Cyclists commuting to work in Whitehorse’s winter darkness must now have a white headlight and red tail light on their bikes and can’t ride on sidewalks anymore.
But they’re also getting a little more protection from impatient motorists. The changes are part of the city’s updated bicycle bylaw, which council passed unanimously on Monday night.
“I’m very happy with the refreshing of this bylaw,” said Coun. John Streicker.
“We know there are more cyclists out there, including in the wintertime. It’s growing. The potential for conflict is always high. It’s really great that we get out ahead of this in a proactive way and promote it in the same way and minimize those conflicts,” Streicker said.
Under the new law, there are two exceptions to the no-sidewalk rule. Children under 12 are still allowed to ride on sidewalks outside the central business district, and cyclists can use sidewalks when the shoulder of the road or bike lane is blocked by snow or ice.
If a cyclist does ride on a sidewalk at night, however, they had better pay careful attention to their speed. Passing a pedestrian at anything other than “ordinary walking speed” carries a $50 fine.
That caused some consternation among council in discussion before the vote.
“How can you not go faster than someone who is walking?” asked Coun. Dave Stockdale. “If you’re not going faster than the person walking, you’re never going to pass them.”
“I figured that question would come up,” said bylaw services’ Dave Pruden. “We tried to give cyclists some parameters.”
“Ordinary walking speed” is considered anything slower than jogging, Pruden explained.
Stockdale also asked whether there had been a legal review of the new bylaw, wondering what might happen if someone’s actions under the bylaw were questioned in court.
There was no legal review, Pruden said, because this type of bylaw would be no different than a noise bylaw, and infractions aren’t criminal.
For example, if there were an accident involving a cyclist that wound up in court, the speed restrictions under the bylaw won’t matter.
“The courts are going to use their own discretion for what a reasonable rate of speed would be,” Pruden said.
Coun. Jocelyn Curteanu pointed out that even with this new bylaw in place, the rules of the road still apply to everyone, including both drivers and cyclists.
The new bylaw also requires motorists to have at least one metre of space between them and a cyclist when passing. Drivers are also forbidden from driving or parking in bike lanes.
Cyclists can’t tow anything behind a bike except a bicycle trailer, which must have a red reflector or an orange flag on its rear and kids can’t exceed the manufacturer’s occupancy limit.
Most cyclist-related fines under the act are $50 for everything from not wearing a helmet to failing to give an audible signal when passing another user on a trail.
If motorists breach the bylaw, they could get slapped with a $100 fine. Anyone who fails to comply with a bylaw officer will face the heaviest penalty of $300 under the new bylaw.
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