June 12 would have been my sister’s 36th birthday. I say would have been, because five years ago, she was killed by a dump truck while cycling to work in London. I am telling you about this not because I am looking for sympathy—many other readers have lost loved ones to many different causes—but because I have learned some valuable lessons from her loss.
What have I learned? First, that a small group of people, with a specific focus, can make a real difference with a well-thought out and planned campaign. My family members and some friends set up the “See Me Save Me” campaign in the U.K. to try to address the fact that big trucks have blind spots and simply cannot see other road users in many situations. The campaign took us to the European Parliament, where we persuaded a majority of members of the European Parliament to support a call for change in the law. We worked with the mayor of London, with parliamentarians across the U.K., and as a result of that work, changes to big truck design in Europe are now being discussed. To be clear, those changes don’t just benefit cyclists—they also benefit pedestrians and other road users.
Second, most road users do not want to be “bad road users”. Rather, most road users want to be safe, and want other road users to be safe. That means that they are open to learning how they can be better cyclists, drivers, and pedestrians, if they are given the opportunity to do so. There will always be selfish road users of all persuasion—but if we focus on helping those who want to do better, then we can make our roads safer to everyone.
Third, education and cooperation are far better ways of achieving change than argument and confrontation. We all use the road—whether as car drivers, as cyclists, as pedestrians, as large truck drivers, as bus drivers, and as passengers. Our campaign arranged for large truck drivers to spend 20 minutes riding a bike, and for cyclists to sit in the cab of a large truck for a journey. In each case, those road users learned through that experience, and thought more about how to change their behaviour. Education is often more effective than laws and regulations in changing how we all act.
So what would I like to see? First, I think that more education for all road users should be made available in Vancouver. Examples include spending more time teaching kids in school the rules of the road and how to ride a bike safely. Safe cycling and safe road use courses should be offered through our community centres, so that new residents of Vancouver and those who want to know more have the opportunity to learn. Both VPD and ICBC could be asked if they can assist with such programs, and I am sure that there are volunteers across the city who would be prepared to help out.
Second, let’s each take a few moments to think about our own road-use and what modifications we could make. Three seconds checking your phone, not paying attention, or rushing to make a light—what could be the impact on others?
Third, take the time to engage. Every cyclist knows car users. Every pedestrian knows someone who rides a bike. Every skateboarder and roller-blader has friends who drive. Talk to your friends and neighbors about their experiences—because when we talk to each other, when we learn from each other, we can all be better road users.