Reprinted with permission from: The Perth Courier

Broken pedals, shattered helmets, twisted frames, a few shoes and blood stains – all scattered along a 120-metre stretch of road.

A description of the scene tells part of the tale, but we don’t yet have the full story of what happened last weekend when a van plowed through five cyclists on March Road in Ottawa before driving off.

One of them was Hilary McNamee, 26, who grew up in Perth and attends Carleton University for social work. It was reported that she was awaiting surgery for a broken femur.

While no one was killed, thankfully, some of the other cyclists hit were not as lucky. One man, a father of two who works in computer security for the federal government, suffered internal injuries and subcranial bleeding.

The group of cyclists was en route to Pakenham via Carleton Place. According to a friend who was supposed to be on the trek with them but accidently slept in, they were training for the half-marathon Army Run in the fall. They were experienced cyclists and often took long, 200-kilometre trips together.

It seems that section of March Road is popular with cyclists. March Road is a “tech strip” in Kanata, with a series of high-tech company offices located along it. However, it is not long until the buildings give way to sprawling fields, making it an ideal route for cyclists looking to take in the scenery while getting some exercise.

Most importantly, that road was built with cyclists in mind. The Ottawa Citizen reported that the stretch of road where the accident occurred had a dedicated bike lane, about 1.5 metres in width. One cyclist commented on an online forum that March Road is three lanes wide in both directions, with a “massive six-foot (1.8 m) wide bicycle shoulder,” and questioned how anyone could hit cyclists in that situation, especially before 8 a.m. on a Sunday morning when there are few vehicles on the road.

Police have arrested a suspect, but no charges have been laid yet pending an investigation into exactly what happened on the road that morning.

In this incident, it seems every precaution was taken: the cyclists were experienced. They knew the road, wore helmets, and had bike lanes to ride (single file) in. Still, they ended up in the hospital, while the motorist kept on driving as though nothing happened.

One can only imagine what kind of damage may have been done if the road was narrower, perhaps putting the cyclists more directly in the path of the driver, or if the cyclists chose to ride side-by-side, or to forego helmets.
It would seem that no matter how careful and experienced you are as a cyclist, if someone is momentarily distracted, loses control of their vehicle, has a heart attack, drives drunk, or any other of the hundreds of possible things that could go wrong, it is always the cyclist who will bear the brunt.

Cyclists should be lauded for their dedication to fitness and an environmentally friendly mode of transportation, but even more so for their courage to put themselves alongside vehicles that dwarf them in size and are often piloted by inattentive drivers or simply drivers who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable navigating with bikes on the road.

With the odds stacked so much against the cyclists, we should be doing anything we can to make them safer, starting with educating both cyclists and drivers about how to share the road.