Vancouver Province column: It’s time we paid more attention to the troubling side of two-wheeling

Monday, August 18, 2008

Forget about beach yoga, kiteboarding or the Grouse Grind. The hippest outdoor activity in Metro Vancouver this summer is riding a bike.

The weekend warriors and the tourist hordes are, of course, a regular sight along the region’s seawalls and bike paths. But thanks to brutal gas prices and our society’s push to go green, more folks are cycling to work, school or the grocery store as well.

Good for them, I say.

British Columbians who junk their car keys in favour of a 10-speed or a hip cruiser are not only saving gas money, they’re reducing their respective carbon footprints and their waistlines.

But amidst the back-slapping and good cheer among the two-wheeler crowd, there’s one part of the cycling story that not everyone is being told.

Contrary to what some bike boosters will tell you, riding a bike can at times be dangerous — especially when it involves riding in our fast-moving, short-tempered traffic environment.

Data from Transport Canada shows that the risk of traumatic injury for North American cyclists is greater than for car occupants and even for cyclists in Europe.

Equally troubling, the stats show that cyclists here are seven to 70 times more likely to be injured, by trip or by distance travelled, than automobile occupants.

As a bike commuter myself, I can attest to the ugliness out there when bikes and motor vehicles mix. In the past, I’ve been nearly sideswiped or run off the road by incompetent drivers on several occasions.

Once, I was nearly goaded into a fight with a truck driver who berated me for “hogging the road.” The bottom line is that riding in traffic is not for everyone, and certainly not for the faint of heart.

New research being conducted at five hospitals in Vancouver and Toronto is devoted to this troubling issue. Called “Bicyclists’ Injuries and the Cycling Environment,” the study will involve 600 adults who are injured while riding their bike and need treatment at a hospital emergency room.

At least the medical community is paying attention to this darker side of two-wheeling.

On the other hand, some of our politicians are only too happy to have us riding bikes in the name of environ- mental correctness.

But they don’t seem nearly as interested in following through with funding for safe-cycling infrastructure, such as separated bike lanes and stepped-up traffic law enforcement directed at both drivers and cyclists.

Furthermore, not all of the bike movement’s Johnny-come-latelies appear ready to deal with general traffic, road rage or potentially deadly driver mistakes.

Just as troubling are those who feel that riding a bicycle entitles them to run red lights or race through pedestrian crosswalks.

It’s time for our leaders to get real about cycling safety.

More bikes than ever are on the road. And that means the well-being of more commuters lies in the balance.

dmoscato@yahoo.com

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