Each and every time I walk along the streets of Charlottetown, I take my life in my hands. This is a small city which only recently began a public transit system (Yay for folks in need and our environment!) and, if I give the benefit of the doubt, struggles to be bike friendly. There were some “share the road” signs posted in a few discrete locations this summer. Kudos for that; it is a step in the right direction.
As I walk, constantly startled by bicyclists approaching me from behind on the sidewalk, I am reminded of my frustrations around the many challenges we face in this province to make bicycling a safe, enjoyable, respected, and respectable means of transportation.
Specifically, three issues leap to my mind.
1. Use of helmets. Helmets are, thankfully, mandatory by law for all bicyclists in this province. Even if they weren’t, any degree of common sense would tell you to protect the brains of yourself and/or your children.
I have no ‘hard’ statistics to cite here, but I know from observation this law is little observed and little enforced. Not only do most adults ride bikes without helmets, many children do as well.
I shudder and cringe each time I see a rider without a helmet, knowing how abruptly life can needlessly change.
National and various provincial statistics show most accidental bicyclist deaths to be a result of traumatic brain injury. Most brain injuries occur as the result of lack of a helmet.
You need only have one conversation with emergency room staff at a hospital to get an attitude-shaking picture of the bicycle accidents which come through their doors. Even mild brain injuries can have far-reaching and devastating effects on your life and those who love you.
2. Bicyclists who either do not know or choose to ignore, the proper use of bicycles. It should not be a surprise that bicycles are vehicles and, as such, subject to the same rules of the road as motorized vehicles. Sidewalks, boardwalks and crosswalks are for pedestrians. If you are walking your bike then by all means avail yourself of sidewalks, boardwalks and crosswalks. If you are in the saddle and riding you do not belong in these places and are, in fact, placing pedestrians and yourself at risk.
As a bike rider, you are entitled to your space on the road. In the lane. Use of proper hand signals and observation of all traffic signs makes your actions, as a moving vehicle, predictable to other drivers and pedestrians alike. This makes for a very good situation.
3. Motorized vehicle operators who are less observant of bicyclists than they should be. Car and motorcycle drivers must exercise alertness when sharing the road with bicyclists. Bicyclists in your lane, turning, or making lane changes should be treated like any other vehicle on the road.
When motorists provide bicyclists with sufficient space, proper right of way, and respect on the roads, safety risks for everyone are minimized.
Bicycles are definitely green in terms of environmental costs and out-of-pocket operating costs to the rider. They are an efficient active means of transportation and provide all kinds of benefits for the rider’s health and fitness. Merchants could install bike racks or appropriate places for parking and locking bikes. Communities could hold public education events. Truck drivers on roads with no shoulders could exercise extra vigilance during ‘biking’ season.
With some effort on the part of riders and motorized drivers and city and municipal governments, sharing the roads of Prince Edward Island could be a winning proposition for all!
I would be very pleased to ride my bike around my rural home community and in the small city which is my work community with fewer concerns. I would be thrilled to regularly walk on sidewalks without the startle of bicyclists swerving around me or braking hard behind me. I would be joyed by a community concerned about decreasing bicyclist accident statistics and increasing its dedication to a greener lifestyle.
Share your experiences. Write to your local paper and MLA.