The Spectator reports that a cyclist was killed today on Barton Street. A city garbage truck travelling east on Barton struck and killed the cyclist at the corner of Weir Street in the curb lane. Police "have been inspecting a bent and crumpled bicycle thrown up on the southeast corner of the intersection".
The report describes the cyclist as an "elderly" man, but police have not released his name.
This tragedy comes on the heels of last weekend's carnage involving two separate collisions that resulted in fatalities.
On Friday, June 26, a motorist driving an SUV north on York Boulevard near the High Level Bridge collided with an 81-year-old cyclist, throwing him through the air and dragging his bike for fifteen metres, and then rammed headlong into a small sedan carrying a newlywed couple and a pickup truck. The cyclist and the couple were killed.
Then on Saturday, a motorist going northbound on Centennial Parkway on Centennial hill south of King Street lost control and crossed into the oncoming lane, crashing into a southbound van. One man was killed and five others were sent to the hospital.
Police have charged the driver of the SUV with three counts of criminal negligence causing death and three counts of dangerous driving causing death. In the second collision, police report that the driver of the car that collided with the van appeared to be speeding.
At the risk of accusations that I'm politicizing tragedy (as if there's something unseemly about studying a disaster to determine whether it can be prevented in future), I'm appalled that our society accepts this predictable toll of carnage and devastation as an acceptable cost of running an automobile-dependent transportation network.
Opponents of investment in cycling infrastructure will likely point out that the cyclist killed on York Blvd was riding in a bike lane, but this misses the larger benefit of bike lanes: there's a very strong inverse correlation between the number of cyclists on the road and the number of cycling casualties.
It's much easier for a motorist to miss noticing a cyclist when cycling is infrequent and cyclists on the road are rare. As cyclists become more common, motorists become more attuned to cyclists and come to expect that they will be sharing the road.
Amazingly, as the number of cyclists goes up, the number of cycling casualties does not merely rise more slowly: it actually drops.
In New York City, the annual number of casualties (injuries and fatalities) decreased by half during the same seven-year period in which the number of cyclists increased by two and a half times. The injury rate fell by a factor of four.
The same pattern holds across Britain:
Cycling has almost doubled on London's main roads in nine years and increased by 30-50% in cities such as Bristol, Leicester and Leeds.
But it's really remarkable that despite the increase in cycling, casualties suffered by cyclists are still down by around a third. To anyone who doesn't cycle this might seem a bit odd. Shouldn't more cyclists mean more crashes and injuries? As those who cycle will know, however, the more cyclists there are the safer it will be for everyone.
CTC (the UK's national cycling organisation) found that the same phenomenon occurs if you examine different areas within the UK. Cambridge, where a quarter of people cycle to work, or York where it is about one in eight, have a much lower risk of injury for cyclists than places where you hardly ever see a cyclist on the streets.
Why does this "safety in numbers" effect occur? The vast majority of cyclist injuries result from crashes with motor vehicles, and most of these appear to be primarily because the driver "looked but did not see". Cyclists (and motorcyclists) have even given this type of crash a name - Smidsy, an acronym for the drivers' refrain, "Sorry, mate, I didn't see you!"
These type of crashes start to decrease as cycling levels rise.
I'm sure someone will argue that if there were more cyclists on York Blvd, more people would have been killed when the SUV lost control. Here's a different speculation: what if the person driving the SUV had been riding a bicycle instead?
Another part of the reason for the steady fall in casualties as more people ride bikes is that as a necessary result of more cycling, fewer people are operating massive, deadly vehicles.
As Jack Wolters, Amsterdam's chief traffic safety officer, explains:
The target of the police is not to control cyclists and pedestrians. It is to control the most dangerous part, motorcar drivers. [emphasis added]
We have two situations here in which a very large, heavy, powerful motor vehicle killed a cyclist. It boggles my mind in such a tragedy that anyone should suggest that the problem is the presence of the cyclist - and not the vehicle actually responsible for the killing.
Yet we continue to hear people claim that the answer is to take the bicycles off the street, in the face of all evidence to the contrary.
In an interview with the Infrastructurist on his book making a conservative case for electric rail and public transit, William Lind says, "most of the people who oppose rail transportation have never ridden on a train."
I suspect the same is true of cyclists - either they have never ridden or haven't ridden since they were children. Much of the opposition to multi-modal transportation amounts to straightforward fear of the unknown, unsupported by any actual evidence, meant to prey on people's insecurities.
The multi-modal transportation opponents can't imagine why anyone would use a bike lane because they haven't used one themselves, can't see what the big fuss is and are afraid that rebalancing the transportation framework would threaten the status quo, which may not be perfect but is at least predictable.
Most of the people in Hamilton I've met who support LRT, for example, are people who have experienced it firsthand while traveling to other cities. To them, its potential disruptiveness to the status quo is a benefit, not a threat. As Mayor Eisengerger likes to put it, such a change is transformative in a city that desperately needs transformation.
Likewise, the biggest supporters of cycling infrastructure are people who have travelled to cities like Groningen, Amsterdam and Copenhagen, which already have extremely lively cycling cultures, or to Portland and New York, which are busy proving that a city can change its transportation culture.
Cycling is not for everyone and no one here is claiming otherwise. However, driving is also not for everyone, which is why we defend a balanced transportation infrastructure.
We live in a city with extensive car infrastructure and huge subsidies, both monetary and non-monetary, for driving. Change the balance of incentives and people will change their transportation choices. This is true of all humans always and everywhere, and there is nothing exceptional about Hamilton or Hamiltonians to suggest that human nature should not apply here.
A continuous network of bike lanes will be used, just as such networks are used everywhere they are built. Since bikes take up less space than cars, there will probably be less overall traffic, not more, as cycling increases its share of total trips.
There will also be fewer large, heavy, fast, dangerous vehicles on the road and fewer opportunities for such carnage to occur. Those people still driving will be more attuned to the presence of cyclists and will not be taken by surprise when they come upon someone riding a bicycle.
There will be fewer casualties and fewer deaths - and cleaner air, quieter streets, healthier residents and more vibrant neighbourhoods in the bargain.
What on earth are we waiting for?
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