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Philip Preville: The case for making bike helmets mandatory

Driving without a seat belt is considered absurdly reckless. Why isn’t cycling without a helmet?

Heads Will Roll

Any cyclist who’s ever been in an accident knows the feeling of being thrown upon the mercy of the grid. There is no way of predicting how the vectors will play out, nor any providence that can harness them, even for the most trifling mishap. All you can do is gird yourself.

Back in August, 47-year-old Joseph Mavec was cycling along quiet west end Wychwood Avenue when his bike’s front wheel got snagged in an old, unused streetcar track. My wife did the same thing eight years ago in the very same location and walked away with a scrape. Mavec struck his head on the pavement and quickly died. He was not wearing a helmet.

Fate was both crueler and kinder to Wendy Trusler. On July 19, 2000, Trusler was cycling north on Spadina toward College Street, back in the days when metal posts, not concrete curbs, separated the tracks from other traffic. She made a snap decision to cut across the tracks mid-block—and unwittingly into the path of a northbound 510 silently approaching at 50 kilometres an hour. “It was maybe 10 feet away from me when I saw it,” she says. “I only had time to turn my back to it.” The streetcar hit Trusler, and she bounced back and forth between it and the bollards for roughly five metres, the red rocket cracking the ribs on her left side, the posts snapping her right femur. By the time all moving bodies came to rest she had 17 broken bones, including her clavicle, shoulder blade, cheekbone and jaw. But she was wearing a helmet, and she suffered no cranial or brain trauma.

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The coroner’s office wants Ontario to pass a mandatory bike helmet law

Bike helmets: not just for dressing up like a robot (Image: Kevin Jaako)

Ontario’s coroner’s office has revived the idea of a mandatory helmet law for all cyclists, rather than just riders younger than 18—a contentious step, but one that’s already been adopted in British Columbia, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. Deputy chief coroner Dan Cass made the case for helmets after finding that only 26 per cent of the 129 cyclists killed in Ontario since 2006 were wearing one. But opponents, including bike advocacy group Cycle Toronto, argue helmet laws give cyclists a false sense of safety and discourage others from hopping on their bikes. Another of Cass’s ideas will be familiar to Toronto cyclists: require heavy trucks to install side guards to prevent cyclists from getting crushed beneath the rear wheels, as happened tragically last year to Jenna Morrison. That idea has previously received a chilly reception at the federal level, so we’ll see whether Cass’s recommendations can make the tricky leap into regulations. [Globe and Mail]

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Tension between taxi drivers and other road users grows after longboarder Ralph Bissonette’s death

(Image: Tom Purves)

The battle for space and safety on city streets is making headlines again in light of the death of Ralph Bissonette, the longboarder who was struck and killed by a taxi on May 14. The cab driver involved, Adib Ibraham, has been charged with second-degree murder, and police say road rage may have been a contributing factor—emphasizing once again the acrimonious relations between the motorists, cyclists and skateboarders who share the roads (and who all accuse one another of rampant rule-breaking). Yesterday, the Toronto Sun talked to cab drivers, who attempted to repair the damage to their poor public image. They said that pedestrians, cyclists and boarders ignore traffic laws—making it more difficult than ever to navigate the streets safely. Cabbies also said that skateboarders should stay off the roads (while longboarders are technically supposed to remain on sidewalks, police rarely enforce that rule, and the difficulty of navigating around pedestrians often means longboarders opt to ride on the street instead). Several taxi drivers voiced concern that most Torontonians—including police—are biased against them, rarely siding with drivers during accidents or other incidents. Thomas Tuah, who’s been behind the wheel of a Toronto taxi for 37 years, told the paper, “We go through hell. The police don’t back us, no one does.” Along with their stated complaints, the xenophobic remarks from commentators on the article underscore just how much cabbies are contending with. Read the entire story [Toronto Sun] »

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Kristyn Wong-Tam and Denzil Minnan-Wong argue over how to turn Yonge into New York

(Images: Christopher Drost)

Yonge Street retailers are complaining that the area has too much foot traffic—which sounds a little nuts, but their reasoning is that any would-be leisurely shoppers get caught in the stampeding crowd and are whisked right by. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam thinks reducing the number of car lanes on Yonge and widening the pedestrian area using business-sponsored planters would liven up the street (and make it more like New York), and she has applied to try out the scheme from mid-August to mid-September for the Celebrate Yonge festival. Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the city’s public works committee, has a totally different vision: convert Yonge and Bay to one-way streets south of Bloor to improve traffic flow and create space for cyclists—which would also, oddly enough, make Yonge more like New York. Since this is the third time Minnan-Wong has looked into fixing up Wong-Tam’s ’hood (he asked the city to look into the Yonge-Dundas pedestrian scramble without consulting her and led the fight to remove the Jarvis bike lanes, also in her ward), we’re bracing for a turf war between two three-named councillors. [Globe and Mail]

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Is Rob Ford waging a war on bikes?

(Image: veggiefrog)

It’s always fun when news agencies outside of Toronto pay attention to the city’s political scene, but this BBC clip about Toronto’s “war on bikes” just makes us sad. Setting the tone with some tense background music, the two-minute video features a series of Torontonians talking about how dangerous it is to get around on a bike in the city (which is certainly true) and placing all of the blame on Rob Ford for being “awful.” Since Ford refused repeated interview requests, the BBC did the next best thing: used old, grainy footage of him railing against cyclists and saying “it’s their own fault” if they get killed. And while the article accompanying the video gives a brief shout-out to council’s decision to upgrade and separate some existing bike lanes, it’s mostly a rebuke of the city’s cycling infrastructure, with Ford cast as the sole villain—even though the city’s pre-Ford track record on cycling was also spotty. We agree that the Ford administration, with its “war on the car” rhetoric, hasn’t been a cyclist’s best friend, but we’re not sure rallying beneath the “war on bikes” banner is the way to get Toronto’s inadequate infrastructure improved. It’s likely to create more hostility, not bike lanes. Watch the video [BBC News] »

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Reaction Roundup: councillors on the surprisingly dramatic vote on cleaning contracts

The formerly “mushy middle” and the left-leaners on city council teamed up against another of Rob Ford’s campaign promises yesterday, seizing oversight of future contracting out of city cleaning jobs. Instead of going to an internal committee, cleaning contracts will now be voted on by council—which will make it much harder for Ford to cut costs by privatizing more city contracts (unionized cleaners earn as much as $26 an hour, plus benefits, while the market rate is about $17 an hour, according to the National Post). The vote also stirred up plenty of resentment, tears and gravy references at city hall (who knew cleaning contracts were so contentious?).

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The battle over the Jarvis Street bike lanes begins again

(Image: Half my Dad's age)

Now that it’s clear—abundantly so—that Rob Ford can be beat, the Toronto Cyclists Union has decided to revive last summer’s fight to save the Jarvis Street bike lanes. The group is brandishing a letter from a law firm that says the bike lanes can’t be painted over and the centre vehicle lane put back in without an environmental assessment. Though the delaying tactics may work in the short term, it seems unlikely that the union would find the necessary council support to save the cycling path—even a fiscal conservative like Karen Stintz, who may have been swayed by the exorbitant cost of removal, has been unwavering in her view that the Jarvis lanes are unnecessary (and a danger to families). Read the entire story [Toronto Star] »

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Turns out installing, and then promptly removing, the Jarvis bike lane is wasteful and expensive

Last week the Toronto Cyclists Union revealed the cost of removing the Jarvis bike lane to be $272,000, significantly more than the $200,000 estimate put forward when council voted to scrap the lane last summer. The debate over the politically motivated decision included much posturing and chest thumping, and it turned out the lane had little effect on driving times on Jarvis anyway. Oh, also, the $272,000 cost of removal can now be added to the $86,000 installation cost. Read the entire story [Toronto Cyclists Union] »

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City hall wants $150 parking tickets; Reddit’s Toronto community wants fines geared to income

Pending approval from council, city will start slapping drivers who park illegally during rush hour with $150 fines. The proposal to hike fines from a measly $40 to $60 passed the city’s public works committee by a 3-2 vote and is now set to go before council. But while nobody likes gridlock, and cyclists, of course, will appreciate anything that discourages people from parking in their designated lane, we’re skeptical of the fine’s efficacy. The Toronto Star spoke to one truck driver who said his company thinks of tickets for blocking traffic as “the cost of doing business” (though he did speculate that heftier fines might change that). Meanwhile, a thread on Reddit explores whether fines geared to an individual’s income might be more effective. After all, $150 is basically pocket change to a fat cat in a Porsche. Plus, it’s kind of delicious, in a twisted sort of way, to think about somebody getting hit with a million-dollar fine. Read the entire story [Toronto Star] »

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City councillors are (once again) considering licensing cyclists—that terrible idea that refuses to die

The city is looking to crack down on reckless cyclists—specifically those who ride on the sidewalk—and apparently they’re prepared to use any means at their disposal. NOW reports that the public works committee, led by noted automobile enthusiast Denzil Minnan-Wong, voted to request that city staff and cops determine how to better enforce bylaws that keep cyclists on the road, where they belong. For his part, Councillor David Shiner suggested the city consider licensing cyclists, an idea that has been thrown around again and again. Of course, city hall long ago concluded it would be too tough a measure to enforce and too expensive a program to run. In effect, it simply won’t work, so please, dear councillors, just give it up. Read the entire story [NOW] »

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Olivia Chow calls for guards on trucks to protect cyclists

Toronto MP Olivia Chow is reintroducing a private member’s bill calling for the installation of side guards on large trucks in order to prevent accidents like the one that killed cyclist Jenna Morrison last week. According to the Globe and Mail, a 2010 report commissioned by Transportation Canada “shows that since the introduction of guards on the side of most trucks in Europe in the 1980s, the number of cyclists and pedestrians killed or seriously wounded in crashes with large vehicles has dropped.” But National Research Council Canada contends that the guards may not be solely responsible for improved safety, and the federal government already said it’s not interested in the legislation without more evidence. Because, you know, it’s always best to stick with the status quo, especially when it’s clearly working so well. Read the entire story [Globe and Mail] »

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Frances Nunziata proposes a new vehicle registration tax (i.e. licensing cyclists)

Councillor Frances Nunziata is talking about licensing cyclists, an idea that’s regularly floated at city hall and always met with a predictable outcome. Often viewed as an anti-cycling tactic in disguise, the Toronto Sun reports that police chief Bill Blair mentioned at least one positive outcome for pinkos cyclists yesterday: licenses would make it easier to return stolen bikes to their lawful owners. But unless we’re missing something, the police’s current police bicycle registration seems sufficient. And this city website lists three times in recent memory when the licensing idea has been considered. Then again, this could be a cash cow for the city. How’s $60 per bike sound? Read the entire story [Toronto Sun] »

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Dull political sabre-rattling follows Ontario Liberals’ dull political attack ad

Busted, Horwath! Actually, not really, but that’s the message the Liberals are apparently trying to convey with what might be one of the lamest attack ads we’ve ever seen. The 41-second YouTube clip—uploaded yesterday by a certain “HazardousHorwath”—begins with footage of Andrea Horwath making the case for her proposed one-metre rule, a law that would mandate a one-metre buffer between cyclists and cars, followed by footage of an NDP vehicle driving kind of close to cyclists (including one that’s riding on the sidewalk). A Liberal spokesperson said the party found the NDP’s hypocrisy “disappointing.” Yowza! An NDP spokesperson fired back, stating, “It’s just proof of how desperate they’re getting.” Really, this is all desperately dull—but it’s also not that surprising for an election that has thus far been a whole lot of boring. With that in mind, a request for the province’s reporters: start digging up the dirt on these leaders, because that’s the kind of stuff that fuels entertaining attack ads. Read the entire story [National Post] »

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Latest StatsCan report confirms all our stereotypes about commuting in the GTA

(Image: Paul Sherwood from the Torontolife.com Flickr pool)

Statistics Canada’s latest report about commuting across Canada came out yesterday, and there are lot of interesting goodies in there (to the point that the Toronto Star basically geeked out and ran a half-dozen different stories). The numbers for Toronto basically confirm every stereotype we previously held about ways to get around this city.

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Josh Matlow wants a $500 fine for drivers who park in the curb lane—but will that ever get past city council?

Josh Matlow wants to make curb-parkers pay, big time (Image: Toronto.ca)

Look out, road hogs—Josh Matlow is coming after you. The rookie councillor is set to put a motion before city council next month that would increase the fine for drivers who take up a lane (including a, gasp, bike lane) of a major road during the morning or afternoon rush hour. The current fine, which is rarely if ever levied, is $40 to $60, and Matlow wants to pump that number up to a whopping $500. So he’s not inventing a new crime, only punishing one much more severely. But, of course, the rub is that the current city council hasn’t exactly shown an appetite for punishing motorists.

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