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Removing cycle lanes no solution to bike safety issues: Brown

City planners should respond to unsafe cycle lanes by improving, not removing them, Toronto critical injury lawyer and road safety activist Patrick Brown tells AdvocateDaily.com

In a recent Financial Post article, Lawrence Solomon, the executive director of the Urban Renaissance Institute, argues that cities should rip out their bike lanes, claiming that they bring a false sense of security to inexperienced riders.       

But Brown, a partner with McLeish Orlando LLP and founder of Bike Law Canada, says Solomon is wrong to view riding a bike as a “life and death business.”

“It’s absurd to suggest bike lanes do not offer safer travel for cyclists,” Brown says. “Anyone who has ridden a bike in the city core can attest to that. What makes bike lanes unsafe is design features and distracted reckless drivers.

“If bike lanes are unsafe for novice riders, then make them safer,” he adds.

Labelling bike lanes “vanity projects” for “reckless politicians,” Solomon acknowledges that inexperienced riders may feel safer in lanes.  

“But there’s a difference between feeling safer and being safer. Many if not most bike lanes increase the odds of an accident, particularly since inexperienced cyclists are ill-equipped to understand the hazards they face," he writes in the Financial Post. "Bike lanes, with their false promise of safety, lure the inexperienced onto roads, and some inevitably to their death."

Brown disputes that claim, noting that a Coroners’ Review on cycling and pedestrian deaths in Ontario in 2012 recommended a “Complete Streets” model, including bike lanes, as the best way to prevent deaths on the road.

“Road design and safety is based on all users. The way we perceive bike lanes should be the same,” says Brown, who helped initiate and participated in the review.

Solomon suggests the only sensible solution is to have motorists and cyclists sharing the same lanes, claiming that “relatively few accidents occur when impatient motorists overtake slower-moving bicycles in their lane.”

But Brown says the argument is flawed, pointing again to the review which found that the majority of cycling deaths occurred when a car driver was attempting to overtake the cyclist. 

In addition, Brown says demographic data in the review contradicts Solomon’s thesis concerning the safety of experienced riders compared with their less-practised counterparts since the peak ages of cycling deaths were males between 45 and 54.

“As to infrastructure, it was clear that the deaths were happening on roadways without separation via bike lanes and paved shoulders,” Brown says.

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