Cyclists and Pedestrians Need Space

By Ben Bull
Published August 12, 2009

The recent pedestrian death of a 56 year old lady in Toronto has prompted a couple of letters to the editor in the Toronto Star today.

Let's face it; both cyclists and pedestrians have it bad in Toronto and Hamilton. If it's not cyclists getting hit by cars it's pedestrians getting upended by cyclists. And why? Because there's no room!

The other day I was visiting my friend at the north end of Bayview. On my drive south I passed the ghost bike dedicated to Alan Tamane, mowed down in June 2007. As I turned onto Front Street, near the foot of Parliament, I saw a young lady sprawled on the tarmac staring up at the grill of a car, her mangled bike crumpled against the curb.

The letter writers describe the problems faced by cyclists and pedestrians on our streets, "roads are made wider for motorized traffic and sidewalks are slimmed down" says one. But they go on to suggest remedial measures such as bike licensing and better enforcement. Isn't a more obvious and effective solution apparent?

Cyclists and pedestrians in Toronto and Hamilton need more space and until we get that these accidents will continue to happen.

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 The Godfather (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2009 at 15:12:06

Ben Bull,

I wish that you would provide some evidence for the lack of space as the culprit in these accidents. I am guessing that most of these accidents are due to people not following the rules of the road, and that includes cyclists, pedestrians and drivers.

Can you also give me a recent example of a road being made wider for motorized traffic? I think that the opposite is more likely.

The Godfather

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By Really? (registered) | Posted August 12, 2009 at 18:06:26

I just saw a Cyclist get hit by a Cabbie @ James S & Forest yesterday around 8pm.

I dont cycle, but am now convinced -- more than ever --that an INTEGRAED cycling system be implemented NOW!!!

C'mon, Hamilton... This is serious!!

Need evidence ? Just look at the success of the HSR's Bike Rack Program!

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted August 12, 2009 at 18:58:46

Godfather - it was the letter writers who cited the increased width of roads. This may or may not be correct. My assertion is that more space needs to be assigned to cyclists and pedestrians.

As for evidence - ask yourself - why would any cyclist ride on the sidewalk? Because the road isn't safe. Bayview - where the cyclist was killed a couple of years back - is a very slim road, and very busy. An awful road for cyclists. Ideally cyclists should be provided a seperate infrastructure - for instance, lanes with elevation partitions to seperate them from foot and motor traffic.

I don't believe that enforcement is the problem. Like I said, cyclists are unlikely to ride on sidewalks just to be bad, they do it because they feel it is safer. Create a safe infrastructure and accidents will decline.



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By jason (registered) | Posted August 12, 2009 at 19:11:22

I'm assuming people know this, but just to be clear, streets like Wilson, York, Cannon, Main, King etc.... weren't designed the way we see them today. It wasn't the intention of those streets to have ultra narrow sidewalks right next to front doors of homes with 5 lanes of traffic roaring by. Check out photos of Hamilton from the 50's and prior and you'll see all of these main streets functioning in a much more balanced manner. You'll see Cannon and Wilson looking similar to current day King West and Sterling in Westdale. Big trees planted in the grass boulevard between the sidewalk and the road. It was all torn down and cut right back into people's property in order to be widened.

You'll see great pics of both King and Main functioning as two-way streets with streetcars running down the middle of both. You'll notice streets that today seem abnormally wide such as Charlton west of James and King West in Westdale Village were designed that way to accommodate the streetcars which ran on them. I can't see any evidence of physical widening taking place on Barton or Burlington Street, but the removal of streetcars and their right-of-way is absolutely another manner in which balanced roadspace was handed over for the sole use of cars.

I loved my recent trip in Toronto, riding the Queen streetcar. That city isn't more livable than Hamilton because of it's huge towers or large size (in fact, in my opinion those things are hindrances). It's more livable than Hamilton because it does a lot of the little thing that we refuse to do such as give streetcars the ability to stop all traffic so passengers can load and unload. In Hamilton we shave off more of our already skinny sidewalks so buses don't make the earth-shattering mistake of having to stop a lane of traffic while loading/unloading passengers.

Hamiltonians love to visit progressive, livable, vibrant, safe, exciting cities and they love to come home complaining about the fact that we aren't one....but once they get behind the wheel they completely forget what they just experienced.
And we continue to lag.....

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted August 12, 2009 at 20:20:38

Rusty >> Ideally cyclists should be provided a seperate infrastructure - for instance, lanes with elevation partitions to seperate them from foot and motor traffic.

If the city should charged $10/month for protected/dedicated bike lanes, would that be worth it to cyclists?

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By arienc (registered) | Posted August 12, 2009 at 23:28:07

I find it a conundrum that many people who cycle somehow claim that sidewalks are safer.

After starting a bike commute to the GO here in Appleby a year ago, I find the opposite. When I use the multi-use pathway or sidewalk (riding on sidewalks being legal in Burlington), I found that almost daily I would come close to being hit by an inattentive driver who decided to continue into the intersection or cross the path without first looking at the bike path or sidewalk (makes little difference on the type of pavement). For a good majority of drivers, the stop line placed before the intersection is only a suggestion of where to begin applying one's brakes, especially when making right-hand turns.

On the road, even where there is no bike lane, I generally receive respect from drivers, apart from the odd aggressive yahoo honking a horn or yelling "get off the road...". This happens maybe twice a month. Riding on the road, even alongside high-speed traffic and trucks has ironically provided a more relaxing and safer commute. Trucks can be scary, but they almost always give me the full lane.

I have concluded that sidewalk riding is many times less safe than riding on the roadway. Yes, there is a sense of comfort and separation, but from my experience, being separate from traffic also means not being noticed, which is the #1 factor in cyclist safety.

While European style separated cycle paths may make sense, without driver education, enforcement and clear warnings (i.e. traffic lights for bike lanes, raised curbs) the addition of new infrastructure may end up causing more tragedies than it prevents.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted August 13, 2009 at 13:41:58

Cyclists who ride on the sidewalk are in danger from two main sources:

1) Pedestrians who randomly change direction, stop or exit buildings.

2) Cars at intersections. I know as a driver, when I stop at an intersection and look, I'm not looking far enough down the street to compensate for someone riding their bike at high speed, I'm allowing for pedestrians. I can recall several times over the last few months where I've moved ahead and a cyclist has appeared from behind a hedge moving at high speed has almost slammed into my car.

My first reaction to this is always mortification. How did I screw up so badly that I missed that person? Then it sinks in, they're on the sidewalk, moving at high speed in the opposite direction to traffic. Stupid, stupid, stupid.

Ride on the road, take the lane. Safest way to go.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted August 13, 2009 at 17:20:42

I was biking in Kingston the other day, on the road (!), when another cyclist drew alongside me. He was on the sidewalk, with his young kid strapped into a seat at the back. He was going faster than me, fairly whipping down the hill. When he got to a strip mall entrance he looked left and turned his bike just in time to avoid a car which was entering the mall from the road. The driver did not even look.

I went to speak to the driver, who was oblivious of the near impact, and had an argument with my friend afterwards. My friend claimed that it was the cyclists fault for riding on the sidewalk. But the road was very thin, the cars very fast and, like I told him, 'there's no way I'd ride with my kid on this road'. My friend still felt it was the cyclists fault.

All-in-all I'm not sure it matters who fault it was. The problem was that there was no safe laneway for the cyclist. The cyclists choice was to risk his and his kids life on the road or the sidewalk, or else walk. I decided that, given the circumstances I would have probably ridden on the sidewalk myself (but ridden a little slower). Cyclists make choices like this all the time, some of them spontaneously. In the end it's the lack of infrastructure that's the problem.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 13, 2009 at 17:41:33

I'm with you Ben. I'm just itching for the day when I get a ticket for riding on the sidewalk on Main. I'll happily take that to court and ask them if any reasonably sane person should be expected to ride on Main St with their child. I will suggest that the city be on the hook for my ticket for not providing adequate infrastructure.
It's akin to getting a ticket for running a red light when there are no stoplights at the intersection.

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By A Smith (anonymous) | Posted August 13, 2009 at 23:10:31

Rusty >> The cyclists choice was to risk his and his kids life on the road or the sidewalk, or else walk.

I guess it depends what your priorities are.

>> In the end it's the lack of infrastructure that's the problem.

In the end, it's cyclists willingness to risk their lives that's the problem. A better idea would be to start a petition, gather the political support for bike infrastructure, THEN when the infrastructure is in place, ride your bike in a safe environment.

Jason >> I will suggest that the city be on the hook for my ticket for not providing adequate infrastructure.

Why doesn't someone start a petition already? Gather enough names and you will get your bike lanes.

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted August 14, 2009 at 07:40:01

100% of the blame falls on the cyclist.

As far as claiming that the motorist didn't look, the motorist had no reason to expect a high speed vehicle coming from a sidewalk.

If you are going to be riding on the sidewalk, ride slowly, slow down almost to a stop at intersections.

If you want to take advantage of the bikes speed capabilities, there's a road there for you.

Take the lane, force cars to pass you with respect instead of inviting them to shove you off the road.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted August 14, 2009 at 08:31:56

Some good points Brandon. It's fair to say the motorist wouldn't expect a bike to appear from her peripheral vision (although by not looking at all she was relying on her peripheral vision only - and luck).

As an experienced motorist I have learned to look for cyclists, and pedestrians everywhere. Motorists should ALWAYS take a defensive driving approach i.e. try to anticipate the sudden and illegal maneuvres of their fellow drivers and cyclists and pedestrians. Because if someone else screws up and they don't spot it, it's likley they'll be the one with blood on their bumper, even if it's not their fault.

I agree that the cyclist should have gone slower. And, per my point above, as a cyclist I always ride defensively as well. This has saved me a few times.

An earlier post made the point that if you ride safely on the road - and obey all the rules - motorists will generally give you a wide berth and respect your space. I have found this to be true. I recently rode from Toronto to Kingston and even on highway 2, (which I was forced to use for long portions when there was no lakeshore route - let's not get into that...) which is a very busy road, I found that cars were giving me a generous berth. I had no incidents at all. But I did ride on the sidewalk for some sections, when it was clear the drivers could not see me propoerly due to the design of the road.

As a case in point over roads versus sidewalks I invite you to zip down Bayview in Toronto sometime. When you see the ghost bike just north of Lawrence you will understand how this father of 4 lost his life. This is not a road to bike on, it's sidewalk or nothing.

And this is what this discussion comes down to. When a road - like Bayview in TO or Main and King in Hamilton - is not designed to accomodate cyclists what should a cyclist do? If there is no other optimal route nearby should he get off an walk, take the bus or ride on the sidewalk? Commuting by bike - the mentality of it - is no different from driving: you want to get from A to B as quickly as possible. If you have to take a couple of shortcuts because of a lack of infrastructure then that's what you'll do. You don't solve this by punishing cyclists, you address the core problem - lack of cycling infrastructure.

As for how to make this happen well, highlighting cycling deaths does not seem to help because all people do is look for someone to blame, 'the cyclist was on the sidewalk' they say, 'it was his fault'

A clear case for a commuting and recreational cycling infrastructure needs to be made and sold, otherwise these incidents are going to continue.

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 14, 2009 at 09:35:33

my safety and my child's safety is far more important to me than following some rule of the road in which zero infrastructure has been provided in order to allow me to follow that rule.

Again, the parallel examples are endless, and our society would never allow any of them (highways with no on-ramps etc...). Yet with bikes, we constantly allow nonsense like Main and King to exist and then slap drivers on the wrist when someone is killed or blame an ipod, or whatever we need to do to not convict the auto. People can get away with all sorts of crimes in a car that would land them in prison for decades if performed with a gun or a knife. Hence, the reason far more people are killed in Canada by vehicles every year than with guns.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted August 14, 2009 at 09:59:17

I fall somewhere in between Brandon and Jason's position.

When riding alone, commutning to work, I am confident enough now that I'll be OK on the roadway. It did take a conscious decision not to be intimidated by speeding traffic to get to that point.

Cycling at normal speed (20-30 kph) is too dangerous on sidewalks or even on bike paths where there are intersections with traffic.

While riding with my child (in a bike trailer), my primary concern is his safety. I would NEVER ride with him on anything busier than a collector road, and only then where a bike lane is provided. All other times I use the sidewalk or multi-use path. Luckily pulling a trailer keeps speeds down so I don't have to worry so much about cars entering the intersections.

Ultimately we need infrastructure, but even a European style cysle track doesn't work in busy urban or suburban high volume roadways, unless drivers entering or exiting the road give right of way 100% of the time to cyclists using the bike path. In my estimation, that requires a few key safety features:

  • a seperate signalling system for bikes co-ordinated with other traffic signals,
  • warning marks (ie. coloured paint on road) that signal to motorists VERY clearly the presence of a bike facility
  • one-way cycling on both sides of the street,
  • the total elimination of right turns on red for motorists.
  • the absence of curb cutouts for entry to businesses (a full right turn lane signalized where it crosses the bike path)

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted August 14, 2009 at 10:13:40


As a motorist and a cyclist, I also look for cyclists as much as possible. I never get out of the car without checking the mirrors for cyclists approaching, I'm always respectful of them when passing, etc.

That being said, there are places where, due to hedges or other obstacles, it's perfectly safe to pull out after checking the corner for pedestrians, but flat out impossible to see cyclists moving at road speeds on the sidewalk.


I'm a little confused by your position. Are you supporting riding on the sidewalk if you have your child on the bike? Sidewalks are significantly more dangerous for bikes unless you're moving at a walking speed, in which case it begs the question: "What's the point?".

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By jason (registered) | Posted August 14, 2009 at 10:32:50

No, I always ride on the road. But if I have my kids and am using a street like Main, King etc.... I will take the sidewalk.

I fully agree that the road should be used by bikes. Calmer, two-way streets like Locke, James etc.... are suitable for bikes. But there's no way I'll ride with my family alongside speeding transport trucks and cars that think it's an Indy track due to the design and structure of these roads with many lanes, timed lights etc.....

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By Brandon (registered) | Posted August 14, 2009 at 12:20:49

Your choices for safety in that case are threefold:

1) Don't ride on Main, King, etc, 2) ride on the sidewalk at a walking pace, or 3) ride on the road and take the lane.

Riding on the sidewalk is intuitively safer but actually more dangerous, much like riding on the road and hugging the curb. Having kids on board only exacerbates the dangers of sidewalk riding as you have less maneuverability.

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By Progress (anonymous) | Posted August 16, 2009 at 09:51:22

Infrastructure dollars flow to municipalities with an agenda. The automotive indistry was aggressive for advocating and championing the necessity for our extensive roadworks. In reality, this agenda supported their product, and their product alone.

We need to recognize this, raise it with our city council members, establish how our communities will not be used again in the future, and simultaneously work towards rectifying the current auto transport infrastructure systems with integrated forms of transport like bike lanes, streetcars. In order to make this change, this forum is great- but also a collective voice needs to be established. Share the Road Coalition is one way to go. Also, the use social networking to establish a consensus, and start writing your MPP, and the Minister of Transport.

Who in the Hammer can start a facebook group and get this going? Any volunteers?

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By adam2 (anonymous) | Posted August 27, 2009 at 02:04:45

I almost always ride on the road and cars consider me just another vehicle on the street. I was with a friend the other week and due to the friend's discomfort riding on the road, we took sidewalks. It was a nightmare for me.. I feared for my life at every driveway and every intersection. Very unsafe way of riding. For me, the safest way to ride is riding in the middle of the lane of multilane one way streets like King, Main, Cannon, Bay, etc.

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