Graeme Stewart's Blog

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Graeme Stewart is interested in the intersections between media, politics and culture. He lives in Toronto with a wide array of consumer electronics, and can usually be found obsessively checking Google Reader for things to write about. His work has appeared on CBC Radio, CBC TV, blogTO , and his own index of miscellany and outrage, Nuncscio.com.

The Ontario coroner's report: The good, the bad and the takeaway

| June 20, 2012

I bike in Toronto. I’ve been hit by a car (and walked away), slipped on street car tracks, cussed out and been cussed out. It’s a great way to get around, but it can be tough out there.

So, I was interested to read the Ontario Coroner’s morbidly titled “Cycling Death Review“. I was concerned to learn that I am the right gender to get smoked on my bike (86 per cent of cycling fatalities were male), but slightly reassured that I’m not in the right age bracket (51 per cent were over 45). Happy that I didn’t make the list, but horrified that 129 people had to die on their bikes since 2006.

We need to fix this. The Coroner has some thoughts on how to make the roads safer.

Here’s what I liked:

--A ‘complete streets’ approach to cycling policy. Wait, an actual plan that emphasizes the safety of all road users? Take notes, Rob Ford.

--An ‘Ontario Cycling Plan’. We have a provincial highway act, so it only makes sense to take a provincial approach to making it work for cyclists.

--Comprehensive public awareness and education strategy. Almost all of the near-misses, hits, and confrontations I’ve seen or been a part of are the result of people not knowing what to do when. Start young, and teach everyone how to behave when their on the road, no matter the vehicle.

--Legislative change. I can has Idaho Stop?

--One Meter Rule for Passing Cyclists. If you can’t get around me safely, you can’t get around me. I’ve been grazed by my share of side mirrors, and anybody who does that should be fined to Hell and back.

--Mandatory side guards for trucks.I saw a girl get pulled under a dump truck once. I don’t ever want to see that again.

What I didn’t like:

--Mandatory helmet laws. I wear a helmet every time I’m on a bike. I don’t want a brain injury. But the whole mandatory helmet thing is a complete strawman. Whenever somebody gets hurt or killed on a bike, one of the first things any reporter will say is “The cyclist, who was/wasn’t wearing a helmet…”. The implication is always “it sucks that you got hit by that BMW SUV, but you weren’t wearing a helmet, so it’s your fault you’re hurt.” Bullshit. Accidents have operative causes. Helmets do nothing to prevent accidents or make people drive better. They only mitigate injury. The key to bicycle safety is everybody (cyclists, drivers and pedestrians) paying attention, being considerate, and knowing what they’re doing. It has nothing to do with helmets. Stuff will always happen, so if you want some extra protection on your head, great. But it’s none of the guvmint’s damn business.

But here’s the big thing for me: 44 per cent of the deaths were the fault of the cyclist, 33 per cent were the fault of cars, and 48 per cent were the fault of both the cyclist and the driver. What does that mean? No group is deserves all the blame, and everyone shares responsibility for making the roads safe. The whole “cars vs. bikes” narrative is nonsense. Jerks are jerks whether they are operating a car, a bike, or walking around. And everyone has the capacity to be a jerk. It’s not about banning cars or bikes or separating the two forever. It’s about not being a jerk, obeying the rules, and looking out for your own safety and the safety of your fellow road citizens. A few legal tweaks, a bit of education and a lot of care will go a long way to safer streets. For everyone.

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