bike lanes or even those who do who careen across traffic without regard as to whether or not the guy turning right or left sees them. It's the same with walking or driving a vehicle - you check to make sure the other guy sees you. Some cyclists have a nasty habit of zipping from sidewalk to traffic lane and back whichever happens to be more convenient and then run stop signs and so on without making sure the other guys sees them. I love biking so in no way am I being down on cyclists but c'mon both sides need common sense!

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 15:09:33

I think that's where the education and heck, enforcement of bike lanes needs to happen. I habitually look for cycle/ped traffic at intersections but as long as vehicles, bicycles or otherwise make unpredictable movements accidents will happen!

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 15:10:13

Of course, I'd like to edit my above comment to include the proper enforcement of other vehicles as well...

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By Trollwatcher (anonymous) | Posted May 29, 2008 at 15:14:48

Drearily predictable insult-fest between cyclists and drivers degenerates into name-calling in 3 ... 2 ... 1 ...

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By Frank (registered) | Posted May 30, 2008 at 08:21:07

Troll...how long you holding on that one? lol

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By Jon (registered) - website | Posted May 30, 2008 at 13:38:10

Don't forget many cyclists also drive cars. The arguments are over how it is most appropriate to share the road. I agree most of Toronto and Hamilton's bike lanes are poorly done and are a danger to cyclists. Vehicles regularly cut off cyclists by pulling into the lane to turn. This could be corrected by better marking and signage. Currently, bike lanes could easily be mistaken for a shoulder.

Some of London's bike lanes are even worse - about 2 feet of space protected only by a line of paint. However they are marked in green and clearly identified. They also use alot of seperate bike signals for crossing safety.

The best bike lanes are grade separated. When these are combined with bike signalling, there is no need for cyclists and drivers to come into conflict.

Until we have decent bike lanes all over the city, it must be recognized that cars and bikes must share the road. The worst that could happen is that because we have some crappy bike lanes, people get it in their heads that cyclists have to stay on the bike lane.

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By andy (anonymous) | Posted June 01, 2008 at 12:59:50

I agree with those who suggested designing grade-differentiated lanes. From experience cycling in Germany, I can tell you how much more comfortable I felt riding my bike up on a separate lane beside the sidewalk. The more comfortable you make it, the more people you'll find using that mode of transportation. That, and it becomes socially enforced as well. If you walk on the bike lane, you're definitely getting rung at :p

A big reason why I don't cycle more when I'm here in Hamilton is the safety issue. Like people have said above, most drivers seem to use whatever bike lanes that do exist as shoulders for turning.

Shifting away from a cyclist-centric critique of our current setup, raising the bike lane off the street makes driving a lot more comfortable. When driving, I'm always nervous when forced to share a lane with bikes. The argument that they should merge and be treated as vehicles just doesn't hold water with me. It makes everyone, cyclist and driver alike (although the cyclist admittedly has a lot more to lose) very nervous.

Just my two cents :P This is yet another installment of "Why Can't We Be More Like Europe"

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By Jerry F (anonymous) | Posted June 11, 2009 at 12:40:35

We need infrastructure, such as bike lanes and/or cycle tracks, which are grade-separated from the road, and education - no technology can be useful without knowing how to use it. Even so, dangers will always exist at intersections and driveways, and nobody is exempt from occasional idiocy. And OK, some even-handed enforcement wouldn't hurt, as long as it applies to both bicyclists and motorists.

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