Local cyclists give differing opinions on road safety

Not all cyclists agree on what qualifies as safe riding practices, but you'd be hard pressed to find a serious cyclist with a flippant attitude towards the subject. Across Canada, road safety is in the minds of bike riders after four cyclists were killed in Quebec in two separate incidents last week.

Not all cyclists agree on what qualifies as safe riding practices, but you’d be hard pressed to find a serious cyclist with a flippant attitude towards the subject.

Across Canada, road safety is in the minds of bike riders after four cyclists were killed in Quebec in two separate incidents last week.

The second fatal accident, which involved a drunk driver and the death of a 57-year-old male cyclist, occurred on Saturday, the night before Yukon’s VeloNorth Cycling Club held its first road race of the season.

Making the deaths all the more relevant – especially the first three that occurred on a road with little or no shoulder – Sunday’s VeloNorth event took place on the North Klondike Highway, which has less than generous shoulders for cyclists.

“We have shoulders of varying widths here in Whitehorse, from the extreme of the new Robert Service extension to out here on the North Klondike that has a narrower shoulder,” said VeloNorth president Scott Kerby. “Bottom line, it’s both motorists and cyclists exercising caution and attention to what’s happening around them.”

When pressed for an example of dangerous location for cyclists in the Whitehorse area, Kerby and other VeloNorth riders identified the South Klondike Highway to Carcross as a trouble spot.

“It doesn’t really have a shoulder,” said Kerby. “If it had a paved shoulder, it would offer greater safety.”

However, not everyone is so quick to gloss over Whitehorse’s downtown core.

“I feel the whole town sucks for bike lanes personally,” said Contagious Mountain Bike Club president Devon McDiarmid, who identifies the Two Mile Hill area as a particular hazard to cyclists.

“It’s a huge problem area,” he said. “There’s bike paths on both sides, but the problem is the bike path coming down the hill, – if you’re coming down the hill on the (north) side, it’s really curvy, and if you had a kids stroller or kids trailer, they could potentially disconnect from the bike.

“Also, that shoots you into a high-speed merge lane. So people coming up from Industrial Road, heading up Two Mile Hill, they always pick up speed there to get up the hill. So you have an intersection where cyclists are picking up speed going downhill and drivers going up the hill. That’s a horrible spot.

“If you ride downhill on the (south) side, the bike path just stops. There’s no safe finish for the cyclists.”

McDiarmid also points to another intersections at the bottom of the hill. Heading along Fourth Avenue towards the Two Mile Hill, just before reaching the Second Avenue intersection, the bike path suddenly ends as it approaches a turnoff onto Second Avenue for motorists.

“It forces the rider to go right into the traffic,” said McDiarmid. “No one knows what to do there.

“That’s just my own opinion, I’m not speaking for the Contagious Mountain Bike Club. Those are just my own observations.”

On the other side of the downtown core is another accident waiting to happen, said McDiarmid. The Robert Campbell Bridge into Riverdale hardly provides room for two lanes of automobiles, leaving no room for cyclists. Those who ride their bicycles across the bridge on the sidewalk face fines.

“Where are you suppose to ride?” said McDiarmid. “If you ride over the bridge on the road, drivers get pissed, and there is a sign on the bridge saying you can not ride on the sidewalk!”

Sectioning off a strip along a road is not always a perfect approach, if other considerations are not taken into account, said VeloNorth member Bruce Henry.

“Where they put the bike path downtown is bad,” said Henry. “The path shouldn’t be down Fourth Avenue, it should be down Sixth, or something. Being beside parked cars where doors open, is no place for a bike path.”

Of course road safety extends past bike paths, helmets and awareness of one’s surroundings. The condition of the roads is also a factor.

“I’ve been involved with the sport for 10 years now, I would give kudos to the government for sweeping early, they sweep the shoulders and make an effort to accommodate cyclists,” said Henry. “And they allow cyclists to train and race on the road and I think it’s really a positive thing.

“I think the shoulders here are better than in most places.

“(My son Troy Henry) trains in Calgary and they are every bit as good as they are there – and better than BC.”

Between 2003 and 2007, 291 cyclists were killed on Canadian roads. Just over 7,000 cyclists are injured in road accidents every year in Canada.

According to Stephen Ball, winner of VeloNorth Cycling Club’s first road race of the season on Sunday, even with bike lanes, the onus of avoiding accidents still lies with the motorists.

“Having a shoulder is great, but sometimes it makes the drivers go close to you – they won’t go around,” he said. “Sometimes it’s almost worse having a shoulder.

“I think it’s more driver education than anything else.”

Contact Tom Patrick at

tomp@yukon-news.com