Ottawa

Why Ottawa cyclists are being urged not to give up on biking downtown

After the death of a cyclist in downtown Ottawa on Thursday, some riders are wary about using their bikes. But cycling advocates are urging them to stay the course, arguing that there's safety in numbers.

In wake of Thursday's fatal crash, cyclists being told there is safety in numbers

The more cyclists there are on the roads, the safer it is, advocates say. (CBC)

It was supposed to be a safe way to bike downtown, but the death of a young woman on the Laurier Avenue West bike lane on Thursday has many people spooked. 

"At this point I'm not pulling my bicycle out, for fear of being hit by a car," said Sebastian Winkler after witnessing the scene at the corner of Laurier and Lyon Street, where 23-year-old Nusrat Jahan died after being hit by a construction truck. 

Brianna St. Cyr agrees.

"I would not cycle in downtown Ottawa because of all the construction that's been going around. It's just not safe," she said. 

But cycling advocates are urging riders to stay the course. According to Bartek Komorowski of Vélo Québec, the best way to improve cycling safety is to get more people to take up cycling, not for people to quit riding their bikes. 

Safety in numbers

"There's a safety in numbers effect. The more cyclists there are, the less likely a cyclist is to be involved in an accident," Komorowski said. 

The theory was first published in 2003 by public health researcher Peter Jacobsen, who found that collision rates actually declined when more people walked or rode their bikes.

Komoroski said the data holds true in Canada.

"In spite of a greater increase in bicycle use, the number of accidents has remained constant or fallen in many cities," he told CBC News. 

According to a 2011 survey by the TRANS committee, a group made up of the National Capital Commission, the City of Ottawa, the City of Gatineau, the Ontario and Quebec ministries of transportation, and the transit agencies of Ottawa and Gatineau, there was a 40-per-cent growth in the number of bicycle journeys from 2005 to 2011. 

"Approximately 53,800 daily bicycle trips were made in the National Capital Region during a typical fall weekday in 2011 ... up from 37,100 in 2005," the report reads. 

Compare that to the number of cycling accidents over a similar time period: In 2006, 231 cyclists were injured on Ottawa's roads, one of whom died. In 2014, the last year for which data is available, 228 were injured, with two fatalities.

Jamie Stuckless, executive director of Share The Road, says Ottawa is a relatively safe place to cycle compared to other cities in Ontario. (Jennifer Chevalier / CBC)

Ottawa 'a leader in Ontario'

O​ntario cycling advocacy group Share The Road wants cyclists to remember that, compared with other cities in the province, Ottawa is a relatively safe place to cycle. 

"One of the big reasons that I choose to live here in Ottawa is because it really is a leader in Ontario, in terms of raised cycle tracks, making connections, off-road paths for cyclists," said executive director Jamie Stuckless. "It could be better and there's lots more we could do, but Ottawa truly is a leader."

Stuckless said 54 per cent of Ontario residents want to cycle more than they currently do, but safety is still their biggest concern. 

Currently, four per cent of Ottawa residents who live within the greenbelt bike to work. The city is aiming to increase that to eight per cent by 2031. 

Stuckless is calling on the municipal and provincial governments to ease cyclist's fears by investing in cycling infrastructure and education. 

Click on the player below to hear Ottawans talk about their cycling concerns.

People in Ottawa talk about their concers about cycling downtown after a 23-year old was killed at Laurier and Lyon. 0:54