Is there a cycling path crossing ahead? Would it be important to let drivers know?

Official news media reported that a 77-year-old cyclist was killed when he was struck by a pick-up truck as he tried to cross Gainsborough Road in west London, Ontario on Saturday, September 5, 2020. The view available to the pick-up truck driver is shown in the above photo, taken on September 6th. It can be seen that the cycling trail is not visible and there is no signage to warn drivers that cyclists might be crossing.

As active transportation has become a big issue in the last few years cities like London Ontario have been trying to play catch up by installing various cycling infrastructure without much attention to details such as cyclist safety. Cycling paths are no different than roadways that carry motorized traffic; both require proper design, correct signage and regular maintenance. In particular roadway design has understood the importance of providing sufficient visibility. That must also apply to the design of cycling paths. At the Gainsborough site shown above, trees and shrubs exist all the way up to the edge of the traffic-way such that neither the cyclist nor the motor vehicle driver have sufficient time and distance to detect the other’s existence. Problems like these need to be detected and corrected before a tragedy occurs, but that is not happening quickly enough.

One of the reasons for this delay is that a vast number of collisions, whether involving motorized vehicles, or cyclists, are not officially documented. In a previous post to this website on November 21, 2018 we quoted research by D. Shinar et. al., in an article published in the Accident Analysis & Prevention journal (January, 2018) that estimated the percentage of cyclist collisions reported in 17 nations. That research concluded that only about 10% of such collisions were officially reported.

Gorski Consulting has found similar results with motorized collisions, even though our research has been made difficult to publicize in Canada. Our study of the collisions at a single site, Clarke Road in the north-east sector of London, also showed that collisions at the S-curve north of Fanshawe Park Road were rarely documented in official police records in comparison to the physical evidence that was documented at the site. While the evidence indicated that most of the unreported collisions were minor it demonstrates that the opportunity to gain evidence of road safety problems was lost.

The problem is compounded when the evidence from serious collisions like the one on the Gainsborough Road site is never publicly shared. The results of police investigations simply become filed with unknown entities. Local news media reported that police used a drone to document the collision evidence at the Gainsborough site. Other technology such as total stations and expensive cameras demonstrate the use of public funds to collect evidence that, in turn, is never shared with the public for the public’s benefit.

A news article published by the London Free Press on September 6, 2020 entitled “Cyclist who came upon fatal crash scene thinks poor sightlines a factor”, quoted a longtime cyclist, Glynn Davies, who observed “When you’re coming from the north of the bike path, there’s bushes on the right, so you would have to come pretty cautiously to get across the road. It couldĀ  be dangerous…You can’t see long distance…beyond the sidewalk to make sure that nothing’s coming”. Unofficial observations like these are logical and should also have been made by official entities such as police investigators. Unfortunately, while police are sure to document and report on speeding, impairment or driver distraction, they continually fail to report equally dangerous factors related to roadway design, signage and maintenance.

With respect to cycling infrastructure there is little or no public information available about cyclist traffic volumes or numbers of collisions outside of the roadway system used by motor vehicles. The City’s Multi-use Path system for example seems to be used increasingly due to factors such as the Covid-19 epidemic, yet safety concerns on the system have remained for many years without official acknowledgement.

Some examples of problems on the Multi-Use Path system are shown below, documented in August of 2013. In the two images below orange paint was used with considerable effect to highlight the problems but this paint is usually “road paint” that fades away within a couple of weeks or months.

Orange paint was used to high-light tree roots next t the path in this photo taken in August, 2013. Unfortunately this paint is very temporary.

This painting of a “Bump” warning in August of 2013, is helpful but only temporary as the paint dissolves while the tree root bumps only become larger.

A pillar located on the edge of the Multi-use Path east of Wellington Road is shown in this photo taken in August of 2013.

The above photo showing the concrete pillar next to the cycling path was made more visible in 2010 when graffiti vandals painted it, as shown below.

View of vandalized pillar showing graffiti that is actually more helpful in making it more visible. This photo was taken in September of 2010. The pillar still remains to this day.

Other dangers are rarely highlighted as shown in the additional two photos below, also taken in August of 2013. A structural hazard has existed on the path at the railway bridge east of Adelaide Street in that visibility is extremely limited. A mirror had been installed next to the edge of the path a number years earlier but that was vandalized and never replaced.

View, looking east, while approaching the abutment of the railway bridge just east of Adelaide Street. This photo was taken in September, 2010 and the abutment remains to this day without any changes or signage to warn cyclists of the extremely limited visibility.

In the two photos shown below, taken in September of 2010, the end of a pipe is sticking out of the path surface at the intersection of Blackfriars bridge in downtown London. No paint markings exist to highlight its presence.

View of the cycling path near intersection with Blackfriars bridge taken in September of 2010.

Close-up view of the end of a pipe located in the middle of the Multi-Use Path in September, 2010. The pipe existed for many years but has since been removed.

Many safety concerns remain on London’s Multi-use Path system that are not acknowledged or made known to the unsuspecting public. This is particularly concerning when the system is used by many vulnerable persons such as children, the elderly or persons who are inexperienced riders.

It can be a challenge to the City of London to address these problems and that has to be acknowledged. Yet the City, like all cities in Ontario, must balance the need to acknowledge problems with the advice of their risk management departments who insist that such acknowledgement will place them in a position of civil liability. Above all it is this threat of civil litigation that keeps many municipal safety problems from being publicly acknowledged and therefore an impetus to pay for corrections is lost. Many taxpayers, if they are aware of the dangers of leaving safety problems uncorrected, would gladly accept the additional taxes, rather than paying the large costs of risk management departments and their high cost-lawyers.