NORTH VANCOUVER (NEWS 1130) – “How many more cyclists have to die before immediate action is taken?” That’s the question posed by frustrated cyclist Brent Hillier, who says the Esplanade bike lane is a death trap.
He’s planning to ride up and down the bike lane for an entire day to mark the one year anniversary of the “dooring” death of a fellow cyclist and convince the city to improve safety.
“I think about how easily that could be me. How easily it could be somebody that I know,” he says.
The death of 55-year old Mike McIntosh in January sparked a chorus of feedback for the city about the issues cyclists face on the busy route everyday.
McIntosh was killed when the driver of a parked car opened their door into the bike lane, pushing him into traffic and into the path of a dump truck.
The driver of that vehicle, Patrick Timothy Colwell, 59, is facing an $81 fine for unsafely opening the door of a vehicle under the Motor Vehicle Act.
“I get angry because it’s preventable in a lot of ways,” Hillier says.
HUB Cycling is calling for changes to the Motor Vehicle Act, saying the legislation is out of date.
“The last major revision of this critical legislation was in 1957, and it hasn’t even been updated since 1996. So much has changed since then with new types of infrastructure, different types of vehicles and road use, especially as cycling becomes an increasingly attractive mode of transportation for the residents of B.C.,” says Navdeep Chhyna in the advocacy group’s newsletter.
Some want to see the lane protected, others say a share-oh (regular vehicle lane with a bike symbol/chevrons indicating to drivers they must share the road) is a good compromise. No one has told me they want the painted lanes to stick around, Here's why: https://t.co/3gVBFEfWTW https://t.co/bGtpYewNQU
— Ash Kelly (@AshDKelly) July 25, 2019
“In some cases people on bikes are protected by cycling infrastructure, but most often, we are not. And right now, we aren’t very well-protected with the current laws that set road user expectations and hold people meaningfully accountable for their actions.”
The group is calling for increased penalties for “dooring” incidents, among other changes.
Hillier says he’s most angry about the signal an $81 fine sends to cyclists about how little their lives are valued compared to the needs of drivers.
“It’s $109 for riding a bicycle on a sidewalk, it’s $109 for not riding a bike to the right of the road but it’s only $81 for opening a door dangerously. It just shows where the priorities are when it comes to our roads.”
‘A lot of risks’
On January 27th, 2020, one year after McIntosh was killed, Hillier will ride the length of bike lane over and over until the sun goes down.
He plans on visually documenting the hazards that endanger cyclists lives as he encounters them, hoping the city will take notice.
“Number one, I just want to raise awareness of cyclists and the fact we’re out there and we’re exposed to a lot of risks,” Hillier says.
Hillier is inviting other riders to join in the occupation of the bike lane to increase the visibility of the protest and help raise awareness of issues along Esplanade.
A North Vancouver man is on a mission: to make sure no one else has to die because of design flaws. He's planning to "take the lane" in a day-long protest riding up and down Esplanade and documenting the issues he sees everyday. @brentskibikeski is on @NEWS1130 this morning. pic.twitter.com/Qo48n7UNhR
— Ash Kelly (@AshDKelly) July 25, 2019
“It’s a busy spot and so there’s certainly questions that could be asked; are there better streets to put cyclists? Absolutely,” says Hillier.
“But what’s frustrating is that we have bike lanes painted on the road and bikers are being put there. So that’s not necessarily a decision that cyclists are making to ride down that road it’s something that city planners are saying ‘This is where we want you to be.’”
While it may be safer to stick a lane up on 3rd or 4th avenue, it wouldn’t necessarily make sense for riders in the hilly region.
“If you’re going to put something up a giant hill only to come down the other side of that hill, they’re probably not going to use it because biking up hills can be hard so they’re probably going to cut around those places,” he says.
“So we need to be choosing routes that are as minimal grade as possible … It needs to be relatively direct; similar to how people want to drive their car as well. Unfortunately the priority is put on the cars on a lot of those routes.”
No more painted lanes
Painted lanes seem like a great compromise: a quick and relatively inexpensive way to designate a route for cyclists, but the truth is those lanes may actually put people on bikes at risk.
A recent study showed painted bike lanes actually increased the number of close calls between cyclists and drivers.
Ideally the city would pony up the cash to create protected bike lanes on the busy road, says Hillier, but he understands that dream may not be realistic, so he’s willing to settle for “sharrows,” the shared vehicle/bike lanes marked with two chevrons above a bike symbol.
“Initially I think low-hanging fruit is simply getting rid of some of these painted bike lanes, the ones that are next to parked cars, because they’re not more safe for us, they’re actually more dangerous,” he explains.