The Accidental Cyclist

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The Accidental Cyclist

20090320-cycling-accidents-0.jpg
Map from the Star’s Map of the Week.


What to make of a map of cycling accidents that shows that the most dangerous street for cyclists also happens to have a bike lane? The Star‘s Map of the Week blog presented that dilemma to cyclists in yesterday’s map of traffic accidents involving cyclists. With all 1,068 of the accidents reported to police last year plotted on the map, some clear patterns emerge: as you might expect, most accidents with bikes happen downtown on main streets. College (complete with bike lane), Queen, Bay (with its diamond lane), and Bloor all stick out on the map as having high levels of accidents throughout the core and into the west end, while relatively few accidents occur in northeast Scarborough or on the Gardiner.
But are downtown streets really more dangerous than high-speed arterials in the suburbs? Unlikely. The concentration of accidents downtown reflects the relatively high concentration of cyclists in those areas. It’s difficult to ride along College in the summer and not become one small link in a block-long chain of cyclists. And sure enough, statistics from Portland show what some cyclists (and your grandmother) know intuitively: there’s safety in numbers.
It’s also telling that both of last year’s fatalities occurred well outside the core: one cyclist was doored to death last spring (an offence for which the police were eventually cajoled into issuing a $110 fine, which we imagine the driver paid without complaint), and another was hit by a turning car late in the summer.
Part of the effort to increase the number of cyclists requires us to improve and expand the city’s cycling infrastructure. The recent West End Bikeways Project is aimed at improving the cycling realm west of downtown, while east-end cyclists have released safety reports about the Bloor Viaduct (full disclosure: I had a hand in editing this document) and in Leaside, Thorncliffe, and Flemingdon Park.
Building infrastructure is important, but cycling safety doesn’t depend solely on a stripe of white paint along the street. It requires respect (from both cyclists and motorists), attention (no more drifting into the bike lane while texting), and compromise (wait just two seconds and you can make that turn safely). If we all see other drivers and cyclists as people rather than obstacles in our way as we rush from hither to thither, we’ll all be happier—and safer.

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