Cycling Safety and the Law

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Cycling Safely

There are many websites and books that deal with bicycle safety and tips for safe riding in traffic (see the Reading Room). For a good introduction that is tailored to the situation in Calgary, start with the City's Cycling Safety Handbook. Download it, and read it. Here's the short of it:

  • Make sure your bike is in good working order (especially the brakes).
  • Have front and rear lights on your bike if you ride at dusk, night, or in low visibility conditions (rain, fog).
  • Keep a safe distance from the curb and parked cars.
  • Ride predictably, in a straight line
  • Use proper hand signals to indicate turns and lane changes.
  • Stay off the sidewalk.
  • Stop for stop signs and red lights, and always yield to pedestrians.
  • Be alert and careful at intersections, where most collisions happen.
  • Always ride with traffic, on the right side of the road.

Equipment

You should have functioning equipment. Nothing's going to help you if your brake cables tear or your chain falls off at a critical moment. So make sure your bike is well maintained, check your brakes and tire pressure before you leave, and if something doesn't feel right, fix it right away (or have it fixed by a professional). The single most important safety aspect when it comes to cycling in traffic is visibility. When you're riding at night or in low visibility conditions (rain, snow, low light), it is imperative that you have functioning lights. The law requires you to have at least one (but not more than two) white headlights and a red rear light, as well as a red rear reflector. Reflectors in the spokes and on the pedals aren't a bad idea, either. Reflective strips on clothing, packs, ankle straps, are also useful. But remember that on the pathway, there's no windshield between your blaring flashing headlight and other pathway users—so be courteous and turn your lights to steady mode and angle them down. It's a good idea to wear a cycling helmet. It's not required by law, unless you're under 18. Make sure your helmet fits you properly and meets industry safety standards.

Where (Not) to Ride

It is probably obvious that you are safer on quiet neighborhood streets than on busy streets, safer on pathways and in bike lanes than when riding in traffic. Check the route maps to find a suitable cycling route for you. When you are riding in traffic, go in a straight line (no dodging between parked cars) and keep to the right as much as possible but:

  • Keep a safe distance from sewer grates and roadside debris (0.5–1 m from curb).
  • Keep a safe distance from parked cars (1.5-2.0 m) to avoid getting "doored".
  • If necessary, "take the lane", i.e., ride in the middle of the lane, to discourage cars from passing you too closely. If a car could not safely pass you in your lane when you're riding a safe distance from the curb, it shouldn't, and you should not encourage them to do so by hugging the curb.
  • Stay out of right turn only lanes when continuing straight, and make left turns from the proper lane.

Sidewalks and Pathways

Famously, Calgary has one of North America's most extensive pathway networks in North America. Pathways are a relatively safe place to ride a bicycle, as there are no cars (except where pathways cross roads) and pathways are also never adjacent to building entrances or parked cars.  Because pathways are, for the most part, shared with pedestrians (and skaters and runners), you still must exercise caution when using them, especially at night. You should be especially careful when crossing a roadway.  On a bicycle, you do not automatically have the right of way over vehicles on the road you're crossing, unlike as a pedestrian.  If you dismount and walk your bike across an intersection, you're a pedestrian, and have the right of way.  Note that speed on pathways is limited to 20 km/h. 

On the other hand, it is in general dangerous to ride your bicycle on sidewalks, especially where sidewalks cross streets at every block, there are driveways, building entrances, and parked cars. You're liable to hit or get run into by a pedestrian, get hit by an opening car door on the passenger side, or get hit by a car if you bike through crosswalks (drivers can't see you behind the parked cars, won't expect a fast approaching bicycle, and you'll likely be in their blind spot if they turn right across the crosswalk). A very high percentage of car-bike collisions happen at intersections when the cyclist is coming off the sidewalk. In Calgary, it's illegal to ride a bicycle on a sidewalk (unless it's a designated pathway, you are under 14 years old, are delivering newspapers, or are a Peace Officer on duty).

How do you tell if something's a pathway (ok to ride) or a sidewalk that's not a pathway (not ok to ride)?  It's not always obvious, but:

  • If the City's pathway map says so, it's a pathway.
  • If there's a pale blue sign showing a pedestrian above a bicycle, it's a pathway.
  • If it's a walkway on a bridge or overpass that's connected to a pathway, it's a pathway (that includes overpasses at LRT stations and practically all river bidges).
  • If it has a yellow line down the middle, it's a pathway.
  • If it is not adjacent to a road, especially when it's in a park, it's (very likely) a pathway.
  • If it is adjacent to a road, especially when there are parked cars, or immediatey adjacent to buildings, it's (very likely) a sidewalk.

Always obey posted signs, speed limits, and again: be very careful at intersections: motorists won't look for you, sometimes won't be able to see you, and you do not automatically have the right of way in crosswalks like pedestrians do.

Intersections

Intersections are where most collisions happen. The most common types of collisions are the "left cross" and the "right hook". In "right hook" collisions, a cyclist gets hit by a car turning right; in "left cross" collisions by a motorist making a left turn across the cyclist's path.  To avoid them:

  • Position yourself in the centre of the through lane: cars turning right are less likely to pass and turn in front of you, and you're more visible to mtorists coming at you and turning left
  • Stay out of crosswalks as much as possible, but proceed through the intersection as you would in a car
  • Be especially careful when crossing from a pathway that runs on the left side of the road.  Even though you may have a green light, motorists waiting to make a right turn on red will be looking the other way for cross traffic.

Pathways

Cycling on pathways is subject to very much the same rules as regular traffic. You should:

  • Stay on the right, except when overtaking or passing
  • Travel at a safe speed, but in any case under the speed limit of 20 km (10 km in some areas)
  • Don't pass until safe (and never in a tunnel or underpass)
  • Announce your approach by voice ("on your left!") or ringing your bell (but don't startle people)
  • Yield to the right at pathway intersections
  • White front and red rear light when it's dark to see and be seen (as a courtesy to other pathway users, angle your headlight down and set lights to steady on the pathway)

There are numerous resources online to learn about cycling safety, whether you're riding on shared pathways or on the roads. 

Cycling Law

The regulations governing cycling in Calgary are:

According to these rules and regulations,

  • Bicyclists have all the rights and are subject to all the duties of a motorist (RR 75, TBl 41)
  • Cyclists must not ride on sidewalks (TBl 42(1))
  • Bicycles must travel single file (RR 78(a))
  • Bicycles must be equipped with a horn or bell (VER 60, PPBl 44(b)), a brake (VER 113(2); PPBl 44(a)), and, if operated at night, a white headlight, a red taillight and a red rear reflector (VER 113(1), PPBl 44(c)). The lights must be on at night or when visibility is less than 150 m (RR 55(1), PPBl 45(a)). ("Night" means 1/2 hour after sunset to 1/2 hour before sunrise on pathways, and 1 hour after sunset to 1 hour before sunrise on the roads.)
  • Cyclists must ride as close as practicable (i.e., safe and legal) to the right curb (RR 77(1); or left curb if on a one-way street (RR 77(2))
  • Bicycles count as High Occupancy Vehicles (TBL 2(q.2)) and are therefore entitled to the use of HOV lanes.

Comments? Questions?