We have a sad ritual in Toronto; one week after a cyclist is killed, Members of ARC, Cycle Toronto and the Bike Pirates, along with other interested cyclists, converge on the spot where the death took place and unroll a banner for passing motorists to see. When I did it the first time for my rowing buddy Hubert Van Tol, it was on a busy street and a lot of drivers noticed. This morning in Toronto nobody noticed, other than City Councillor Joe Mihevc, seen there holding the banner; Joseph Mavic died on a quiet residential street after getting his wheel stuck in an abandoned streetcar track.
After I wrote about the accident last week I asked James Schwartz of TheUrbanCountry, one of the most thoughtful writers about cycling that I know, for his thoughts about this accident.
He responded with a post pointing out that in civilized countries like the Netherlands, they think about how cyclists and streetcar tracks coexist. They have a lot of both, and manage to keep everyone separate and safe. James writes:
Here in Toronto it is common to ride alongside streetcar tracks and be forced to merge into the streetcar tracks. The Dutch largely ensure this won’t happen because they provide bike lanes that keep cyclists safely away from streetcar tracks. It should also be pointed out that the speed limit on this street is 30km/h. The streets in downtown Toronto with streetcar tracks that I navigate on a daily basis have a speed limit of 50km/h with cars often driving at speeds exceeding 50km/h outside of peak hours when traffic is less congested. Perhaps a healthy combination of bicycle infrastructure, rider education and lower speed limits is the solution to avoid unfortunate incidents like this one.
People, including myself, have been focusing on the helmet issue (Joe wasn't wearing one) but in fact, there are a combination of contributing causes here: crappy infrastructure, where the city leaves abandoned streetcar tracks in the road unused for thirty years; careless drivers who don't bother to park properly and yes, a bit of personal responsibility. But really, these days in Toronto you are at about as much risk of being hit by a stray bullet as you are for falling off your bike, but I don't hear the politicians demanding that everybody wear bulletproof vests. Let's stop blaming the victim and fix this.