More cycling also means more injuries and deaths if we do not collect and distribute detailed data that can foresee those tragedies.
A cyclist was killed on Avenue Road in downtown Toronto on Wednesday evening, August 18, 2021. Police indicated that the 18-year-old cyclist and a cement-mixer truck were both northbound in the curb lane when “the dump truck maybe didn’t give the cyclist enough room and the cyclist was subsequently struck”, as per Inspector Michael Williams of Toronto police.
This scenario plays out on a regular basis with police collecting data and then failing to share it with the community whose lives are at risk. Police are the only agency who have a monopoly at a closed accident site to gather what evidence they deem relevant. Such evidence, that is uniquely available to them, is very valuable to understanding how injuries and deaths occur. And this evidence would be a valuable resource in educating the public. Yet those many hours of police investigative work go into inaccessible data banks which are never available except to the few unknowns who draw up government policy.
Despite this, improvements in cyclist safety could be made if there was more detailed and accessible data collected with respect to cyclist characteristics, their motions and what conflicts they experience. Recently Gorski Consulting has been applying procedures developed from accident reconstruction analyses to produce objective observations that provide such detailed cyclist data. Content from multiple, synchronized, video cameras, placed at strategic locations, is analysed to extract information such as cyclist volumes, speeds, their characteristics and what conflicts they experience.
The example of a large truck travelling in the same lane as a cyclist is not uncommon. It is an example of a potentially dangerous situation that cannot be left to blaming the truck driver or the cyclist. It is often a matter of inadequate/inappropriate infrastructure that is not easily detected/understood by drivers or cyclists. Truck drivers may never have ridden a bicycle and vice versa. Neither may understand the intentions of the other. Without specific information about how fatalities occur each may not appreciate when an unfolding scenario is becoming dangerous.
To a truck driver visibility is a major issue. While exterior mirrors are installed allowing the driver to see important locations around the truck, sometimes the mirrors themselves become the blocking agents that prevent the driver from seeing a location. In such circumstances there is a well-known phase in the industry that the driver must “bob and weave” the upper body to the left and right so that the content behind a mirror can be viewed. While the blind spot behind a mirror may appear to be small for viewing objects close to the vehicle, the width of the blind area becomes larger the further the object is from the truck.
There is a continual argument amongst many who hold the view that cyclists should either be excluded from riding on a sidewalk for the safety of pedestrians, or be allowed to ride on a sidewalk to protect them from massive and high speed motor vehicle traffic. This is another debate that could be answered for a certain road segment through detailed and accessible data. For segments that have few pedestrians, narrow lanes and many large/heavy vehicles it may be prudent to allow cyclists to ride on the sidewalk. For locations near schools, old-age homes or other areas with large pedestrian volumes it may be safer to keep cyclists on the road if conflicts with motor vehicles are lower. So it may depend on the unique situation of each road segment.
Some roadways may simply be too narrow to allow a cyclist and truck to safely share a lane. Again, this may not be appreciated by either the truck driver or the cyclist. Safety researchers, police and municipal officials ought to know which roadways pose such a safety problem in their area and remediation needs to be taken preceding a tragedy. Again detailed and accessible data is the remedy to remediation.
In Canada there is still a scarcity of rural roads and highways with facilities designed for safe cycling. If a rapid increase in the cycling mode of transportation is desired to reduce carbon emissions and battle climate change, more cycles riding on poorly designed rural roads can only lead to increased tragic collisions.
As part of the balancing act of cycling, cycles do not travel in a perfectly straight line, even in the best of road conditions. But when roadways become pot-holed, covered in debris or covered to varying degrees from blowing snow, cyclists will wander laterally to a substantial degree. This is another reason why the sharing of a lane with massive, high-speed motor vehicles is not a safety option.
In summary, with the need to increase cycling traffic in the very near future, injuries and deaths of cyclists will undoubtedly increase. This is a time to begin a serious data-gathering program and make it accessible to all persons who are interested in preventing these tragedies.