Commentary

A Lucky Break?

A recent altercation on the road highlights the uphill struggle to support and promote cycling in Hamilton.

By Grant Ranalli
Published June 07, 2007

On the morning of Monday, May 28, at 8:20 AM, I was cycling northbound on Locke St. just before Main St., on my way to school.

A guy in a white van did a 'rolling' stop at Jackson, turning onto Locke. He was yammering away on the cellphone, oblivious and looking to his right, and did not see me coming from his left.

I hit the brakes and swerved to avoid him. After I recovered, I rode up and rapped on the side of his van and told him to put the cell phone down and pay attention to his driving. He then told me that if I touched his truck again he'd kill me.

I got off the bike and walked to the front right corner of his van to get his licence number. At that point he drove forward right over my right foot and knocked me to the ground. Fortunately, there is no permanent damage, but I would call that assault.

As I lay on the pavement, no one in the cars lined up to proceed straight through the light got out to assist me or, better yet, act as a witness.

One person drove around the corner to the fire station to tell them a guy was hit by a car. In five minutes a fire truck came, but I had already flagged a passing police cruiser.

The driver of the van gave his statement, denying everything. I gave my statement and the police said that they could do nothing because there were no witnesses ... a sad but unfortunately true fact.

Thanks for Nothing

I'm not sure what to be more upset about: a guy almost killing me by reckless driving and then physically assaulting me with his vehicle; or the fact that no other driver could spare a few minutes to come to the aid of a cyclist lying in the middle of Locke St. on a busy Monday morning.

I don't exactly know what can be done about this now but incidents like this beg for some action on advancing the timetable for more bike lanes and much stiffer penalties for drivers cutting off and endangering cyclists, and for a ban on the use of cell phones while driving.

I know that cyclists sometimes don't always obey all the rules of the road - they sometimes run stops signs. However, there is a fundamental difference. If a cyclist runs a stop sign or red light, they endanger no one but themselves. If a motorist does the same, they can very much endanger the life of a pedestrian or cyclist, with little consequence to themselves.

In a car-bike battle, the car always wins. There is a fundamental imbalance of power here and the law must recognize it by putting much more onus on the motorist to beware of pedestrians and cyclists.

Third Class Citizens

So, it seems that once again, cyclists are treated like third class citizens. In fact, we pay taxes for the building and upkeep of roads, yet our vehicles do little damage to them like cars and trucks do.

We don't burn precious non-renewable fossil fuels, we don't pollute the environment with noise and noxious fumes, we take up less space on the roads and ease traffic congestion, we don't require acres of parking lots - so the City should do everything in their power to encourage the use of such environmentally sustainable transportation.

Yet I read that the budget for the cycling committee has been cut because it was not used - why was the money not used for more bike lanes, post and rings for locking bikes, more education on cycling, and so on?

Car drivers are still disrespecting cyclists every day. I suppose I would have had to be badly maimed or killed before police pursued the motorist who assaulted me - but because my injuries were not serious (luckily for him) he gets away with no penalty.


Update: Response from Councillor McHattie

Hi Grant,

Thank goodness that you weren't seriously hurt. The behaviour of the motorists in question and the motorist onlookers is appalling to say the least. I've shared your email with my contacts at Hamilton Police Services (HPS) and our Traffic dept.

There is a new pedestrian safety committee at HPS and I think they should take this on as a classic case study. You may also want to share your experience with CATCH [Citizens at City Hall].

On the City cycling budget: I have been working on having the report to bring on a cycling coordinator position back to Public Works committee and that will happen in late June. I believe that we will be successful this time.

There has been a backlog of projects undone and the key is to have the dedicated staff person to deliver the projects (vs taking small amounts of time away from our Traffic staff) - once we get the backlog out of the way I think we can come back in the 08 budget with a larger request (i.e. more than $300K, to get back some of the money we didn't get this year).

I can only thank you for strong commitment to cycling and lowering your ecological footprint and I'll certainly commit to pushing for more change at City Hall.

Thanks for everything that you do!

Brian

Grant Ranalli lives in Hamilton and works as an elementary school teacher.

22 Comments

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By Frank (registered) | Posted June 08, 2007 at 12:41:40

I biked to work several times this spring but stopped after almost getting hit by a snack truck at the corner of Grays Road and Barton Street. I agree that in a car-bike battle the car will win but I don't agree with the statement that when a cyclist disobeys a stop sign or some other rule of the road that he only endangers himself. When a driver does see a cyclist do something "illegal" he will try to avoid that person either by slamming on the brakes or swerving... That in turn scares other drivers and could eventually lead in only the cyclist being the one that's not hurt. Also, just a comment... does it not make sense to drive in the left hand side of the right lane? When you're riding a motorcycle, that's what's suggested because it forces the driver to make a complete lane change as opposed to just moving over slightly. To me, that seems safer.

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By Jon Dalton (anonymous) | Posted June 08, 2007 at 16:04:25

I ride my bike for 5 minutes as part of my commute, along Appleby Line over the QEW. This short stretch of road will probably be the place where I die, because it's more dangerous than anywhere else I ride. Bikes have to go between 2 lanes of speeding traffic because they can't keep to the extreme right in the merging lanes from the highway, so I just stay in my legal position to the right of the regular traffic lane. Drivers honk and swear quite regularly simply for being on the road, as if I should be on the QEW on-ramp instead, waiting for a break in the line of cars already accelerating to get on the highway. Most drivers simply do not recognize that cyclists are part of the traffic flow, and that can be blamed on lack of education and such a low percentage of cyclists. I felt safer in European cities even with their narrow lanes, because drivers simply drive past leaving ample clearance. These days I don't even look behind me when I hear a transport truck coming behind me - I figure this is the way I'll eventually leave the world anyway.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2007 at 11:20:50

Here is one way to encourage cycling that is virtually free: rewrite the traffic laws to allow cyclists to treat stop signs as yield signs and red lights as stop signs. Idaho does this now: http://www3.state.id.us/cgi-bin/newidst?...

Here is some more interesting reading: http://www.bclu.org/stops.html

And a good article about how stopping is physically detrimental to cyclists (pdf): http://socrates.berkeley.edu/~fajans/pub...

I will be writing my councillor today with these suggestions.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2007 at 12:11:43

Good points seancb. It's encouraging to see that other municipalities have considered differet rules for cyclists.

I'm discouraged (but not surprised) by the repeated assertions by some, that bicycles are just as hazardous to cars. Can we not just all agree on the general principal that cars are potentially way more dangerous than bikes? And thus must be subject to stricter laws? It seems like such a basic point...

It is of course, not reasonable for bikes to stop at every stop sign and traffic light. Of course cyclists need to proceed with caution and respect other road users but to tar all cyclists with the same 'nuisance' brush just because some of them are idiots is not helping this discussion.

At some point we could expand this topic to include pedestrians too. For example, I'm in favour of abolishing jaywalking as an offense. It seems crazy to me that we should treat every mode of transport as if they were a car.

Oh, and one more - ban right turns on a red for cars! (I think this is illegal in Montreal already).

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2007 at 12:19:00

The best argument in my mind for changing the laws at intersections for bicycles is that it would absolutely increase CONSISTENCY. Right now, the problem is that some cyclists stop, some yield, some blindly charge through, some ride onto the sidewalk, some go against traffic to avoid a light, etc.

If the laws are changed in such a way that safety is encouraged through creating a path-of-least-resistance for bikes (i.e. by giving cyclists the right of way whenever safety dictates), more cyclists will follow the laws and drivers will be able to better predict how riders will act.

Of course there will always be moron cyclists the same as there are moron drivers, but we need to design for the majority of users, and deal with the fringe cases separately.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted June 12, 2007 at 12:25:51

If I'm not mistaken, Quebec has recently rescinded its ban on right turns on red lights. Anyone out there know for sure?

I would never argue that bikes are just as hazardous as cars, but I can't tell you the number of times my kids and I have nearly been hit by cyclists riding on sidewalks. A bike can seriously hurt a young child. I also know of an elderly woman in my neighbourhood who suffered a broken leg when she was hit by a cyclist running a stop sign.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2007 at 14:10:23

You're right, highwater. Cyclists should almost never ride on the sidewalk. Aside from the risk of hitting pedestrians (who meander unpredictably almost by definition), riding on the sidewalk is also more dangerous for cyclists than riding on the road. In a major study conducted in Toronto a few years ago, collisions involving cyclists disproportionately involved cyclists on the sidewalk, usually when they were trying to cross an intersection.

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By sidewalkslulker (anonymous) | Posted June 12, 2007 at 14:47:21

the problem is, the sidewalk ''feels'' safer even when it isn't (I guess the same way an SUV ''feels'' safer). for people just getting into cycling, riding on the sidewalk feels like a nice transition. it can be scary to ride on the road and have cars humming by...you don't know if you can trust them or what you should do if one gets too close.

maybe they should promote and popularise safe cycling courses for noobs--the city could hold free half day seminars to get people out of there shell.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 12, 2007 at 17:04:17

It's less about sidewalks feeling safer than it is about roads feeling very dangerous, especially in Hamilton where even the smaller side streets are often treated as freeways. A big part of the problem is that roads are designed around cars, and any thoughts toward bikes are just afterthoughts.

In the end, the best way to make roads safer is to get as many people out of cars as possible. This means actively encouraging transit, cycling and walking.

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 12, 2007 at 19:21:35

last year when in Montreal they still had the 'no right on red' in the entire city. Great and simle idea. Sean, great ideas.
Hamilton keeps talking about 'balancing our transportation' system while refusing to hire a single person to man the cycling office, not spending a dime of the measley $300,000 cycling budget and going crazy on road/highway construction at hundreds of millions of dollars.

I'd fall over in joy if we simply got serious about bringing about this so-called balance.

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By stephanie (registered) | Posted June 15, 2007 at 12:31:47

You're certainly not wrong to sense a prejudice against cyclists predominating that upsetting incident, Grant, both from the driver and the police. "No witness / No crime" is not a hard-and fast rule. If the police wanted to protect your saftey and your rights that could have investigated more seriously and dragged it out until the motorist likely caved and admitted his error.

Seven months ago I was accused of hitting my boyfriend's unruly daughter (nearly 14 yrs old). After raising her for 10 years without any issues no one even questioned whether she was telling the truth. Even with her long history of anger management issues and problematic lying, I was charged with assault and have spent several thousands of dollars defending myself against an alleged crime in which there are no witnesses and no evidence other than hearsay and opinion. There is "no reasonable prospect of conviction" in my case, and the rules say that the Crown must withdraw the charges thusly, but...on it goes. My life has been shattered in ways that cannot be repaired no matter what happens next.

There is more "system" than "justice", Grant, and it distresses me now to hear how many other people are shunted by the system in countless ways, both minor and significant. You sound like you're living a good, proactive life, Grant, and I encourage you to continue as you have been. Let that insult pass over you without leaving its mark.

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By funkymonkey (anonymous) | Posted June 15, 2007 at 14:36:58

Hey Steph,

That sounds rough. It reminds me of a time I was accosted by Children's Aid. My daughter stepped into the bathtub and scolded her foot. As soon as my wife took her to Emerg the Child Protection Force took over...!

My other kids were removed from school and questioned by a social worker ("Does your Dad shout at you?" "How does he discipline you?" etc). My wife was held under supervsion at the hospital and then taken to the police station and interviewed. The interview was video taped. And then it was my turn.

Our house was then inspected to make sure our story 'made sense'. Bloody idiots.

I'm all for child protection but that was one horrible day. Needless to say when my kids get a bruise or a cut these days, we don't go anywhere near the hospital :)

There are so many injustices out there I really feel for you and Grant. You just have to shake your head and get on with it :)

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By Brian (registered) | Posted June 15, 2007 at 16:33:02

Grant,

You have my sympathy. In fact, all cyclists have my sympathy. It is no fun tangling with motorists who have little regard except for getting to and from work as fast as possible, chatting on their cells the whole time there and back.

However, I take great exception with your defense of cyclists who run red lights, stating that they only endanger themselves. As a child, I was ran down by a cyclist who ran a red light as I was crossing the road with the light. And continuously, I see cyclists around McMaster who run lights and stop signs, causing confusion and headache for motorists and pedestrians (is (s)he going to stop, or not?).

Please, don't make excuses for cyclists. Just because they have less mass than autos is no excuse for not obeying the Traffic Act.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 18, 2007 at 13:53:15

Brian, I am sorry to hear that you were injured by a rogue cyclist. And I know that you are more than "just a number", but you must agree that you are statistically in a very very very small minority. The "cyclists don't inflict injury on others" argument always riles people up. However, in this case I don't think that it is presented as an "excuse" for cyclists breaking the law.

Motorists always complain that cyclists get away with "breaking the rules all the time". The implication of this statement is that cyclists NEVER obey the rules while motorists ALWAYS obey. The "obey the traffic act" card gets played every time, usually by motorists (who may also be cyclists, but who rarely prefer cycling to driving).

I would like to see some data which takes the damage done by motorists whose only violation is speeding (i.e. ignoring all other violations) -- and compares it to the damage done cumulatively by every rule-breaking cyclist over the course of a year. I'd wager that our "optional" speeding laws cause more pain and suffering in one month than all cyclist-at-fault incidents cause in a decade.

I am all for enforcement of rules as long as the enforcement is actually balanced. Start ticketing every stop-sign-running cyclist as soon as every motorist doing 55, 60, 70 or beyond in a 50 zone is also penalized -- and don't forget those motorists who feel that 5km/h at a stop sign is close enough to zero to count as a stop.

Motorists argue that the laws should apply to everyone, and I fully agree. Next time you are navigating your 2000-pound vehicle at 10km/h over the limit through my neighbourhood and slowing to 5km/h for each stop sign, please do go ahead and get enraged about the 200-pound bike-with-rider "running" a stop sign at 10km an hour.

Sorry if my sarcasm comes across as harsh, but I'm tired of hearing the same line over and over. We have an enforcement strategy that has made it virtually legal for drivers to break traffic laws, and the sense of entitlement that these drivers have makes me sick.

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By Rusty (registered) - website | Posted June 18, 2007 at 18:19:01

Spot on Sean. I'm a little tired of folks making assumptions about the cyclists argument here. Nobody on this discussion stream has advocated any law breaking for cyclists. We are not promoting one rule for 'us' and another for 'them'

The reality is that many of us (I can speak for the RTH contributors in this discussion) are drivers AND cyclists. As a driver I have been frequently impeded, cut-off and annoyed by cyclists. But that doesn't mean the solution is to continue to have them/us abide by these arcane car-laws.

Your argument for targetting car drivers and cyclists offsenses is equally is right on. But in reality these offenses are not comparible. A 5 K speeding car offense is not comparible with any cycling offense that I can think of (in terms of the potential harm to pedestrians). Any moderate infraction by a motorist is way more potentially harmful than some of the worst cycling offenses. Surely anyone can see that...?! We need to be objective in this discussion, but we also need to apply a little common sense too. For every Brian getting knocked over by a bike there must be a hundred far far worse car related incidents (assumptions assumptions... I too would like to see some data on this).

Anyway I still like the original suggestion on this discussion stream - CHANGE THE LAWS for cyclists so they can get some leeway and stop abiding by what are essentially car centric laws, and then apply the laws equally to all modes of transport.

Cheers

Ben

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By jason (registered) | Posted June 18, 2007 at 22:18:38

you're right Ben. I'm both a rider AND driver. And you know what? I get cut-off, yelled at and honked at FAR more by car drivers than by cyclists. Why do drivers accept such behaviour from other drivers, yet freak out the odd time it happens from a cyclist? You're right- change the laws. It's the only way to balance the playing field.

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By Ryan (registered) - website | Posted June 19, 2007 at 08:53:51

Re: "We have an enforcement strategy that has made it virtually legal for drivers to break traffic laws"

We visited the US over the weekend, and I was struck, as I always am when I drive on the highway, with how the speed limits on Canadian highways are 'more what you'd call guidelines than actual rules'.

I was driving around 110-115 km/h, and was easily the slowest car on the road. The average speed seemed to be closer to 130 km/h, and some cars were going much faster.

Across the border, by contrast, everyone drove at or very near the speed limit, which ranged between 55 and 65 mph (88.5 - 104.5 km/h). And yes, that Sammy Hagar song was running through my head the whole time ;)

I saw two cruisers and both had someone pulled over. State troopers don't mess around.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 19, 2007 at 10:30:56

Meanwhile people are shocked at the recent bloodbaths on the 400... it's time to knock some sense into Canadian drivers.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 21, 2007 at 10:05:43

Ben, Regarding some data, Ken Kifer has a great page which breaks down some of the statistics of collision deaths in the USA: http://www.kenkifer.com/bikepages/health...

sidewalkslulker, Here is a great article on the actual safety of SUVs compared to the perceived safety. Really an excellent read! http://www.gladwell.com/2004/2004_01_12_...

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By Brian (registered) | Posted June 21, 2007 at 12:59:32

Sean and Rusty,

Don't get me wrong, I know that autos will cause greater consequences than cyclists when their respective operators fail to observe traffic laws. I just don't get the hypocrisy that it is more 'acceptable' for cyclist to 'bend' laws because their consequences are less destructive.

Traffic Laws apply to autos and pedal-traffic equally (at least, to a great extent). If it doesn't make sense, then campaign to change the law. I'll be right there with you. But when individuals can rationalize breaking the law to suit their needs, no matter how objective, then anarchy ultimately prevails.

So let's agree that there are many advantages to promote cycling, and that bicycles should have separate laws to recognize their uniqueness, especially considering their obvious disadvantages regarding safety when tangling with motor vehicles, and that these laws, along with all traffic laws including speed limits, need to be enforced!

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 21, 2007 at 13:56:53

Yet a vast majority of drivers (99.9% if not 100%) break laws every time they drive and on every street they drive (I'm talking about speeding and rolling stops mostly). So if we aren't going to fix up the laws, we should all be given the same blind-eye treatment.

It's not that cyclists' law-bending actions should be "more acceptable" but that they should be EQUALLY acceptable. As I said -- start ticketing every infraction by a cyclist, but not until motorists treated to the same punishment.

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By seancb (registered) - website | Posted June 21, 2007 at 13:59:16

Anyway we agree on the major point: the traffic laws need to be rewritten to better serve all road users, and enforcement should be completely non-prejudiced.

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