Conley trial illustrates the problem with the Laurier Bike Lane

The criminal trial of the driver who killed a cyclist as she was travelling on Laurier makes me think the real crime is the bike lane itself.

Conley didn’t see Nusrat, he told the court, because her bicycle was at the stop line for cyclists — in the driver’s blind spot.

This quote is from CBC coverage of the criminal trial of Steven Conley, the driver who killed Nusrat Jahan as she was cycling on Ottawa’s Laurier Avenue bike lane has me quite concerned.

Granted, it’s part of Conley’s defense team’s argument, but I don’t think the facts are in dispute. Conley’s lawyers say he failed to signal, but did everything else right when he turned right, striking and killing Jahan as she waited at the stop line.

They argue that doesn’t amount to criminal negligence or dangerous driving. Just a traffic ticket.

That’s as may be. Jahan also did everything right. Only she’s now dead.

Even if Conley had used his turn indicator I am not sure if Nusrat (or any cyclist) could have gotten out of the way in time. Perhaps if Conley had used his turn indicator far enough in advance, Nusrat might have stayed back — even taken the lane — to avoid being right-hooked. But probably not since the city installed this spiffy dedicated lane for her to be safe in.

This troubles me deeply because it makes me think that the Laurier bike lane, the centrepiece of Ottawa’s cycling infrastructure, when used as directed, is a mere flick of a lever away from being a death trap.

There’s risk in road travel – also granted. But the city with its infrastructure (signage, markings, signals) and the province with its laws (Highway Traffic Act) warrants: “if you do as we tell you, you will be as safe as you can be.” This is not the case here.

The infrastructure told the rider to move into the truck’s blind spot and wait for a signal. Then gave the truck the signal to proceed. Then tragedy.

I do support those trying to make Ottawa a better, safer city for cycling and pedestrian travel. And I applaud their victories against the mindset that privileges car travel and driver convenience over everything — including safety and common sense. And the Laurier and O’Connor cycle lanes might be shining monuments to their struggles, but they’re also shining examples of how compromise can actually be worse than nothing.

The judge is expected to issue a verdict in February 2019. But I’m re-issuing mine on Ottawa’s cycling infrastructure.