Media

'Blaming' Cyclist Common in News Reports

By Ben Bull
Published June 09, 2010

In the news article today reporting the death of a cyclist on the Mountain, the Star quotes a driver who witnessed the incident:

"The cyclist hit the side ... door and his head hit the side window and shattered the window," said Donald Dionne, who had been driving a transport truck on Upper James Street parallel to the cyclist.

This association of responsibility - notice it was the cyclist who hit the car, not the other way around - made by the truck driver is interesting and, sadly, not uncommon.

So often when we read about reports of cycling deaths, the cyclist is either blatantly or subtly assigned the blame.

In this instance, it appears that the SUV may have at least been partially at fault. As the truck driver goes on to report, "He (the truck driver) was driving slowly with his emergency lights flashing when the SUV cut in front of him. [emphasis added]

The bigger issue here, of course, is the lack of a safe cycling infrastructure in Hamilton and the predominance of heavy vehicles on our roads.

Until this is addressed, I suppose we will all be to blame.

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 z jones (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 13:38:39

Well we know the cyclist was wearing a helmet. How do we know? If he wasn't wearing a helmet it would be the first thing reported.

What a tragedy. My condolences to the cyclists loved ones and friends, and also to the SUV driver who surely is traumatized by what happened.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 09, 2010 at 13:59:04

In all fairness, if the poor fellow's head hit the passenger side window, then I dare say that the bike drove into the SUV and not the other way around.

And my experience as a driver (and I should emphasize that I cycle far more than I drive) is that most near-collisions I've had with bicycles have involved cyclists breaking the rules, most often riding on the sidewalks and running stop signs. In fact, I've had actual collisions with cyclists breaking the rules - but in both cases I was on my bike so there was nothing but a bit of scuffing to show for it.

I'm dreadfully sorry for both families and for the poor driver (whether he was merely casually careless or just caught unawares).

This is one more accident which might not have happened if cycling were a more normal and supported form of getting around town: the driver could have expected a bike in a bike lane and the cyclist would have had no reason to resort to the sidewalk.

I know that there are people (often pretty normal) who turn into agressive assholes behind the wheel and endanger (and maim and kill) cyclists, but there's no reason to believe that this is the case here.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-06-09 13:07:02

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 15:02:52

The emphasis added in the quote above actually may be exaggerated. I've been thinking about how this would have happened so let's list some reasonable assumptions/observations:

1) SUV was in the centre turn lane facing south waiting to turn left 2) Transport was moving slowly northbound in the right lane with 4ways on 3) SUV was sitting in that lane for a while waiting to complete the turn (based on time of day) 4) Seeing a break in traffic he made the turn into the parking lot

Let's take a look at a "freeze frame" just as the turn starts... Truck in slow lane BLOCKING THE VIEW OF THE SIDEWALK BEHIND IT. SUV driver who, having been waiting for a bit and not seeing pedestrians prior to the truck blocking his view and making a reasonable assumption that there was no cyclist on the sidewalk, is making the turn and in an effort to avoid blocking the slow moving transport perhaps gives it a bit more gas than normal creating the illusion of "cutting in front" of the truck.

"Cutting in front" is highly subjective. Yesterday I was driving on the Linc and having just passed several vehicles was making a lane change back into the "slow" lane. I had noticed either an inattentive/tired/distracted motorist behind me (I had noticed him speed and slow down, make sudden direction changes in corners when he approached the lines etc) make the lane change as well so I gave him fair warning with my signal light and moved over slowly. While I was moving he suddenly noticed me slammed on his brakes and jerked his steering wheel. This driver would say I "cut him off" however there was a significant amount of room between the 2 vehicles and I had given fair warning.

Back to this event: The trucker was driving along LOOKING FOR A PLACE TO STOP to allow his partner to get out and grab something presumably from Tims. The trucker was probably not more than vaguely aware of the SUV driver waiting to turn left and may have been surprised to see him make his turn creating the illusion of cutting in front of him.

Strictly speaking, it is the cyclist's fault that this accident occurred. Regrettable yes, however no reasonable fault can be placed on the SUV driver. The trucker didn't mention having to slam on his brakes to avoid hitting the SUV so it wasn't too close for comfort. The rules of the road are for cyclists to drive on the road and in this case, if he'd been on the road the accident probably would not have occurred.

The words "at fault" don't necessarily equate to "blame" either. Can one blame the cyclist for using the sidewalk? No absolutely not, I wouldn't want to ride a bike along Upper James either. So who is to blame for that? That'd be the people responsible for the lack of bike lanes on the road - city officials in this case.

Once again, sincere condolences to the family of the young man who passed away and all the best to the driver of the SUV who must be traumatized by this.

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By mikeonthemountain (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 15:10:14

I think media can be a powerful force for good, using its power to reach large numbers of people. Instead of shock journalism they could be promoting something more constructive:

First stop dawdling on a continuous network of bike lanes. Get it painted/built both for public safety and for motor traffic flow. The busier the artery the more it is needed. Why is RTH almost the only media around here pointing at studies showing solutions that work. Of course most cyclists do not want to hold up a vehicle and cause difficulty and contention in traffic. A cyclist in a bike lane is out of the way of drivers helping them too.

Motorists need to be educated that on city streets cyclists (and potentially any number of other slow moving vehicles such as horses, tractors, bobcats, etc) have a right under the law to be on city streets (properly and lawfully of course). More education that city streets are for local transport and access of its citizens first and foremost; get a little respect back into the equation. Our city is privileged to have almost all roads twin lane at least. There is simply no reason to be an ass, the left lane is always there. I bet everyone is very courteous around police officers on bikes.

Cyclists need to be educated of the correct way to ride and share the road. Similar attitude to railway safety. Big machines, big danger, don't tempt fate. Be predictable and lawful, and know that consequences can be tragic if you are not.

Finally after a period of buildup of public education have police start enforcing no cycling on sidewalks, even if it is just with warnings to start. It was done with mobile devices while driving, and pedestrian safety. If the cycling network is in place, using enforcement as needed to change habits becomes more palatable and plausible.

In my opinion it is an education issue across the board that hopefully can somehow carve out a new social norm. Right now you're damned if you do, damned if you don't.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 15:15:21

Exactly Mike, and it needs to be done all at once, not here and there nor half assed. The bike network should should be created systematically like a wave throughout the city on major streets slightly preceded by a major education campaign for the public through public meetings/flyers etc and accompanied by a crackdown by police (use the auxiliary force if you have to) on aggressive drivers and cyclists not following the rules.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 09, 2010 at 15:24:59

The entire cost to complete the Shifting Gears Cycling Master Plan is less than what the city spends on its roads budget in a year.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 15:42:20

@Ryan - I'm not surprised at all there's a lot of work involved in roads. My question is why aren't we the public making sure our politicians are doing what they're supposed to? Why are the few loud opposers running the rest of the city?

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 16:09:50

Well we know the cyclist was wearing a helmet. How do we know? If he wasn't wearing a helmet it would be the first thing reported.

yup, and we know that he wasn't wearing an ipod or that would have been repeated 8 times through the article. It's time for a safe infrastructure in this city. Enough is enough.

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By AnnoyedWithAbsurdity (anonymous) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 16:35:04

Please. There are enough legitimate issues around without tilting at windmills.

The cyclist hit the car that pulled in front of him. Plain. Simple. How else would you report it? The car didn't hit the bike. The physics of who hit what doesn't imply blame or responsibility, just an accurate description of what happened.

You weaken the underlying message of the need for safe infrastructure with absurd comments like this.

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By rayslifecycle (registered) - website | Posted June 09, 2010 at 16:57:30

Quote from original article: "Dionne had been looking for a place to stop the transport truck he was driving northbound on Upper James while his partner ran to grab a coffee.

He was driving slowly with his emergency lights flashing when the SUV cut in front of him."

I agree with Frank's assessment as to how this happened. Cyclists and motorists need to share the road. This means that they obey the same rules and drive defensively.

When accidents happen, they are accidents. Maybe the SUV driver was moving faster then normal because he wanted to beat the delivery truck and get into the parking lot. Maybe the cyclist was riding real fast passing the delivery truck on the sidewalk. Both maneuvers were aggressive.

No-one has the right to be aggressive. We all need to be responsible to each other. If the cyclist was on the street following traffic laws this would not have happened.

I do agree that the news isn't honest. Honesty doesn't sell papers; sensationalism and blaming the unpopular guy does.

The reality is though, just cause cyclists are the underdog in a bike on car incident, doesn't make them "in the right" in every scenario.

http://rayslifecycle.blogspot.com

Comment edited by rayslifecycle on 2010-06-09 15:59:33

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By valour (registered) - website | Posted June 09, 2010 at 20:01:30

what if.......

What if the cyclist was on the sidewalk to avoid the large, slow moving truck trying to find parking on the side of the road?

If the choices for the cyclist to were to pull out into the left lane of Upper James to pass the truck, or to ride 50 feet on an empty sidewalk, I would take the sidewalk.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 09, 2010 at 22:35:33

absolutely valour. We all would. you either ride on Upper James knowing that death has a good chance of happening, or you take your chances on the sidewalk and pray that 18-wheelers aren't blocking live lanes in order to get their heroin, I mean, coffee fix from Hortons.

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By Michelle Martin (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2010 at 07:40:12

Because they aren't legally allowed to ride on the sidewalk, and riding on any of the main roads in Hamilton is ridiculously dangerous, my older kids just don't use a bike to get places. Some of them will ride within our neighbourhood, or recreationally on the Rail Trail, but rarely or never actually use a bike to go somewhere in the lower city that they might need to go. They either walk or take the bus-- if they could ride a bike if would cost them a lot less than HSR fare, but to bike to a part-time job at, say, Eastgate Square is taking your life in your hands. A very different experience from my youth, when I got everywhere I needed to get, and it didn't cost me a cent.

...Just saw this in the spec: the young man was riding home from work.

Comment edited by Michelle Martin on 2010-06-10 06:54:08

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 08:16:10

Jason regardless of the reason he was there, he shouldn't have been there. I doubt he was on the sidewalk to avoid the truck, he was probably riding it the entire way - not that I would blame him for wanting to do so but still, he shouldn't have been there.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2010 at 08:33:12

@AnnoyedWithAbsurdity - good point. After I re-read the article and tried to re-create the likley accident scenario, the description of the cyclist hitting the car seemed fair. Unfortunately this is often not the case though. As many commentators have pointed out, the behaviour of the cyclist is often very carefully analyzed - especially if they are doing something 'wrong'. Whereas the reason for them behaving this way, and the conduct of the drivers involved, is often given short shrift.

The fact is people - cyclists and drivers - behave the way they do for a reason. As Michelle says, most of us choose not to cycle at all (me included) on our roads.

Our municipalities need to provider safer road designs so that these accidents do not happen. They are preventable, yet we chhose not to prevent them. That's the tragedy here.

Ben

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2010 at 09:01:35

The article that appeared in today's Spectator actually reverses the language:

Blane Morden, 21, was riding on Upper James Street on Tuesday when he was struck by an SUV driven by a 49-year-old Hamilton man. The Mohawk College student, due to graduate Monday from an architecture course, died in Hamilton General Hospital after suffering severe cuts to his neck. [emphasis added]

I have no idea whether the change in wording was in response to learning more information about what happened, an editorial decision, or something else.

Either way, it's a real tragedy. My heart goes out to both the young man's family and to the driver of the SUV.

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 09:03:33

That is a very bad corner and that location of the hortons is a very bad set up. If you ask me the driver of the SUV is at fault, if he did not have clear view and just sped across the lanes to get a fricken coffee.

These drive thrus are a menace on our society.

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By Pxtl (registered) - website | Posted June 10, 2010 at 09:25:24

@grassroots - while often those drive-thrus are a danger when they allow their line-up to back up out onto the road, in this case I don't think you can blame the drive-thru. The same accident would've occurred if the SUV driver had pulled into a Timmy's with the intent of parking in the parking lot.

This drive-thru was no more or less a danger than any other roadside destination.

Fundamentally, the problem is that the South Mountain was designed for cars and only cars. I didn't even know they _had_ sidewalks on Stonechurch - last time I was walking on Stonechurch the only sidewalk was a beat-up strip of asphalt on the side of the road that lacked houses.

Edit: I never understand why cyclists are lambasted for using iPods. Nobody is out there demanding that car stereos be removed from all motor vehicles. Obviously you're probably safer if you choose not to... but nobody ever says that a driver involved in an accident had his car stereo on.

Comment edited by Pxtl on 2010-06-10 08:30:36

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 09:48:42

I used live there and some drivers are completely insane. One day a idiot driver who was coming from the west side of james, just south of Mohawk, did this. The traffic was slowing down for the light, there is four lanes of traffic, this idiot wanted to make a right hand turn at south east side of James. The came barreling through blindly weaving thru three lanes of traffic, almost smashed right into me.

Upper James is a hell hole, I do not go up there not unless absolutely necesarily and that is not very often.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 10:58:22

Ryan you'll find the same article repeats that the cyclist went through the side window of the SUV.

@grassroots, idiot drivers aren't limited to Upper James...

Comment edited by frank on 2010-06-10 09:58:54

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By grassroots are the way forward (registered) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 11:04:37

Frank: I realize that but that whole strip is not planned well at all.

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By Bill (registered) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 14:03:21

I am with the emergency services and I talked to the people who where was at the accident as part of the emergency crews. I have not talk to the police since then, as I normally do not look into accident especially fatal one once I am finished with them. I would just go crazy!

Remember we only have a few seconds to find out what happened from witnesses with conflicting stories once we arrive and start working on the patient.

At the time it looked the transport truck was blocking the curb lane coming to a stop to go into Tims and moving slowly. It had its 4-way flashers on and to most people it means you’re stopped. Some say the bike was on the sidewalk on the south side of Stonechurch and some say he moved to the sidewalk to go around the truck. There are reports he was moving quickly as you would expect going down Upper James. He hit the passenger door and shattered the windows. Real windows are hard to break not like on TV.

The SUV was not moving fast as the truck looked like it was parked. His view was partially blocked but not as much to see a pedestrian that was walking at a pace much slower than a fast bike. Everyone may get blamed here.

Wearing a helmet had nothing to do with his death. It was a freak accident. He died of an extreme loss of blood. He severed a large artery.

Maybe a bike lane on James might have helped. I doubt it. In my option, the transport truck is to blame as it blocked the view of both the SVU driver and the bicyclist. This is not the first time I have seen large trucks stopped at this Tims. Maybe the city needs to put up large signs forbidding large trucks from stopping or standing along there.

Bike lanes would be nice, but to most people who do not ride a bike it is hard to convince them to spend millions on a perfectly good road to add bike lanes. Most people who use Upper James would vote for millions for extra lanes before adding a cent for bike lanes.

And yes I am an avid bicyclist and I and scared to death a couple of times a week. Not just here. I have ridden in Europe and I have been scared there to.

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By frank (registered) | Posted June 10, 2010 at 16:01:31

grassroots, it depends on who's perspective you're viewing the design from...

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By Anton Mesrobian (anonymous) | Posted June 14, 2010 at 13:42:32

It sounds like the transport truck stopped on Upper James in front of the Tim Hortons. If that's the case it would have been stationary just after the intersection of Upper James and Stonechurch... not only blocking an entire lane but also making it difficult for drivers turning right onto Upper James N from Stone Church E. It sounds like the Transport Truck driver played a major role in the staging of the accident.

Why buses and transport trucks feel compelled to completely foul traffic for a cup of coffee is beyond me. To stop adjacent to a major intersection is pretty thoughtless and, unfortunately, this type of accident was just a matter of time.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted June 15, 2010 at 14:37:52

We also know that the cyclist wasn't wearing an iPod. How do we know? because that would've been reported too.

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By TreyS (registered) | Posted June 15, 2010 at 14:48:00

If this cyclist had been on the road, he still would've been out of sight from the SUV and still would've died. Trucks routinely stop in front of Tim Hortons, on routes that are illegal "to stop". Just because it was a transport truck doesn't give it special rights.

Bottom line, is that the SUV was blinded and impatient. It was not expecting nor looking to see if a pedestrian or cyclist might be approaching behind the transport truck. Instead the driver was impatient and tried to make a jolt into the Tim Hortons parking lot. It was the SUV drivers fault for proceeding ahead when he couldn't see what was coming.

From what I've noticed, traffic in front or near any TIm Hortons causes drivers to make irrational and unpredictable driving decisions. The most dangerous drivers on a roadway are near a Tim Hortons, second only to lost drivers.

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By Mickie (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2010 at 10:16:55

A cyclist hit me in my SUV in early May. He was barrelling down the sidewalk at a decent clip. I was doing about 10-15km/h as I was coming to a stop sign. There is still a black scuff mark on the the driver's side front panel, just beside the front wheel. He clearly hit me, and I was about 4 feet in front of the stop sign, which was before the sidewalk as well. However, I was subjected to his verbal assaults, blamed by him to watch where the *eff* I was going (I was coming to a full stop and my car doesn't drive SIDEWAYS, so who hit who here?), and I called the police. I was not charged, the officer asked me if I saw him on the sidewalk and although I had not, it was assumed because where he hit me was about 8 feet from the curb of the road I was turning on - where his path SHOULD have been had he been following the rules. He hit me as he torpedoed off the sidewalk to cross the street - doing maximum speed - where he should NOT have been. He could not stop in time, and I had the misfortune of being in his pathway.

I would not cycle on the roads because there is no infrastructure for cyclists that I find safe, and to be honest, aside from my own recent experience, I find there are too many cyclists who operate on half pedestrian/half vehicle status, blazing trails on the sidewalks (hitting people or forcing them out of the way) and into roadways with impunity, believing that they've got all the right of pedestrians on roadways and subject to no rules of the road like the rest of us. They ruin it for other cyclists with common sense (and no desire to argue on principle with a 1,200 pound vehicle coming their way). It's because of these people that I bus it to the GO station in Hamilton instead of cycle (and I am in very decent cycling distance from Hamilton GO).

The rules of the road need to be vigorously applied to them, and a massive campaign province-wide needs to occur to make cyclists, pedestrians and drivers aware of the laws. I have seen plenty of accidents between pedestrians and cyclists and drivers and cyclists and ALL have been the fault of the cyclist. I began my working life in downtown Toronto and was there for 11 years and saw these accidents happen so painfully often and it was always the cyclist. I don't mean it to sound bias, it's just what I've seen. Either they were barreling down sidewalks and collided with a pedestrian, or cut across traffic, getting hit (one was hit by a bus I was on). I am all for bike lanes. I it would make my much less apprehensive on the road as a driver and as a cyclist.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 18, 2010 at 10:33:49

I'm sorry to hear about your unfortunate experience, but:

I would not cycle on the roads because there is no infrastructure for cyclists that I find safe, and to be honest, aside from my own recent experience, I find there are too many cyclists who operate on half pedestrian/half vehicle status

I assume you can see the clear connection between these two sentiments.

Also:

I have seen plenty of accidents between pedestrians and cyclists and drivers and cyclists and ALL have been the fault of the cyclist.

We have to be careful not to draw policy conclusions from anecdata. Actual studies of automobile/bicycle collisions clearly indicate that the cyclist caused the collision in less than 10% of incidents.

Again, I'm not suggesting that this is what happened in your specific case, but you have to be careful not to generalize from anecdotes.

Comment edited by administrator Ryan on 2010-06-18 09:34:18

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By Mickie (anonymous) | Posted June 18, 2010 at 12:34:36

I understand the caveat about anecdotal evidence. I am not convinced, however, that cyclists account for less than 10%. I believe that is very skewed because, as the officer told me, "pedestrians are always given right of way".

The problem? Cyclists are not pedestrians.

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 18, 2010 at 17:39:49

I have a hard time with that 10% number, too. I'd say that a good 70% of the nearish misses (and not misses) between cars and bikes which I have witnessed are the fault of the cyclist - generally riding off of a sidewalk or running a stop sign. The biggest problem I have with drivers is that they want to yield their right of way to me for no good reason (and at the expense of chaos).

And let me say it again: I am a daily cyclist and only an occasional driver.

Here's an anecdote for you.

I was cycling along Sterling Street yesterday after work: the road, bike lanes and sidewalks all busy with people leaving or heading to McMaster. A fellow in his early twenties was heading in the same direction I was, but on the opposite sidewalk.

So I shouted at him (he had trouble hearing me over his headphones) and asked: "please tell me: why are you on the sidewalk when there are bike lanes in both directions?" His answer? Because he will be making a left turn at King and doesn't want to have to wait should the light be red.

I would have pursued the conversation, but I came to a stop at a four way and he was too busy dodging around the car which was about to enter the intersection (and fortunately saw him and came to a sudden halt).

I might add that I encountered four more cyclists on Westdale sidewalks between then and lunch today. And by "encountered" I mean they crossed my path on the road or on the sidewalk (while I was walking).

These anecdata support my belief that a large minority of cyclists simply do not regard themselves as traffic and subject to the rules of the road. And that belief really makes me wonder about that 10% figure.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-06-18 16:45:57

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By moylek (registered) - website | Posted June 18, 2010 at 20:38:02

Mickie writes ...

I understand the caveat about anecdotal evidence. I am not convinced, however, that cyclists account for less than 10%. I believe that is very skewed because, as the officer told me, "pedestrians are always given right of way".

Bingo! I've wondered if this doesn't explain much of the confusion-generating behaviour of motorists, cyclists and even pedestrians: people are treating cyclists with kid gloves because they regard them as having the privilege of pedestrians, and many cyclists expect that treatment.

Comment edited by moylek on 2010-06-18 19:38:36

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By Fred Street (anonymous) | Posted August 04, 2011 at 12:31:24

Look who made the Crime section!

http://www.thespec.com/news/crime/article/573308--it-s-the-law-bikes-are-not-allowed-on-sidewalks

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted August 04, 2011 at 12:47:06 in reply to Comment 67338

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