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Why safety blitzes on cyclists and pedestrians miss the point

Toronto Police have released the results from a brief cyclist and pedestrian safety campaign that took place earlier this week. Citing the fact that "eight of the 12 pedestrian deaths in Toronto have involved crossing the street mid−block" and "a noticeable increase in bicycle collisions involving motor vehicles," officers took to the street at Broadview and Danforth early Monday morning to ensure that those getting around on manual power are following the rules of the road.

I'm not convinced that these little blitzes have any positive effect on riding and walking habits. Not only are some of the by-laws questionable -- the need to have a horn and to ride with two hands at all times come to mind -- but they tend to foster the idea that should one follow all the rules, he or she will be just fine.

That's not really the case. Some of the safest cyclists I know can often been seen riding with one hand on the bars and are completely resistant to the idea of having a bell, much less ringing it constantly. And, on the flip side, even those who meticulously ensure that their bike and riding habits are compliant with the law have not escaped ill-fate on the roads.

Similarly, citing pedestrians for putatively dangerous crossing habits under the auspices of their own safety is both misguided and a waste of time. As many have pointed out, crossing at properly designated areas may not be safer in the first place. More than anything, a false sense of security places pedestrians and cyclists at risk.

But before writing off the whole idea of these types of campaigns altogether, I'll admit that the information they provide could be quite useful in helping to establish what aspects of rider or walker behaviour need to be addressed in more meaningful ways. For instance, I was surprised to see that of the 415 offences issued, 27 were for riding an adult bike on the sidewalk (the 211 who disobeyed stop lights or signs, on the other hand, wasn't eyebrow-raising for me).

Although it may seem counter-intuitive, cycling on the sidewalk in densely populated areas is far more dangerous than doing so on the road. Forgetting the need to dodge pedestrians, when riding on the sidewalk, the cyclist is far less visible when entering intersections, which is were the majority of serious accidents take place.

When I look at the stats below, I immediately think that their value is in highlighting habits or errors that should be targeted with more focused educational campaigns. Some riding habits are worse than others, and it's too easy to lose sight of this fact when they're treated in a similar manner as that which is inconsequential.

So, let's keep these campaigns, but on the understanding that they're actually surveys -- surveys that highlight what we actually need to spend time working on.

Results of 54-55 Divisions bicycle and pedestrian enforcement campaign (415 total offences):

  • Improper bicycle lighting: 32

  • Improper brakes on bicycle: 4

  • No−horn, bicycle: 84

  • Cyclist ride in crossover: 1

  • Cyclist fail to stop for police: 7

  • Bicycle − unable to keep both hands on handle bars: 1

  • Bicycle with 62cm wheels ride on sidewalk: 27

  • Disobey red light and stop sign: 211

  • Pedestrian fail to use crosswalk: 28

  • Pedestrian disobey red light: 8

  • Pedestrian disobey "don't walk" signal: 12

Photo by Jose Miguel Navarrete of the blogTO Flickr pool.

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