Ontario’s “Je ne sais quoi” Draft Cycling Strategy – part 2

The Ontario Draft cycling strategy is not very clear. “Fluff”, is what a former City of Ottawa planner told me last week. I guess that is why they turn to the public. So your input is needed. In fact, I received an email from Toronto saying: “that this piece has already broken the threshold for most comments received on the EBR (Environmental Bill of Rights) and it’s only been up for a few days.” 

Let’s zoom in into a number of issues, that are not overly hard to address.

There is little left for cyclists to share the road on Merivale Rd.
There is little left for cyclists to share the road on Merivale Rd.

Increase bike modal share by proper design

If you want to increase the bike modal share, you have to encourage people to start cycling in their own neighbourhood as most trips (of all trips, not just bike trips) are short trips. This is where you make the most gains in cycling participation. I think it is easier to encourage people to cycle to the neighbourhood strip mall than to go for a 140 km bike tour on a Saturday morning along Highway 7. In this context, I also expect considerable numbers of people cycling to the new Light Rail stations eventually. It is easy, cheap and practical.

Therefore design needs to be a big one in the policy. Developers have to take a responsibility too. Hand in hand with implementations such as short cuts for cyclists and pedestrians goes a ‘complete streets’ approach and traffic slowing initiatives, although Ottawa city council needs to warm up for 40 km, let alone 30 km zones still. There are many people who say they don’t feel safe on the road. Now that is somewhat subjective as many of us live on quiet streets, perhaps with a mall not to far away which you can approach -hopefully- through some back entrance from your neighbourhood.

However, if you go for the distance, you need to cross or share busier highways (Hunt Club, Walkley, Innis, Heron, Merivale, Riverside to name but a few), and that is where people get uncomfortable, rightly so. One can take a CAN BIKE course, but that doesn’t take away the fact that situations like in the picture above are not pleasant places to cycle. Safe alternative routes are not always there.

It would be a good step if routes were designed through neighbourhoods in such a way, that it is shorter to walk and bike than hop in a car, a practice I experienced in Sweden in a place called Linköping. Take a look at this map: Lambohov (once you zoom in, and drag the little yellow human figure around a bit, you’ll see what I mean: dead end streets that continue as bike and ped paths.)

Mandate early traffic education for everyone

Shoot, we just decided to pave the shoulders.
Shoot, we just decided to pave the shoulders.

I learned from the Ministry that courses exist and schools received manuals, but in the Ministry’s own words, “school boards don’t even know where the manuals are“, when the Ministry followed up with the school boards. The Ministry puts effort in the manuals, sends them off and then hopes for the best: your tax payers money not at work. This is obviously a total waste of time at the Ministry’s side. Hence mandating a course would help enormously. Relying on voluntary CAN BIKE courses is not enough.

We have to teach kids very early on how to react in traffic, not that traffic is a danger and that when one is sufficiently protected, that all is OK. If people learn how to react instinctively, be it a driver or a cyclist or pedestrian, we’d cut down on traffic accidents; we need to instil safer road behaviour. Unfortunately, there will always be drunk drivers, there will always be cyclists without lights. But if we can at least teach people at a young age about safe road use when they are most susceptible, we might be able to make Ontario safer.

Enforcement through clearer Highway Traffic Act

Not one, not two, but no less than three abreast in the East of the Netherlands.Not legal, but two abreast is.
Not one, not two, but no less than three abreast in the East of the Netherlands.Not legal, but two abreast is, in that modern cycle friendly nation. Note the curb indent in the side walk for an entrance way. the side walk itself remains flat.

Cycling two abreast

The Highway Traffic Act should be somewhat clearer for cyclists. An example: recently I asked a constable if cycling next to each other would be OK, and he argued that two vehicles cannot move in the same lane next to each other, other than when a car overtakes a bike (or the other way around, which happens more and more these days). He would fine me, he told me (It was only a hypothetical question at CfSC’s “Lights on Bikes” event). Others however, explained to me it is fine to cycle next to each other. While I don’t think  the police would make an issue of cycling two abreast in quiet neighbourhood streets when you cycle next to your 6 year old child, I suspect they’d stop you if cycle next to each other on Riverside.

I checked with Alayne, a long time bicycle advocate in Ottawa:

Side by side (or two abreast) cycling is allowed on Ottawa roads. It would have to be explicitly prohibited by a municipal bylaw, since the HTA does not prohibit it. CfSC, in fact, endorses two-abreast cycling (as of the board meeting of June 9, 1994 — I checked the minutes). The Regional Municipality of Ottawa Carleton removed its prohibition on two-abreast cycling around that time, and I do not remember any by-law changes since that that would change that situation.

Section 96.1 of the HTA does not prevent side-by-side cycling because of “is practible” just as it does not prevent left turns. The premise behind that section and 81.1 is that slow-moving vehicles shouldn’t hold up other traffic — i.e. a farm vehicle shouldn’t hog the road on a rural road. So if there’s little traffic around and a motor vehicle can easily pass a pack of cyclists going two abreast, then it’s not a problem. If there’s more traffic in either direction, then the cyclists should drop back into single file and stick to the right — and this is a standard manoeuvre.

Peter adds to this:

There’s a couple of strangely-worded clauses in the HTA that try to address the relative priority of vehicles in passing and overtaking situations. They appear to be hangovers from the times when roads were only one lane wide (…).

HTA does not address double-file, triple-file, whatever file you want – so it’s allowed. This has been a major issue in cycling advocacy for years (…). A lot of cyclists make the error of adjusting their actions to suit the convenience of other road-users – at the expense of their own safety. Riding single-file in a narrow lane is an example of this – if the lane is too narrow for a vehicle to pass safely, a single cyclist should take the lane, and a group of cyclists should maintain double-file formation. This action also facilitates passing when the other lane becomes clear because the group is only half the length.

Rear lights

Make rear lights mandatory. A rear reflector is currently good enough according to the Act, whereas a bright clear light would be much safer. The Act is really behind the times here, probably written in a time when kids were chasing each other on the bike in the local park and were home before dinner. Even better, why not make it mandatory to sell bikes with a set of basic lights, rather than a sheet of paper with (a link to) some safety instructions. Retailers can hide behind a competitive disadvantage if asked to voluntarily add lights. Proper bike lights should address a possible cause of accidents. I find it a major irritation that people don’t spend 10 dollars on a proper light, but meanwhile have a 699 dollars I-phone in the pocket. (at least download a free app with a red and or white light).

Implement one meter passing rule

This is often misunderstood. An Ottawa Citizen columnist addressed this last year, but totally missed the point. Bottom line is, that if a cyclist is hit by a car, the driver was likely too close to the cyclist. The onus is more on the one who drives the 3000 pound gorilla. And yes, cyclists do stupid things, but many do cycle the way they are supposed to. Fact is that some cars come way too close, even crossing the painted line of a bike lane. So if you keep your distance, as most do, you have nothing to fear as a driver. If you are a careless driver, you may want to take note. No one will be around with a measuring tape, but you might get a question how come you hit that child with your side mirror.

What can you do?

you can give input the the Policy. Here is the document: Ontario draft cycling strategy (in pdf) and the web site that goes with it. Do use your democratic rights to deliver input. Flood the folks in the Big Smoke with great ideas, but do it before January 29th, 2013.

Click here for Part 3 and here to go back to Part 1

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