In the past couple of weeks, I’ve become aware of two cycling tragedies that have been in the news. One involved Ellen Watters, a 28-year-old professional cyclist from New Brunswick, who was struck by a vehicle on a training ride two days before Christmas. Ellen died several days later from her injuries. The second tragedy involved 10-year-old Rosie Long from Oakville, Ontario. On her bike ride to school in November, Rosie was struck by a school bus that was pulling out of a parking lot, and she’s still in intensive care.
While the details of these tragedies aren’t clear (Police are investigating Ellen’s tragedy, where she was hit by a Volkswagen Golf), what’s clear is this: Cyclists are vulnerable. 4,000 pound cars move at high speeds on roads that we should be sharing. The impact of a fast-moving car on a slower, much lighter cyclist can be fatal and the rules of the road (including fines, license suspensions, prison terms) aren’t enough of a deterrent to lower the risk associated with this vulnerability (see this article in the Toronto Star).
In the CBC article about Ellen’s death, her mother said that Ellen used to say that if Ellen “had to die for the roads to be safer for other cyclists, then [she] would be OK with that.” It shouldn’t come to this, but Ellen’s family and friends are starting a campaign to make the one-metre passing rule a law in New Brunswick. This law would require that motor vehicles leave at least one metre between their vehicle and a cyclist when passing. A similar law was passed here in Ontario in September 2015 thanks to the hard work of Eleanor McMahon, who started the Share the Road coalition to make roads safer for all users.
A one-metre passing rule isn’t going to eliminate all tragedies, but it’s a step towards greater awareness on the roads (along with other initiatives like bike lanes, share the road signs). This increased awareness will hopefully, in turn, get more people out on bikes.
Rosie’s story is another tragic one. According to Rosie’s GoFundMe page, she’s still in intensive care (the tragedy was in November). That link can be used to donate to Rosie’s family for financial needs including rehabilitation, renovations to her family’s home for wheelchair accessibility, legal fees etc.
As a cycling community, let’s band together and try to increase the awareness of the need for cycling safety and sharing the road.