Know the rules before riding away on your bicycle

A 76-year-old man was recently charged with driving a bicycle on a sidewalk after he was struck by a motorist. Can we assume that he knew it was called a sidewalk and not a sideride? Is this a question of a lack of knowledge or breaking the law knowingly? Should the motorist also be considered in this equation?

Following the death of a GTA cyclist this summer, I’ve been following the debate discussing whether or not cyclists should have to be licensed. The real question however is what would make our roads safer.

Licensing only addresses the problem if accidents are occurring because of cyclists’ lack of knowledge of the rules of the road; otherwise, as some have pointed out, such a system could be seen as another tax grab, and a strain on those that would have to enforce it.

Back in the late 70s in Ottawa, I remember my mother telling me I had to complete an Elmer the Safety Elephant bicycle safety program before being allowed to ride on the roads. There was a parking lot set up like a series of streets (I think it was run by the Ottawa Police) to make sure we could navigate corners and stops, using the appropriate hand signals. They also checked our reflectors, bell or horn, and mirrors, and enabled us to register our bicycles.

With the course completed, my mother told me that I was now too old to ride on the sidewalks, because I was riding too quickly and that drivers expect people on the sidewalks to be moving slowly. Like it says on Elmer’s website, I had moved from using my bicycle as a toy to a mode of transportation (

http://elmer.ca/safety-village/safety-on-wheels. php).

Since a training course doesn’t seem to be standard or required nowadays, parents should read through Elmer’s cycling tips and make sure children at least know the hand signals, wear a helmet, and are clear about the dangers of riding on the sidewalk.

Ideally, I’d like to see cycling rules as part of the educational curriculum across the board, along with a mandatory road test run with assistance from law authorities.

If the current “system” fails to prepare their children, then perhaps an online licensing system, like they did with the boat licensing, could be helpful (though it wasn’t helpful enough for our friend charged with operating a paddleboat without a PFD).

If we shift gears and assume “drivers” are already educated, it’s important that we all recognize that a licensing process doesn’t end bad behaviour. Motorists still make illegal turns, cut people off, and speed. Similarly, licensing won’t stop bike couriers from cutting across four lanes of traffic (perhaps people using a bicycle for their profession should be licensed, with license plates), nor will it prevent teens (and even old men) from riding on the sidewalk.

So far, I’ve put the onus on the cyclists for their role in making the roads unsafe, but that’s just one piece of the puzzle. It’s been my experience that cars don’t like to share the road; only a few motorists begrudgingly give cyclists the one metre of room that is supposed to be provided by law.

Perhaps it is the car drivers who require additional education or licensing? I’ve always wondered why motorists don’t have to do some type of online course/test to stay up to date with new laws (such as slowing down for emergency vehicles on the side of the road) or refresh their memories on what most of us consider the basics (using turn signals when turning, flicking off high beams when cars are

approaching, not opening car doors without checking if it was safe to do so).

Regardless, even if cyclists and motorists know and obey the rules of the road, there is another party to this issue: the city planners/workers. I’m not a pipe dreamer saying that we need bike lanes on every street, but we have to recognize that most of our highly trafficked roads are not set up to handle both cyclists and motor vehicles. Case in point, you may not have noticed it when driving your car or city vehicle down Queen Street, but on a bicycle, the potholes alongside the curbs are hazardous. In fact, the Ministry of Transportation website says: “Cyclists are allowed to safely use the full lane if staying close to the right edge of the road is unsafe.” Indeed, motorists need to heed the fact that cyclists “own the lane” when avoiding catch basin covers or deep potholes.

With a little asphalt, and some motorist and cyclist training on the rules of the road, the roads could be a much safer place for everyone.

Shouldn’t a city focused on green energy also want to focus on green living including more cycling commuters and bicycle tourism?

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