The Cyclist Wins! (The Globe and Mail, July 12)


Activists want Queen West bike lanes after cyclist who crashed
wins in court ---- By JEFF GRAY Monday, July 12, 2004 - Page A8

When a cyclist gets "doored" -- struck by a parked car's opening door
-- who is to blame? The police will tell you it is almost always the motorist who didn't look.

But last week, in small-claims court, a deputy judge ruled in
favour of a doored cyclist who argued that the city was partly to blame
for failing to make the road safer for two-wheelers.

Bike activist Hannah Evans won $1,125 plus a portion of her
legal costs from the city, after she was thrown from her bike on Queen
Street West in a 2002 collision with a car door.

City officials said they haven't decided whether to appeal the
unprecedented ruling. Daniel Egan, the city's manager of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, said that, realistically, there is little that could be done to improve bike safety on Queen west of John Street.

But he added that the city is checking all its bike routes to ensure they meet the guidelines.

Dooring is the most common accident between cars and bikes
downtown, and is especially common on major east-west routes, according to a city study.

Ms. Evans's lawyers argued that Queen Street West's curb lanes are too narrow to meet bike-safety standards. Despite this, outdated
signs suggesting it was a city-recommended bike route remained in
place, long after the city discarded that label.

Mr. Egan said the street has not been listed by the city as a bike
route since 1992. He said the leftover bike-route signs were
removed after the accident.

Andrea Denovan, a city lawyer who worked on the case, said the
city's defence was straightforward: "Basically, it came down to two points. The street was not in a state of disrepair, and even if it was . . . it did not cause the accident. The motorist who opened the door was the cause of the accident."

Regardless, Deputy Judge Morris Winer evidently disagreed,
although he placed most of the blame on the driver (50 per cent), with the rest divided between the city (25 per cent) and Ms. Evans (25 per cent) for not wearing a helmet.

He apparently was swayed by Sean Dewart, one of Ms. Evans's
lawyers, who dug up cases from a century ago, when it was horses, not bikes, that conflicted with cars. He argued that the city is obligated to make roads safe for allusers, even as those users change.

The trouble is, Mr. Egan said, this stretch of Queen Street is
too narrow to accommodate bike lanes, and even if -- as bike
activists suggest -- street parking is eliminated, the result would be two tight lanes of traffic whizzing by slower cyclists.

"Sure the car-door collisions would go down if you took the
parking out, but there's no guarantee that other collisions wouldn't go up," Mr. Egan said.

But bike activist Nancy Smith Lea, a co-founder of Advocacy for
Respect for Cyclists who testified in Ms. Evans's case, said the city has to "get creative" and come up with a radical solution for Queen Street, such as making it one-way for cars to make room for a set of bike lanes.

That's not likely, according to Mr. Egan, who said it is hard enough making the case on streets where installing bike lanes means only getting out a can of paint.

"Short of banning cars or banning cars on one side, I mean, there's all of those kind of options that are out there.

"But is there public support for those things?

"I mean, we have a pretty major program to put in bicycle infrastructure all over the city, and its a challenge."

Dr. Gridlock appears every Monday. Send your traffic or transit
questions, tips and rants to jgray@globeandmail.ca .

Posted: Sun - July 11, 2004 at 04:35 PM          


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