By: Gurpreet Kambo, News Team Member
SFU’s Burnaby campus and its cycling community was shaken by the death of a cyclist last month on Burnaby Mountain. On June 29, Charles Masala, 53, passed away while riding his bicycle at Gaglardi Way and University Drive East. Masala was a well-known local engineer and father of two. In light of the unfortunate tragedy, The Peak spoke to members of the SFU community to discuss cyclist safety on Burnaby Mountain.
“While the recent tragic cyclist accident occurred off-campus and does not seem to be linked to members of the SFU community, the safety of our community members is very important to us, and Safety & Risk Services is reviewing cyclist safety practices on Burnaby campus,” said Angela K. Wilson, SFU’s senior director of media relations and public affairs. “SRS has a role in promoting campus safety, [and] that includes traffic safety, which includes cyclists as well as pedestrians. SFU’s land area of responsibility is within and including the Burnaby campus perimeter ring roads, outside that area would fall under the City of Burnaby’s jurisdiction.”
Under the Motor Vehicle Act, cyclists are governed by the same rules as vehicle users in terms of road usage.
“We will be reviewing the recent crash to identify the factors that led to it and any immediate changes that may be required,” said the City of Burnaby in a statement to the Burnaby Now. The city currently has no plans to add protected bike routes on Gaglardi Way or University Drive.
While both the City of Burnaby and SFU are reviewing the incident to determine if there are necessary changes to be made, SFU’s vibrant cycling community was shaken by the death of Masala. They, too, have been given reason to reflect on the safety of a cycling commute to and from campus.
“It hasn’t been as safe as it could be,” said Melanie Hiepler, a world literature student. “[ . . . ] I’ve had a few close calls. One particular encounter with a dump truck comes to mind: it was going extremely fast, and it passed by so close that I could have touched it. Buses are also a concern sometimes.”
The Peak also spoke to various SFU professors who are part of SFU’s cycling community, such as Dr. Ben Adcock, a professor in mathematics, who noted that the accident “gave him a lot of pause.”
“That one hit quite close to home because I did cycle that way quite a lot. It’s fairly steep [and] it’s possible to go pretty fast,” Adcock said.
“What’s meant to be the bike lane going down is nowhere near wide enough. When I cycle down Burnaby Mountain, I tend to take a whole lane by myself, especially on Gaglardi, which is faster, and there’s more traffic,” he continued. “After this person was killed, there was a call for a proper separated bike lane [in a local paper], and that absolutely needs to be there.”
Another professor in the department of mathematics, Dr. Amarpreet Rattan, finds riding down Burnaby Mountain scary. “I don’t like to go too fast. I ride braking a lot on the way down. The place where I feel least safe is actually on [Burnaby Mountain]. There’s a few spots when you’re going up the hill, where traffic comes quite close to you.” Rattan said.
The proximity of traffic to cyclists was a recurring concern among members of SFU’s cycling community. Mathematics professor Dr. J.F. Williams pointed out that changing car designs have actually made roads less safe for cyclists and pedestrians.
“[There are] more SUVs, bigger vehicles, more vehicles that have limited visibility, that are designed to protect the passengers of the vehicle at all costs,” says Williams. “The number of people killed on the roads is more or less constant in the past decade in the U.S. The partition has really changed though: people in cars are safer, people outside of cars are less safe.”
Williams also suggested that although the cycling infrastructure in Metro Vancouver has improved, much of it “was clearly laid out by people looking at a map who weren’t necessarily cyclists,” adding that he found it to be “very clear [ . . . ] that whoever designed this has never ridden a bicycle.” He also noted that Gaglardi Way is very narrow and it would be expensive to get a separate bike lane.
Despite the cost, Hiepler agreed that separate bike lanes are one way to improve safety.
“Gaglardi Way is narrow in some places, which puts cyclists very close to vehicle traffic. Factor in wind and vehicles’ excessive speeds, and it can quickly feel scary,” she said. “Some drivers are very courteous and move into the left lane when they pass me, but many just whiz by. I often don’t hear them coming, so it’s startling. Separate protected bike lanes would make for a much safer commute.”
Protecting cyclists is an issue beyond SFU as well. The Peak spoke to Amelia Potvin, Executive Director of the Greater Victoria Bike to Work Society, about basic cycling safety. The society is a non-profit that promotes cycling as a means of transportation, including providing courses on urban cycling skills and safety.
“The concept of sharing the roads with vehicles is quite complex,” said Potvin. “The key principles of safe cycling, we break them down to MVPC. Maneuverability, visibility, predictability, and communication.” (see below)
With regards to cycling on a mountain, such as at SFU, Potvin suggested that cadence, or the speed of a cyclist’s pedaling, is really important. “You want to keep that up to a fair pace, because as soon as you start to not pedal fast enough, you become less stable and you lose balance a little,” she said.
However, Potvin added that the responsibility should not solely rely on cyclists, who are the more vulnerable ones on the road.
“I think it’s also important to flip this conversation onto the responsibility of motor vehicle drivers,” she argued. “After all, the cyclist does have the right to use the road [and] it’s the motorist’s responsibility to pass safely. It’s important for motor vehicle drivers to also understand their responsibilities and the risks they’re taking by driving at high speeds.”
THE 4 BASICS OF BIKING
According to Amelia Potvin, the Executive Director of the Greater Victoria Bike to Work Society, basic cycling safety can be broken down into four principles.
- Leave your options open so that you can maneuver to avoid potential hazards.
- See and be seen.
- The Motor Vehicle Act requires that you have both rear and front lights.
- Wear reflective elements to help yourself be seen.
- Make sure you have sightlines and that you are well-positioned to see along the sightline, to navigate and negotiate traffic conditions.
- Follow the rules of the road.
- As a cyclist, you have the same responsibilities as other road users–they need to be predictable.
- Be aware of body language and avoid impulsive maneuvers.
- There are many ways to communicate with other road users, including pedestrians.
- Shoulder-checking, signalling, using voice, using a bell, and eye contact are all means of communication.