A bike lane and street in Montreal, Canada

I received a flood of vicious, angry emails following an editorial I wrote about how it is necessary to revise Quebec’s Highway Safety Code. People are accusing me of wanting to see special treatment given to cyclists, even though they are “all raging mad, and think they can do whatever they want.” Yet, the idea of absolving cyclists of all blame is far from what I support. There are offenders behind handlebars, just as there are offenders behind steering wheels.

The Highway Safety Code should therefore be revised in order to include the rights of cyclists, who are becoming more and more numerous on roads. And in turn it should clearly identify the rightful duties of these users, otherwise strong penalties should be imposed, above all when they put the lives of pedestrians in danger.

With that said, I persist: the first thing to be done, before attacking the dangerous behavior of certain cyclists, is to impose a new paradigm onto the Highway Safety Code that protects the smallest from the biggest. Pedestrians would be protected from cyclists, cyclists from cars, and cars from trucks. Once this is done, a hierarchy imposed, and once the rights and duties of everyone are revised in accordance with this century’s transportation habits, then it will be time to point fingers at cyclists.

The tsunami of emails I received have not shaken my stance, even if 99% of them accuse me of being a lobbyist on the payroll of cyclists from downtown neighborhoods. On the contrary, these emails reinforce my conviction that priority should be given to creating legislation in order to protect these very cyclists. Why? Because the messages confirmed to me that motorists, who are much more numerous on the road, have the tendency to overestimate the threat represented by others on the road, and to underestimate the threat that they themselves represent.

Cars close to a bike lane in Montreal, Canada.

I read some truly awful things in the emails. “Motorists occupy the road as always, and cyclists want to be recognized as road vehicles. Sorry that the speed limit is 50 km/h and not 22. And as for “dooring,” well, as a driver it is difficult to always be thinking about it.”

On the other hand, when I do an op-ed to talk about irresponsible behavior by motorists, not a word. It’s as if it didn’t exist, didn’t really represent a danger, or wasn’t really important. However, there is a problem with drivers. There are many motorists who run yellow lights, come too close to cyclists, do not allow pedestrians enough time or space to cross intersections, and above all drive too fast.

A few years ago, a study by the Ministry of Transport of Quebec on motorists’ behavior concluded that in urban areas, more than one in two motorists drive above the speed limit. On main streets, it is two in three, and on highways no less than eight in ten! “Not respecting speed limits is widespread,” wrote the minister in his report. And yet, awareness campaigns are ineffective. The problem is that these very motorists consider that either the speed limits are too low to be followed, or they do not really pose a threat because they are excellent drivers.

Is it reasonable to voice complaints about cyclists, or do they pose little threat compared to cars?

Original article, originally published in French, here.

Credits: Images and data linked to sources.