My roommate recently had a near collision with a cyclist at the intersection of Mont-Royal and Saint-Urbain. She, as a pedestrian, had the right of way; the cyclist did not. As a morning bike commuter myself, I have seen firsthand some of the liberties cyclists take with traffic laws. This is dangerous. While some cyclists may be occupied with getting to class on time or thinking about work commitments, it only takes a few seconds for a collision and fatal injury to occur. In recent years, Montreal has made efforts to provide the proper infrastructure and safety measures to ensure cyclists can share the road. Cyclists must do their part, too, by abiding by the rules of the road.
In 2013, the Montreal municipal government allocated a $10 million annual budget to invest in new bike paths and make certain sections of the city safer for cyclists. In recent years, there has been significant growth in the number of cyclists in the city, with cyclists now representing 2.9 per cent of morning commuters in Montreal compared to 2.5 percent in Ottawa and 2.2 percent in Toronto in 2015. Many McGill students are part of this demographic. This is progress, and as Montreal makes room for cyclists to share the road, positive benefits flow to all types of commuters.
There is a double standard between vehicles and cyclists, however: The former must follow the rules and largely does so, while the latter often behave as though the rules do not apply to them. I see this type of behaviour on a regular basis; for example, bikers often fail to stop at a red light or refuse to slow down for a pedestrian who has the right of way.
This is concerning. Cyclists operating on the road must abide by traffic laws, because lives are at stake. In a recent opinion piece for the New York Times, Lucy Madison recounts the devastating cycling collision that took her mother’s life on a busy street in downtown Washington, DC. Similarly, here in Montreal, CBC reported a sharp 50 per cent increase in cycling deaths and a 43 percent increase in serious injuries last year. Moreover, a reckless cyclist not only runs the significant risk of injuring themselves, but also of fatally injuring a pedestrian or another cyclist.
The reward of running a red light to save 30 seconds is not worth the increased risk of collision with a vehicle or a pedestrian. One issue is that there is less of an incentive as a cyclist to follow the rules, because the punishments facing cyclists for breaking traffic laws are much less severe compared to those that apply to drivers. For example, a fine for a cyclist that runs a red light is $15 and three demerit points, whereas a fine for running a red light in a vehicle is $100 and three demerit points. This disparity in penalties sends the message to cyclists that their actions are less severe than and cannot do as much damage as those of drivers, but this should not be the case.
Regardless of penalties, there must be a higher incentive for a cyclist to avoid a collision with a vehicle, because logic dictates that the driver of the car will probably be fine, but the cyclist most likely will not. Whether they like it or not, cyclists are operating as vehicles on the road. Road signs and safety precautions are not merely suggestions, but laws that need to be followed in order to ensure the safety of all those within the Montreal community and, correspondingly, McGill. Cyclists can no longer decide the rules don’t apply to them.