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“Column shows poor attitude to cyclists”

Posted on 13 January 2012

My recent post on biking  struck a chord, attracting over 100 pageviews in 24 hours and about 30 social media shares (for my low-level blogging, this is positively viral). This was in response to a column in the Prince George Free Press, and today I’m glad to see they’ve printed another response.

It comes from Jillian Merrick, president of the Prince George Cycling Club, and one of the people whose comments coloured my post, as well. You can read it here on page 7, but once again since the Free Press has no direct link I’m going to excerpt it wholesale, too. Here it is:

“Editor:

While I understand that Ms. Pilon’s ‘Life in the Fat Lane’ column is an opinion piece, I am deeply troubled by the attitude and lack of personal responsibility Ms. Pilon shows as a fellow road user.

In her article, Ms. Pilon wags her finger at winter cyclists, shaming them for scaring her as she nearly runs them over on several occasions. She unknowingly describes many dangerous aspects of her own driving, while blaming the cyclists for the near accidents. In her own words, she ‘was sliding through a yellow light on 15th Avenue’ and ‘waiting for the heater to defrost the paintings Jack Frost rippled all over my windows.’ As a responsible driver, Ms Pilon should be reducing her speed on icy days and braking well in advance of the intersections to avoid sliding through them. Even more frightening, she should not be driving if she cannot see out her windows.

Ms. Pilon also demonstrates the most common misconception drivers have about cyclists. She curses the cyclist for ‘taking up the middle of the street to avoid those nasty ruts,’ Ms Pilon, like many, is unaware that, by law, cyclists are vehicles that have the same right to the road as motorized traffic. Cyclists must use designated bike lanes and the right hand side of the lane when it is safe to do so, but cyclists are allowed to take the whole lane when a safe alternative is not available. Ms Pilon is also unaware that there are winter tires for bicycles and most winter cyclists use them, and that wearing winter boots to push pedals is no more dangerous that wearing winter boots to push gas (and brake) pedals.

Ms. Pilon admits to passing the same cyclist every day on her way to work, but fails to recognize that passing the same cyclists every day at the same time likely means that he is also on his way to work. Instead she depicts the cyclist as a leisurely gentleman causing trouble for the fun of it. I have no doubt that his morning commute is far more challenging and stressful than her own, and that he would take a viable alternative if available. Most winter cyclists imply do not have another means of getting to where they need to go. The lack of empathy shown is disheartening.

Finally, Ms. Pilon contributes to the false culture of fear around cycling that, as a cycling community, we work very had to dispel. She associates cycling with a death wish and makes much ado of the dangers. Little does she know there are a mere 65 cyclist fatalities in Canada each year, while a killer such as heart disease accounts for 650,000 fatalities. A hard look at the facts reveals that ‘Life in the Fat Lane’ is far more dangerous than life in the bike lane.

I would urge pedestrians, cyclists and motorists alike to use extra caution and understanding in these especially icy conditions.”

If I have one minor quibble with this reaction, it’s the statement that the gentleman’s commute is more stressful than Ms. Pylon’s and he would take a viable alternative if available. As frustrating as aspects of biking can be, I have to say I find that in many cases it’s less stressful than driving, even in winter (the one exception being when you encounter drivers like Ms. Pilon reports herself to be). I do have viable alternatives available yet I choose to bike because, on the whole, I think biking is the best alternative– economically, environmentally, and health-wise. That said, it is probably true that I’m the exception rather than the rule– people on bikes, especially in winter, may wish they were in a car (or a bus that ran a little more often/faster than they do in Prince George).

What I really appreciate about this is the statistic of 65 cyclist fatalities versus 650,000 heart disease fatalities. It’s fascinating that people would rather support a sedentary lifestyle that is far more likely to result in death than getting regular daily exercise to-and-from work. Statistically, the health benefits of biking far outweigh the risks associated with it– but that’s another post for another day.

Filed under: bikes

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