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MCDONALD: Making cyclists follow the rules of the road is a good thing — for cyclists

December 15, 2017 - 12:15 PM

 


OPINION


Okay, it’s not official yet but Kelowna could soon see a colourful fleet of share bikes on downtown streets.

Kelowna’s transportation planners are recommending the city try out a bikeshare program as a pilot next spring, so there’s a good chance downtown drivers will soon be sharing the roads with a bunch of neon-coloured bikes.

News technology means bikeshare programs no longer rely on central docking locations so you could see clumps of these bikes parked at virtual “havens” all over downtown.

Common in bigger centres, bikeshare programs aren’t new but have had mixed success. Technology has now solved most of their biggest problems but one problem continues to plague them — bike helmets.

Rental helmets require constant monitoring for impact cracks and have problems with hygiene. They tend to get lost, companies don’t like dealing with them and no one wants to wear them anyway.

Like many jurisdictions with bikeshare programs, Kelowna has a bike helmet law and could theoretically require any company running a pilot bikeshare program to provide helmets.

But instead they will sidestep the problem, and their own bylaw, by putting the onus on the user to provide their own helmet.

Most won’t, and you can bet Kelowna bylaw and RCMP will be told not to bother anyone on a neon-coloured bike (not that they give out many helmet law tickets anyway).

Kelowna’s bike helmet bylaw provides for a $35 fine for anyone found riding a bike without a helmet. There are a number of exceptions. Accommodation of religious headgear is one. Strangely, having a head circumference of 64 centimetres is another but for all the enforcement of the helmet bylaw that actually happens in Kelowna, we might as well all have heads that big.

From what I’ve seen over the years, the bike helmet law in Kelowna is used more as a control tool for young people and the homeless downtown than as safety enforcement

Just about anyone else could ride circles around a Kelowna police cruiser with no helmet and little fear of even getting one of the miniscule fines on the books.

I have my legs in both worlds, as a cyclist and a driver (and I see the bad behaviour on both sides).

My contention has always been cycling laws need to be properly enforced, helmet laws too, so that cycling and cyclists will be taken seriously and not just viewed as their own worst enemies.

I would even consider licensing cyclists as bikes can be as deadly as cars when operated improperly. Just look at the number of ghost bikes around town.

Without enforcement of bike laws — starting with helmets, but extending to their operation on city streets — cycling will always struggle to find the respect it needs to be taken seriously as transportation. Go to any bike country (like Holland) and you will find what gets people onto bikes is the reliability and predictability of the bike network.

Kelowna, more than most, needs to get people out of their cars.

This city has made great strides in recent years with its bike network and has seen the light on cycle tracks — completely separated paths for cyclists.

It’s time to start seriously regulating cyclists.

— John McDonald is a long-time reporter, editor and photographer from the Central Okanagan with a strong curiosity about local affairs. You can reach him at jmcdonald@infonews.ca.


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