Cyclists crowd-source close calls on Twitter


As a competitive cyclist and someone who rides her bike to get around the city, Nicole Visschedyk is used to avoiding accidents on the road. Just three weeks ago, she was riding along Wellesley Street when a car making a left turn nearly collided with her.

“I braked hard, flew off the bike and he didn’t hit me but he sped off,” Visschedyk recalls. “He didn’t stop and wait to see if I was okay. That kind of story is very common among cyclists.”

Visschedyk is hoping that a new social media campaign will help highlight close calls similar to the one she experienced. Cyclists are encouraged to share photos and the whereabouts of dangerous areas of the city on Twitter and Instagram using the hashtag #NearDeathTO. Visschedyk wants to identify unsafe locations where cycling accidents are likely to occur.

“Nobody’s tracking minor injuries or those times when cyclists have a near collision,” she says. “By using #NearDeathTO, when a cyclist has a close encounter with a car or falls off their bike and has a minor injury, we can find out where those pinch points are.”

Another area that’s currently hazardous to cyclists is near the intersection of Bloor and Lansdowne. A construction site slows down traffic, and often, frustrated drivers accelerate quickly once they’ve passed through.

“As you go under the underpass going eastbound, you’ve got a concrete wall on one side and cars going 70 kilometres per hour on the other side of you within an inch of your handle bars,” Visschedyk describes. “There may not be a collision there yet, but it can potentially be a very serious safety issue.”

According to the City of Toronto, 54 per cent of residents ride bikes on the road and nearly 30 per cent use cycling as their main mode of transportation. A report on pedestrian and cycling safety published by the City in June, stated that 5,000 cyclists were injured or died as a result of a car collision between 2008 and 2012.

Visschedyk notes that, of course, these statistics only reflect cases that are tracked. Thousands of minor accidents and close calls go unreported.

“At any one time, I usually have one friend who’s been hit by a car in the cycling community,” she says. “Toronto is not terribly safe. I think people use cycling transportation in spite of the design of the city, not because of the design of the city.”

Earlier this year, hundreds of cyclists staged a “die in” at Nathan Phillips Square to protest three recent fatal collisions and to demand safer cycling infrastructure in Toronto. The demonstration was organized by Cycle Toronto to pressure City Council to adopt Vision Zero, a Swedish road-safety initiative that aims to eliminate traffic-related fatalities.

The cycling advocacy group also wants to see the city’s annual cycling budget raised from $8 million to $20 million. Visschedyk hopes that the results of her campaign might help city planners focus on where to spend the money.

“I definitely want to be able to make a link between where those dangerous areas are in the city and increased safety from a city-budget perspective,” she says. “If roads become safer for cyclists, they become safer for drivers as well. I’m a driver and a cyclist. I do both. This is about making the city better for both and using big data to take the heat out of the argument.” | @michdas



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