Cycling safely down busy city streets

Highlighting the ways cyclists can feel more comfortable riding in Montreal

It terrifies me to read about a cyclist getting killed in Montreal. I ride my bike everyday. Actively dodging car doors and avoiding vehicles turning right without signaling make it crystal clear how easily a daily ride could be my last.

Unfortunately, it all went wrong for a 61-year-old cyclist on Sept.14 when she was hit and killed by a school bus, according to CTV News. This tragedy reignited calls to increase the number of bike paths in Montreal, many of which were established after a series of fatal cycling accidents in the summer of 2016. News outlets like CBC ran stories highlighting the dangers of cycling in Montreal, citing studies showing rising cyclist fatality rates and running interviews bemoaning the current state of the city’s bike lanes.

Here’s what most outlets didn’t mention.

Over the past eight years, the number of cyclists in Montreal has increased by 50 per cent, according to Vélo Quebec, a non-profit organization that collects cycling information. One million Montrealers ride their bikes at least once a week, according to the same source. This spike in cyclists inevitably leads to more deaths and injuries, a correlation explained by an SPVM official in a CBC article covering the incidents during summer of 2016.

Blaming recent cyclist deaths on a lack of infrastructure is not fair or accurate. Since 2009, Montreal’s total kilometres of bike lanes has grown from 90 km to 750 km, according to City Lab, a digital news organization. Montreal has the most bike lanes separated by a median of any Canadian city, as well as the longest on and off road bike paths in the country, according to a report by the non-profit think tank, the Pembina Institute. As cycling infrastructure expands, so does the interest in cycling… and the frequency of cyclist accidents.

Instead of the cycling community focusing on what they don’t have, Montreal cyclists should make the most of current bike lanes to ensure they stay safe. The best person to ensure your safety is you. Riding a bike is a method of transportation, a way to socialize and a whole lot of fun. By choosing to cycle, you choose to better your health, see the world around you and usually get to your destination faster than you would using public transportation.

However, this choice involves accepting and addressing the risks of cycling in a metropolitan area. Not that these risks are particularly high: for every 100,000 cycling trips in Montreal, two result in an accident, according to the Pembina Institute report.

I’m not a perfect cyclist, but I’ve been cycling daily for seven years in both Toronto and Montreal and have yet to be involved in an accident. Below are some techniques I feel have kept me safe and happy on the roads.

Being able to ride with one hand allows me to signal turns and stops. Observing car wheels is important, as they most clearly show the vehicle’s speed and direction. Looking at a car’s sideview and rear-view windows helps me avoid getting doored—if you see a head moving inside a car or a face reflected in side-view mirror, slow down and give the car plenty of space. Passing right-turning cars on the left hand side keeps you out of their blind spot. The car can turn sooner and you won’t have to stop and wait. After passing the turning car safely, move back across the lane to the curb side.

Another important technique is to make the most of your space. According to Quebec’s Highway Safety Code, motorists are obliged to give cyclists 1.5 metres of space on roads where the speed limit is more than 50 km/h, or one metre if the speed limit is less—so make them do it. It’s better to be a bit in front of a car and get honked at than to get pinned between parked and moving vehicles. And last but not least, ride a lot. Practice makes perfect. Take different routes home, turn off your GPS and get lost on your bike for a while.

Graphic by Alexa Hawksworth 

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