SULLIVAN: Despite the dangers of the road, it's worth it to cycle

Allow me to let you in on my dirty little secret. I’m a MAMIL. A Middle-Aged Male in Lycra. That’s right; I’m a cyclist. Not just a casual rider, but one of those characters who clips in and pilots his carbon fibre steed on epic weekend rides all around the Lower Mainland.

I’m sharing this not to solicit abuse, although the odds on that front are good, but to ride in solidarity with Mike McIntosh, North Van resident and Simon Fraser librarian who last January  was “doored” along Esplanade and died trying to avoid the collision.

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Ironically, Mike once published a guide to safe cycling between the various Simon Fraser locations.

Getting “doored” is like getting jabbed with the fickle finger of fate. It’s totally random and difficult if not impossible to avoid. You’re riding on the road and you pass a line of parked cars. It’s necessary to stay close to the parked cars because those in motion blow by in frightening proximity. The trouble is, someone in the parked car can and often does just open the door without looking behind for what’s coming.

If you’re a cyclist, there are only two outcomes: One, you slam into the door because you can’t stop or even react on time. Two, you try to swerve to avoid the door. Both are bad outcomes. The worst outcome is what happened to McIntosh, who was run over from behind by a truck.

A terrible tragedy. That it happened to an advocate for safe cycling adds to bitter irony. It’s a tragedy that every cyclist faces every day on the road. You do your best to avoid it, one eye on the road ahead and one scanning for occupants of parked cars about to engage in a thoughtless act of opening the door without looking. It happens all the time. Before I started cycling, I did it too.

This time, though, there’s a difference. And it could be the beginning of a new chapter in the uneasy (and that’s an understatement) co-existence of motorists and cyclists. This past week, charges were laid against the alleged doorist. Apparently, it’s against the law “to open the door of a motor vehicle on the side available to moving traffic unless and until it is reasonably safe to do so.” Who knew? Not many, I suspect. The maximum fine is only $81 (which includes a victim surcharge, which sounds inherently inadequate).

The fine is not the point, really, although if it were a million dollars no one would open a car door without looking first. But someone was charged; it made the news. Maybe now a few more people will look before they swing open the door.

Dooring is just one of the hazards of being a MAMIL. Bike lanes? Pffftt. Dedicated bike lanes set up a false sense of security, only to disappear at pinch points along the road often without warning (Capilano Road). Often, there are parked cars or taxis picking up or dropping off right in the middle of a bike lane. Not long ago, I was cruising down Queens Road and just about smacked into a sign in the middle of the bike lane warning of construction ahead. 

I can guarantee that every person who dons the Lycra has a story in which it was close, very close.

Right now, I can hear the crescendo of outrage from motorists, each with a similar story about boneheaded cyclists who roll through stop signs and red lights, go the wrong way down one-way streets, or ride two or three abreast on a narrow road, completely obstructing traffic.

I’m not going to leap to the defense of the above-mentioned boneheads any more than as a motorist (I’m bi-vehicular), will I defend all the boneheads pushing tonnes of steel up and down the roads at high speeds. We all make mistakes, but my bike weighs 17 pounds, and therefore, is less forgiving.

The most polarizing bike lane in Vancouver, the Burrard Bridge lane, just turned 10 this week. A news report says a million riders a year use that lane and – even more impressive – cycling accounted for 7.3 per cent of all trips in Vancouver last year. It must be clear by now that bikes aren’t going away soon. Wishing it so doesn’t appear to be working.

So, you ask, why do you subject yourself to all these hazards? Is it because you think you look good in those ridiculous MAMIL outfits. Well, no, even I am not that deluded. But there is that bumper sticker that declares: Every bike means one less car. And these days, that’s a meaningful equation. Not only that, you get your heart rate up, whether you want to or not.

Journalist and communications consultant Paul Sullivan has been a North Vancouver resident since the fall of the Berlin Wall and the rise of Madonna.

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