Thursday, November 15, 2012

Standing in the dark in the middle of the road

Mike and his new big sister, Frederika.
For those of you that haven't heard, I got a car. Not all that recently, really: it was back in February or March that my parents said they were getting rid of their 2001 VW Jetta and did I want it? I said I did, partly because I have a soft spot in my heart for that car (her name is Frederika, and she's been with the family a long time, clearly, since my parents bought her new) and partly because as a self-employed (and sometimes semi-employed) individual, a car is a rather nice tick on the job application. Also, it's very useful for getting to rock climbing areas.

Anyway, I have a car now. And one of my most recent work contracts requires me to drive about 80km round trip to a gig in Val-des-Monts, Quebec, a few times a week. I'm riding a lot less, and I'm kind of sad about that (although, I still ride to my office downtown, and to shows and events, as often as I can). But also, I'm driving around cyclists a lot more. And seriously? Some of them do my head in. No lights, running reds, riding the wrong way. It's worse because I'm hyperaware of my status as the big scary car, and I give bikes a wide berth.

Just as an example: this evening, I was on Carleton University Campus, coming up the main road into campus. It's four or five lanes wide, with a right turn lane on each side and a left-only lane heading west, and two through lanes. I was in the through lane, and it was dark. There aren't even any streetlights there. Suddenly, I saw the faint glimmer of reflectors and realized there was a cyclist, standing, walking her bike, at the yellow line in the middle of the five-lane road, waiting for her moment to continue crossing.

I felt a little touch of panic when I saw the wheel of the bike in my headlights. I slammed on my brakes (causing the driver behind me to slam on theirs to avoid rear-ending me: I realized later how lucky I was). I stared at the cyclist in disbelief, and she took that as her cue to start across in front of me, with a little thank-you wave like I'd stopped to let her cross. Illegally. Nowhere near a crossing or traffic light.

We were about 500 metres south of the ghost bike erected about a month ago where a cyclist - a Carleton student - was killed going north in the southbound lane of Bronson Ave.

Maybe someone needs to rethink how bikes get across Carleton campus?

I also wondered what would have happened had the car behind me rear-ended me because of my sudden braking. Who covers damage, if a cyclist causes an accident between two motor vehicles? A quick Google got me an article from the CBC which says, among other things, "The next for the cyclist to look into whatever accident benefits they may have, especially if they have auto insurance, to cover physiotherapy, income loss and other costs."Their car insurance will pay for that," Hollingsworth said. "They often don't realize that, but that's available." And if the cyclist involved doesn't have auto insurance, Hollingsworth said accident benefits can often be accessed through a relative, and failing that, through the auto insurance of the other motorist involved in the crash, even if the cyclist is at fault." I assume that means if I was hit by another car because a cyclist was standing in the middle of the road in the dark like a moron, the cyclist would at least be likely to have insurance to cover the damage. I hope anyway.


  1. 2 things.

    1. It is not illegal to walk across the street, dumb in that case, but not illegal. see Eric Darwin's latest about crossing the street as a pedestrian.

    2. If the driver rear-ended you, for any reason, they were following too closely, and are automatically at fault.

    As much as I love biking, I do drive into work two or three times a week in the summertime and every day in the winter (live downtown, work in Kanata, I know) so I have a lot of experience driving and biking. As much as some cyclists behaviour horrifies me (biking the wrong way on one-ways is a pet peeve of mine) the illegal things that cyclists do are way less dangerous to themselves or others than the illegal things I see drivers doing every day

  2. Hi Kate. I'm sad to hear Mike is not getting as much use as in the past :-( Of course having access to a car, for rock climbing trips and a long commute is a good thing.
    As a cyclist and a driver I understand your concerns. People can be unpredictable regardless of their mode of transport. I don't want to "defend" the cyclist in your story, I'm not 100% clear where she was or how much danger she was in. Maybe you over reacted? Maybe not, I don't want to judge. I am just happy everyone walked away unscathed.
    I am quite willing to forgive cyclists of many infractions: Biking against traffic, sidewalk cycling, stop sign & red light jumping, etc. Still, I'm often confronted by behaviour that even I can't excuse... Cyclists and motorists are human and unfortunately capable of really poor judgement.
    Count yourself lucky that your experience with cycling will inform and improve your driving. As your driving will improve and inform your cycling.

  3. Matt - Note HTA Section 144(22): "Where portions of a roadway are marked for pedestrian use, no pedestrian shall cross the roadway except within a portion so marked. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 144 (22)". (Section 144(1)'s definitions imply that this applies to parts of an intersection outside the marked crosswalk) Also, section 144(28) gives right of way to pedestrians who *lawfully* enter the roadway for the purpose of crossing. Subsections 23 to 27 describe when this is lawful.

    Kate - Based on the description, this sounds like one of those student types who doesn't own a car, and thus wouldn't have auto insurance. My inkling is that people who bike by choice (i.e. despite owning a car, not in lieu of) are the kind who have the sense to at the very least use lights, though of course that's a generalization.

    This person was lucky you were the driver, Kate. Someone else less attentive might have made us another headline.

    I find low tire pressure to be a good indicator that a cyclist is about to do something stupid (or at least illegal), like veer left without shoulder checking, jumping onto a sidewalk, riding the wrong way or running a red light/stop sign without stopping and looking. I make a habit of checking the tires of cyclists I approach on the roadway and if they're visibly low I am extra cautious when passing them (on my bike).

  4. Charles, 144(22) refers to signalized intersections. It just means that if there is a marked pedestrian crossing at a light, pedestrians must use it, it doesn't say anything about pedestrians crossing the road in general.

    1. I know, just that this incident occurred in an intersection, so 144(22) would apply here. (sorry for the delay)