In 1965 a substantial bridge collapsed at the Glenorchey gorge in Oakville, Ontario as shown in the above photo from that era. The small bailey bridge that replaced it caused a dangerous downslope to exist for many years before a cyclist lost his life in a tandem bike collision in 1992. The trial resulting from that could have caused future municipalities to pay more attention to the dangers of such slopes, but that never occurred.

Steep downgrades cause recreational cyclist high speeds. Not surprising but difficult to accept, it seems.

The tragedy is that a pedestrian paid the ultimate price for that realization. On Saturday, April 1, 2023 an elderly pedestrian was struck by a cyclist travelling along the downgrade of Queenston Street in the Niagara region. News media interviewed residents at the site who commented that cyclists wanted to travel quickly on the downslope and this was the focus of the news report.

Yes, the speed of the cyclist was likely a factor in the consequences. But that is nothing new. If anyone had conducted any research they would have discovered that high speed cycling is correlated with downslopes. Not just at the Queenston Street site, but essentially everywhere.

The focus of any discussion about this tragedy will be on the recklessness of the cyclist who killed a pedestrian. While no focus will be paid to the fact that those responsible for road safety had decades of opportunity to understand what can happen when cyclists ride on steep downslopes.

Research at Gorski Consulting has spelt this out through a number of website articles posted over the last five years. Testing has shown the speed that a cyclist attains while coasting on a downgrade and this has been supplemented with observations of the speed of actual cyclists travelling on the same downgrade. The results have shown that cyclist speed is correlated to roadway downslopes. And the steeper and longer length of a downslope the faster the speed of the cyclist. These are not new data. They have been reported on the Gorski Consulting website since 2018. But that data has been essentially ignored.

Not only has the data been ignored but the courts in Ontario are at fault for contributing to the lack of corrections to the problem. As an example, in a fatal tandem bike collision in Oakville Ontario in 1992, the original verdict of Justice G.E. Taylor was made moot by the Ontario Court of Appeal in 2008 when Justice Michael J. Moldaver claimed that Justice Taylor erred in finding the Town of Oakville 100% at fault for the collision in which a cyclist died as a result of travelling down a steep downgrade of a poorly maintained road in the historic area of Glenorchey. At no point did Justice Moldaver provide any credible argument as to why Justice Taylor had erred. In fact, through a series of flowery commentary he presented a sequence of illogical comments. These comments were never challenged because Moldaver was a member of the Court of Appeal, a status that, regardless of what was stated, gave him the authority to say it.

Moldaver concluded that, because a witness saw the cyclists were pedalling intermittently at the top of the hill, these cyclists were attempting to gain speed. Yet that same witness estimated the cycle’s speed at 45 km/h at the bottom of the slope. If Moldaver had any understanding or experience in acceleration he would have agreed with my testimony that a speed of 60 km/h could have been attained just from coasting alone. So how could the cyclists be attempting to gain speed when their observed speed was slower than if they had simply been coasting? The point that Moldaver did understand is that, while coasting at relatively high speed intermittent pedalling may contribute nothing to increasing or maintaining that speed. At high speed it requires the cycle to be set to a high gear and then it requires a substantial cadence in the pedalling action before that pedalling action “catches up” to the speed of cycle and begins to contribute additional force. As a Justice in the Ontario Court of Appeal Moldaver never had to explain what experience he had with cycling and there lies the crux of the problem. The arrogance with which he ignored the objective evidence was because there was no way that his opinion could be appealed. The result was that the opinion created a precedent as to how future incidents of a similar nature would be adjudicated. Any defendants in cyclist collisions where dangerous conditions existed on steep hills could rely on the judgement of Moldaver to protect their interests.

And so this reverts back to the present tragedy where it should have been known that dangerous conditions existed. The area where the pedestrian fatality occurred is known for its cyclist traffic as it is where cyclists travel when riding the Niagara Parkway Recreational Trail between Niagara-on-the-Lake and the City of Niagara. It would not have been difficult for anyone to count the number of cyclists travelling the route and then also to count how many pedestrians that might be walking in the area. A resident correctly observed that in the winding downslope of Queenston Street the speed of cyclists cannot be easily judged, nor can cyclists be easily seen and there is no engine noise to announce their presence. These facts could have alerted officials to the potential safety problem if they understood that they could be faced with a hefty civil suit. Instead, defendants throughout Ontario can essentially do as they please when it comes to safeguarding the lives of both cyclists and pedestrians at steep downgrades.