We need a cultural shift in Hamilton and we need it now, not after every other city and town has proven that reducing limits is effective.
By Kari Dalnoki-Veress
Published December 31, 2014
We often hear about the importance of complete streets: the benefits to health, the local economy, and the community as a whole. We discuss the merits of inverting the focus on cars-first and pedestrians-last.
Here I would like to give a less evidence-based view resulting from a recent event. On Friday, December 12, on my daily commute home by bike, I was rear-ended by a car.
I will first try to establish that I am a well-seasoned cyclist, familiar with and obeying the rules of the road. I will then discuss the details of the accident and injuries and finish with my wish for our great city.
Let me make it clear that I am not looking for sympathy. I have wonderful family and friends for that. I merely hope that when you read this personal account and think of something similar happening to you, a loved one, or your kids, it might encourage you to write a letter to your Councillor or other representatives.
I have been commuting year-round by bike for about 24 years now in various cities: Guelph, Sheffield (UK), Paris (France), and Hamilton to name those I have cycled in most. My partner and I have toured around Southern Ontario.
After all these years of cycling, I consider myself to be pretty streetwise and safe. Simply put, I love bikes, cycling, and commuting by bike. Cycling provides me a daily respite, a bit of exercise, and a wonderful connection to the weather, the seasons, and the small changes in our environment.
Over the years I have seen the cycling infrastructure improve, sometimes two steps forwards and one step back and never fast, but cycling infrastructure has become much better.
Unfortunately, in my personal case the changes have not come fast enough and may result in some permanent changes to my life.
After a long day at work on Friday, December 12, my partner, a friend and I biked home from work at about 6:30 PM. Our friend was visiting from Paris (France) and we were looking forward to some exciting plans for Friday night to show off Hamilton.
Commuting home from McMaster to near Charlton and Queen, we always take the wonderful new bike path over Highway 403, follow Studholme, turn right onto Aberdeen and turn left onto Hawthorne to avoid Aberdeen as much as possible.
Aberdeen is a nasty street to cycle on, especially when travelling eastbound, because the traffic is very fast with so many impatient drivers after having exited Highway 403.
We usually stop in the bike box on Studholme and wait for our light to turn green so that we can turn into the left-most eastbound lane on Aberdeen. The green light provides us with enough time to get to Hawthorne so that about half the time, when there is no oncoming traffic, we can get off Aberdeen immediately.
In addition, the cars stopped by the red light on Aberdeen have plenty of opportunity to see us.
Regardless, we always consider this one of the most dangerous points of our commute when we cannot pull into the side street and have to wait for oncoming traffic to clear.
This is as it was on December 12: three cyclists in a row, all with front and rear flashing lights and with me holding up the back, our hands outstretched to signal our left turn.
As I always do, my road position was slightly staggered so as to ensure that I do not block the other cyclists' lights, thus providing more visibility.
As we stood there waiting to turn, there was a loud honk from a car in the rightmost lane trying to warn the driver behind me of what was about to happen.
Unfortunately, the warning was not sufficient to alert the driver and he hit me from behind, even though we were perfectly visible to others.
My friend, alerted by the honk, turned around and saw it happen. Apparently I was lifted by the car and went flying through the air.
The main thing that was going through my head was that we might not have time for drinks at Two Black Sheep, but could still make our reservation for dinner at Rapscallion.
I landed on my back, and in short, it could have been so very much worse. I was lucky.
If you are queasy, there is no need to read the next few paragraphs, but since I am not shy to talk about what happened I will give the details.
I was not lifted by the car alone. The force of the collision pushed the bike seat into me and the metal rail of the seat impaled me. Of course it does not take much to imagine where; after all, you sit on a bike seat.
The injury caused quite some damage to the rear and impaled me towards the front - yup, inside towards the manly bits.
It has been a bit over two weeks and I am currently healing at home and healing well. With a bit of luck the injury to the anus will not result in any major permanent issues. It may also be the case that normal function will return to the nether regions. It is all to soon to tell, but we are hopeful.
As I said, I was lucky, actually very lucky: it could have been much worse and I am surrounded by a wonderful partner, family and friends providing support, as well as home nursing, and I received great care at Hamilton General.
Why do I bother to share this? As stated, I do not want sympathy. What I do want is safer streets, and soon!
I want kids to be able to walk to school safely or to ride their bikes. A road like Queen street with cars racing with no buffer for the pedestrians is inhumane.
Streets like Main and King have to go: built for cars to speed through, designed on the cars-first and pedestrians-last principle.
Unfortunately, true complete streets take development and time and I view this as the ideal end goal. In the meanwhile, there is a solution that is simple, cheap, and severely reduces the impact and number of accidents: slow down!
For that matter, look at the 30 km/h zones in Hamilton's North End Neighbourhood, where kids can ride their bikes safely, play street hockey, loaf and kick-the-can.
Enough is enough: let's simply reduce and enforce the speed limit to 30 km/h on residential streets and 40 km/h on major roads.
If you are worried about the time cost, consider this: when you drive through a city you spend significant time accelerating and decelerating and are only at the maximum speed some of the time. As a result, a 20 percent decrease in speed results in less than a 20 percent increase in travel time.
The small time cost for drivers has a massive effect on the livability of our streets. We need a cultural shift in Hamilton and we need it now, not after every other city and town has proven that reducing limits is effective. Hamilton does not have to be last.
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