Earlier this week, I had to run an errand. Being that it is currently March Break, the kids joined me on a short ride from East Vancouver, along the 10th Avenue bikeway, to our bank at Cambie and Broadway. It was the first opportunity we had that day to get out of the house, and it was great to ride alongside my children on a sunny afternoon. And then it went downhill...
As we approached a traffic circle just before the intersection at Fraser and 10th, I heard the familiar sound of a car coming up behind us. So I assumed my usual position - I ride abreast my two children, with one of them behind the other. The reason behind this is that when cycling on my own, more often than I would like, I’ve had cars pass too closely to me. So for the safety of my kids, I want to ensure the same thing won’t happen to them, putting them at risk.
As we kept riding, it seemed the car was getting closer, and before I could do anything, a red mini pulled up right next to us, far too close for comfort. Knowing better, the children and I immediately stopped, in order to keep ourselves from being clipped by this obviously irresponsible driver. Then the car stopped, too, rolling down the passenger window. The driver of the car proceeded to scold me, stating the street is a "shared road".
I did my very best to communicate that I am well aware it’s a shared road, meaning he needs to share with us, too, having full right to the space we were using. But as we’ve found countless times before, in the more than acceptable number of encounters we’ve had with motorists, he was not willing to hear what I had to say. I then noticed something startling - this gentlemen had a toddler clipped up in the back seat, and I was beside myself. This random stranger was willing put my children in danger in order to get past us, all the while being a parent himself, a fact I pointed out very vehemently, but to no avail.
Eventually, realizing this ignorant human being was not only blocking my family but also several other cars and cyclists, I yelled for him to just go and leave us alone. That was likely the end of the discomfort for him, aside from presumably moaning about me later to others. Unfortunately, that same luxury is never afforded to me. Not only was I left upset and on the verge of tears for the remainder of our trip, but I also needed to calm my own children. My youngest was noticeably upset and scared, having had to stand there on the road, his safety, not to mention that of his sister and mother, compromised while this person in a vehicle capable of doing significant harm blocked their path. Needless to say, it took a considerable amount of time and effort to keep myself calm enough to make sure my children were okay.
Here’s the thing: more than anything, that driver was being a bully. He, in his car, felt his space, journey, etc, were more important than our own, and was willing to literally stop traffic to tell me that. What lesson did he actually teach that day? He showed his small child that it’s okay to put other people’s safety at risk for his own benefit, even other kids. As a society, we spend countless hours, and dedicate an entire day, to battle bullying, but I am continually amazed how getting behind the wheel of a car negates all of our teachings.
A stark realization was that my first instinct was to think to myself: “What’s the point of doing this - riding our bikes to get around?” And then I realized how troubling that thought was. Despite being one of many families that travel by bike throughout this city, we have frequently been referred to as ‘The Biking Family”. If this this so-called bicycle family is reconsidering our mode of transport, what hope is there for those curious but nervous about two-wheeled travel with children? I will happily admit that we are more thick-skinned (and stubborn) than most of our peers, and understand the bigger picture: that by setting the example for others, we encourage people to try modes of travel other than a car. So when families like our own no longer want to deal with inevitable road conflict and bullies, there’s a bigger problem at hand.
There are several things that can be done to start mitigating driver/cyclist conflict. First, on stretches like 10th Avenue, limiting on-street parking to just one side of the street would increase road space, meaning it could be easily shared between the two modes without one feeling bullied out of the space. Further traffic-calming like lower speed limits and restricting through-ways for cars would also eliminate motorists using bikeways as a means to by-pass busier streets like Broadway and 12th Avenue. There is also the antiquated law in BC against riding abreast (side-by-side), that makes the simple act of riding next to your kids illegal.
Driver education is also key. In the Motor Vehicle Act, it states clearly that cyclists are entitled to adequate road space, meaning cars must give cyclists at least one metre of breadth when passing. Many drivers either don’t know this or choose not to follow the rule, leaving vulnerable road users - like my children - at risk. Hence why I ride abreast with them. Just as with cars, if a motorist is not able to safely overtake a cyclist, they must wait. Rules like these need to be driven home, for lack of a better expression, with all new and current licensed motorists. With proper driver education, road safety for all users will be much improved.
Fret not, the Bruntlett family will continue to ride our bikes to get around as often as possible. However, I can say without doubt that certain stretches, such as the 10th Avenue bikeway, will remain low on my list of safe bike routes to use with my kids. I will instead opt for routes that keep my family fully-separated from automobile traffic. I can only hope that in the years to come, those separated options will become more readily available, encouraging the bike-curious to travel with children, knowing their most precious of cargo is much safer in doing so.