Gaelen Merrit’s Open Letter to Waterloo Region Record

My <Gaelen Merrit> open letter to Waterloo Region Record:

I am writing this letter in response to Paige Desmond’s article regarding the recent abolition of the “no cycling two abreast” bylaw in the Region (…/6688588-side-by-side-cycling-gets-…), and in general the majority of articles written by this newspaper on the topic.

The article does not provide an opinion/quote from a) a qualified expert on the subject or b) the opinion of someone most affected by this change – a cyclist! In fact, the only quotes are doomsday reckoning “cyclists will be dead right” and “we already have it hard enough with cyclists riding single file!” types.

You do realize the inflammatory nature of these articles do NOTHING to a) remove the completely unnecessary tension between the motorist and the cyclist that all too often results in the cyclist being “dead right”, b) educate all parties on what ACTUALLY is safest or c) encourage more people to lose their car dependency and increase the share of sustainable transportation in the region.

So here I am, providing you with some fact/evidence based content, and providing you with the opinion of a cyclist who spends more time riding regional roads on the bike than most people drive.

FACT: The highway traffic act does not prohibit two abreast cycling. The OPP has made this ruling in many jurisdictions ON THE BASIS THAT RIDING TWO ABREAST IS SAFER – for these (and many more) reasons:

a. Long single file lines cannot communicate or move as a unit to help drivers pass (think like a game of telephone).

b. Long single file lines cannot maintain a perfectly straight line and will unknowingly wave/swerve into traffic during a pass (think like a “snaking” effect).

c. Long single file lines force motorists to pass over longer distances and at higher speed.

Point c here can’t be stressed enough. It’s the law (for good safety reasons) that motorists must give at least a meter of passing space, and when they can’t give that, they have to wait until it’s safe to do so. So, on regional two lane roads this means the motorist has to at least put some of their vehicle in the oncoming lane to pass the cyclist. So, it follows then that you need to pass cyclists the same way you pass a tractor, Mennonite buggy, or a slower moving car – wait until it’s safe to move into the oncoming lane, and pass them. Why motorists don’t mind waiting behind all other vehicles but blare the horn, curse, threaten, throw objects and in some extreme cases actually physically run cyclists off the road, is in part DIRECTLY attributable to the inflammatory journalism this paper engages in.

FACT: The Waterloo Regional Police have acknowledged that they support the OPP’s interpretation of the highway traffic act, and therefore agree that groups of cyclist travelling two abreast is the safest option. They have confirmed that they will not enforce the two abreast bylaw in the region since it a) contravenes the HTA and b) it is not an evidence-based bylaw that maximizes safety for all road users.

And now, my opinion from my eyes on the ground: I am one of Ontario’s top road racing cyclists, and I commute year round by bike to/from work. Last year I rode 23 000 km outdoors, the vast majority of it on regional roads. In rain, shine, snow, day, night, whatever. I can tell you from my experience the greatest threat to my safety on the road is the entitled motorist who reads your articles(and your comments section) about this subject and interprets the cyclists riding in front of them to be a radical fringe special interest minority group fighting insidiously through political channels to obtain more than their “fair share.” They see this as a threat, and as such respond with aggression, misguided (and highly illegal) vigilantism and as such the most vulnerable road user is further victimized. I also see coworkers, friends and family all saying they want to try riding to work/getting groceries etc. but don’t because of the way they expect to be treated by motorists.

The media is a very powerful tool, and the way this paper writes about cyclists directly endangers me on the road. That one quote from Les Armstrong in the article pointed out that “drivers and cyclists need an education program for this to work.” Guess what? YOU could be a part of that education process. YOU could write about just why cyclists are fighting for this two abreast bylaw to be removed (I even gave you the answers listed above). YOU could acknowledge that a group of cyclists riding in a pace line are simply enjoying the same rights that the motorist enjoys, and that writing that “they’ll be dead right” is victim blaming at its finest, and that brand of journalism absolves the motorist of all actual personal accountability for the way they treat cyclists on the road. YOU could acknowledge that the bike in reality already owns just as much of the road as the car and the Mennonite buggy and the tractor, and the change in behavior needs to come from the less vulnerable road user or else we’re going to a) continue putting cyclists in coffins regardless of what laws we pass or abolish and b) have a hard time getting people to try sustainable transportation in the region.

Thanks for reading.

Link to the Record Article –



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