Julie Sawchuk's July 27 letter to 'The Citizen'
Training alone on a bicycle gives one a lot of time to think. I first started to script this “Letter to the Editor” in my head last summer, while out on my bike on the roads in Huron County. I wanted to write because I was thankful for the polite and considerate drivers who slowed down and gave me (and my bike) enough space to keep traveling safely. Many trucks passed with care, local businesses that I recognized such as Sparling’s Propane, Grey Eggs and Gardener’s Dairy, I thank these drivers for following the traffic laws and passing properly.
Then, in August 2014, I stopped writing this friendly “thank you” letter. Instead, the letter in my head became a “how to pass a cyclist while driving a car” letter. What happened was this: while travelling east on Blyth Road (between Auburn and Blyth) I was passed by a transport truck so closely it made me scream. I was already on the white line on the right side of the road and this truck’s rear tires were also touching the white line. It was a nondescript transport with a white trailer with no identifying markers. Remembering the license plate was not even an option because it scared me so much I could hardly think straight. It really frightened me.
Fast forward to July 27, 2015. I never did write that letter, but now I have to. I went out on my bike on this Sunday afternoon for what was to be a two-hour training ride. I usually ride early in the morning, before the busy daytime traffic, but on this day my time available was in the middle of the afternoon. I was travelling west. I knew there would be a lot of traffic coming east, heading home from the cottage. I was right, but decided to keep my head up and keep going. Not two kilometres into my ride a vehicle travelling east and towing a camper pulled into my lane to pass not one, but two vehicles. This meant that there were vehicles in both lanes coming toward me. The passing vehicle made it into their proper lane only just before they got to where I was on the road. I thought, “Holy cow, what were they thinking?” I may have also given the appropriate hand signal for that kind of inconsiderate driving.
Less than two kilometres later, the same thing happened again – except this time, the car doing the passing was still in my lane as it came by me. I was just on the inside of the white line, had my elbow been out this car would have hit me.
There are many reasons that this scary near-death experience happened. Here are a few: One, people are in a rush – everyone is; Two, drivers of cars and trucks think that they are the ones with the right of way, to hell with cyclists, horses and buggies, and motorcycles; Three, drivers think they can get away with it – and don’t know that killing a cyclist will send them to jail; Four, I was by myself on my bike and perhaps was not a big or bright enough presence on the road.
Say, for example, you were driving behind a vehicle you wished to pass. You pull out enough to see there is a car coming toward you, so you decide to wait. You would do the same thing if there was an oncoming truck, motorcycle or horse and buggy – so why would you not do the same for a cyclist? In no way was I in the wrong. Under Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, a bicycle is a vehicle, just like a car or truck.
I am going to keep riding. On the day this happened I turned around, went home and got on my mountain bike to ride on the rail trail, greenway trail and the back roads where I knew I would be safer.
“Section 148(5) of the Highway Traffic Act says of vehicles overtaking others: Drivers of vehicles including cyclists must overtake on the left. The person overtaken is not required to leave more than one half of the roadway free.”
Share the road.
Julie Sawchuk, Blyth.