The impact of cars

UPDATE Nov 29: So six weeks, almost to the hour, after my brother in law was admitted to hospital, he was released. He went home last night with 20 boxes of medical supplies related to his tracheotomy and feeding tube. He’s seven surgeries in with more to come in the short and long term but he’s home and we’re all very happy. The medical attention he has had has been amazing. His friends have been just as amazing in their support for him, my sister and their kids. Seriously, you want friends like his. Both his and my sister’s employers have been models of how you hope companies react in these situations. There’s good that has come out of this but it’s come at a heavy price.

As much as I argue below for better awareness of cyclists on the road the biggest thing I will take away from this is my brother in law’s resilience and calm, measured determination to get through this and get back to a regular life. He’s not kidding himself about any of this. It’s a serious trauma he went through and is still going through but the acknowledgement of this and the willingness to confront it with a positivism that is very real, that knows the many challenges that still lay ahead, despite still being in an acute phase of recovery, is frankly stunning and very inspiring.  

 

This is the first MMCB article not about soccer.

My brother in law just spent his third night in an Intensive Care Unit last night. He will be there at least another week. He has had several surgeries already and has many more to come. He’s married to my sister and has two kids and a dog. He works and he has been a volunteer coach in his community in both hockey and soccer. He’s also an avid cyclist who completed the Whistler Gran Fondo in September. And as I told him a few years ago, he’s the nicest guy in our family.

He was riding his bike late afternoon on Tuesday, wearing a bright green cycling jersey and clearly had the right of way. A car, seemingly in a hurry, didn’t see him. 

He took pretty much the entire force of the collision on his face. Everything there is broken in multiple places. Everything. Plus a broken arm. He has no brain injury though. The doctors have made it clear his helmet saved his life.

My sister, niece and nephew (and many, many others) are a razor’s edge from grieving his death. My sister’s voice has never sounded like it did when she first called me. It was just so heavy with shock, detached from its normal vigour.

There are more and more cyclists on the road and even though this means fewer cars in traffic, too often they are seen as an inconvenience to drivers at best and the enemy at worst. Cyclists have an equal entitlement to the road. There is no eminent domain for car drivers when it comes to roads vis a vis cyclists.

Vancouver has built several bike lanes and instead of this being broadly embraced, too many drivers and radio hosts, who seem to feel their job is to create civic frenzy, demonize those who created them and those who use them. The derogatory caricatures I’ve heard applied to cyclists is just another example of how divisive western societies are becoming. This insistence on creating the “other” that “regular folks” can and should oppose is dangerous and leads, in this case, to drivers not believing they need to look for, see and, yes, accommodate cyclists because they are somehow less worthy of the spaces they are sharing. Cyclists are not an inconvenience to their commute, not a drain on their tax dollars, not an undesirable element in society but too many see it this way. In reality, they are very much like the rest of us. Fathers, mothers, partners, sons, daughters, commuters, coaches, volunteers and generally very nice people who live and work in your community. The message needs to become that using roads, whether in a car or on a bike, carries more responsibilities as these roads increasingly are shared with a variety of things on wheels. 

So please re-think how cyclists fit into our transportation network and start acknowledging the benefits of separated bike lanes in high traffic areas and bike friendly streets in quieter arterial routes rather than focusing on perceived negatives. As I write this I’m resisting the impulse to spew anger towards those who oppose this idea because it somehow impinges their birthright to shave a few minutes off their travel time. I really want to but that’s divisive too so I’m just asking that you recognize the very real life consequences of not respecting cyclists and how vulnerable they are on roads. I’m also asking that we all get a bit more organized and allow more time to get to where we need to go so the trip is not characterized by tension and impatience. Yes, some cyclists are assholes and reckless and yell rude things to drivers. That’s wrong but the damage they can cause is completely asymmetrical to that that a disengaged or angry driver can in their fast moving 2000 pound torpedo.

I’ve just started to teach my youngest son to drive. We’ve already covered how to look for pedestrians and cyclists. It will continue and be repeated many, many times. It starts there.

I started riding a bike again this summer. Partially motivated by my brother in law, partially by other friends. I really enjoy it but I’ve already had close calls. What I already see though is that cyclists can do their part too. Where there are bike lanes, use them instead of busy roads (I will never understand seeing bikes on Broadway when there are excellent bike routes a block away for the most part). Be courteous. Communicate your intentions with hand signals. Try to make eye contact with drivers at intersections. Wear a helmet. Wear a helmet. Wear a good fucking helmet and strap it on properly

It’s been an eye opening last few days. My brother in law has a long recovery ahead of him but he will recover. My sister’s voice will recover. Some cyclists are not so lucky. Don’t wait until it’s a cyclist you know that is badly injured or killed before you start to change your behaviour. Please.

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7 Responses to The impact of cars

  1. Ralph says:

    after spilling off my bike a couple of years ago, and cracking my head on the sidewalk, I can’t emphasize enough the need for a good helmet. I heard a bang as i went over and only realised later it was my head hitting the kerbstone. Helmet was cracked but not my head. Hope your BIL recovers speedily.

  2. Gregor says:

    Thanks Ralph. I should really have added that I’m embarrassed that it took this happening for me to accept that I have to stop thinking I don’t need a helmet for short trips on occasion. I’ll have one on every time now. It shouldn’t take something like this to make me, or others, less complacent but it certainly has for me.

  3. Michael Zeitlin says:

    This is a brilliant and necessary article, Gregor. Thank you. I hope everybody in this city reads it. May your brother-in-law be well. I too thank my helmets (twice now) for saving my head from worse. My wrist, however, always knows when it’s going to rain.

  4. Gregor says:

    Thanks Michael. I hear that bad wrist cost you an NFL career (or maybe a college intramurals football championship; can’t remember which).

    • Michael Zeitlin says:

      Ha! Thankfully the wrist injury occurred after my professional career was over. I am now retired and happily living on past glories. 🙂

  5. Beth says:

    I am sorry to hear about your brother in law, sister and rest of your family, but at the same time heartened to know he will be okay.

    I wish to echo these same sentiments to pedestrians and drivers on smart phones. As much as we live in a fast paced, global and highly technologized world the basic tenets of decency, courtesy and kindness have not changed. We need to adapt to the times with these traits that have been relevant since time immemorial.

    Thanks for this reminder and I trust this will serve to continue the conversation before its too late.

    • Gregor says:

      Agreed. My wife and son were rear-ended by someone staring at their phone while he was driving. They were stopped at a pedestrian crossing on a clear sunny day and he just plowed into the back of them. The car was written off but they were lucky to have minor injuries. Pedestrians meanwhile seem to be the most trusting people in the world. Their expectation that car drivers are always paying attention to people stepping off the sidewalk is frankly bizarre to me.

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