Today I saw small children in a dangerous situation. It was caused by a truck driver who was only thinking about the most important rule of the road – cars CANNOT be blocked. It’s like the old saying about show business – the show must go on. Similarly, the traffic must move. It CANNOT be impeded. Compared to that important tenet, children are almost literally invisible.
This is what happened. I was walking along Hornby Street, right next to the wonderful separated bike lane that Vision Vancouver has installed (despite the protests of businesses that lost a few superfluous parking spots). Ahead of me I spotted a family getting onto bikes they had just rented. A mom and dad, and two small kids. One of the kids was on a trailer bike, the other one – about ten years old – was getting onto his own bike. He was wobbly, but determined.
“How lovely!” I thought. SO wonderful that Vancouver offers bike lanes so safe that people from around the world come to Vancouver with their kids, rent bikes, and ride along our separated bike lanes. I see it frequently. I smiled happily, proud of my city. But as they came towards me, they suddenly veered out of the bike lane and into the two lanes of car traffic on Hornby.
My thoughts went straight from “How lovely!” to “WTF?” I admit I had a second of thinking the father was just not very bright. Then I looked to the right, and realized that he had led his family into the traffic to avoid a moving truck that was blocking the entire separated bike lane. I held my breath as the little boy wobbled next to traffic, but fortunately, they made it.
Then a concerned citizen intervened, explaining very firmly to the driver that he was obstructing a bike lane, and he HAD to move. The driver was just honestly bewildered. “But I can’t block the cars!” he said. This very short video captures the moment when the driver said those unfortunately-way-too-common words.
I don’t think this driver had even NOTICED he was in a bike lane. I am quite certain he did not notice any of the people he was endangering, including that little boy. He had a job to do (a move), he had to park, and he sure as hell was not going to park on the street and block traffic. Luckily, there was this handy bike lane right there!
As far as this driver was concerned, cars are important – little kids, not so much. And the sad reality is he would probably be more likely to get a ticket for blocking traffic than for blocking children. The truck driver was not a bad person – he was just amazed that there could be a problem with completely blocking the busiest bike lane in Vancouver for hours.
We have more than a century of car-comes-first thinking to overcome, so I don’t find the driver’s amazement amazing at all.
So what can be done? Well, in this instance the fearless concerned citizen did not give up until he got them to move into the appropriate parking spot (the adjacent alley way, which was about ten feet away).
But for future safety, how do we stop drivers from endangering people on bikes in this way? We really don’t want tourist children being killed on our roads! We don’t want ANY children being killed on our roads. We don’t want anybody at all being killed on our roads.
From my point of view, a sign that says “Don’t park in this major bike lane and obstruct and endanger people on bikes! And you will get a huge fine if you do!” seems superfluous. Just like we don’t need a sign saying “Don’t forget to breathe.” However, the point is that we live in an insanely car-centric world. We do not need signs that say “Don’t park in the road and obstruct cars!” because everyone just KNOWS that (like they know they need to keep breathing). However, many people (probably the majority) just do NOT know that the same holds true for bike lanes – only MORE so, because people on bikes are more vulnerable than people in cars. And little kids on bikes are extremely vulnerable.
So as much as I applaud what the City of Vancouver has done with the separate bike lanes, it seems the job is not finished yet. We still need signs that spell out what should be screamingly obvious: “DON’T BLOCK BIKE LANES!”
And one last thing – this was on the exact same day that the Vancouver Police Department thought it would be a good use of their time to lurk at the Art Gallery just a block up the road, and harass people about bike helmets. For crying out loud – the danger to people is NOT the lack of bike helmets, it is the drivers for whom people on bikes are just not people at all. Ticket the drivers who endanger human lives, NOT the people who are improving their health by going for a bike ride!
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