Thursday, July 7, 2011

Oh, I know, let's just make bikes illegal. Problem solved! How the Toronto Star is making a tabloid out of a tragedy.

Yesterday, like I do most days, I was riding west on the Harbord bike lane. I usually enjoy the Harbord bike lane because it's a pretty wide street in general, it doesn't have too many potholes, and the lane is actually separated from the parking lane. That, and the fact that I live off of Harbord means I traverse this stretch frequently-- I'm a regular.
The other nice thing about Harbord is there are a lot of traffic lights. I LOVE lights. Stop signs are alright, but there is no guarantee a car won't roll through a stop sign or that they'll recognize your right of way in a four way stop sign situation. A light is a light and that shit means STOP.Being a rather tiny individual, and having been struck by a very large car that rolled through a stop sign once, I'm nervous about intersections and always err on the side of extreme caution.
Yesterday it was like all hell had broken loose on Harbord street. Cars were making fast, dangerous turns in front of cyclists or pulling through the bike lanes to park in front of us -- the cyclist behind me even started screaming "oh my god!! it's every driver!" like we were in a very bad horror movie or something.

So I'm riding west and I come up to the Manning intersection. Cars are usually pretty decent here because 1) it's a light and 2) there's a school at this intersection. On this particular day, however, the black Jeep Cherokee(plate number: AXSP 325) waiting at the red light wasn't havin' it. School, pedestrians, and bikes be damned! I make a habit of annoyingly ringing my bell at pretty much every intersection and when I ride by parked cars, and this lady's window was rolled down. The light is green for me, I'm ringing my bell like a crazy person, she's looking straight at me, and she decides to turn right on the red when it is completely unsafe to do so -- nearly hitting me, had I not hit my brakes so hard that I'm pretty sure one of them is now loose.
I really don't get drivers that do this. If you hit me, you will be late for whatever appointment you're rushing to. You may also kill me or maim me. She SAW me there, she saw the line up cyclists behind me, she saw the busy traffic, and she still chose to almost hit me so she could turn right on a red light. It makes absolutely no sense. It makes no sense that this happens ALL OF THE TIME when you're riding a bike (or walking).
A few weeks ago I was riding behind someone who got dinged with a cab door on College street-- a cab door that was opened into a bike lane without consideration of the shitload of bikes in that lane. The door knocked him off his bike and onto the pavement. Here's the thing about cyclists who get hit by cars -- because( if we aren't killed) we have a lot of adrenaline rushing through our bodies, we often don't realize how badly we've been hurt. It's also sometimes embarrassing so we say "it's alright, it's alright, I'm not hurt, it's fine" and ride away. But it's not alright and at the best least the incident should be reported in some way or another. I can't even imagine what the numbers would look like if every single car on bike accident was reported to the police.
These are just some of the reasons that it bothers me when newspapers decide to make us cyclists seem like monsters who get away with murder. Sure, some of us are monsters, but that's just because we're humans and more than half the population of humans are actually monsters.
In the Star today the article "Cyclist fractures pedestrian's skull, gets $400 fine" discusses an accident that occurred yesterday at Huron and Dundas where a cyclist hit a pedestrian, leading to very serious injuries. The article uses the accident to "question...the strength of the province's traffic laws" because the man who hit the pedestrian was charged with careless driving but faces no criminal charges or jail time.
With a charge of careless driving the fact that serious injury or death is a result is not usually relevant, so whether or not the pedestrian actually dies doesn't affect the charge. The charge is affected by the degree to which the cyclist strayed from normal or reasonable driving. If the pedestrian does pass away, which would be incredibly sad, then that can be dealt with in Civil courts.
The Star is using this case to ask whether or not the Highway Traffic Act sufficiently punishes Careless drivers, especially in cases which result in death.
The annoying thing about this article is that it seems to be suggesting that there aren't steep enough penalties for cyclists as "drivers" and also it seems to be putting accidents with cyclists in the same league as accidents involving drivers. They cite cases of drivers killing people and getting away with fines, or lesser charges, as being part of a larger problem and as running in the same vein as the accident yesterday.
To talk about serious motor vehicle accidents that resulted in death and got away with a slap on the wrist, then toss in an accident involving a bike, is to suggest that 1) The frequency of such accidents is relatively similar in cases of bikes and cases of cars and 2) That the risk or severity of such collisions is comparable.
I'm sorry, but neither of those are true. I'm sure that if we looked at the stats, reported incidences of bikes hitting pedestrians would be much less than cars hitting bikes and pedestrians(or, other cars). And a cyclist hitting a pedestrian compared to a car hitting a pedestrian is just not the same. I've hit a pedestrian on my bike. When I lived in Saskatoon I was riding my bike and a drunk guy walked out in front of me, I hit him, I got knocked off my bike and he didn't even fall down. Had I been driving a car, going the same speed, HE would have been the one who was knocked down and maybe even killed. Obviously, every accident is different but in every single case a car does more damage than a bike.
Let's use my own accident as an example. I was hit by a Hummer. Not even a huge one, I think it was an H3--so the littler version. This guy rolled through a stop sign and hit me at a low speed but it still knocked me onto the ground, broke my bike, broke his own license plate in half on me, and scared the shit out of me.
The curb weight of a standard H3 is 4,700-4,900lbs (2,100 - 2,200kg). The width of the H3 is 74.7 inches which is about 6 feet. I weight 115 lbs soaking wet, and 5'3 at best, and had a small bike. I didn't call the police. I didn't report the accident because I didn't think I was hurt. It was my very first accident and I had no clue how to deal with it. Turns out I was hurt and I probably should have had myself checked out that night, but I didn't feel it until the next day and bruiseswere still blooming a few days later. The dude ended up paying for the damage to my bike (after failing to return any of my calls for a week, and me threatening to call the police).
The point here is that if I rolled through the stop sign on my bike and hit a pedestrian in the same way the Hummer hit me, the result would have been completely different. Also, I almost get hit by a car pretty much every day I get on my bike.

The Star seems to be suggesting that because cyclists can't be charged with Dangerous driving that they can get away with murder, but this just isn't the case. Cyclists can still be charged under the Criminal code so it seems to me that there is certainly recourse for dangerous cycling or unfortunate accidents... so what is the Toronto Star talking about?

The content of their article actually mainly focuses on Careless driving charges in cases with vehicles that resulted in death, so why toss the bike in there at all? It doesn't make sense and it's bad evidence based writing. Why not actually research how many cyclist on pedestrian accidents there are in Toronto per year? Why not interview some of those people? Why not write about the cyclist/bike without talking about it in relation to cars? What about the fact that sometimes it feels safer to cycle the wrong way on a one way street because there is less traffic and because we are a city with shitty cycling infrastructure?

And also, how about DON'T use a tragedy like this accident just to get readers, you know? That's exactly why this story is in the paper today, because there was ONE bad cyclist on pedestrian accident so far this year so they have to jump on it. It's sad enough when accidents like this happen without putting this unnecessary spin on it. Newspapers have an obligation to not be complete and total sensationalist garbage, because then they become SunTV.

The fact is the Toronto Star just didn't do its job on this story and that's just plain ridiculous. At the end of their "article" they put statistics on how many tickets are given to cyclists each year, with a note that tickets also include equipment infractions. That is NOT relevant here, at all. Why does it matter if 2'000 bikes get ticketed in a year if you don't have a breakdown of what those tickets are for? 1'500 of them could be for not riding with lights at night for all we know. you can get a ticket for not having a bell, riding on the sidewalk (even briefly), if you don't stop your bike when an emergency vehicle goes by, and for not riding in the bike lane. I've seen bikes ticketed for parking too long somewhere, or somewhere that has a no parking sign. Stats on bike ticketing in an article about a cyclists seriously injuring someone is a scare tactic, plain and simple.

If every cyclist who is dinged, knocked over, or actually hit reported it to the police and if we had accurate statistics on that I think people would be shocked. I'm shocked every time I venture out and some moron in their car decides that my life isn't worth the two second wait for the green light.

The Toronto Star could have had a real story here, but they chose to just jerk off to the war on cyclists yet again instead of doing any real research or writing anything that might affect positive change in this city.

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