Cycling safety: attitudes before infrastructure

There I was, riding south down Farmers Way. I was doing a workout, going somewhere between 36 and 40km/h — half the posted speed limit — in the middle of the southbound lane.

If you don’t happen to know Farmers’ Way, it could easily be called Farmers Out of the Way. It runs south from Russell Road where the 417 cuts it off, then continues between Leitrim and Mitch Owens. I ride it a lot because, apart from the people who live there, almost no one else uses it.

It gets so little use, I expect, because the pavement is in horrid shape. Spiderweb cracking, crevasses and sharp undulations would make most people think they’re taking months off the life of their vehicle every time they drive it.

But there is a line of smooth that wends its way along, mostly down the middle of each lane.

So that’s where I was last week mid morning — hammering hard down the middle of the southbound lane with no one around in either direction, along the two kilometre stretch between Thunder Road and Mitch Owens. Because if you think taking the road on a padded car seat with modern shock absorbers is uncomfortable, try it seated on the equivalent of a piece of thin crust pizza atop a five centimetre wide frame buffered by 28mm tires.

A white CUV glided up behind me, leaned on the horn, pulled in to the (empty) north bound lane, still leaning on the horn, accellerated past me and pulled back into the lane maybe three feet in front of my wheel. Still honking, then sped off.

Avoid eye contact with rage-y drivers

I didn’t get the chance to discuss my concerns with the driver — the car went right onto Mitch Owens well before I reached the T-junction. Had we met, I expect I would have avoided eye contact and gone the other way ASAP — the feeling I got was that the driver was trying to pick a fight.

But on occasion, there’s other slow traffic on that road. Tractors and other farm equipment mostly. Possibly even horse riders. Would the driver have given them the same treatment?

I can’t imagine how I could possibly have been impeding the driver’s progress. Was the 900 metres of clear oncoming lane insufficient to overtake me safely?

Or was the driver just pissed off that I existed?

I’m telling this story in the aftermath of the hit and run death of a cyclist riding the Laurier bike lane this week.

I feel like we have elevated the motorist’s right to speed unimpeded along any road desired into some form of high principle. So precious is this need for speed that even the vague possibility of reduced velocity is justification for some form of protest.

The circumstances of this (very common) incident matter, I think because it tells me this isn’t about urban or rural roads, magic green paint or segregated lanes.

Speed is not a charter-guaranteed right

It’s about convincing people that travel at or above the posted speed limit is not a Charter-guaranteed right and that no one else you encounter owes you those extra milliseconds you’d carve off that journey if only they weren’t there.

I titled this post “attitudes before infrastructure” because I think the first people who need to learn this are those in charge of deciding and designing the cycling and pedestrian infrastructure needed to protect against outliers — drunks, distracted drivers, rage-aholics, etc etc.

If you view a bit of cycling or pedestrian infrastructure as some sort of bone you’ve got to throw the whiners, or as some additional slight against the god of traffic, you’re not going to push for good infrastructure. You’ll cave at the first sign of lost parking, shift the plan to the location with the fewest complaints and build half measures or worse — things that actually endanger pedestrians and cyclists.

What we need for this are people who see cycling and pedestrian infrastructure as a way to get cars off the road, reduce road maintenance and reduce the carbon footprint of the city and its residents. These people need to place these goals on a higher level than the immediate convenience of car drivers.