Personal Injury

Municipalities need to make secondary roads safer for cyclists

By Rob Lamberti, Contributor

Ontario municipalities are taking steps to improve and maintain road conditions for cyclists but more needs to be done as biking increases in popularity, says Oakville personal injury lawyer Weston Pollard.

The Minimum Maintenance Standards for Municipal Highways regulation of the Municipal Act outlines the time limits and conditions a municipality must follow to maintain and clear bicycle lanes of snow.

But Pollard tells that “the Minimum Maintenance Standards are designed with cars in mind.”

Pollard, partner with Edwards Pollard LLP, says road conditions that would be considered a minor hazard for vehicles are potentially more dangerous for bicyclists.

“It’s nice they have these standards in place — they’re moving in the right direction to protect people on bicycles and make roads safer for them — but there’s still a whole bunch more within this framework they need to do, like repairing potholes or cracks in the bicycle lanes,” he says.

“They need to do it faster, knowing that cyclists are vulnerable to these hazards,” he says.

Pollard’s comments follow a news story about a U.S. jury that found a California county at fault for not clearing a roadway of gravel and sand, which caused two bicyclists to crash and suffer significant injuries.

“This case is an example of the steps a municipality needs to take to protect vulnerable users of the roadways, which are pedestrians and bicyclists,” he says.

Ontario regulations, however, are focused on snow removal and the general condition of roads — such as the size of potholes — and pathways for bicyclists and maintenance scheduling is based on the class of roadway and how deep the snow is, he says. Roads and pathways are classified based on speed limits and usage, and municipalities are under no obligation to clear them if the accumulation of snow doesn’t reach a specified depth, Pollard says.

He also suggests regulations should add standards for clearing sand and gravel from Ontario roadways and paths.

“Spring is terrible for cyclists,” Pollard says. “People on bicycles are often using secondary roads,” Pollard says. “It’s great that a highway can get fixed within days, but a bicycle can’t go on a highway.

“We are concerned about these country roads,” he says. “Those are the ones that don’t get attention from the municipality and are most frequently used by cyclists. And the bikes people are using are engineered to ride on roads, so they’re light-weight, thin and meant to be going fast.”

Further, the number of bicyclists wanting to reduce their carbon footprint “is only going to grow,” Pollard says. He says municipalities are investing in bike lanes to encourage people to use their bicycles as a mode of transportation rather than for just exercise or pleasure.

“More needs to be done. We have taken steps in the right direction, but the standards need to continually adapt to reflect the fact that more and more people are bicycling as their sole means of getting around,” Pollard says. “If it’s their sole means, it means they’re doing it all-year round.”

He says there are municipalities which are focusing on creating more pedestrian and bike paths, and the province has its bicycling plan.

“They’re looking to make Southern Ontario a bicycling destination, and by doing so, we have an obligation to protect them or else we’re going to end up with lawsuits,” Pollard says.

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