On August 29, 2009, I had the following Letter to the Editor published in The Cape Breton Post:
OK, enough is enough. Every day on my way home I encounter the same three cyclists on Kings Road, all riding on the sidewalk against traffic.
Putting aside that riding this way carries seven to nine times the crash risk of riding properly with the flow of traffic, the Nova Scotia Motor Vehicle Act states, in Section 171, Subsection 2: “No person shall ride a bicycle, tricycle, or similar machine on a sidewalk….”
About a month ago, I had an RCMP cruiser pull up beside me. The officer said, “You’re in the middle of the lane,” and asked me to pull to the edge.
Kings Road’s lanes are too narrow to share with a motor vehicle and the Nova Scotia Driver’s Safety Handbook says: “Bicyclists may occupy as much of a traffic lane as their safety warrants.”
Well, on Kings Road, that’s the whole lane; if I don’t control the lane, I get buzzed by passing cars.
We have cycle-mounted officers in the Cape Breton Regional Municipality now and they’re CAN-BIKE certified; they know I’m allowed to do this and why I do it. The RCMP apparently still needs to get with the program on that.
The worst thing is that this officer pesters me, the law-abiding cyclist in traffic, and doesn’t bother with the cyclists on the sidewalk who are breaking the law.
In fact, I’ve never heard of a cyclist being stopped for riding on the sidewalk. Some people continue in this dangerous practice for that very reason: “It’s not policed, anyway,” they’ll say. No wonder there are so many!
I appreciate the RCMP’s concern for my safety but they need to focus on the cyclists who really are in danger: those who aren’t riding in accordance with traffic law.
I recently stumbled across this letter as published in the online edition of The Post. I don’t usually read my papers online; I prefer the old-fashioned physical paper that I can sit on the couch or lay in bed reading. I was therefore unaware until I found this that online letters in The Post can be commented on; apparently my letter drew a plethora of comments.
My original thought was to reply to the comments via another Letter to the Editor. However, given The Post’s 300 word letter length limit, I knew I’d never even come close to being able to address everything I wanted to.
So I decided instead to write this posting to Cyclelicious. This way, I can have all the space I need to give each person’s comments a fair hearing and proper response. Once this is posted, I’m also going to write a Letter to the Editor to The Post with a link to this posting. Not only will this help those who made the original comments find this but will also promote Cyclelicious a little among people in my local area; win-win.
Anyway, here are the comments I had thoughts on:
George from Sydney writes: I agree with you. But it’s also time the police look into all these bikes with motors on them or the electric ones. I drive a motorcycle, I neen a licence, insurance, bike inspected and the bike licenced. now all these motor driven cycles are riding around with no licence, inspection etc. These bike can goup to 35kms. it won’t be long before there is an accident. It’s time this was looked into.
You’re absolutely right, George, and I agree, except for the part about electric bicycles. Actually, electric bicycles cannot legally provide assistance above 30 km/h; if you want to go faster than that, you have to pedal. Therefore, electric bicycles aren’t any faster than ordinary bicycles since an experienced cyclist over level ground with no wind on an unpowered bike can easily maintain between 25 and 35 km/h. I myself have been known to hit 40+ km/h under ideal conditions.
Those bikes driven by two stroke motors that I’m starting to see around, though, absolutely should be treated like any motor vehicle since they can easily develop speeds significantly in excess of 30 km/h.
Louise McNeil from Glace Bay, NS writes: Also, what about those people who refuse to wear a helmet while bicycling? I thought there was a law against that???
MAKE PEOPLE WEAR A HELMET WHEN RIDING THEIR BIKE!!!!
Do you know what their melon would look like if a car hit them and their head bounced off the road if they weren’t wearing a helmet? Not a pretty sight, believe me!!
If the police aren’t going to enforce the law, then why bother having a law????
You’re right, Louise; there is a law requiring helmet use, specifically NSMVA 170A (2): “No person shall ride on or operate a bicycle unless the person is wearing a bicycle helmet that complies with the regulations and the chin strap of the helmet is securely fastened under the chin. ” Not a problem for me, though; I make a point of wearing a helmet at all times, particularly after a fall where one probably saved my life.
Cyclist in Sydney from Nova Scotia writes: They’re not enforcing it because they know that the city hasn’t provided any infrastructure to make it enforceable. Sydney is the least bicycle, walking, running, etc. city I’ve ever been in my entire life. And that’s outside of the fact that on top of the inaccessibility of the roads to cyclists, the motorists act like maniacs and some force you right off the road. I don’t blame those cyclists for being up on the sidewalk, it’s a hell of a lot safer than riding on the street. With one of the larger cycling communities of Nova Scotia in Sydney and surrounding areas, it’s time for the city to recognize that and work to accommodate them in a much better and safer way than they have.
Sydney is only “unfriendly to bicyclists” if you subscribe to the theory that the roads are meant specifically for cars. The thing is, they’re not; pedestrians, horse and buggy and, yes the bicycle itself, were all on the roads long before the Ford Model T was even a gleam in Henry Ford‘s eye. Kings Road, for example, has been there for well over two centuries; if you find any cars on Kings Road in 1809 then one of your fellow time travelers hasn’t been respecting the timeline…
The fact is, travel has always been a public right; anyone has the right to use the roads to go from place to place at will. However, this is only a right if your chosen mode of travel is human or animal powered. In other words, you have a right to drive a horse or bicycle on the road and, for roads without sidewalks, you also have the right to walk on the road as well.
The reason one must have a license and insurance to drive a powered vehicle on the road is, in effect, a simple question of physics. If I make a mistake and ride my bicycle into a telephone pole, chances are the pole will come out of it without a scratch or, at most, a small divot or two. On the other hand, if a car hits that same pole, there’s every possibility the force may knock it down entirely or at least damage the lines and interrupt power.
In other words, motor vehicles are dangerous if operated irresponsibly. A driver’s license is, in effect, a certificate that ostensibly certifies that you have the training, skills and abilities to operate this dangerous vehicle on a public right of way without harming anyone or anything. In that sense, the cyclist has more right to the road than the car driver insofar as their presence in the road is a right; the motorist, by contrast, is there as a privilege granted for special training.
As for motorists acting like maniacs forcing me off the road, that did used to happen to me when I cowered in the gutter way over at the right when I was too inexperienced to know better. But you know what? When I started claiming my right to control the lane on Kings Road, I found driver cooperativeness increased dramatically. I used to have at least one close call every ride; now it’s rare for me to have one close call in an entire month.
As for riding on the sidewalk being safer, I’ve only ever been involved in two collisions. One was before I learned to ride on the road. I was riding on the sidewalk (yes, I did used to do that so I know what it’s like) and a motorist didn’t see me coming; I ended up going over his hood. The second was a collision with a fellow cyclist who was, again, on the sidewalk and I didn’t see him for the same reason the motorist didn’t see me when I was riding there.
Put simply, cyclists are at their safest when they’re visible and predictable. Riding in the road in the travel lane keeps you visible; riding in accordance with traffic law keeps you predictable. As counter-intuitive as it might be to non-cyclists, it is actually safer to ride on the road with traffic than it is to ride on the sidewalks. Drivers aren’t expecting traffic to come off the sidewalks at intersections, therefore the risk of collision is much higher on the sidewalk than in traffic.
My track record speaks for itself: I have not had a single collision with a motor vehicle on the road. Ever. Again, my only collision was when I rode on the sidewalk.
Mitch from North Sydney, Nova Scotia writes: John,
you quoted a saftey handbook as your reasoning for riding in the middle of a lane on King St.
You are correct about the people riding the bikes on the sidewalk. Motor Vehicle Act, Section 171, sub-section 2 . . .
However, the same section, sub-section 3 deals with your infraction, and I quote: as near as practicable to the extreme right of the main travelled portion of the highway.
Section 183 sub-seciton 5 says that you should have a bell or horn. Bet you don’t have that.
I have a friend that lives in Ontario, you will thank God that he doesn’t live here… he puts the fear of God into by trying to get as close to you as he can without actually hitting you. He states that he owns the road. He pays to licence his vehicle and his driver’s licence, those licincing fees goes towards upgrading the road. He pays taxes thru purchasing gas, which is supposed to go to upgrading and maintening our roads.
Do byclists pay taxes to upgrade the infracture? No licence, no operators licence, no gas tax.
If you are concerned that you are getting buzzed on King’s Road, why not take an alternate route. When I lived in Winnipeg MB, I soon learnt not to take Portage Ave, which averages 8 lanes wide. Scary.
You taking 1/2 the lane and the other cyclists riding on the sidewalk are equally wrong.
You might think your right, but don’t try to be dead right making your point. The RCMP are only trying to protect you from people like my friend who lives in Ontario.
As I said in my letter, I understand the RCMP are only trying to protect me; the problem is, their advice could get me, and any cyclist who takes it, killed. As the old saying goes, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.”
I’ll let “Stevie Mac” below address your concerns about NSMVA 171 (3); for the most part, he said exactly what I would have said.
As for 183 (5), you’re right. I don’t have a bell or horn; I have both. Why both? The bell is useful when encountering pedestrians in parking lots or other situations where I might pass them closely so I won’t startle them; the horn is more useful in traffic where the bell is virtually useless among all the rolled up windows, engines and tire noise.
Do I help pay for the road infrastructure? Absolutely. Money is money; tax dollars are tax dollars. When I pay my GST buying supplies for my bike (e.g. new inner tubes, tires, chain lube, chain cleaner etc.), that money goes to the same place gas tax does. It’s a good thing gas taxes aren’t the only thing supporting the roads; if they were, we’d be in serious trouble once we run out of oil.
The only “alternate route” to my workplace is Alexandra Street and the conditions there are even worse; not only does it bear a similar amount of traffic but it’s riddled with potholes to boot. Plus, aside from a few turn lanes, it’s only two lanes and people tend to park on it illegally. Kings Road is much easier with four lanes and without the parked cars, not to mention no huge hill to climb, either. Besides, I don’t get buzzed on Kings Road when I control the lane; that’s my point.
As for your friend, I sincerely wish there were laws that required psychological testing for motor vehicle operators, too; with all due respect, he sounds like a psychopath-in-training to me…
chris from sydney, ns writes: I just got hit on my bike in front of soundeffects because the lady did look left while she was turning left….stupid, and as for Kings road forget it. I was biking there today with my son and the traffic is crazy , and you(John A. Ardelli) expect us to bike on the road. It would be an honor to take you biking on Kings road and then you (John A. Ardelli) tell me where you prefer to ride……Don’t be shy let the folks of Sydney know your choice.
In fact, Chris, if you want me to take you riding on Kings Road, just drop me a line; I’ll be happy to give you some pointers. I’m willing to bet that most of your trouble was due to some minor mistakes, easily fixed; a vast majority of cyclists who report trouble on Kings Road tend to make one mistake in particular: riding too far right. When you do that, motorists tend to buzz you; for the most part, they don’t do that if you claim the lane.
You’d be surprised, particularly once you get used to it, how safe you can feel in of heavy traffic if you just remember this simple rule:
“Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles.” – John Forester
Jo from Sydney, NS writes: During the nice weather, I take my young son biking around Sydney nearly every day. He’s 6, and loves riding his bike. We ride on the sidewalks. I’ve taught him to always give the right-of-way to pedestrians. If the sidewalks are really busy, like on Charlotte Street, we dismount and push our bikes. We dismount to cross the crosswalks. I have 2 reasons for using the sidewalks this way. The first is…when I’m driving my car, there’s nothing more annoying than a bike hogging the lane, tying up traffic….a big line-up of po’d drivers behind the bike. The second reason is….what if my son happens to turn a little into the lane? Will he be run over by a drunk driver, who then gets away with murder, after blaming the accident on my son? The heck with that. When I take my child out for a bike ride, it’s his safety that comes first. As long as we’re respectful and courteous to the pedestrians, I don’t see how we could be bothering anyone. As a matter of fact, most people have nothing but smiles when they see my son peddling along, greeting passers-by with his pleasant hellos .
One other thing about bikes on the road…..I thought that vehicles were supposed to be able to keep up with the flow of traffic…..bikes on the road tie up the traffic. Accidents waiting to happen, in my opinion. Loosen up, Mr. Ardelli….I suspect your bike shorts may be too tight.
Actually, Jo, I agree with your choice regarding your six-year-old. The full text of NSMVA 171 (2) reads: “No person shall ride a bicycle, tricycle, or similar machine on a sidewalk, provided, nothing in this Section shall be deemed or construed to prevent the use of velocipedes or similar machines by children on a sidewalk in a public square, park, city or town.” The law provides specific exception for children to ride their bicycles on sidewalks.
The reason the “by children” exception is there is because children cannot be expected to be able to understand and evaluate the dynamics of traffic flow; under supervision, walking across intersections (bravo for doing the latter, by the way; I’ve seen other parents simply ride straight through which is dangerous) is safer for children. Besides, children can’t reach even close the speed adult cyclists can so they don’t present any significant danger to pedestrians.
As for you being on the sidewalk, if you’re supervising your son, I see no problem with this (despite the fact the law doesn’t make specific exception for that; I believe it should). However, if you’re riding alone, it’s safer to ride with traffic (see above discussion as to why).
As for you other point, a lot of people think vehicles are supposed to “keep up with the flow of traffic” but this isn’t true. Slow moving vehicles like backhoes and farm tractors are allowed to use roads despite their inability to keep up with faster traffic (I’ve seen backhoes on Kings Road on many occasions). Bicycles are legally considered to be the same as these vehicles (actually, ironically, I usually pass backhoes as my normal cruising speed is significantly faster ;)).
The driver of a faster vehicle, on encountering a slower vehicle, is required to wait behind that vehicle until it is safe to pass; that’s equally true whether the slower vehicle is a bicycle or a backhoe. Remember, though the lanes on Kings Road are narrow, there are four of them; it’s extremely rare that anyone gets stuck behind me longer than 10 seconds which is a perfectly reasonable wait time for a slow moving vehicle.
As for roads where there are only two lanes that are too narrow, I take the lane and do my best to keep up with traffic (which I can generally do on such roads since drivers tend to drive much slower on extremely narrow two-lanes; Argyle Street‘s an excellent example); if I can’t, I move over to allow faster traffic to pass at every reasonable opportunity.
Fortunately, I’ve never had that happen; I’ve always been able to keep up with traffic on such roads. Cyclists can travel faster than you think.
Oh, and I don’t own a pair of bicycle shorts. I’m not a “recreational” cyclist for the most part; 95% of my riding is for transportation just as your driving is. I do, however, have a set of “cycling liners” (think of them as cycling underwear ;)) that perform a similar function to bike shorts if I’m going on longer trips (10+ km) to avoid unnecessary chafing.
amy from NS writes: I agree with Mitch, cyclists should use the far right side of the road. I myself have witnessed Mr. Ardelli Taking up entire lanes while travelling much slower than the posted speed limit and also weaving in and out of lanes potentially causing injury to himself and others. It seems as though Mr. Ardelli would like all vehicles to yield to him as he cycles along Kings Rd as this is not his first letter to the editor stating how he would like things to be
I do not “weave” in and out of lanes; that implies I don’t even do a proper shoulder check. If I have to make a lateral move, I shoulder check, signal my intention (if there’s traffic coming) and only once it’s safe do I make my move. Try watching me more closely next time you see me; you’ll see what I mean.
There are a couple of places, however, where you may see me make some odd moves in the lane (again, checking behind me first). Traveling northeast near Weidner Drive; I tend to ride at the left edge of the right lane; I do the same approaching Byng Avenue. In both cases, it’s for the same reason: avoiding potholes. That problem would be solved if work crews would fill in a few holes so I could maintain my ideal lane position without blowing a tire or breaking a spoke…
As for yielding to me, I only expect you to yield to me if I have the right of way just as you would to a car under the same circumstances. If you have the stop sign and I don’t, you yield. If you have the red and I have the green, you yield. However, if I have the stop sign or I have the red light, I yield to you. If you’re turning left and I’m oncoming, wait for me to pass first; if I’m turning left, I’ll wait for you to pass first. Same road, same rights, same rules.
Sonny Lamatina from Out the country that way, nova scotia writes: Amy from NS: You are absolutely right, Mr. Ardelli expets every vehicle on the road to yield to him. He’s on a bike. Motor vehicles yield to slower vehicles. There is no option here. Bikes rule. Motor vehicles do not have a right to be on the road. It’s a privlege. Earn it. Share the road.
Sonny, I can’t tell if you’re trying to be sarcastic here or not. If so, ironically, you actually make a good point.
Steve Mac from Nova Scotia writes: As Mitch said as near as practicable to the extreme right of the main traveled portion of the highway However, since it states practicable taking an entire lane is allowed if needed, especially in sydney where cars disregard cyclists and the shoulders of many roads are either in terrible shape or non existant. I think biking on the side walks is fine for younger children or people learning. An easy answer to this is to just put in bike lanes like other cities. My brother and friend were forced off the road when an oncoming car pulled into there lane to pass another car on a turn. The police and ambulance came were called out and the driver of the car walked away without even a ticket. If it were a car or motorcycle he had forced off the road there would have been tickets and fines but because it happened to a cyclist there was nothing done.
I agree with you up to where you recommend bike lanes; there I don’t agree. Actually, bike lanes cause more accidents than they prevent. For more of my thoughts on that subject, I invite you to read my earlier posting, “Dangers of Bike Lanes,” on this blog.