Pedestrian safety and bikes – a polemic

Bank Street Bridge bike sharrow
Photo: jock smith

This past July, a mature, adult, male pedestrian – a long-time resident of the Glebe – was injured and traumatized by a female cyclist riding on the sidewalk over the Canal on the Bank Street Bridge. The anonymous cyclist remains unidentified.

 Sadly, this story came as no surprise to me. I have lived in the Glebe for 20 years, but in the last couple of years I have witnessed a rising tension between pedestrians and a certain type of cyclist. I have shared my concern with colleagues on the Traffic Committee of the Glebe Community Association.

As a consequence of urban intensification policies, scarce spaces have become the subject of competition and conflict – witness the dispute between dog owners and parents of toddlers over park spaces, for example.

There are, no doubt, many cyclists in the Glebe who are conscientious. I am privileged to live near entire families of cyclists who leave nothing to be desired in terms of consideration and civic duty.

But I fail to sympathize with the behaviour of some local cyclists. Readers who have encountered cyclists on the Canal pathways speeding by pedestrians instead of slowing down, or imposing their presence on narrow sidewalks, will have no difficulty understanding my feelings. I have asked or reminded cyclists not to ride on sidewalks on a number of occasions. Bicycles are considered vehicles and are subject to laws governing traffic on the street. There is no justification for ignoring stop signs, for example, if one is serious about one’s personal safety.

But more disconcerting than this behaviour is the reaction to my warnings that I have received from a tiny but vocal group of cyclists I call the Bike Lobby. This small group has been actively lobbying to add bike lanes on the streets and avenues of the Glebe. Further, they are on record as advocating the removal of street parking spaces and have gone as far as siding with big developers in calling for the elimination of Ottawa’s minimum parking requirements bylaw. This bylaw sets a specified minimum number of parking spaces to be provided by any new residential or commercial development. As it stands now, those developers that are unwilling or unable to meet these minimum parking requirements must make a payment “in lieu of parking.” These payments are then used to alleviate parking woes in the neighbourhoods where they are collected. If these requirements are eliminated, you can imagine what a boon this would be for big developers.

Behind the Bike Lobby’s opposition to parking spaces, in the Glebe in particular, is the belief that everyone should ride a bike and that people should be discouraged from other alternatives. In this way, more space would open up for cyclists and this would encourage the rest of the population, who currently don’t ride because they don’t feel safe, to do so.

You don’t see or hear them advising their fellow cyclists to respect stop signs or wear helmets. Instead, they appeal to abstract environmental concerns. If everyone bikes – regardless of age and personal circumstance or constraints – problems stemming from the world’s addiction to fossil fuel will be magically resolved. Our Bike Lobby friends believe that by making the personal choice to cycle – cycling being regarded as a virtue – they can undermine the political economy of the oil industry, which is built upon complex and century-old geopolitical structures grounded in Western foreign policy in the Middle East, not to mention globalization and the addiction of our consumer society to cheap goods produced abroad.

In the meantime, because of neighbourhood parking woes, The Glebe Centre has lost much of its volunteer force – approximately 150 volunteers – and health care providers are reluctant to visit vulnerable clients in the Glebe. And finally, the Glebe’s Bank Street independent businesses are folding up their tents one after the other.

The bike lanes now increasingly visible across the city and the neighbourhood do nothing to make anyone feel safer.

 Ali Ramezani is a member of the Glebe Community Association Traffic Committee and a Glebe pedestrian.

~ Editor’s note: What do you think? Agree? Disagree? Have comments or ideas? Please send them to

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