Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Two wheels good, four wheels also good

Eight simple rules to help motorists, cyclists get along

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As most motorists and cyclists in this city are aware, a car-bike collision at the intersection of Main Street and York Avenue on Wednesday left one person dead.

The cyclist became the seventh to die in Winnipeg since 2009. The night before the accident, I issued what seemed like a harmless tweet:

"Dear #Winnipeg cyclists: I respect and admire you. But when you ride on the sidewalk, you risk becoming a hood ornament. Please don't."

I'm certainly not prescient and I don't believe the cyclist killed by the Wednesday collision was on a sidewalk. But since tweets live on forever and fatalities are no joke, I feel compelled to try to say something constructive about car-bike coexistence in this city.

As a motorist and occasional cyclist, I see Winnipeg's roads from both perspectives. I do not believe, as some cyclists suggest, this city is overly hostile to bicycles. I also do not believe, as some politicians have attempted to claim, this city is among the best for commuter cycling.

I also do not believe, as some motorists maintain, too much has been done to benefit bikes.

Rather, Winnipeg is like the majority of cities in car-reliant North America: there are places where it's great to ride and places where it's freaking horrifying to be in traffic on a bike. Motorists can be intolerant to bikes and cyclists can ride in a dangerous and provocative manner.

But the vast majority of Winnipeggers in cars and on bikes follow the rules, on streets that have benefited from an infusion of at least $28 million worth of commuter-cycling and recreational bike-path infrastructure over the past four years.

In other words, there's no basis for setting up a dichotomy between motorists and cyclists, as many Winnipeggers who drive cars also ride bikes and vice versa. There's also no rational basis for complaining Winnipeg spends too much on active-transportation infrastructure when annual financial infusions into bike lanes and paths remain an order of magnitude below what's invested in roads and bridges capable of supporting the mass of cars and trucks.

For a variety of reasons, more Winnipeggers now choose to commute to work or school on bikes than they did in decades past. Given the benefits -- improved fitness, cost savings, a smaller environmental footprint and for some people, convenience -- this trend is likely to continue. It may even accelerate if milder winters become the norm.

In the meantime, there are a few simple things motorists and cyclists can do to reduce the potential for car-bike conflict. Most are common sense, but some may seem counterintuitive.

 

FOUR WAYS TO IMPROVE

ROAD SAFETY

IF YOU'RE ON A BIKE:

 

1. Don't ride on the sidewalk.

 

With the exception of several new, extra-wide paths designed for pedestrians and cyclists to shared -- most built along new regional, suburban roads -- there is no place for bikes on sidewalks. This is not just because of the potential for collisions with pedestrians, but because cars making right-hand turns can easily kill you.

A motorist who looks left and right before making a right-hand turn can not see or hear a fast-moving bicycle coming up behind their vehicle. As a result, riding on the sidewalk is the easiest way to ensure you will run into a car.

 

2. Observe traffic lights and stop signs.

 

Yes, there are many places in Winnipeg where it's frustrating to ride. But that does not give you the licence to run a red light or blow a stop sign.

The traffic circles on many residential streets were installed two years ago not to enrage motorists, but to reduce the number of the stop-start sequences cyclists despise. If one of these routes is not convenient, you still must observe the rules of the road.

Failing to do so only annoys motorists and can make them resent sharing the road with you -- and that frustration can lead to road-rage incidents.

 

3. In traffic, take up as much

of the lane as you can.

 

When there are few cars around, feel free to hug the curb. But in traffic, it's actually much safer to ride as if you are a car and create a big bubble of space around you.

Hugging the curb in traffic encourages motorists to attempt to slide by you. And that move could result in side-swipes.

The corollary is you should never slide by cars yourself, as that, too, is unsafe. It also freaks out people in cars.

 

4. Wear your damned helmet.

 

Wearing a helmet doesn't just improve your chances of surviving an impact. It shows motorists you are serious about road safety and therefore goes a long way in promoting goodwill between cyclists and people in cars.

FOUR WAYS TO IMPROVE

ROAD SAFETY

IF YOU'RE IN A CAR:

 

1. Treat bicycles as other vehicles.

 

Even though a bicycle is smaller than a car, it warrants an entire lane worth of space. Never try to slide past a cyclist, even when the bike in front of you is slowing you down.

Speeding up to the next red light is not worth the risk of a side-swipe collision.

 

2. Stay out of bike lanes

 

Those painted lines on the road aren't intended to be pretty. They're designed to give cyclists room on busy downtown streets -- and keep them away from your car.

There are times when you will have to cut across dedicated bike lanes, but driving over them is rude and dangerous, as cyclists will not expect you to be there.

 

3. Shoulder-check before

you change lanes.

 

Yes, you're always supposed to do this. But some motorists don't shoulder-check when they do not believe other vehicles are around.

Since bikes are small and quiet, they're easy to miss on the road, especially at night. So make sure you always look over your shoulder, at all times.

 

4. Don't use your vehicle

as a weapon.

 

Again, this goes without saying. Driving aggressively to shoo bikes out of the way is stupid, dangerous and illegal. Deliberately striking a cyclist can result in a multitude of charges, including assault.

If a cyclist is riding poorly, a simple honk should suffice. That horn is there for a reason -- feel free to use it, even in overly polite Winnipeg.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 2, 2012 A1

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About Bartley Kives

Bartley Kives wants you to know his last name rhymes with Beavis, as in Beavis and Butthead. He aspires to match the wit, grace and intelligence of the 1990s cartoon series.

Bartley joined the Free Press in 1998 as a music critic. He spent the ensuing 7.5 years interviewing the likes of Neil Young and David Bowie and trying to stay out of trouble at the Winnipeg Folk Festival before deciding it was far more exciting to sit through zoning-variance appeals at city hall.

In 2006, Bartley followed Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz from the music business into civic politics. He spent seven years covering city hall from a windowless basement office.

He is now reporter-at-large for the Free Press and also writes an outdoor-recreation column called Offroad for the Outdoors page.

A canoeist, backpacker and food geek, Bartley is fond of conventional and wilderness travel. He is the author of A Daytripper’s Guide to Manitoba: Exploring Canada’s Undiscovered Province, the only comprehensive travel guidebook for Manitoba – and a Canadian bestseller, to boot. He is also co-author of Stuck In The Middle: Dissenting Views of Winnipeg, a collaboration with photographer Bryan Scott.

Bartley appears every second Wednesday on CityTV’s Breakfast Television. His work has also appeared on CBC Radio and in publications such as National Geographic Traveler, explore magazine and Western Living.

Born in Winnipeg, he has an arts degree from the University of Winnipeg and a master’s degree in journalism from Ottawa’s Carleton University. He is the proud owner of a blender.

On Twitter: @bkives
Email: bartley.kives@freepress.mb.ca

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