In the Wake of COVID-19, Bicycle Accidents Persist

At Will Davidson LLP, our team of car accident, motorcycle accident, truck accident, and bicycle accident lawyers keeps a close eye on road safety challenges and proposed solutions across the GTA. Our job is to help injured road users access accident benefits and/or compensation, but we also support preventative road safety measures that reduce the occurrence of injuries.

When the COVID-19 pandemic and its accompanying public health lockdowns arrived in Ontario, road safety experts hoped reduced traffic would translate to fewer fatalities and serious injuries. There was especially hope that pedestrians and cyclists – vulnerable road users – would face less danger on the roads.

The safety of vulnerable road users has been a major concern for road safety activists and politicians throughout the GTA for almost a decade. In Toronto, in particular, deaths and serious injuries among vulnerable road users had become a crisis by the end of 2019. The city’s Vision Zero road safety plan, unveiled in 2016, pledged to mitigate the danger. But, as all GTA bicycle accident lawyers know, the strategy failed to meaningfully reduce serious collisions.

In the first six months of 2020, however, everything changed. The city reported just 63 collisions causing death or serious injury to vulnerable road users, 54 involving pedestrians and nine involving cyclists. The previous recorded high was 82 collisions, in 2014.

‘The first six months of 2020 were the safest for Toronto’s pedestrians and cyclists in more than a decade,’ the Toronto Star reported, and lower traffic levels caused by COVID-19 were the reason why.

“There’s this idea that maybe pedestrians are distracted or looking at their phones,” said Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Centre for Active Transportation, to the Star. “Clearly when there are no cars, there are no fatalities. And that’s as simple as that. Cycling and walking are inherently safe.”

By the end of 2020, though, traffic had reached almost-pre-pandemic levels, and the three cyclists killed on Toronto streets matched the total from the previous year. According to Statistics Canada, there were 890 cyclist deaths in Canada between 2006 and 2017, an average of 74 per year. Seventy-three per cent of fatal accidents involved motor vehicles, 56 per cent occurred in urban settings, and 51 per cent occurred during evening rush hour. Clearly, the biggest threats to cyclist safety in Canada are motor vehicles – and the way motor vehicles are permitted to move through cities.

“The way that we’ve built out our street systems, especially in the suburbs, is very dangerous,” Lea said to the Star. “We’re not going to reach zero fatalities until we really tackle that street design in a major way.”

The issue of street design as it relates to cyclist and pedestrian safety resurfaced in Toronto after the death of an 18-year-old cyclist on Avenue Road in August. The Avenue Road Safety Coalition, a local advocacy group, wants the city to implement a drastic street redesign plan conceived of by Brown and Storey Architects Inc. The plan would reduce the number of traffic lanes between Bloor St and St. Clair Ave from six to four, add significantly wider sidewalks, make way for additional trees, benches, and art installations, and perhaps add bicycle lanes. The result would be lighter, slower-moving traffic with more room for vulnerable road users. Though not endorsed or funded by city council, the plan has attracted the support of Mike Layton, the councillor for the area. 

“…our plan that we’ve proposed is completely consistent with the city’s plans about getting people to walk and cycle more, getting people out of cars,” said Avenue Road Safety Coalition co-ordinator Albert Koehl, to CBC News Toronto. “It’s consistent with the city’s climate emergency declaration. It’s consistent with the city’s Vision Zero (to reduce traffic-related deaths) policy. So our plan is consistent with what the city says it wants for our streets, but isn’t doing.”

Implementing the coalition’s plan, like all other road safety initiatives in Toronto and the surrounding region, would be a deeply political endeavour. City council has pledged to reduce traffic fatalities, but the policies and programs that would truly help could make life slightly more difficult for commuters. The question for Toronto’s city council – and the city councils of Oakville and other cities in the region – is: what political price are you willing to pay for safer streets and fewer traffic deaths?

Our bicycle accident lawyers aren’t expecting to see major road safety changes for the foreseeable future. Luckily, if you or someone you love has been injured in a bicycle accident, we’re here to help. Contact us today to schedule a free, no-obligation consultation with an experienced member of our team. We will listen to your story, assess the viability of your case, and explain the next steps in your legal journey.

Image: Unsplash

Cycling Death in Ottawa Sparks Calls for Change

Cyclist safety has been a hot topic in Ottawa in recent weeks, as it has been for years among Ontario’s personal injury and bicycle accident lawyers. A fatal hit-and-run in the city’s downtown core in mid-May sparked protests and calls for change in the Nation’s Capital, prompting city councillor Catherine McKenney to suggest a Vision Zero approach.

“We can’t just keep waiting for cyclists and pedestrians to get killed and then take more action,” the Somerset ward councillor told reporters last month.

Toronto bicycle accident lawyers and road safety advocates are quite familiar with Vision Zero, a road safety strategy that prioritizes the safety of vulnerable road users and aims to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries. McKenney is urging the city to adopt several Vision Zero measures, including:

  • Mandatory pedestrian and cycling infrastructure with all new road construction
  • Installation of segregated bike lanes
  • Reducing speed limits to 30 km/h on all residential streets
  • Eliminating right turns on red lights where there are bike lanes or heavy pedestrian traffic
  • Changing traffic signals to prioritize cyclists and pedestrians

“We often prioritize traffic flow over pedestrian and cycling safety and that has to be changed,” she the city councillor, according to the CBC.

McKenney wasn’t the only Ottawan calling for change following last month’s accident. Protestors organized at least two demonstrations in the city, including one in which activists separated bike lanes from traffic lanes with red plastic cups, and a memorial ride attended by 400 cyclists and a police escort.

“I feel like it was a really powerful experience,” said Andrea Harden, who helped organize the ride, to the CBC. “We had quite a large crowd for three days’ worth of organizing and I think that’s a testament to how people who ride bikes in this city feel.”

Residents of the Greater Toronto Area are all too familiar with protests and memorials for vulnerable road users. Pedestrian and cyclist deaths reached all-time highs over the past several years while municipal politicians have struggled to find solutions. Toronto City Council launched its own Vision Zero plan in 2017, but it has failed to produce positive results. Local road safety experts blame lack of investment in infrastructure improvements and hesitance to adopt controversial measures, such as lowering speed limits.

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a cycling accident, contact Oakville Lawyers today to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced bicycle accident lawyers.

Image credit: Richard Akerman/Wikimedia Commons

Cycling safety is not exclusively an urban issue

A collision between a pick-up truck and a group of 15 cyclists near Edmonton brought cycling safety back into the national spotlight last month. Two riders were hospitalized with serious but not life-threatening injuries, and bicycle accident lawyers in Ontario were reminded of early summer, when several vulnerable road users were struck and killed in Toronto.

Cycling injuries are a major issue in Canada. According to a 2017 Statistics Canada report, more than 1,400 cyclists died in crashes between 1994 and 2012, an average of 74 per year. Since 2010, the Ontario Office of the Chief Coroner has issued several recommendations to reduce cycling fatalities, including improved road infrastructure, side guards for heavy trucks, new legislation and enforcement of existing road safety laws, and mandatory helmet use.

In major Canadian cities where councilors are familiar with dooring and cycling accidents at busy intersections, these and other initiatives are already underway. However, as bicycle accident lawyers in Ontario know, cycling deaths and injuries are not restricted to urban environments, as evidenced by the recent accident outside Edmonton.

For a variety of reasons, smaller, more rural communities often find it challenging to build public support for cycling safety projects.

“Our [Canadian] landscape is a bit unique in that we’re very reliant on motor vehicles,” Canada Safety Council’s Lewis Smith told Global News. “In certain areas of the country, especially, it’s just not possible to get around with a bike and still maintain the same type of lifestyle.”

So, what can local politicians and rural cyclists do to improve safety? Annie McKitrick, the MLA for Sherwood Park, Alberta, believes the Edmonton collision may provide impetus for advocates to engage with the wider community.

“I think this incident has really been kind of a wake-up call on the need for the cycling community to get together, to advocate, and to ensure that cyclists and motorists know how to share the road safely,” said McKitrick, according to the CBC.

Public education and awareness campaigns are not the most effective means of reducing cycling accidents, but when infrastructure improvements are off the table, advocacy can go a long way. Simply reminding drivers of the need to share the road may be enough to prevent a serious accident or two.

If you or a member of your family has been injured in a cycling accident, contact Will Davidson LLP today to arrange a free, no-obligation consultation with our team of bicycle accident lawyers. We can assess the potential of your claim and provide guidance along your road to recovery.

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