Two Rules for Safe(r) Cycling


'Cyclist death sparks safety fears'

Blogger calls bullshit

'He stepped out on to the street, where a passing eagle swooped out of the sky at him, nearly forcing him into the path of a cyclist, who cursed and swore at him from a moral high ground that cyclists alone seem able to inhabit.' — Douglas Adams, The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul.

A 'ghost bike' memorializes a woman in her 30s, who died after Danielle Naçu was 'doored' by a parked car in downtown Ottawa. (Image adapted from a photo by Stu Mills/CBC.)

A woman named Danielle Naçu was killed on the streets of downtown Ottawa yesterday. A cyclist, she was "doored" by a careless driver and run down by the car into whose path she had been flung.

The death was a tragedy for the woman and her family, yet the reactions I heard this morning on CBC Radio quickly saw me move from sadness for the victim to impatient anger at those self-righteous cycling advocates who see every accident as an opportunity to place blame, but never to take responsibility.

The unfortunate truth is that, while it is the careless driver who bears moral responsibility for Ms Naçu's death, the cyclist herself was somewhere she had no business being.

No, not the street! She had every right to be on a public road. But she should not have been close enough to any parked car to be hit by its door.

(Before you jump down my throat, please note that my bicycle is my primary mode of transportation. I cycle year-round and have for decades known the dubious joys of dodging suicidal pedestrians, homicidal motorists and even the thoughtless antics of my fellow-cyclists.)

Yes, drivers should ensure the path is clear before opening a door, but even with the best of intentions, people make mistakes. In the real world, car doors will open into the paths of oncoming cyclists. Or will if the cyclist is there to be hit.

Since a 10 kilogram bike will always lose a fight with a 1,000 kilo automobile, and since it is our bodies that bear the brunt of those defeats, we must take responsibility for our own safety.

And no cyclist who is riding safely will ever be doored, because no cyclist who is riding safely will be close enough to a parked car or truck for the door to hit them.

So how is it that I have cycled in urban environments for more than my entire adult life without being doored? Luck has played a part, especially when I was younger, but mostly, I have followed two simple rules.

Rule One: Stay visible! Make sure the traffic behind you can see you. This means you must take up enough space they must alter their path to get around you.

Rule Two: Stay away from parked cars! Keep a metre away and you will be physically out of reach of the most thoughtless morons out there.

Note: Obeying Rule Two means you needn't think about Rule One (provided you give the curb the same space you give to parked automobiles).

Nothing can ever guarantee our safety, on a bike or off, but basic defensive techniques go a long way towards improving our chances.

It may seem crass to take Ms Naçu to task so soon after her death, but I think it is better to remind ourselves how to avoid her fate than it is to make ourselves feel better by laying dead flowers on indignant shrines.


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