Friday, July 24, 2009

Drivers please share the road.


The Canadian Press
By Michael Tutton, The Canadian Press Posted Thursday, July 23, 2009 3:46 PM ET
When Olympic cross-country skier Devon Kershaw read of how a van recently smashed through a group of five endurance cyclists in Ottawa, feelings of frustration and grief returned.

The three-time World Cup medallist lost his girlfriend, Sofie Manarin, in 2001 when a truck struck the 17-year-old skier's bicycle during a summer training ride in her hometown of Sudbury, Ont.

Kershaw says many Olympians who cycle on highways live in terror of inattentive drivers.

"Myself and teammates have close calls many times a year. You're cycling or running or roller-skiing and you have to suddenly jump into the shoulder," Kershaw said in an interview Thursday.

He notes that cross-country ski star Alex Harvey was knocked off his bike last weekend by a driver who pulled out of an intersection in Canmore, Alta. Fortunately he wasn't injured.

Reading of how the five cyclists were sent to an Ottawa hospital, with one suffering internal brain and body injuries, Kershaw said he felt a sense of painful deja-vu.

"This has got to stop," the Olympian said of the road carnage, as he prepared to take a break from training twice daily on various highways near Canmore.

For the survivors, family and friends of cycling victims, the scars run deep.

Kershaw learned of Manarin's death when he came upon her damaged bike frame surrounded by ambulances and police cars. He had been out for a training ride on the same day and was following her route.

"It shaped who I am. It's been hard for me. I go to Sudbury to visit and it still hurts," he said.

He still recalls "Sofie's laugh, very distinct and always present," and recalls, "she was small in stature, but had a big impact and presence with everyone she interacted with." They'd been friends since she was 12, and in a relationship for over a year.

Next week, Kershaw will return to Sudbury for a group ride that will support the bicycle safety group Share the Road.

Figures compiled by Transport Canada show that between 50 and 80 cyclists a year have been killed in car and truck collisions annually since 2003.

Eleanor McMahon, the founder of Share the Road, lost her husband, OPP Sgt. Greg Stobbart, when a driver with a record of driving licence suspensions struck him while the officer was on a training ride.

She said she was thrilled when Kershaw approached her to assist
with the cycling coalition's work. "The two of us have come
together, given the beginning of our experience was one of sadness
and one of loss," she said.

McMahon said she has travelled internationally, studying Europe's extensive network of biking lanes, and noting that in many jurisdictions road laws protecting cyclists are strictly enforced.

"This has become my life's work now," she said. "I want to bring a cycling culture to Canada."

She's currently lobbying the Ontario government for legal changes to help protect cyclists.

"We're looking for a one-metre passing law in Ontario this fall . . . this allows officers to penalize drivers who fail to allow one metre when they're passing a bike," she said.

Kershaw said he's "a huge supporter" of the proposed reform, noting it's the law in 14 U.S. states. He says it "recognizes that cyclists have the right to enjoy their recreation and commuting safety."

Jocelyn Lovell, the Canada's Sports Hall of Fame cyclist who suffered a spinal cord injury in 1983 after being struck by two trucks, says athletes like Kershaw can add emotional punch to the effort to advocate for legal changes and bike lanes.

"Damn right. Good on him. And if laws are being broken, cops should charge people," he said from his home in Mississauga, Ont.

"Bicycles belong. They will be here 1,000 years from now long after cars have been returned to being dust in the ground."

He said when he started driving a van, he went back to the area he was struck "to face my monster," and was stunned to see it was a place where it was easy to see and simple to navigate.

"I was just a cyclist in somebody's way . . . just a thorn in someone's side."

1 comment:

  1. Very cool that he's getting invovled. Cycling deaths are so tragic :(