I consider myself an experienced and competent cyclist. Over the past 10 years, I have averaged more than 10 000 km of cycling per year. I am a racing cyclist, a touring cyclist and a commuting cyclist. I am also a member of the board of directors of the Ottawa Bicycle Club, though the opinions that I express in this letter are mine alone.
From the beginning of April until the end of October, I commute to and from my workplace (a 40 km round trip) at least 3 times a week. This commute takes me from the Central Park neighbourhood to the north end of Kanata. The most efficient, and in my opinion, the safest route for this commute has me riding in traffic along Baseline Road and Carling Avenue.
I am neither for, nor against, the proposed segregated cycling facilities. I do not know if the proposed segregated cycling facilities will increase cyclings modal split in the downtown core. I do not know if segregation will change the perception that cycling is unsafe. However, I am for education as a minimum.
My fear is that even this small pilot project will modify drivers perceptions and behaviours. On a daily basis, I hear the get off the road rant from drivers. I do feel that, in the absence of a stronger driver education program, the attention on this small pilot program will reinforce the commonly held perception that cyclists do not belong on the road. In my opinion, drivers that believe that cyclists do not belong on the road become aggressive towards cyclists who do choose to use the road.
Cyclists are not blameless. For every get off the road that I hear, I see a cyclist breaking a rule of the road not stopping at a light, riding on the sidewalk. Education and enforcement are required here too. In 2010, I was hit by a car whilst riding in a marked bike lane. I escaped with only minor injuries; the driver was quite shaken up. Even though I was riding in an upright position and wearing highly visible clothing, the driver claimed that he did not see me. He claimed that he did not expect to see a bike on that particular stretch of road, even though it has a clearly marked bike lane.
I bring up this story only to illustrate that a bike lane is no guarantee of safety. Perhaps I would have been better to have been in the lane of travel; perhaps not. I dont think that more driver education would have helped. However, I do believe that my awareness and skills saved me from a worse fate.
Awareness and skills education for cyclists are, in my opinion, the number one way that we can lower the number of cyclists injured or killed on the citys roads. Remember, out of Ottawas thirty six traffic fatalities in 2010, six were cyclists. Segregated facilities may have a role to play in reducing this count in the future, but I fear their unintended consequences.