An Open Letter to Ben Mueller-Heaslip

Posted on Jun 04, 2011

I’ve been cycling in Toronto year-round for about 10 years. I was one of those cyclists who ran the reds, rode across the pedestrian cross-walk, and had a flagrant disregard for anyone else but myself while riding. I was one of those cyclists until I got hit. Blind-sided by a car pulling into a busy inter-section to make a last-minute left on a yellow light. I was thrown from my saddle and my bike was a contorted mess. I was lucky that I suffered no serious injuries; but it was a few days before I could move again. A friend of mine was not so lucky. I decided that day that my behaviour was incredibly stupid and needed to change.

I don’t think @emmamwoolley is suffering from selection bias. I count the number of cyclists who stop with me at a red light and those who will run it at the opportune moment when all the lights are red (or most of them). More than half will run the light. I’ll start recording my results if anyone doesn’t believe me. Almost everyone will make a left by crossing on the pedestrian cross-walk at an intersection. The majority of cyclists believe that an all-crossing cross-walk is legal to use for cyclists. The people who do understand and obey the rules of the road while riding a bike are in the minority.

The cross-walk issue is a peeve of mine. Cross-walks are meant for pedestrians and I think many cyclists who do not understand the rules of the road do not realize that they are operating a vehicle (as far as the law is concerned). Glibly they whip under the string of yellow *X*s or dart around the right side of a car at an intersection into on-coming foot-traffic. I wince every time not because they are breaking a law but because I see the people who have to dodge out of their way. It’s not just a safety issue for cyclists and drivers.

Signalling. Watch each cyclist you come across and note whether they use the proper signals. This week alone I’ve seen just two people use a right-turn signal when turning right at an intersection. I’ve seen the majority of people just turn right, dart across a lane, or simply stop and get off their bike without a signal. It’s not in common usage.

One thing I think we can agree on though is that enforcement is key. I was happy to hear that the police were out in my neighbourhood last month handing out informational flyers to cyclists they caught breaking the law. Presumably the next time they “do a blitz,” they will be handing out tickets. However, I don’t really see isolated events like this stemming the tide of misinformation amongst the cycling community. It’s something at least I guess.

(Worse though, I saw a patrol of officers on bicycles cross at the cross-walk on their bikes. Riding three abreast. Ugh.)

Sadly I think that the only way to improving the situation is self-policing. Toronto isn’t known to have a very out-spoken populace. But the next time you see someone breaking the law, let them know. I know @emmamwoolley has tried this and received only derision; but what else is there but our principles? I would be encouraged to speak up if I saw more people doing the same… it’s the silence that kills us.

Maybe it will all disappear again in a few months when the trend buckles under the changing seasons… but I think action needs to be taken. I iike the fact that more people are choosing to ride their bikes. Yet I find myself as upset by ignorant cyclists endangering themselves and others by their choice to break the laws of the road as the drivers in their cars. And the pedestrians doing their best not to get in the way. It’s been getting worse every year and if something isn’t done soon I might just put up my bicycle for the summer (at least in winter it’s only us die-hards).