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Hamilton car-bike conflict heats up after cyclist charged in collision

The latest car-bike collision on Cannon Street has reinvigorated a sometimes vitriolic conversation about the relationship between automobiles and bicycles on Hamilton streets.

Recovering from 'serious but non-life-threatening injuries,' cyclist objects to commenters vitriol

A cyclist traveling westbound on Cannon St. collided with an SUV travelling north on Victoria St. on Saturday. Police charged the cyclist with running a red light. (Kelly Bennett/CBC)

The latest car-bike collision on Cannon Street has reinvigorated a sometimes vitriolic conversation about the relationship between cars and bikes on Hamilton streets. 

A cyclist was hit by an SUV on Saturday, and police charged him with failing to stop at a red light. 

Commenters to a CBC Hamilton story about the collision appeared almost gleeful to hear the cyclist was charged, perhaps forgetting the man was taken to hospital with serious injuries. He responded to them the next day, chiding them for seeming to take pleasure in his injuries, and contending the light was yellow when he rode through the intersection. 

"It is my experience that 'Law Abiding Cyclists' are as rare as flying elephants," one commenter wrote.

"Most, and I do mean most, cyclists feel that they do not have to follow the same rules of the road as drivers do," said another.

"It's about time that these cyco-terrorist's were charged for ignoring the law," wrote a third.

But the perception that paints cyclists as always in the wrong is not supported by fact. 

There have been six collisions between bicyclists and drivers on Cannon St. since the city opened new bike lanes in September, said the city's superintendent of traffic engineering, Dave Ferguson.

Cyclists were deemed at fault in half of them — drivers in the other half. 

Don't believe everything you read! Thanks for all the people saying that they are glad that I got hit! Weirdos!- Injured cyclist

One reader pointed out that incongruity. "Bobby" wrote:

"For some reason, most of the commenters here seem to think that cyclists are the evil road warriors. Far from it. I cycle and drive and see all sorts of violations from cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. I don't understand why all the vitriol against cyclists only. Open your eyes and you will see that cyclists aren't the only ones breaking the law."

One thing is certain, when cars and cyclists collide, cyclists lose.

The conversation drew in the cyclist himself, taken to hospital Saturday in "serious but non-life-threatening condition."

Writing under the handle "BikeGuy", the cyclist took exception to readers suggesting he should have received a Darwin Award.

"Hey! I'm the cyclist. I thought the light was yellow. That's what I remember. Apparently witnesses did not remember it being yellow. I'm like 95 per cent sure it was," he wrote. "Don't believe everything you read! Thanks for all the people saying that they are glad that I got hit! Weirdos!"

'The conversations always seem to be heated and polarized'

Saturday's collision makes seven car-bike collisions, by Ryan McGreal's count. McGreal runs the Raise the Hammer blog.

McGreal said after riding a bike in mixed traffic for nearly 20 years, he has experienced a small minority of drivers who are aggressive or rude to him on the road. 

But on the internet? 

"In comments people are more likely to let loose," McGreal said. "The conversations always seem to be heated and polarized. It's unfortunate. Because when people start out with a really entrenched position — 'this group of people is good, this group of people is bad,' it's really difficult to have a constructive discussion."

Saturday's crash should remind cyclists to take caution.  

"If you're on a bike and you ride through a red light, whether it was red or it was yellow, you're asking for trouble if you ride through that," he said. "But people in cars make mistakes, people on bikes make mistakes. We all do dumb, thoughtless, distracted things."

'Trying to find that proper balance'

Superintendent Ferguson said as the city installs more cycling and pedestrian infrastructure, it carves out a need for more education and awareness for everyone who uses the streets. A big part of the engineers' job is to change "behaviours" between drivers and cyclists.

"Our goal is to educate, to teach people that they need to respect the different types of users that there are out there, that there's other users of the roadway," he said. 

"Some people don't like it," Ferguson continued. "Primarily it's usually the motorists that we hear from."

Ferguson said his team is familiar with the kind of polarized conversation that casts blame on all drivers or all cyclists.

"There's days where you think you just want to throw your hands up," he said. "But from a city perspective we have a responsibility to all users. We're truly trying to find that proper balance."

McGreal regularly posts examples of ideas for bettering the infrastructure for cars, pedestrians and bicycles on Hamilton streets. He wants to see increased markings in the intersections where the protected bumpers on the Cannon bike lane don't extend.

He said perhaps changing the discussion from being about "cyclists" versus "drivers" would help. "We're all just people getting from somewhere to somewhere else."

But McGreal's biggest hope rides on continuing to add to safe cycling infrastructure. 

"Good design, good engineering, good infrastructure works," he said. "Yelling at people that they should be more careful doesn't work."

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