Monday, August 10, 2009

A bad week for bicycles: ‘We need to tell people, smarten up’

By Michael McKiernan, National Post

Police say Torontonians need a refresher on bicycle safety after three accidents in the last week left one person dead and two more with life-threatening injuries.

Although police say serious incidents involving bicycles are rare, the end of the city strike, combined with a spell of better weather, has increased the number of recreational cyclists on the roads.

“We need to tell people: Listen, smarten up. There are certain rules that you really have to pay attention to because they really are lifesavers,” said Sgt. Tim Burrows of the Traffic Services department. “We’ve had some very stark reminders this week about the dangers, but we would much rather say it than show it.”

On Thursday, a 15-year-old riding on the sidewalk hit a 57-year-old woman. She died after cracking her head on the pavement.

Although city bylaws allow bikes as small as the child’s on the sidewalk, Sgt. Burrows says cyclists should stick to the road.

“Bicycles are made for the roads,” he said, adding that riders who feel unsure about riding on the road should take lessons until they feel confident enough.

“If it’s still too scary for you, maybe you should reconsider your mode of transportataion,” he said.

On Friday, a 44-year-old man, also riding on the sidewalk, was left with serious injuries after a car hit him at the entrance to Yorkdale Mall. Both had made the turn into the mall from opposite directions.

Then on Sunday, a 50-year-old man was taken to hospital with life-threatening injuries when he crashed into a bridge support on Royal York Road on an evening ride with his children. He took his eye off the road to check on one of the children and hit the concrete support holding up CN rail tracks above.

The rider in that incident, as with the other two, was not wearing a helmet.

“There’s no way to quantify how serious the injuries would be had he been wearing a helmet, but that’s something we would always recommend,” Sgt. Burrows said.

It’s not just cyclists that have a responsibility to improve safety, according to Constable Hugh Smith, who used to patrol the streets with Toronto Police’s bike unit.

“Bicycles have a right to be on our roads and they shouldn’t have to be fearful because they’re worried about what a driver’s going to do,” he said.

In June, Const. Smith was involved in a week-long bicycle safety enforcement campaign. Around 2,000 tickets were handed out to cyclists for disobeying traffic signals or improper equipment, while 3,500 motorists were fined for failing to yield to cyclists and opening doors carelessly.

“Everybody feels a bit like they’re being targeted, but really it’s about making cyclists and motorists aware and keeping them safe,” he said.

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