AMA and cycling organizations working with drivers and cyclists to make city roads safer for everyone

Calgary road safety training and cycling advocates are collaborating to create solutions for cyclists and drivers to share the road. As the first anniversary of the downtown cycle track network approaches, initiatives amongst these groups are making safety a top priority.

City councillor Brian Pincott says the city has a strategy to increase cycling as a means of transportation, adding that new infrastructure like the cycle track, which is protected by a physical barrier from moving cars, and bike lanes that have no barriers, are being developed in order to ensure the safety of cyclists when sharing the roads.

“Getting the bike infrastructure out there is kind of the first key to increasing bike safety,” says Pincott. “As infrastructure is introduced, making sure that everybody is aware of what it is, how it works, and how to use it will increase safety.”

A cyclist himself, Pincott says although there have been major improvements with cycling accessibility in the city, he prefers to bike in traffic.

“I am a fearless cyclist, so I get in traffic and ride with the traffic,” Pincott boasts. “I’ve had some close calls but I have generally take the attitude that I am just another vehicle on the road, so I am constantly watching out for drivers.”

“I have taken the roads because, from a transportation perspective, it has always been the most efficient way to go, in the straight line. The cycling network that we’ve had has been a little bit more meandering, so that’s why I have taken the roads.”

The Canadian Automobile Association’s website reports that 7,500 Canadian cyclists are seriously injured or killed every year, with most bicycle crashes, collisions and injuries occurring during the afternoon rush hour.

Alberta Motor Association’s Driver Education manager Ron Wilson has been teaching Calgarians how to drive safely for 25 years. He says cyclist safety is included in most driving education classes.

A cyclist travels on the 8 Ave S.W. portion of Calgary’s downtown cycle track network. The city and various cycling organizations in Calgary are working towards making the track safer for both drivers and cyclists. Photo by Kelsey Solway“It’s a necessity,” explains Wilson. “Bikes don’t have a lot of protection that drivers do, so they are vulnerable road users. We have tips for cyclists, and a website. In our classes there are many topics we cover and we definitely cover interacting with cyclists.”

“If you’re going to pass a cyclist, change lanes in advance. We teach about opening the door, checking blind spots, and shoulder checking, because lots of times the cyclists can be unseen if someone isn’t paying attention,” he adds.

“Cyclists are road users and have to follow rules, they have rights and responsibilities. Give them lots of room and space and be patient. We all share the road.”

The Province of Alberta Traffic Safety Act, the City of Calgary Traffic Bylaw and the City of Calgary Parks and Pathways Bylaw all have legislation in place that states cyclists have all the rights and are subject to all the duties of a motorist. Bicycles are also permitted to use High Occupancy Vehicles (HOV) lanes that buses commonly use.

Kimberly Nelson, a cycling instructor with Bike Calgary, says the safety aspect of road sharing has improved since she started biking in the city.

“It’s definitely been better in my anecdotal opinion when I started riding,” says Nelson. “There were very few people riding with cars. You would get honked at, yelled at, people would tell you to go ride on the sidewalk, it was tough.”

From 2005 to 2012, there were 2,005 collisions involving bicycles reported in Calgary. Among those reported, 1,344 involved injuries and six resulted in fatalities.

Bike Calgary is a non-profit advocacy group that works to improve conditions for Calgarians who ride bicycles, and enable those who want to cycle to do so safely, efficiently, and comfortably.

It offers an Urban Cycling Skills course that runs from May to September every year for people who want to learn how to “vehicularly cycle,” which means cycling in traffic with cars. Bike Calgary hopes that cyclists will develop good habits to bike safely while sharing the road.

Kimberly Nelson, a cycling instructor with Bike Calgary, believes that while the city’s stance on bike safety is improving, more will have to be done in the future to accommodate our growing cyclist population. “I think there is definitely safety in numbers — the more times you see bikes on the road acting as traffic, the more you become used to it and accept the movement they are going to make,” she says. Photo by Kelsey SolwayCanadian Automobile Association reported that cyclists are more likely to be killed or injured at an intersection, or at a location where there are traffic signals or other traffic control signs.

“Years ago when you were given your driver’s license no one told you what to do around a bike. Nobody tells you what to do in bike lanes, or what the markings on the roads mean. You read the handbook once, you take the test and you never really revisit it,” says Nelson.

“How do you hit that audience in a meaningful way, that you put down bike lanes on 10th Ave. — and you don’t tell anyone what the dash lines mean, the signals and stencils and how to interact with those lanes. It’s a challenge especially when we have new infrastructure.”

Pincott says cyclists have been the key to making sure that infrastructure is the safest for both cyclists and drivers.

“For all of the planning of the cycle tracks last summer, when they were put in we very quickly learned from cyclists that there was one spot that was not designed very well or that was a bit dangerous, and so it was very quickly changed.”

Even though Nelson believes cycling safety has improved within the city, she also says that as the number of lanes and cyclists increase, more will have to be done to improve safety measures further.

“The system is never going to be 100 per cent perfect. I think there is definitely safety in numbers — the more times you see bikes on the road acting as traffic, the more you become used to it and accept the movement they are going to make.”

Thumbnail courtesy of Michael Dorausch, Creative Commons.

ksolway@cjournal.ca

The editor responsible for this article is Michaela Ritchie, mritchie@cjournal.ca