To Kill A Cyclist

Whoops.

That’s all we seem to get. A man is dead. The police have spent eight months investigating. Facts have been reported since day one. No charges will be laid. A collective shrug.

By all accounts, Mario Théoret was not comfortable with his commute. Each day, he travelled 25 km to and from work. His trek would take him along Hunt Club Road, a thoroughfare with an 80 km\hr speed limit and a flimsy painted bike lane to protect him against hurtling chunks of metal. Hunt Club would take his life.

Théoret epitomized goodness. He was devoted to his family, his friends and his community. He did charity work, organizing special events for kids. If you were writing a tragedy, you would never concoct Théoret. His goodness would be unbelievable.

According to reports, Théoret was travelling east on Hunt Club Road, approaching Merivale Road. It was Thursday October 17, 2013. There was a transport truck, also heading east, intending to turn right and head south on Merivale. The truck “right-hooked” Théoret.

If you look at Hunt Club, you will see the bike lane on the north side of the street, adjacent to the right car lane. You will also see a right turn channel just before the intersection with Merivale. Any cyclist in the bike lane will have the right-of-way over a truck looking to turn right.

Looking. Maybe the driver wasn’t looking. Maybe he was, but couldn’t see Théoret. Regardless, it doesn’t really matter. As Théoret rode—legally—towards that intersection, a transport truck crossed his lane, causing a collision, causing a death.

Our city helped kill Mario Théoret. It is ridiculous to think that we could ensure the safety of cyclists on Hunt Club with some buckets of white paint. We built what is, essentially, a freeway cutting through our city; its traffic intermingling with bikes and pedestrians at extra-large intersections. The infrastructure screams the message, this road is for automobiles.

You can’t completely blame motorists for responding to this message. We have created incentives to drive fast, be selfish and treat non-motorists as second-class users. It is natural that when you are told you are the most important thing on the road, you believe it.

This dynamic is not isolated to Hunt Club. We see it throughout our city, in suburbs and downtown, commercial areas and neighbourhoods. We rely on sharrows and road signs to keep cyclists safe from cars. Cycling routes often double as trucking routes.

And our response to safety concerns amounts to little more than condescending lectures about high-visibility clothing.

Wear a helmet. Use reflective tape. Ride in designated bike lanes. None of this saved Mario Théoret when a truck crossed his lane. And though city infrastructure and political myopia facilitated the death of Théoret, it was the truck driver who killed him, and our justice system needs to admit it.

I have no doubt that the driver feels terrible. Most of us would if we were involved in such a terrible incident, but the driver’s feelings should not be valued over Théoret’s life. It is too easy to kill a cyclist and get away with it. We don’t want to punish someone for an accident; but these incidents strain the definition of the word. It may have been unintended, but that does not absolve responsibility.

If you shoot someone by accident, it is still a crime. When you are on a bike, with traffic speeding inches away from you, every car is a loaded gun. Every driver could take your life in a split second. If it was you, what would you want people to say?

Whoops?

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