Whenever an outdoor activity like bicycling is adapted from one environment to another there are certain to be problems and challenges. One would hesitate to ride a racing bicycle with skinny tires on rugged country trails or gravel roads. The design of relatively wide, high-tread tires for mountain bikes is ideally suited for off road biking on dirt trails where uneven trails, soft dirt, and even downed tree branches which could simply be navigated or run over and through. If these bikes can handle country roads and trails, one would expect that cyclists would easily be able to safely ride on city streets, particularly on a mountain bike. Of course, city streets should also be user friendly for racing bikes, which were originally designed for paved roads.
Unfortunately, Toronto streets, with the largest streetcar system in North America, are not very accommodating for cyclists. Today, both mountain bikes and racing bikes are being used for "urban" purposes like commuting to and from work, but cyclists are finding an unanticipated hazard in their way.
Streetcar Tracks Prove Hazardous
Toronto streets were designed to accommodate motor vehicles and pedestrians, but bicycle safety wasn't a foremost consideration let alone a priority of the original city planners. Slotted storm and sewer grates, parked cars, and various motor vehicle traffic all pose significant bicycle safety concerns. One of the more deadly attributes for cyclists of Toronto street design is the more than 80km of streetcar tracks that crisscross the city's streets. These tracks are unlike a common train track that protrudes above the ground. Streetcar tracks are grooved into the pavement and are of a width making it easy for a cyclist's tires to become stuck in them.
According to the Globe and Mail on July 26, 2016, a joint study by Ryerson University and U.B.C. discovered that about one-third of the nearly 300 annual urban bicycle accidents that occurred in Toronto involved streetcar tracks, and most of the injured cyclists were experienced bikers. These accidents typically resulted when the bike tires got caught in the area between the grooved track and the pavement, or when the tires simply slipped on the tracks.
These accidents can happen to anyone, experienced and novice cyclists alike. An August 29, 2016 Macleans article, The Best Ever, featuring Canada's most decorated swimmer, Penny Oleksiak, reports that Penny's bike tire got caught in a streetcar track while she was cycling in Toronto, which resulted in a shattered elbow only weeks before she was scheduled to compete in the world junior swimming championships.
Most Toronto cyclists are acutely aware of the hazard that getting stuck in streetcar tracks pose to them and do everything they can to avoid them. The problem is when a cyclist tries to avoid a collision with a car or even with an unexpected pedestrian who steps into their path, the bicyclist may be forced onto the streetcar tracks. Many streetcar track-bicycle accidents happen when a cyclist swerves to avoid a parked car when the driver doesn't first look before pulling out, or in an attempt to circumvent an accident when a driver or passenger who doesn't look before opening their door to step out. After avoiding one type of accident, a cyclist may find themselves a victim of another potentially more serious one. Riding into a streetcar flange can act as an instant brake on the front wheel causing the cyclist to be unavoidably thrown over the handlebars, which may result in serious injury for the cyclist particularly if they are travelling at a brisk speed.
Due to the hazard of Toronto's streetcar tracks, there have been a record number of bicycle accidents serious enough to require emergency room visits. Injuries to cyclists have ranged from cuts and bruises to traumatic head injuries, and even death. Concussions, broken arms, and serious back and neck injuries have resulted from streetcar-bicycle accidents. According to a 2011 study, Toronto is the most dangerous Canadian city in which to ride a bike. In 2010, 1,145 cycling accidents occurred in Toronto. Some of the most common causes of accidents reported are being side-swiped by cars travelling in the same direction and being ‘doored’ when parked car doors are suddenly opened into the path of an unsuspecting cyclist.
Changes in the ways our communities are designed could reduce the likelihood of biking accidents such as those caused by streetcar tracks. Bike lanes that are physically separated from motor vehicle traffic, protected intersections, and dedicated paths for streetcars are some of the ideas proposed for preventing injuries on tracks, according to the Ryerson-U.B.C. report.
Studies are currently being conducted on how to make operating a bicycle safer on the streets of Toronto. Suggested solutions range from designing a special bicycle tire that won’t get stuck in the tracks to narrowing the groove on which a streetcar runs. A fatter or wider tire is less likely to get caught in the grove; however, bike shop staff are less likely to recommend the wider tires as they are less efficient and slower, and are still at risk of getting caught. (Ideally, one requires a tire that is wider than both a sewer grate and streetcar groove). Most urban bikes on the market today have addressed the need to carry emergency items in rear saddle bags (including tire pumps) and stress the need for a comfortable commute with ergonomically designed seating and handle bars; however, it doesn’t appear that any bike manufacturers are as yet designing a wider, urban-friendly tire.
If you were injured in a cycling accident, due to the negligence of a motorist forcing you onto streetcar tracks or by causing a collision in another way, you may be able to claim compensation. Call a Toronto Personal Injury Lawyer to find out about the strength of your claim. Initial consultation is usually free and you are under no obligation to proceed with a claim.
The Best Ever, Macleans, August 29,2016 Issue