Thursday, August 1, 2013

On Cycling

Note: I composed this post in my head, last evening, as I rode my 50-kilometre circuit around my city.

When I cycle, I do so for many reasons. I do it to get exercise. I do it to get fresh air. I do it to clear my mind. I do it to enjoy the beautiful city that is Ottawa.

When I ride, I hope for two things: that I don't face any nasty weather, such as a strong headwind or torrential rain, and, most importantly, that I get home alive.

On Tuesday, one unlucky cyclist was unable to make it home alive.

On Tuesday, after visiting Mill Street, I made my way to the RA Centre, where I was going to meet people at the canoe club, to which my family and I recently became members. I wanted to volunteer for the weekly clubhouse cleanup and see about using one of the club's canoes for our vacation trek.

I figured that the fastest way from Mill Street to the RA Centre would be to take Wellington Street to Bank Street, and then onto Riverside Drive. But as I approached the bridge on Bank Street that crosses the Rideau River, I could see lots of flashing lights, lots of police cars, and an ambulance. A police officer was blocking the road with his vehicle and directing drivers to turn onto Riverdale Avenue.

Traffic was slow, congested, but I eventually reached Main Street and swung around to Riverside Drive, only to find that traffic was still backed up heading toward Bank Street. As I rolled on a rise in the road by the Riverside Hospital, I could see more emergency vehicles at that major intersection. I could see a cement truck at the intersection, and figured it was a messy traffic accident. I hoped that no one was hurt.

Again, police had the road blocked off at Pleasant Park Road, and all cars crawled to Alta Vista Drive and up to Heron Road. What should have been a 15-minute drive took almost a full hour, and I arrived at the RA Centre just as everybody was packing up.

It wasn't until the late news that I learned that the accident was a fatal one, involving that cement truck and a cyclist. And I felt sick about it.

When I ride my 50K loop around the city, I take the bike path that cuts through that intersection. When I have the light, I always look to the left, up Bank Street, because the cars that are approaching Riverside tend to keep their eyes toward their left side, from where the cars on Riverside are approaching. At times, I've had to stop for drivers who haven't checked their right hand side, from where cyclists are coming.

When I've had to stop for a red light, I've sometimes had to back up. You see, the corner is pretty tight, and large vehicles, in negotiating that right turn, often get their rear wheels on the sidewalk.

I don't know the details of Tuesday's incident, but I know one thing: that is a nasty corner. It is one of the hazards that I face on my ride. Even when I have the right of way, I approach that intersection with some anxiety.

There is only one other spot on my entire ride that causes me more anxiety on my trek. In the last few kilometres of my ride, as I approach Barrhaven from Woodroffe, as I come to the Fallowfield intersection, the designated bike path runs between the traffic that is continuing on Woodroffe and the right-turn lane for Fallowfield. It's about 200 to 250 metres, with speeding traffic on either side. The posted limit is 80 kph, but most cars exceed that limit. Some pass me at about 100 kph.

I use all remaining energy to get through that stretch as quickly as possible. I always hope that by the time I reach that part to the road that the traffic light at Fallowfield to have been red long enough that there is a long line of stopped cars ahead, so that cars that approach me from behind have to slow down.

Our city has some great cycle paths, but it must get better in areas where cyclists don't stand a chance against bigger vehicles.

Last evening, when I set out on my ride, the death of the cyclist was foremost in my head. I told myself that I would stop at the scene of the accident, bow my head for this cyclist, and silently put my heart out to her family and friends.

When I arrived, traffic was as busy as ever. But what I also saw was a police car on the bridge, lights flashing, and a young police officer issuing a ticked to a cyclist, who appeared to have been cycling on the sidewalk on the bridge (it's not the bike path, and it is illegal to cycle on that sidewalk). I grew angry, thinking that the cop should have let the cyclist off with a warning. Considering the heavy traffic and the fact that a cyclist died on the cycle path, the police officer could have cut the rider some slack.

Likely, he was just trying to get through the area alive.

It would have been nice to see the cop pulling over drivers who don't negotiate that corner safely.

Frankly, I wouldn't want to cycle across that bridge.

I don't know the woman who was killed on Tuesday, but I have an idea what she was like. She liked getting some exercise, enjoyed being out in the fresh air. Perhaps, she wanted to clear her mind. Certainly, she wanted to enjoy the beautiful city that is Ottawa.

When she set out on her ride, she may have hoped for two things: that she didn't face any nasty weather, such as a strong headwind or torrential rain.

And, I know, she hoped to get home alive.


  1. Ross,

    I'm not a cyclist but I agree with you. That is a nasty corner ... even in a vehicle.

    I worked with the woman who died. She was wonderful and will be missed.

    1. I'm so sorry to hear that you knew the person who died. My thoughts are with you and your colleagues, as well as her family.