Almost all entities involved in cycling safety appear to misunderstand the importance of relying on objective data to form the basis of their actions.

News media’s focus on comments by Toronto’s Mayor Olivia Chow exemplifies the discouraging lack of meaningful understanding of cyclist safety. CP24 News reported in an article dated March 1, 2024 that Mayor Chow talked about finding a middle ground between prioritizing cyclist safety and maintaining more space for drivers of motor vehicles. Mayor Chow was quoted saying “There must be a better way to protect cyclists, but also for the drivers to not be so traumatized. Because where the road is not designed well, cyclists and drivers intersect and accidents happen…”. At no point was it ever noted that cyclist collisions may not be happening just because roads are not designed well but that additional factors could be at play.

The CP14 News article also provided information from Toronto’s Deputy Mayor, Jennifer McKelvie, that the City of Toronto was investing $30 million dollars in the City’s cycling network. Again the focus was on building cycling infrastructure as if that was the only important matter in cyclist safety.

The CP24 News article also reported on incidents during a “cycling consultation” meeting organized by a cycling advocacy group entitled Cycle Toronto. It was reported that during the meeting angry, anti-cycling comments were made by some and the meeting broke into chaos. This demonstrates how motor vehicle drivers and cycling groups are failing to communicate with each other, as emotions become more important than facts.

Recent fatal cyclist collisions underscore the lack of useful information made public by investigating police. On February 26, 2024 a cyclist was killed when he was reportedly struck by two vehicles at the intersection of Birchmount Road and St. Clair Ave in Scarborough. Investigating police provided no useful information about what factors led to the fatality and how it might be prevented in the future.

Similarly, on March 3, 2024 a fatal collision was reported by Mississauga OPP on Highway 7 in Halton Region. The extent to which the OPP kept information about the collision secret is that in the Twitter (“X”) announcement they never revealed that a cyclist was involved. Even CP24 News journalist Joanna Lavoie reported that “Mississauga OPP would only tell CP24 that one vehicle was involved”. No other news agencies appeared to have any information about the collision except that, on March 4, 2024, CHCH-TV published an article on their website in which they indicated that: “According to the report released by police on Monday, the driver of the SUV was travelling eastbound – the same direction as the cyclist – when they entered the paved shoulder and struck the man on his bicycle”. The CHCH-TV article also appeared to emphasize that police described this as a “two-vehicle collision”, which would appear to be contradictory to the information given or reported by CP24 that only one vehicle was involved. This is the kind of confusion that develops when police refuse to release even basic information about a collision.

Tensions between police and cycling groups have also risen in the Toronto area in recent years. Ticketing of cyclists travelling too quickly through High Park has led to opinions by many cyclists that they are being targeted when police should be going after dangerous motor vehicle drivers. Yet cyclist high speed could be a problem both for cyclists and motor vehicle drivers. We simply don’t know the details without knowing how many collisions occur and under what circumstances.

A general militancy has developed amongst some cycling individuals as blame is put on motorists who are described as careless and disregarding of cyclist safety. There may be some truth to this blame. Yet these persons do not explain the basis for their conclusions. There is no indication whether these persons have any specific, detailed knowledge about how cyclist collisions have occurred. And given the secretive behaviour of investigating police it is very likely that these activists have very little information about what factors were at play. In the recent escalation of Trumpism (biased lies spread by isolated internet groups) on the internet it becomes difficult to discuss cyclist safety problems in an objective and unbiased way because so many have an emotional attachment to the opinions they hold.

In totality, whether it be politicians, police, news media, cyclists or motor vehicle drivers, no one has raised the important issue that detailed objective data needs to be made public about the factors that are related to cycling collisions. You need to have a clear understanding of the problem before you can apply a proper solution.

My 44 years of conducting detailed analysis of all kinds of transportation collisions has been combined with previous university training in psychology. Psychology focuses a scientific lens on human behavior. From this basis I have come to appreciate why researchers define transportation safety issues in terms of three general factors: The Human, the Vehicle and the Environment, or HVE for short. While the vehicle and road are important, the most difficult to address is the Human. How we behave and what influences our behavior is very complex, in all aspects of our lives. My psychological studies came from a Behavourist psychology department, but earlier I focused on Psychoanalysis and the research of Sigmund Freud. It was Psychoanalysis that gave me an appreciation of the mechanisms, many unconscious, that make use tick. While Psychoanalysis is now considered passé, it provided me with a scientific method for the critical evaluation of human behaviour that continues to this day. It is because of this training and experience that I recognize the many mental games being played with cycling safety.

As an example, the photos below show a night-time scenario where a cyclist is riding along an urban street. The cyclist is not wearing any clothing that would distinguish him from the dark surroundings. And the bike and its trailer are not equipped with any artificial illumination. The only indication of his presence is that the background is illuminated and therefore some contrast is created between his dark figure and the lighter background. The periphery of a motor vehicle driver’s eyes contain the receptors that are more capable of detecting motion than central vision. But the motor vehicle moving behind and beside the cyclist may be interpreted by the driver as being one and the same as the cyclist. So in situations like this a cyclist may not be detected for many reasons.

Somewhere in this view there is a cyclist pulling a loaded mini-trailer. Can he been seen by a typical motorist? Why is this not recognized by many as a safety problem?

Once the cyclist enters into the zone of illumination in front of a motor vehicle’s headlights he becomes more likely to be detected and identified, as shown in the photo below. But this illumination is within a narrow time and width of distance. Reaction by application of a brake pedal does not result in a successful collision avoidance if detection and identification are too late. And motor vehicle speed is another factor that determines the scenario outcome.

Under headlight illumination this cyclist can be seen. But when crossing the path of a vehicle the cyclist is only illuminated for a very short time. At 20 km/h a cyclist travels about 5.6 metres every second. Headlight illumination is not much use when, in an unexpected scenario where identification is difficult, it may take a driver of a motor vehicle 2.5 seconds to react.

A number of cyclists are advising each other that the type of clothing worn, and whether a cycle is equipped with artificial illumination does not matter. They tell each other that victim blaming is at play when they are criticized for not being attentive to their own safety. This is reckless advice. It is these kinds of mental games being played with cyclist safety that cause persons to become confused about what dangers exist. Opinions like these are difficult to eradicate when there are no real-life examples that can be used to educate those who might be questioning what they should believe.

The actions of all involved gives the impression that no one understands the importance of gathering, good-quality, objective data and making this data publicly available for everyone to see.