More than a few people doubtless woke up Tuesday (November 7) reconsidering whether to ride their bikes to work after news that another cyclist had been struck and killed, this time caught under the wheels of a truck at Dundas and Sterling.
As if news of another dead cyclist weren't tragic enough, it's been revealed that the victim, Jenna Morrison, age 38, was pregnant. She also leaves behind a five-year-old child.
Jumping into the saddle to get to work, school or just to get around in the Big Smoke increasingly means taking your life into your hands.
Details of the incident are still emerging. According to police, the driver of the truck may not have seen Morrison as he made a right turn from Sterling onto Dundas. His right side-view mirror was reportedly not equipped with the convex attachment that would have allowed him to see alongside his truck.
Yet the ground is seemingly being laid to chalk this one up to an unfortunate accident, judging from police comments so far. Overall, public reaction online seems to be that Morrison was at fault. Unfortunately, blaming cyclists is the default position in such matters.
But let me roll out this stat. Motorists were to blame for more than two-thirds of the 1,266 collisions between bikes and vehicles in Toronto last year. Drivers' transgressions ran the gamut from failing to yield, making improper turns and disobeying traffic signals - you name it.
Here's another factoid. Toronto has the highest rate of car-on-cyclist collisions in the country: 47 per 100,000 population. Montreal, next-closest on that list, has a comparatively low 38 per 100,000.
Many European countries have far lower accident rates involving motorists and cyclists, even though way more people bike there and the roads are narrower and more crowded.
Are motorists here more, um, stupid or just careless? Cyclists, especially those who navigate traffic north of Eglinton, may be tempted to answer in the affirmative. Not to say that cyclists are perfect, but when motorists are at fault in most collisions, it's hard to stomach the victim-blaming.
Responsibility, however, belongs ultimately to political leaders who've ignored the need to build our bike network or engaged in outright hostility to cyclists, with their "war on cars" rhetoric. That goes double for the current administration at City Hall, despite last week's decision to build separated bike lanes somewhere on the Richmond-Adelaide corridor. (More on that spin in a bit.)
Maybe it's time to hold the decision-makers legally accountable for cycling deaths. That's the line some bike advocates have adopted. They argue that our leaders are knowingly putting lives at risk by ignoring the need for cycling infrastructure.
They have a point. If the comprehensive bike lane network recommended in a 1998 coroner's report (after a spate of cyclists' deaths) had been built, not only would riders be safer, but we'd all be a lot further down the road, motorists especially, to accepting bikes and bike lanes as part of the transportation network.
Instead, here we are more than a decade later about to embark on another coroner's inquest into bike deaths, this time a province-wide one announced a couple of weeks back.
It's unclear what the terms of reference of that inquiry will be. The liability issue is certainly one that cycling advocates pushing for the review want put on the table.
At least the Ontario coroner's office recognizes there's a problem with cycling safety. It's not clear the Ford administration does.
Without going back in time to rehash some of the mayor's choicer words on the subject of bikes, let's look at the decision of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) on Thursday, November 3, to okay an environmental assessment for separated bike lanes in the Richmond-Adelaide corridor.
Committee chair Denzil Minnan-Wong hailed the decision as a sign of the city's commitment to bike safety. The Toronto Cyclists Union was quick on the trigger with its approval, issuing a prepared statement within seconds of the decision.
But it's not a given that the lanes will ever be built. The preliminary report tabled by staff for the committee's consideration suggests there are enough obstacles - including water main work, major road resurfacing and streetcar track replacement, as well as a number of development proposals along both streets - to make construction of the lanes a no-go until at least 2013. Those details seem to have gotten lost in the pro-bike spin.
At the same time as Ford and his allies are purporting to be serious about bike safety, they're removing bike lanes. Paths on Pharmacy and Birchmount, in the burbs where they're more urgently needed, have been obliterated. Lanes on Dupont have been shortened. An environmental assessment for bike lanes on Bloor has been shelved. And then there's the plan to remove bike lanes on Jarvis come spring.
The Jarvis lanes, remember, were supposed to be replaced by lanes on Sherbourne, but that project has been put on the back burner, too - permanently, it looks like, from the shifty wording of a motion passed by PWIC back in June.
So if you're counting, that's zero bike lanes built so far and half a dozen or so take-aways.
What happens when Jarvis is painted over? Now that cyclists have gotten used to them, removing the lanes poses a heightened risk for cyclists.
City staff won't admit that publicly. But in private discussions with cycling advocates they agree that removing the lanes just to bring back a centre turn lane for cars will leave little room for motorists to get around cyclists who'll continue to use the roadway when the bike lanes are gone.
This is why some bike advocates are now arguing behind the scenes for sharrows on Jarvis to provide at least a modicum of safety for cyclists.
But staff seem reluctant to offer that advice to Ford & Co. for fear of being shown the door.
In which case we're back where we started on the bike file - sacrificing the safety of Torontonians for the sake of partisan politics.
Memorial for Jenna Morrison
Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists (ARC) holds a memorial ride for Jenna Morrison Monday (November 14). It leaves from Bloor and Spadina at 7:30 am and joins others at 8 am at Dundas West and Sterling.