Thursday, September 22, 2011

It's All About Sharing

I cycle along the Ottawa River Parkway and when I do, I use the paths.

Just this weekend, on Sunday, I rode from my home to the future site of the Mill Street Brew Pub—the site of the old Mill Restaurant—where the parkway meets the Portage Bridge. It's a gorgeous site, and the trek along the Ottawa River is equally gorgeous as you make your way past parks, Westboro Beach, inukshuks, the abandoned train bridge, the Canadian War Museum, and the E.B. Eddy buildings.

The paths are a wonderful way to get to the Mill: they are the jewel along the river. They are the safest way for a cyclist to travel along the parkway. With no shoulder, the roadway is risky. But as a cyclist, I remember a golden rule: pedestrians have the right of way.

So when I first heard the story about the elderly couple who were run down by a cyclist, I was angry. I told myself that it's aggressive riders like him—who no doubt was speeding and was concerned with beating his top time—that give recreational cyclists a bad name.

That was my initial reaction because I have had cyclists race by me. On one occasion, I was actually nudged by a rider on an expensive racing bike, who was wearing sponsor-encrusted spandex, who had attitude. I pictured the guy who hit the couple as that asshole.

On these pathways, cyclists must share the road and yield to pedestrians. They must not exceed a speed of 20 kph and must either ring a bell or call out if they are going to pass. Those are the rules.

I admit: I exceed the speed any time I can. But as soon as I see a pedestrian, I slow right down. I'm not racing; I'm simply getting exercise. If I encounter traffic, I'll patiently follow at the slowest speed until it is safe to pass. I don't have a bell on my road bike, but I will call out when I pass ("on your left"). I also say "thank you" when I pass those people who acknowledge my shout-out by doing nothing—that is, by maintaining the path that they were on.

I share the path. I give those on foot the right of way. If I ever come in contact with a person on foot, it will only be because they walk into me.

But I won't send them to the hospital.


All of that said, I think that the CBC story about the accident is extremely one-sided. We don't hear the cyclist's story. Maybe he was watching the couple, called out to them, but they didn't hear. Or they heard, and thinking that he was coming through, moved when they should have stayed on course. He did stay to help the couple and, according to the man who was hit, showed remorse. Who knows?

There are signs along the pathway that state the rules for cyclists. But there are no rules for pedestrians. Rules like A) no stepping onto the pathway or crossing the centre line without looking both ways or B) if you're walking side-by-side with other pedestrians and are taking up the full width of the path, you must all move to your ride side of the centre line when a cyclist comes towards you or if a cyclist warns that he or she is approaching from behind.

Those would be the top-two rules for me. If pedestrians followed those two rules and cyclist followed the rules set out for them, the pathways would be a better place.

I'm not saying that there would never be accidents if rules were followed. It's impossible to eliminate accidents. But if everyone shared the path the way it is truly intended, we might not jump to conclusions like I did for that cyclist.

A shared path means a shared responsibility. Period.


  1. Not being a cyclist, I have to say I have a teeny bit of bias. Cyclists in Boston are often rude, don't look where they are going and try to defy traffic laws. When I drive, I'm more scared of hitting someone being reckless on a bike than the so-called erratic Boston traffic! When I'm running, that's another story: leering people on bikes who should be in lanes but instead come up close on the path, cyclists who take over public paths because they WON'T ride in the's a hot topic here! Interesting take though and interesting perspective from a respectful cyclist, of which there seem to be few where I live!

  2. Thanks for your comment, Miriam.

    By and large, cyclists in Ottawa are great at obeying the rules of the road. They have more to worry about on the road than hitting a pedestrian. Too many cyclists have been taken out on our roads by motor vehicles than I care to think about.

    Having just driven in Boston on my vacation last month, I found the drivers fine (maybe that says something about Ottawa drivers?).