By Laurel-Lea Shannon
There are a lot of concerns about the safety of cars and bikes sharing the roads in Canada and the US. We’ve all heard about the tragedies that occur when these two worlds collide. One question we’re frequently asked at Women’s Cycling.ca is: How much of the road are cyclists entitled to? According to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA), as much of it as you need to cycle safely. A bicycle is a legitimate road vehicle with the same rights and responsibilities as a car. When cars and bikes follow the same rules, the roads become safer and more predictable for everyone. Here are 7 quick traffic tips for cyclists and motorists:
1) Slower Traffic Stays Right: No matter how fast you’re going, if you’re on a bicycle this means you. How far right? The HTA says one meter (3 feet) from the right-hand edge of the road or curb.
2) Parked Cars and Flying Doors: If you cycle down a street that has parked cars, maintain a straight line at least one meter from them. Be vigilant and watch for drivers, passengers and those pesky car doors flying open when you least expect it.
Motorists: Always check over your shoulder before opening your car door. If you nail a cyclist while climbing out of your car you could be fined ($110 and 2 demerits in Ontario) as well as possibly causing injury or death.
3) Taking the Lane: Cyclists are entitled to as much of the road as they need to cycle safely. If the road is obstructed by vehicles, construction or parked cars it’s legal to take up the whole lane. Shoulder check before doing so, then signal and shoulder check again before moving to the centre of a lane or changing lanes.
Motorists: You also have a responsibility to share the road. Drivers must allow enough room for cyclists to maneuver safely on the road. Even small cars take up most of a lane. Drivers should never attempt to hold their lane and squeeze by a cyclist. If the driver of a vehicle wants to pass a cyclist they should do this the same way they would pass a car: take up the necessary space in the oncoming traffic lane when it’s safe to do so and allow a safe distance (at least one meter) between their car and the bike they are passing.
4) Beware of Right-Turning Traffic: It would be helpful if all drivers signalled before making a right turn. But they don’t. To make sure you don’t get squeezed between the curb and a car making a right turn, give yourself enough room for a safety cushion: if possible, a meter between you and the curb, and you and the car next to you. Stay behind vehicles making right-hand turns or pass them on the left.
5) Trucks and Buses: These big vehicles have large blind spots and take up a full lane. Keep far enough behind them so they can see you. How far is far enough? If you can see the driver in his sideview mirror, it means he can see you.
6) Bad Roads: Pot holes, railway tracks, road bumps, loose gravel, broken glass and debris — all of them can cause falls, injuries and damage your bike. Be vigilant.
7) Three Words About Sidewalks: Stay off them! Sidewalks are for pedestrians, not cyclists. Many accidents between cars and bicycles happen when cyclists ride off sidewalks onto the road into car traffic.