[BIKING] The Politics of An Accident

I don’t understand, right now, why the city of Ottawa is making a recent accident about speed.  I can only assume it’s political, and has given someone the mandate to do something they wanted to deal with anyway, but wasn’t popular.
Here’s what I’m talking about.


Police said Johnson was travelling north in the southbound lane of Bronson just south of Holmwood Avenue when she was hit at about 7:45 p.m. (emphasis added)

I biked past that, on the way downtown to meet friends, about twenty minutes after it happened.  It’s truly tragic.  But I know that section of road, and I can tell you what likely happened there.

a] she crossed the field/parking lot at Bronson & Carleton University
b] she took the sidewalk over the canal/bridge on Bronson.
c] someone, or several someones were walking on the sidewalk
d] she hopped down into the turning lane for Colonel By Drive to go around them and save ten seconds
e] she crossed into the bike-lane that’s there
f] the bike-lane sits between the turning lane and the main lanes of traffic
g] a car was cutting into the turning lane to make the turn onto Colonel By Drive


She did the above, except she made it further, to where Bronson is widening from two narrow, old lanes at Holmwood, into an old bus-pull-in, and the turning lane for Col By, and was hit on the blind corner there.

Either way is tragic.

However, either way is 100%, entirely, her fault.

I don’t consider this speaking ill of the dead.  She’s a cyclist.  She was completely and utterly disregarding the rules of the road.  In the most dangerous possible circumstances.

On top of all of the above, she was doing all that without a helmet, and without lights or (apparently) reflectors.  She was, for all intents and purposes, driving the wrong way in traffic while invisible.

If a car or motorcycle had done this, the outrage and blame would be completely on the driver.

The story quickly became about a “speed review” after a cyclist was killed “On Bronson, just south of Holmwood”.

Now, there’s radar signs up, speed monitoring, increased enforcement.

So, why has this become about speed: “Radar Sign Part of Bronson Avenue Speed Review?

This wasn’t a speed incident.  The speed of the car who hit her is pretty irrelevant.  Where she was hit, it’s a 50km/h accelerating into 60km/h, accelerating into 70km/h directly in front of the Carleton University, and then 80km/h just past Heron/Baseline road.  All over a stretch of about 2km.  This strip of SIX LANE WIDE road is notoriously known as the “Bronson Speedway” and has been since before I came to Ottawa in ’93.  It’s between four and eight lanes across (2-4 in each direction) depending on where you are on it.  There’s an on-demand pedestrian crossing at the exit from Brewer park, but otherwise, it’s two to four kilometers of minimum two-lane, high-speed blacktop, directly in front of a school.  It should never have been built like that.

But it was.

Beyond that, the corner where it happend is terrible.  It’s a blind corner, southbound, because of over-grown trees, and a huge retaining wall, as you come out of a four-lane, ostensibly residential area.  Traffic finally opens up, people do tend to put their foot down: they almost always cut the lane markers through the corner onto the Colonel By Bridge.  It’s probably the worst place in the city she could have chosen to do what she did.

However, the speed is irrelevant.  She went head on with a car that was accelerating from 50km/h to 60km/h (at least).  Legally accelerating, it should be noted.  At the same time, again, she was cycling on the wrong side of the road, in the dark, effectively invisible.

The money that’s being poured into the speed review… sorry, SAFETY REVIEW by the City of Ottawa would be better spent educating cyclists.

And yes, that would include giving out tickets to cyclists who are doing it fucking wrong.  Better a ticket now than a funeral later.

Cyclists need to be reminded that they are vehicles on the road, and beholden to the rules of the road, same as drivers need to be reminded the same way.

I just don’t see how this:

“Coun. David Chernushenko had asked the committee to consider lowering speed limits between Holmwood and Brewer Way to 50 km/h. He also said he would ask police to boost their enforcement of the current speed limit on Bronson until the study is completed.”

Is going to prevent head-on collisions between drivers and cyclists who aren’t obeying the rules of the road.  Possibly Marianne Wilkinson and David Chernushenko can explain it to me, but I don’t see the correlation here.

What I do see is a thing that people (read: constituents, read: voters) do understand, because the police and safety groups shout it constantly.


Yes, I’m being completely facetious here.

But, we have an opportunity to actually make the city safer here.  To educate rather than legislate.  To actually do something, rather than just present the status quo appearance of doing something in terms that (the cynic in me says) votors can understand.

Put bluntly, I think the city is wasting money on a non-issue, at least as it pertains to this tragedy. 

As a cyclist, I’d like to see other cyclists educated on road safety, and the rules of the road (and no, I’m not talking about licensing, I think licensing bicycles is a ludicrously bureaucratic idea), and, if that section of road is that bad for cycling and pedestrian incidents, have the requested police prescense there be on bikes, and be working with (the “with” is important) cyclists to get them doing it right.

I’m not a perfect cyclist, I admit that.  I don’t wear a helmet as much as I could.  But other than that, I try very, very hard to obey the rules of the road: I use lights, and my tires are reflective.  I’m a driver as well, and it makes me insane to have to deal with both bad drivers and bad cyclists.  And as a cyclist, I’ve had confrontations with other cyclists who simply don’t believe rules like red lights and stop signs, and right-of-way, and yes, even direction of traffic, apply to them.  I have, once in my twenty+ years of riding, seen a cyclist get a ticket for cruising through a red light (that was actually awesome). 

Everyone needs to work together.  Everyone needs to remember what actually caused the problem, and everyone needs to work towards solving that problem, not addressing an easy hot-button issue, that looks good in the news.  And, if this turns out to be about CBC’s semi-tabloid approach to journalism, and the councillors are approaching this as a cycling issue, not a speed issue, then my apologies.  But it really doesn’t FEEL like that’s what’s happening.

The final thought is, if this turns into a ‘speed’ issue, it actually villifies the driver.  A driver, who, in this case, apparently did nothing wrong, and turns the person who, however tragically, wasn’t obeying the law, into the victim.  And that’s not right etiher.  That driver has to live with the consequences of the cyclists decisions forever.  I know I’d have a hard time with that alone.  It’d be even more difficult, and incredibly unfair, if the city and the news turned this into the driver’s fault.


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