By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express
For four consecutive years, the number of vehicle and cyclist collisions have increased in Durham Region according to data obtained by The Oshawa Express. Now, the Durham Regional Police and cycling advocates are looking to the future to keep the numbers in check as more municipalities turn to active infrastructure and more people turn to cycling to reduce their carbon footprint.
Since 2012, the number of collisions involving cyclists on Durham Roads has gone up. During that year, cyclists were involved in 23 collisions, a number that increased to 31 the following year. However, between 2013 and 2014, the numbers nearly doubled to 60 before increasing to 80 collisions in 2015 and 84 last year.
And while the trend is a gradual one, it is of no less concern to the DRPS, but it brings to light an unfortunate reality.
“The more cyclists that are on the road, the more often you’re going to have a run in with vehicles,” says Sgt. Matt Flower with the Durham police Traffic Enforcement unit. “Any time we have collisions it concerns me.”
An avid cyclist himself, Flower says the Durham Region has seen explosive growth in the number of recreational cyclists, either doing it for the fitness or the fun, heading onto Durham roadways.
“In the last five years, the recreation cycling community has gone through the roof,” he says. “It’s not a new sport, but a growing in popularity sport. You have people who are not quite as attuned to the rules of the road and things like that, so you’re going to have more collisions.”
For Joe Arruda, a member of the Durham Region Cycling Coalition and avid cyclist who uses Durham roads on a daily basis to get around on his bike, the numbers are disconcerting.
“I’m always concerned when I hear of cyclists being involved in accidents in Oshawa or in the region. We had two cyclists hit recently in rural parts of the region as well as a cycling fatality this year in Oshawa, so yes, I am concerned,” he says. “I myself have had many close calls as I ride my bicycle daily on major roads where legally I am allowed to ride and where almost daily I have a close call. I have taken to riding sometimes with a camera and or a swim noodle so the drivers know what one metre space is, as that is law in Ontario.”
That law, put in place in 2015, was a big step in the protection for cyclists using roadways that don’t have dedicated cycling infrastructure in place, forcing drivers to give at least a one metre buffer when passing cyclists.
However, it’s something that Arruda says despite over two years having gone by, many drivers seem to be unaware of.
“I do see that some drivers wait until passing me, but for the most part they come closer than I feel is safe,” he says. “Drivers should know that they are allowed to cross over the yellow line when it is safe to do so to pass a cyclist.”
According to the Ministry of Transportation website, “a motorist may, if done safely, and in compliance with the rules of the road, cross the centre line of a roadway in order to pass a cyclist. If this cannot be done, he or she must wait behind the cyclist until it is safe to pass.”
Yet, Flower says he continues to pull over drivers who fail to abide by the one-metre law.
“That’s been well advertised out there, it’s been well advertised on television, we actively do it,” he says. “Like I always say to people when we stop them, (they say) ‘well I didn’t know that’. Well, you hold a license for the province of Ontario, you’re required to know that…ignorance is no excuse.”
With that said, both Flower and Arruda note that the educational component goes both ways, as there are still many cyclists on regional roads who are unaware that they must follow the same rules of the road as the cars around them.
“The cyclists always want to point fingers at the cars, cars always want to point fingers at the cyclists, there’s kind of fault laying on both sides of it,” Flower says. “There’s a lot of work to be done in the cycling community, we have to follow the laws the same way the cars do and until that happens, those collisions are going to take place as well.”
In the years to come, as cycling becomes a more popular form of transportation, Arruda says that cities must push for investment in active infrastructure and provide dedicated funding for ensuring these bike lanes and paths are built to make riders feel more safe on local roads.
Currently, the region is looking to update its Transportation Master Plan, which includes a regional cycling plan, and Durham is also looking to develop a Strategic Road Safety Plan.
“A lot of the problems locally is that the main roads are regional roads and Oshawa can not implement safe cycling facilities on those roads because they do not own them,” Arruda says. “Any regional road widening project that is in the forecast for the next two years needs to accommodate cycling infrastructure.”
With that said, Arruda notes that the City of Oshawa should also be looking to invest in active infrastructure on those roads that are under their jurisdiction.
The city’s Active Transportation Master Plan, approved in 2015, includes a laundry list of projects and lays out the city’s path forward in developing active infrastructure into 2031. A full implementation of the plan was estimated at the time to cost approximately $27 million.
With the costs aside, Flower says that Oshawa is in dire need of more bike lanes to make roads safer for cyclists.
“The biggest problem right now…Oshawa doesn’t have any infrastructure for cycling,” he says. “East-west, there’s no way to get across (the city) with bicycle lanes.”
Most recently, the city approved a cycle track to run along Athol Street between Centre Street and Mary Street.