MD of Foothills patrol officers are venturing out to popular cycling routes in the region encouraging riders and drivers alike to share the road.
The move has members of an Okotoks cycling group saying the focus should be on aggressive drivers who make the roads unsafe for bikes.
The MD has launched a public awareness campaign targeting both drivers and cyclists about safety and sharing the road.
Darlene Roblin, MD protective service co-ordinator, said officers are fanning out to popular staging areas for cyclists in the MD to speak with them and hand out brochures.
“We’re just trying to get people to understand that the rules of the road apply to everybody, whether you’re on a bike, whether you’re in a car,” she said. “But, we need people to be patient.”
Roblin said they are seeing a growing number of negative interactions between drivers and cyclists, with most occurring in the MD’s northwest. She said there are some cyclists who don’t obey the rules of the road. At the same time, drivers are impatient and not giving bikes enough space.
“They’re riding two or three abreast, they need to ride single file,” said Roblin. “Then we have motorists who are not slowing down and not thinking, or not believing the cyclists have the right to be on the road, which they do.”
One part of the initiative is to educate cyclists, she said. Anyone riding a bike on highways needs to follow the same rules of the road as other vehicles, and they must ride single file and distracted driving laws apply to bikes as well.
It’s a door that swings both ways, said Roblin, and motorists need to be patient and safe around bikes.
“When you look at the safety aspect, the guy on the bike is going to lose every time,” she said.
Roblin said drivers are often passing too close to cyclists. In cases where there is no shoulder on a road for cyclists to ride on, she said drivers need to wait until it’s safe to pass. She said officers are also conducting patrols, stopping cyclists they see who are not riding single file or drivers who are putting cyclists at risk, as well as motorists who are not driving safely around riders.
So far, Roblin said officers have not handed out any fines, but she said they can ticket cyclists for not riding single file (which can come with a $78 fine).
Tom Maier, with the Highwood Cycling Club, said the MD is taking the wrong approach – it should be educating motorists to drive safely around cyclists.
“The Share the Road program is about educating the motorists about the need to share the road with cyclists respectfully and safely, where the (MD’s) brochure is almost counter to it – it’s aimed solely at cyclists,” said Maier.
Maier said existing cycling legislation should be changed to allow cyclists to ride two abreast on the roads.
Riding single file may be the law, but he said it’s not safe for cyclists and many jurisdictions are changing their laws to reflect it.
“On a club ride we’ll have 20 to 30 riders out, 20 to 30 riders riding single file, that makes it very unsafe for a vehicle to pass 30 riders in a row,” he said.
Maier said one of the biggest problems comes when drivers try to pass cyclists and don’t give them enough room. He said drivers should change lanes to pass cyclists as they would any another vehicle on the road, as is recommended under Alberta Transportation rules.
Cyclists are acutely aware of the importance of safety, said Maier. He said the vast majority of cyclists wear helmets for their own safety and most cyclists these days use lights that are high-visibility LED models.
Many are also turning to technology to improve safety. He has a radar unit on his bike that tells him when a vehicle is approaching and front and rear mounted cameras that record the actions of drivers are becoming more prevalent, he added.
“We’re going to see that be very common… You can easily record the data and catch license plates and show municipal enforcement or RCMP unsafe driving actions,” he said.
Jason Yanota, Highwood Cycling Club member, said he applauds initiatives to make the roads safer, but the MD’s program is not putting enough onus on drivers.
“I don’t see the MD’s enforcement officers putting brochures under people’s windows saying slow down,” he said.
Yanota said they see plenty of aggressive drivers who follow, or pass too close, who honk their horns and make gestures, or spew exhaust near cyclists. This is where the MD should focus its efforts, he said.
“If the intent of the law is to keep cyclists safe, then we need to create a safer environment for cyclists,” he said.