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Recent road deaths spur call for protected bike lanes, harsher penalties for drivers

'We have the data, we know where we need to make areas safer,' says cycling safety advocate
The bike lane along North Shore Boulevard, near the area where a cyclist was struck and killed last week. Advocates are calling for better protection and harsher penalties for drivers who injure cyclists.

Following the death of an 81-year-old cyclist in a hit-and-run last week and the death of an 8-year-old girl who was walking outside of a Burlington school at the beginning of May, people are wondering what has to be done to keep Halton streets safe. 

According to Halton Police data, there have been 16 deaths on Halton roads since May of last year, a number that Dave Shellnutt, known as The Biking Lawyer, says is almost to be expected.

“It’s shocking, it’s obviously terrible for the families, but it’s not at all surprising,” Shellnutt says. 

There were only seven fatal collisions in Halton in 2021, and eight in 2020, according to Halton's annual police reports.  

The number of injuries and deaths amplifies the immensity of the work that needs to be done in order to make Halton roads safer, Shellnutt says. It’s up to municipalities to build the infrastructure that would keep pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers safe.

“We have the data, we know where we need to make areas safer, reduce speeds and building the right infrastructure is one way,” Shellnutt says. 

Shellnutt himself is an avid cyclist who has been hit by a driver who failed to indicate, and turned into a painted bike lane. 

He fell to the ground and broke his wrist and elbow. 

“If that had been a protected corner, or if there was a divider that made it impossible for the driver to turn, I would not have been injured,” Shellnutt says. 

Infrastructure is at the forefront of conversations around pedestrian safety for many cycling enthusiasts. 

The area where the cyclist was killed last week, on North Shore Boulevard near the QEW overpass, had recently undergone a renovation, but no changes were made to the cycling infrastructure, Nick Morrison, founder of Safe Streets Halton says. 

“Cyclists are right next to cars with no protection, it’s just a line, paint is not infrastructure,” Morrison says. “The municipality could raise the bike lane, making it much more difficult for a car to get to it, and people are safe. Or at least put down some temporary bollards until that can be done.”

Halton isn’t the only area where these types of incidents are on the rise, though Morrison says it’s entirely possible that people are paying more attention now than ever before. 

People who work from home are able to check the news or their phones while on a break, which could make them more aware than they were while commuting. Although the number of incidents is still too high for an organization like Safe Streets Halton to manage. 

“When looking at the police reports themselves, it’s been hard to get any information going through a freedom of information request,” Morrison says. “We need a more efficient way of going about this because the past few weeks, just since March, so many people have died and we have a lot to get through. It’s not sustainable.”

Another option is harsher penalties for injuring someone while driving. Shellnutt has seen people hit by doors, drivers cutting across bike lanes, and construction companies making roads unsafe for pedestrians and cyclists. 

He has also had to work with a number of grieving families. 

Shellnutt specifically mentions the Protecting Vulnerable Road Users Act, an NDP bill that is still yet to be passed by both Liberals and Conservatives, but does have support on both sides of the aisle. 

“People need to know that if you harm someone while you’re behind the wheel, it has consequences, and right now it feels like there aren’t any,” Shellnutt says. 

On Thursday morning, a 42-year-old North York woman was charged with failure to stop after an accident resulting in death and careless driving causing death, in relation to the 81-year-old cyclist who was killed one week ago. 

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Chris Arnold

About the Author: Chris Arnold

Chris Arnold has worked as a journalist for half a decade, covering national news, entertainment, arts, education, and local features
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