‘Going Back to the Way it Was’ is not a solution for a cycling society says reader

An Open letter to Mayor and Council:

Dear Mayor and Council: May 19, 2020

Saugeen Shores puts safety first—especially concerning its most vulnerable citizens—children, seniors and the disabled. The evidence-based information below supports the use of one lane for vehicular traffic of the Northshore Road between the 10th Concession and McIvor as a “Best Practices” solution while the recreational trail is reconstructed, after high water levels left it damaged, and too dangerous for public use. While some damage has occurred between South St. and the 10th, I believe it can be remedied in a timely manner, and speeds reduced to 30 km.

>> Those who say it’s fine to “go back to the way it was” on the road 11 years ago when cyclists were squeezed off, and the target of expletives and dangerous driving practices, must not be aware of the exponential growth of cyclists, the steady increase of walkers, and of those using personal mobility devices. Relative to the endless kilometres of roads available to automobiles, setting aside a few kilometres for healthy safe Active Transportation hardly seems like an ordeal for car drivers, however, they can now leave their vehicle at home and enjoy the freedom of cycling and walking.

>> Given that public health officials recognize that large, outdoor spaces are the safest public locations to be in when avoiding the transmission of COVID-19, it is important to design future infrastructure in a way that facilitates the safe use of outdoor space for physical and cultural activities. We need to make sure that vulnerable seniors have the right to be outside in safe, healthy conditions while not being put at undue risk. It is not surprising that bike sales worldwide are skyrocketing, and municipalities world-wide are permanently closing roads so people can safely transport themselves from A to B.

>> The vast majority of users of the Northshore Trail are families, and groups with significant amounts of children. The brains of children are not completely developed and they are unable to judge relative speeds—like how fast a car is approaching versus their speed as they walk or cycle across a road. It is very difficult for them to estimate the time it will take to reach an intersection, so if there is a vehicle that will reach it at the same time, their young brains can’t calculate the speed. They act impulsively—a healthy reaction for children, but a recipe for tragedy.

>> Other cyclists ride at a faster pace, and pass these groups, giving them a wide berth because we know children are unpredictable. We will have the situation of groups of recreational cyclists being passed by fast cyclists who are in turn being passed by car drivers while there is on-coming traffic. I started teaching safe cycling skills over 40 years ago—I can’t imagine a municipality that would allow for such a dangerous combination. The Town needs to carefully examine its liability insurance.

>> Since the trail was built, children have become excited and consumed with a certain joy that comes with riding a bike, and love riding by the lake. They rarely see other trail users, let alone vehicles. While the trail was in good repair, this was fine, but putting vehicles next to children in these circumstances is needlessly putting them at great harm.

Councillor John Rich mentioned the hassle of having to drive a longer route home because a cellphone has been forgotten, as a reason to keep both lanes open for traffic. How shameful he would argue that a self-inflicted forgetfulness should trump the safety of vulnerable citizens. Think about how a driver would feel if they seriously injured or killed anyone who was simply out enjoying the fresh air, let alone a child, because they put their “right” to a few minutes of convenience ahead of that child’s safety? Think about how that child’s family would feel—that the death was preventable and the municipality’s decision to convenience drivers over safety—caused it.

>> Numerous studies show the relationship between pedestrian deaths and the type of vehicle hitting them. As early as 2005, the Journal of Injury Prevention published a report on the type of vehicles that kill pedestrians, and concluded, “The greatest impact on overall US pedestrian mortality will result from reducing the risk from the light truck category.” https://injuryprevention.bmj.com/content/injuryprev/11/4/232.full.pdf. These vehicles are much larger than regular cars and therefore hit the upper chest, spinal-cord and head of human-beings as opposed to the lower body—which is serious, but not as frequently fatal. Children on bicycles and the elderly with walkers and mobility devices are too low for drivers with these elevated sight lines. Given the frequent non-utilitarian use of these vehicles, and the additional space they take up at the best of time, the Town has all the more reason to ensure they are as far away as possible from other road users.

So, let’s design public space in a way that encourages people to get out of their vehicles and enjoy the good health of their own bodies in the even fresher and cleaner air (the result of fewer drivers) and natural environment of this area.


Laura Robinson