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
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
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.