With a spate of accidents involving cars and bicycles and their riders in Ottawa, the city is considering a more aggressive approach to structural changes in the lane design of city streets, creating a specific lane for cyclists, at least for one east-west cross-town corridor.
Associations representing cyclists are considering an education campaign to educate car-drivers and cyclists to the laws the etiquette and the dangers of cycling among the frenetic traffic patters of an urban metropolis.
My wife and I, while living in a much smaller and less frenetic (for the most part) city, and seeking to enjoy the pleasures of cycling, have taken to wearing an orange vest designed for construction workers for their safety. If we happen to get a little distance between us, each can easily see the other, and hopefully motorists can also see us.
This is another of the major transitions taking place in large and medium-size urban landscapes: people are using more bicycles for pleasure, for better health and for transportation to and from work and education centres.
What is not transitioning as quickly as the numbers of cyclists would warrant is the experience, and the caution and the attentiveness to the cyclist from motorists. Having had a century of complete ownership of the roadways, motorists have not grown up with cyclists, and both their ubiquity and their fragility in the face of two or three tonnes of high-powered moving heavy metal.
Both cyclists and bikers (riders of motorcycles) are totally vulnerable to motorists and their driving habits. The culture among those who ride motorcycles is summed up: "Ride as if every other driver is out to kill you!" because that is the only way to stay relatively safe.
Bike Lanes on all city streets is one solution that would relieve some of the risks. Education campaigns, while voluntary, would likely enhance the awareness of motorists and cyclists to the potential dangers posed by each user of the city's roads. Even if they were compulsory for both cyclists and motorists, as a component for a driving license, there would still be occasions for unexpected moves by members of both groups.
Enhanced, colourful clothing, either lime green or loud orange, would be a help, but that is not a permanent solution either.
Our culture has an unwritten and even unstated rule that goes something like this: the big are strong and the small are weak. It is a very male perspective. It starts when young boys are growing up and make their fathers and mothers proud of their "healthy" bodies through the appearance of their size and strength. It continues, unabated, throughout adult life, with the suburbs boasting 5000 square foot mega-homes built for the ego's of developers, real estate brokers, city politicians with a gleam for tax dollars dancing in their eyes, and, oh yes, also of upwardly mobile executives demonstrating their climb up the ladder of fiscal success.
While some cars are designed as smaller than the "hearses" of the 1950's, their power is nevertheless still more than enough to wipe out anyone riding a two-wheel vebicle, with or without a motor.
Long established habits die very hard, and driving habits are probably even harder to change than those of smokers or heavy drinkers whose individual health is threatened by their habit (or addiction).
In European cities, and in a few North American cities, the transit system includes public cycle rentals, making it possible for cyclists to rent in one location, and drop off in another. These bicycle stations look like parking holders for a couple of dozen bicycles, with or without attendants to conduct the business side of the transaction.
Energy costs, global warming, and better bicycles will all contribute to increased numbers of cyclists in all cities, and the phenomemon will continue around the calendar, including winter months. In large cities, bicycle courriers weave their way among the cars, trucks street-cars and busses daring their four-wheeled compatriots to cut them off.
However, the motorists hold the real keys to making the roads safer for two-wheeled vehicles and their riders. Responsibility for safe operation continues with the cyclists and the bikers, but those operating motor vehicles of the four-wheel variety have history working both for and against them. It works for them because they have had the free-run of those strips of ashphalt the make moving about more efficient in all cities; it works against them, because they are the ones who have to make the major adjustments as the numbers and the political power of those numbers demand more safe riding conditions. It is highly unlikely for city planners and politicians to create cycle lanes for all streets or even all major streets, given the costs and the economics. It is also unlikely that some streets would be used exlusively by cyclists, except for devliery vehicles, and safety vehicles like ambulances, garbage collection, police and fire vehicles.
And if anyone thinks changing a smoker's habit from use to abstinence is hard, when the dangers of smoking are so documented, imagine the difficulty any city, province or national government is going to have to change the way our roads are used, making it safe both for two and four-wheeled units to move in harmony, rather than in "angry and aggressive and offended and offensive" conflict.
And if that is not an adequate and loud metaphor for the need for collaboration everywhere in the economy, in the schools, in the workplace .....then I am hard pressed to find the reasons it isn't.
Co-operation and collaboration on city roads could be the benchmark, measured in reduced numbers of incidents/accidents/deaths/injuries, for cities to train all of us in the more healthy perspectives of sharing that we need to save the planet and to feed the starving and to heal the dying. Perhaps if we could come to a consciousness that includes "others" in our picture of both efficiency and safety on our roads, we would be more likely to ante up and make the necessary adjustments to the larger and even more pressing global needs of our fellow pilgrims on the planet and enhance our own chances of survival and new perspectives at the same time. Big cannot remain as the definition of power any longer, in all applications.
Are you listening, big corporate CEO's?