The truth about black ice: It hurts

It was a beautiful and sunny day-after-boxing-day. I was riding my Raleigh 21-speed down the steep 8th Avenue hill heading out of the University of British Columbia in Vancouver when I lost control and ended up sliding down pavement on my stomach.

My bike reflector smashed to bits, same goes for my bike light, and I watched for an agonizing two seconds as my two-wheeled companion slid from underneath me over the asphalt.

It pains me to admit it, but the cuts and bruises I received don’t amount to the mental agony I suffered knowing that my spill was completely preventable.

Sure, on a typical day I wiz down hills, reassured that the ground beneath me will have enough traction to keep my rubber firmly on the road. The truth is that, particularly in winter, it’s safer to take nothing for granted.

Canadian statistics show that around 7,500 cyclists are seriously injured each year and close to 70,000 find themselves on hospital beds, as I did.

With this experience I now join the growing number of cyclists that are either killed or injured at an intersection, traffic signal or traffic control sign. Not that that’s a club anyone is excited to join.

I ended up with a pretty serious gash above my right hip, two cut up knees and a destroyed jacket and pair of bike pants.

I was lucky though. It could have been much worse.

Two hundred and sixty-three cyclists were killed between 2000 and 2004 in Canada, according to Statistics Canada. In the United States, 698 died in road accidents in 2007 and more than half a million were treated in hospital emergency rooms. The bulk of these accidents occurred in cities, where I can safely say riding is a significantly more hazard-laden enterprise than it should be.

It happened on a steep hill, in winter, with visible frost on the ground. But, like many others before me, I assumed that I was immune to the effects of winter on roads. Surely someone would salt slippery spots and protect me. Regardless, slipping on black ice is something that happens to other people, not me. I’m invincible.

Back to reality, the road isn’t always what it appears to be. While I might fall into my routine, that kind of habit-forming regularity shouldn’t make me lose sight of the real dangers that exist on the road. Which is why, in retrospect, I can appreciate the foresight of my fellow cyclists who slow down well in advance of an intersection.

While previously I might have seen them as slow-moving obstacles, today I can relate to their precautious approach, something I will hopefully be emulating a lot more in the future.

After all, commuting by bike isn’t a race. It’s something that should be enjoyed at a moderate pace, for a lifetime. I’m glad to still be around to savour the road and the freedom that comes with cycling.

The lesson I’ve learned: exercise caution on the road, doing so could save you several hundred bucks in gear, and a lot of skin.

Transportation is key for a greener Canada

Too many cars on  the road and not enough buses and means for alternative transportation is a common theme in many Metro Vancouver jurisdictions. As I reported in the North Shore News, the top of mind issue for many District of North Vancouver residents is better transportation infrastructure. A principle concern is making roads safer and more accessible. To achieve this, more transportation options need to be made available.

I am all for the bicycle-lift system, Trampe, being considered for parts of North Vancouver’s notoriously steep Lonsdale Avenue. Cyclists could use a little boost on the North Shore.

Separate bike lanes and more car-free zones are likely to ease traffic congestion by getting people out of their cars.

The BC SCRAP-IT program is also a great way to encourage people to trade in their old gas-guzzler for a new electric system for their bikes. Electric assists are an under-reported innovation that is likely to revolutionize how people commute. The issue now is when and how e-bikes will be regulated.

If we are serious about reducing greenhouse gasses in Canada, we have to start changing how we look at transportation – both of people and goods. Transportation accounts for 30 per cent of our greenhouse gas emissions. Another one fifth of Canada’s pollution comes from energy production. According to Environment Canada, we’re losing the battle over fossil fuel pollution from automobiles. Few people are opting totake a bus to get to where they’re going and many more,  it appears, are driving cars with each passing day.

The reality is that a workable alternative to the convenient car has yet to be found. Bicycles are a viable alternative, but the infrastructure that would encourage more people to take a bike is lacking in most cities. Mainly, many people still feel that riding a bike on city streets is unsafe and inconvenient. There are more accessories than ever that can make cycling conducive to modern lifestyles. But, without dedicated pathways – particularly ones that are separate from roads and parked cars – cycling will remain a pursuit for those with enough courage and tenacity to compete for road-space with faster-moving, bigger and heavier vehicles.

The solution? Policy, policy and politics.

It’s going to happen. There is no doubt in my mind that governments are taking a very serious look at how they are going to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, and meet the increasing demand for such action by their constituents. The question is when and how far will policies go?