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Carte Blanche: This Toronto road is a cyclist death trap

Published September 28, 2012

I personally know three people who have lost loved ones in bicycle-car crashes.

Needless to say, it is always the cyclist who loses. I’m pretty sure I witnessed a bicycle courier kill himself when he crashed into a concrete hydro pole on Yonge St. some years back. He wasn’t moving when the paramedics took him away.

And the only good thing about my daughter moving to Whitehorse – Whitehorse! – is that she will no longer be riding her bike in downtown Toronto traffic.

I can’t imagine Whitehorse’s traffic is as dangerous as Toronto’s.

So I have a fairly strong investment in bicycle safety. And the fact is, cars and bikes don’t play nicely together.

The recently rebuilt Pottery Road exhibits possibly the best and certainly the very worst ways to manage this difficult conflict. For those of you unfamiliar with this road, it runs between Broadview Avenue down to the Bayview Extension. It’s a twisty road, with a steep hill to boot.

For the eastbound uphill stretch, a pedestrian/cyclist lane is separated from the roadway by a barrier – Armco near the bottom of the hill, concrete most of the rest of the way.

That’s about the best you can expect to keep cars and bikes safely away from each other. But the downhill westbound lane? Bikes and cars are expected to share the road, single file, one after another.

Who came up with this idea? Are they kidding? When I visited this scene last weekend, it was raining on and off. Watching cyclists slip/slide down this hill filled me with dread.

Bikes could – and do – generate some serious speed down this road. Bike brakes aren’t that great. What if the cyclist tries to stop and the bike skids? What if the cyclist falls? There will very likely be a car right on his tail. Probably with a cellphone jammed in its driver’s ear.

The cyclist won’t stand a chance. Somebody’s going to die here.

Why is it like this?

My guess is that cyclists themselves share some of the blame. They have been begging, whining, for years to have more bike lanes installed on Toronto streets, never mind that their usage is so minimal, especially for half the year, that it’s a colossal waste of scarce public resources. But they got their wish here.

It’s a perfect illustration of why you should be careful about what you wish for.

Pottery Road is essentially carved out of the side of a cliff. There isn’t much room to put a roadway in here.

Local residents tell me that during the year-long construction phase, they had big issues with erosion, hence the massive retaining wall you can see in some of these pictures.

There’s a big highrise right at the top of the hill, and while concerns about it may have been “Chicken Little, the Sky is Falling”, nobody wanted to see that come cascading down the hill, either.

In any event, they didn’t have much room to work with, so the uphill bike/pedestrian path got protection, the downhill riders are on their own.

Now, combining pedestrians with cyclists on that uphill stretch isn’t ideal either. True, most cyclists are going to be walking their bikes up this steep hill, although I saw quite a few tree-trunk-legged dudes pedalling their way up.

But a cyclist hitting a pedestrian is a whole lot less fraught than a cyclist hitting a car, which is what is going to happen on that downhill run.

Whoever came up with this design, whoever had a hand in it, whoever approved it, should not just be fired. They should be sent to jail.

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