Wednesday, October 12, 2011
Some thoughts on the Queen Street bike tragedy
The "Ghost bike" memorial on Queen Street
For the family and friends of Danielle Naçu, the recent deadly accident on Queen Street will forever be a part of their lives. As sad as I feel about it, my sadness cannot compare to that of those who knew her. So, the rest of us look for answers.
Following various twitter feeds and chats about this incident yesterday I was left with a feeling that most people feel an accident like this is a singular event and not really part of any pattern. I'm not so sure.
"Dooring", they call it. It happens so often it has a name. When I was in my teens I rode my bike everywhere. My favourite route from the west end of Ottawa to the downtown was along Richmond Road until it turns into Wellington Street. This was where my only dooring incident took place. I was travelling pretty fast on my road bike and I probably had my head down. Suddenly a car door opened. I slammed on my brakes. I hit the door straight on and left some tire tracks on the inside of the door. The driver was not apologetic. In fact, he swore up and down that it was my fault. I suggested he needed to get his head examined and that I was pretty sure you're supposed to look before opening your door. Well, he wasn't taking any lip from a 17 year old and continued to harangue me as I rode off. I imagine I threw in a few colourful words as I rode off. As disturbing as the incident was it taught me a valuable lesson. That lesson has stayed with me and I've never been in a dooring incident since.
I learned then to never trust that a car door won't open. I always scan inside cars as I'm coming along and if someone is in the car I'm expecting a door to open. I don't ride so close to stopped or parked cars either. It's not for everybody, I know, but I take my share of the road and that means moving out from the danger zone and into the other lane if required. You might get honked at (though I don't recall this happening often), but it's your right.
Having said that, I'm not placing blame on the victim. She was in her rights to be riding where she was. A stupid, momentary lapse in judgement (and a Highway Traffic Act infraction) by the car driver and her life was lost. As soon as the details of this accident became known I heard so many comments about what can be done to stop it from happening again. Some were very anti-bike (suggestion: no bikes downtown!) or that the cyclist should have ridden in the segregated lane three blocks further south. At the end of all the discussions and ideas I'm left with only a few thoughts about how to avoid such accidents.
The first thing I would suggest is that we continue to encourage the use of bikes for everyday transportation. I think we had a few decades go by where bikes were mostly used by road racers and mountain bikers. I remember trading in my road bike for a mountain bike and all that really did was lead me to ride less. I know many others who did the same. The result, I believe, was fewer bikes on the road and less awareness of the ones that remained. Now, however, many people are dusting off old vintage bikes and putting away or trading in their mountain bikes. In Ottawa over the last three years we've seen a noticeable increase in the use of upright or so-called city bikes. People are using the bike again for transportation and not just recreation. This needs to continue. The more cyclists become part of the transportation scene the more car drivers will be alert to them.
A second thought, and it amazes me this isn't being done already, is to include dealing with cyclists in the driver training of Canadians.
It's not done in Ontario and it should be.
Lastly, education and awareness for both drivers and cyclists is important but we also need physical separation of cyclists and cars. We need more than one segregated bike lane in this city. Painted lanes on roads are fine to some extent, but physical segregation is very successful in other cities in the world and we need more of it - now.
The Ottawa Citizen has some information on the accident and a link to a memorial ride for Danielle Naçu. You can find that information at the following link: