An Open Letter to Victoria City Council: Bike Crash
An Open Letter to Victoria City Council:
On Saturday November 6, I collided with a truck whilst cycling in a bike lane.
The driver was turning left (West) into a parking lot, while I was cycling North in the bike lane on Wharf St. at Fort. I don’t blame the driver (even though, technically, he was at fault). I blame the poor design of the Wharf St. bike lane, and more generally, the patchwork cycling infrastructure that is making Victoria more dangerous for cyclists.
I was fortunate to walk away. My helmet was not, but it’s replaceable. The ER doctor who assessed me told me I was extremely lucky. The next person may not be.
I am writing to urge Council to fix these unsafe areas before someone dies.
In my case, the driver (a long-time City of Victoria resident) did not know that this was a 2-way bike lane. They checked for bike traffic in the same direction as vehicle traffic. They did not check for bikes travelling in the opposite direction because it is so counterintuitive to how we are trained to drive, and there is no signage to the contrary, that it did not occur to them to do so.
The driver was not distracted, intoxicated, or in a rush. Visibility was clear. It was 11 AM on a Saturday morning, and they wanted to view the boats on the water.
This is not the only example of the unsafe design of bike corridors in Victoria.
I cycle southbound on Vancouver St. at least 5 times per week. 4 times out of 5, I have to swerve to avoid being hit by cars turning right at either Yates St. or View St. Why? Because it doesn’t occur to drivers that cyclists going straight in the bike lane to their right have the right of way.
Before someone complains that drivers should shoulder check: That doesn’t make cyclists any less dead. Unless you are willing to invest millions educating the public, and enforcing these rules, blaming “bad” drivers isn’t the solution.
To be clear: I support increasing cycling infrastructure. I support encouraging able-bodied folks to cycle more and drive less. But if we want more cyclists and fewer drivers, we must make cycling infrastructure safer, meaning more intuitive, for drivers. If this is truly supposed to be an All Ages and Abilities Bike Network, then a five year old with training wheels should be able to ride safely along these corridors.
On June 11, 2021, I published a blog post with the radical opinion that Victoria’s bike lanes are not making cycling safer. Rather, for the most part, they are confusing, not well-marked, and they create unnecessary conflict between cyclists and drivers.
To quote from that article:
“Studies show that the #1 thing that makes cycling safer is driver awareness, and driver care for cyclists. Increasing animosity between drivers and cyclists decreases safety for cyclists – regardless of infrastructure, as evidenced here.”
If you want to witness increasing animosity toward cyclists in Victoria, simply spend half an hour reading the comments on the Fairfield/Gonzales Local Facebook Group in response to the new corridor on Richardson St.
So what should be done to fix these issues?
I’m sure there are experts with a dozen ideas, but as a person who uses the bike network daily here are three that can be enacted immediately:
- Create consistency with the rest of the CRD by making all bike lanes one way in the parallel direction of vehicle traffic. If the street is one way, (ie. Johnson St.) bicycle traffic should also be one way.
- At intersections where cars cross bike lanes to turn right, (or left) install separate traffic lights so that cyclists and drivers are not in the same place at the same time. Drivers have adapted to this system on Fort St. and Pandora Ave., and adding these lights to intersections along other corridors, such as Vancouver St., would increase consistency, and thus, safety.
- When adding a new corridor, include non-expert inexperienced cyclists in your design and testing process. Include seniors, children, and folks unfamiliar with Victoria. If these people cannot use the corridor safely and easily, there is a flaw in the design. This would allow you to fix the issues early.
In short, dangerous cycling infrastructure in Victoria is a fixable problem. I implore Council to make it a priority to make it safer.
City of Victoria Resident
and Professional Triathlete
P.S. Before someone argues that I was riding unsafely, here are some actions I took that day:
- I was riding in a designated bike lane, riding in the marked direction for bikes in that area.
- I was riding 19.36 km/hr before breaking, according to my Apple watch. The speed limit for bikes in bike lanes in British Columbia is 30 km/hr.
- I was wearing white, reflective clothing, and neon, reflective, shoe covers.
- I had working lights on my bike (front and back).
- It was 11 AM, before the time change, with clear visibility.
- I regularly ride 300+ km per week, and have taken a number of courses in safe bike handling, including a 2-day intensive in September 2021.
If a truck collided with an experienced cyclist in a bike lane, is this really an All Ages and Abilities corridor?
Photos of the area. The collision occurred at the parking lot entrance, just south of Fort St., where drivers cross a two-way bike lane. Cyclists going straight have the right-of-way: