Today is the day opposition MP Olivia Chow introduces to parliament the issue of side guards for trucks on Canadian streets. Most sensible citizens, whether a part of pro-bicycle lobbies or not, will agree that such guards will improve safety for cyclists and pedestrians, and may in fact save lives. The side guards cannot prevent a truck from colliding with anyone or anything, but they can prevent those people or things from falling beneath the truck’s wheels. This can only be seen as a positive thing.
The current government has already pooh-poohed the proposal, a decision supported by Transport Canada and the Canadian Trucking Alliance, citing lack of significant evidence the side guards will save lives. They propose instead to increase the number of bike lanes, and develop education campaigns—presumably for cyclists, not motorists.
Both sides, to some degree, have a point. Yes, side guards can improve safety. But at an average installation cost of $800 per truck, there is virtually no chance this legislation will pass. Ever. During the second Great Depression, the last thing the government is going to do is force truck drivers and trucking companies to shell out that sort of cash for what they perceive as a “specialty” problem that has not been proven “empirically.” It’s a contentious topic at the moment because a pregnant mother was recently cut down on the streets of Toronto by a truck that didn’t see her until it was too late. There is little doubt a side guard could have saved the woman’s life. The issue becomes all the more sensitive in the face of such a tragic loss.
In the midst of our grief, let’s not forget the current mayor of Toronto is actively removing bicycle lanes from city streets, because he is a “car guy” who resents the presence of bicycles on his roads. If the mayor were a different sort of man, perhaps a new bike lane might have saved that woman’s life. Perhaps, just perhaps, even a bicycle safety campaign might have made a difference, even though, by all accounts, this woman was a safe and experienced city-street cyclist. What if Toronto took a page from Montreal and banned righthand turns on red lights? There are any number of ways the streets could be made safer.
My point is this: some things are good for the “show,” will get you some press, if that’s what you’re after. Pursuing legislation to force trucks to install side guards is a showy waste of time and energy, because it is doomed from start to finish. Politicos and lobbyists need to pick battles that they have a chance of winning. Why not introduce a bill forcing manufacturers to install side guards in all new trucks coming off the assembly line? It worked for seat belts and daytime running lights. The onus of safety goes to the manufacturer, who can hardly afford to deny the safety benefit—at least not publicly. It may take years, but it could happen.
In the end, we have to realize there is no way to make roads one hundred percent safe for everyone. Accidents will happen, some due to human error, others to engineering or infrastructure shortcomings. All we can do is be as careful as possible (I’m talking to you, too, taxi drivers and bicycle couriers!), and seek plausible, realistic changes. It serves nobody to expel a lot of steamy rhetoric, when it’s simply going to disperse harmlessly into the ozone. As I said earlier: pick battles you can win.
And remember to get out and vote at election time. Toronto is learning the hard way what it means to elect an angry buffoon to office. The next cyclist to get creamed on Jarvis Street might have grounds to sue the current mayor for spending tax dollars to remove brand new bike lanes from that busy road, thus endangering life and limb. Let’s hope it doesn’t come to that.
Drive safe, people.