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A side guard might have saved Jenna Morrison's life.
Three weeks ago when the Toronto cyclist found herself next to a truck as she biked to pick up her five-year-old son from school, there was nothing between her and the vehicle's rear wheels, nothing to stop her from being pulled under when the driver turned into her and knocked her over.
Morrison was run over by the truck's back wheels at the intersection of Dundas and Sterling and suffered massive injuries. She was pronounced dead at the scene, a victim of what many believe was a preventable accident.
Next Tuesday at city council, Ward 38 Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker will present a motion that he hopes will help put an end to accidents like the one that killed Morrison.
It asks council to look into fitting all city-operated trucks with side guards, and consider drafting a policy under which the city would favour doing business with corporations that also install the simple safety features on their vehicles.
"I think it's time, given the tragic death that's occurred in the city of Toronto, for us to re-evaluate what we're doing," said De Baeremaeker. "We have 30,000 taxpayers a day cycling to work in the summer. They deserve to get the maximum amount of safety, the same as anybody else."
Side guards take different forms, but are usually bars or panels fitted along the side of large trucks to fill the space between sets of wheels. They are mandatory in the European Union and the UK, but have never been widely used in North America despite evidence that they save lives. One study in the UK found that making side guards mandatory reduced cycling fatalities from accidents like Morrison's by a staggering 60 per cent.
While safety standards for vehicles fall under federal jurisdiction, De Baeremaeker's goal is to get side guards on as many trucks operating in Toronto as possible by fitting them on the municipal fleet and encouraging companies doing business with the city to do the same.
Because his motion, which was drafted with the help of Councillors Paula Fletcher and Mike Layton, is a late addition to council's agenda, a two-thirds majority vote is required for it to be debated at the council meeting next week. De Bearemaeker admits that it is unlikely to get the two-thirds support, but councillors could decide to send it to the public works committee for further consideration.
Wherever it ends up, the motion is the latest in a long line of attempts to bring side guards to Toronto, all of which have been unsuccessful so far. In 2006 a similar motion went before Toronto's public works committee, but no action was taken. Before that, a 1998 coroner's report into cycling deaths in the city made an unheeded recommendation to study making the guards mandatory.
De Baeremaeker himself does not have a great record on the issue. Although he frequently chides Mayor Rob Ford for refusing to implement bike-friendly policies, he took no action on side guards when was chair of Toronto's public works committee, a position he held for four years under former mayor David Miller.
"That was a mistake," De Baeremaeker admits.
Even at a relatively low estimated cost of $2,000 per vehicle, putting side guards on the city's fleet any time soon could be a long shot, given the current search for savings at city hall and an administration that's lukewarm on cycling safety.
The idea of fitting the city's truck fleet with side guards is not without precedent however. St. John's recently outfitted many of its heavy vehicles with the guards after a campaign launched by Newfoundlander Jeanette Holman-Price, whose daughter Jessica was killed by a snow-removal truck in Montreal in 2005.
Councillor Layton believes that $2,000 is a small price for the city to pay if it will result in better safety for vulnerable road users. "It doesn't have a huge impact on the vehicles themselves and it could be phased in over time," he said. "It's the end point we want to get to, which is safer roads for cyclists."
Aside from installing side guards on the city's truck fleet, De Baeremaeker's motion also calls on the city to extend support to a federal side guard bill introduced in Parliament this month by NDP MP Olivia Chow, consider other truck safety features like additional turn signals and audible warning systems, and report on what's being done to protect cyclists and pedestrians from large trucks in other jurisdictions around the country.
"I think we have to send a message to the mayor and to the other 44 members of council, that this is an important issue," said De Baeremaeker. "We're the government of Toronto. We're supposed to protect people."