Suicide by car


On the wrong side

Someone, somewhere decided that building infrastructure that combines all non-motorized traffic was an efficient use of land.

One great fact of non-motorized traffic is that it has a much lower rate of fatalities — less chance of one mode user killing another.

While multi-use paths such as Cawston, Rails With Trails, and Casorso are good examples of ways to move a lot of people, we don’t use them as well as we could.

A great factor in the “low risk of death” aspect of cycling, skateboarding, running, and walking is that by going at relatively low speeds you can see what’s coming. Agility also provides a way to avoid hazards and collisions.

I point out these two aspects for a reason. We’re not using multi-use paths correctly.

Cyclists glide up silently around pedestrians. Pedestrians wearing headphones just blithely cross exits and entrances. Plenty of chances for fun and stress.

No signs, no instructions, batteries not included. They build it and we’ll come.

Intuitively, we travel on the right just like motorized traffic does on vehicle roadways. Nothing usually happens because the traffic (yes, we’re *all* traffic) that is overtaking others will take evasive action before a collision occurs.

This still scares people. Sadly the number of bells on bikes is pretty low and the practice of at least calling out a warning to someone is not second nature.

And don’t let me get started about dogs on leashes.

So my suggestion is that we start doing things a bit differently.

Any user that is on foot — walking, running, taking the pooch out for stroll — should stay to the outside of the path and move in a contraflow direction.

Any user that is rolling on wheels, stay closer to the centre of the path and move in the normal direction of travel.

What this accomplishes is that everyone will have the greatest amount of time to deal with anyone else from a “collision potential.” Fewer number of surprises.

If a walker and a cyclist are coming from opposing directions, they’ll be on the same side of the path but they’ll be able to see each other and negotiate who moves.

If a skateboarder and walker are going the same direction, they are already on opposite sides so no one really has to do much to not collide.

If two cyclists are approaching each they can gently aim to the sides where there won’t be pedestrians, or if there are people on foot they will be able to adjust speed and allow for a smooth blending.

People wearing headphones can use their eyes to see what is going on. Since having no motors means they are pretty silent and hearing won’t be as effective at keeping a person safe as when dealing with cars on the road.

I’ve been doing this for about five years now. Every once in awhile, I find someone else doing the same and if the chance arises I’ll strike up a conversation.

Many times, I’ve discovered that the other person is from Europe where they have these types of trails in abundance and don’t think twice about them. And this is the way they work.

I’ve heard complaints that cyclists and pedestrians don’t like mixing the different modes on the multi-use paths. Here’s an idea that might solve the main complaints such as fast-silent bikers and chaotic-wandering walkers.

I’d say “go with the flow” but in this case, don’t, if you’re on foot.

The last ingredient that it needs, I leave it to the end to hopefully make the greatest impact:

  • everyone needs to be polite and respect other users.

Bike it upside down

A few things lately have made me think that we need to change the way we approach ideas.

We should engineer ways to succeed instead of trying to poke holes in something to make it fail.

I read a good piece about the fact that it is really difficult to have a good conversation about bicycle helmets. One quote in it from Lars Bo Anderson who talks about how Denmark had 26 deaths in the whole country last year, but instead of focusing on that fact, it should be noted that cycling saved 6,000 lives last year.

While thousands of people die each year in car crashes, we don’t have any offsetting health benefits to sitting behind the wheel of a car.

Then, this picture from Vondelpark in Amsterdam shows a dad carrying a toddler in his arms while riding a bike.

Facebook users had a lot to say, mostly about how terrible a dad for putting his child in danger when there was a child seat right there.

People looked at the picture and immediately saw in their imagination the dad crashing on his bike and the child being hurt. (There were also several comments about how the back tire really needed more air.)

Luckily, I have a co-worker from The Netherlands who took a look at the picture and said that it’s something you can see every day. No one from there would think twice since the risk is low in that environment.

These examples seem to indicate that we are focusing too much on the negative of cycling. 

Similarly, people seem to think all cyclists have a death wish when they see a few who don’t ride with helmets or behave in an unsafe manner on the road. That’s not most cyclists, data has shown that both cyclists and drivers break the rules at the same rate.

During Bike To Work Week, hundreds of responsible cyclists stopped by the celebration stations. These are the cyclists who make up the majority, but because they blend into traffic we don’t take notice. We see the cyclists who scare us.

When we see a cyclist without a helmet, we automatically see that Hollywood-produced scene in our heads with the ambulance EMT standing forlornly over an unmoving body. Cue the wailing family and the guilt-ridden driver who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Seeing only the negative in any activity limits our ability to explore it. Should we do this with cycling?

The bicycle was invented 200 years ago as horses starved due to large clouds of ash from a volcano eruption. It expanded how people could get around. 

Two hundred years and bicycles still hold a strong place in our society. Let’s look for ways to celebrate the bicycle. Look at all it offers us: better health, easy mobility, less pollution. That’s just the short list.

Look for the cyclist wearing a helmet, look for the cyclist signalling and staying visible in traffic.

Look for drivers who notice cyclists.

See road users who show respect to others.

These are the positive things that will help us all get where we want to go in a better frame of mind.


Catering to the top

Kelowna has a good cycling network. It has good coverage and it has connected most parts of town.

But — you knew there was a but in here somewhere — you have to be part of the top 10 per cent to use it on two wheels.

This refers back to the categorization that came out of Portland a decade ago where they defined the following groups (based on 2016 data):

  • Strong and Fearless (5%)
  • Enthused and Confident (4%) 
  • Interested and Curious (55%)
  • No Way No How (36%)

I can make this claim because there is no “one” design for the infrastructure. Even on my short commute work, less than two kilometres, there are three different types:

  • Low volume, shared roadway
  • Bike lane, on street
  • Sharrows, shared roadway

Low-volume streets might have parked cars; you don’t want to weave in around them. Just pick a good line and stay straight. 

Bike lanes are good, but will typically have more traffic roaring past at faster speeds and many times can have debris on the pavement which needs to be taken into account.

Sharrows, well, there’s not a lot of good I can say these unless the speed limit has been reduced to 30 kilometres an hour. Recent studies have shown that they don’t increase safety for anyone.

Separated facilities, cycle tracks and multi-use paths, are great. But no matter how long they are, a cyclist still has to deal with crossings and intersections. 

Figuring out the route to get anywhere you have to find what types of infrastructure you’re comfortable riding. This takes time, practice, and experience.

If we had more separated infrastructure and better intersection treatments, it could encourage people who don’t currently entertain cycling as a mode of transportation to try it.

That takes money, lots of money. And it would inconvenience drivers, can’t have that.

So what next?

Let’s find people who want to do more, who realize the potential of cycling. You know that potential, better health, and more discretionary funds

What do you think would happen if a new cyclist rode around with an experienced cyclist?

You’re correct; the new cyclist would gain confidence and experience at a quicker rate than just riding alone.

This is the idea of “pair cycling.” Let the “strong and fearless” lead by example and bring the “interested and curious” up to being the “enthused and confident."

Cyclists who have been out there and ride a lot will typically be the ones who know the secrets of staying visible; of knowing which rules of the road that keep someone on two wheels safest, and knowing how to get places quickly.

Trailforks.com is a great resource of trails to ride that is built by riders for riders. They share their knowledge through this site.

Let’s find a way to share resources. Are you the “interested and curious?" Are you “strong and fearless?" We can conquer the network. 

To get involved, email me at [email protected].

More Grind My Gears articles

About the Author

As a youngster on two feet, a teenager on two wheels, then a young adult on four wheels, Landon has found that life is really about using all modes of transportation. Currently a cycling advocate with the Kelowna Area Cycling Coalition he tries to lower road rage on both sides.

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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