Sharing Isn’t Caring: Shifting Gears on Shared Responsibility

We need to change the conversation on shared responsibility.

This became glaringly clear to me recently, when I came across a social media campaign run by the Waterloo Regional Police, called #CareToShare. When I first saw the educational video pop up on my Twitter feed, I was excited to see what they had come up with.

I felt that if anyone understood the plight of the cyclist in Kitchener-Waterloo, it would be the police, given that they’re fully aware of the dangerous driving cyclists have to contend with on our streets:

Tip 3 in the video states that cyclists “should ride as far to the right shoulder on the road as possible”…while the police officer narrating the video is hugging the curb on a sharrowed road in Downtown Kitchener:

This advice is not only wrong, but it adds confusion to how sharrows should be used, and ultimately could put cyclists in harm’s way. The City of Kitchener’s website clearly states: “sharrows in the middle of the traffic lanes indicate that cyclists may take the full lane and reminds drivers to share the road with cyclists.”

I don’t believe sharrows are effective, and are a cop out from the municipalities that implement them. To me, it says, “we know separated bikelanes should be on this street, but here’s some paint instead”. Paint won’t do much to protect me from an angry driver operating a one ton weapon. Unfortunately, sharrows are all we have when it comes to cycling “infrastructure” on the streets of downtown Kitchener. As advised by the City, I take the lane when I ride on them. It’s quite evident to me that many drivers still don’t understand that cyclists are entitled to taking the lane, and I regularly get honked and yelled at. I’ve also had experiences where drivers will brush me as they overtake me. Luckily I haven’t been hit, but the risk is high. So, this type of misinformation spread by the #CareToShare campaign only stands to further confuse drivers and put cyclists in awkward, if not dangerous, situations.

I, and many other cycling advocates, communicated our concerns to the police. In a following news story in the local newspaper, the police actually doubled down on their message, stating, “In some areas in the core of Kitchener and Waterloo where there are sharrows, the roadway is simply too narrow and cyclists need to get to the right of the road.”

What constitutes as “too narrow”? And, isn’t the point of sharrows being placed on a narrow roadway to ensure that cyclists don’t get squeezed by passing cars?

This depressing saga reminded me of the need to shift gears on the “share the road” conversation. I see these campaigns being rolled out in cities everywhere, and I don’t think they do much to help. In every conversation on the need for cycling infrastructure, there’s at least one person who brings up “shared responsibility”, saying something to the tune of “cyclists share responsibility for their safety on the road!”.

“By virtue of their ability to injure and kill, drivers own the power, and, ultimately, the road. Cycling infrastructure is infinitely more effective at ensuring cyclist safety than a “share the road” campaign is.”

Of course we do! What cyclist in their right mind ventures out onto our dangerous streets with the thinking that their actions have no implications on their safety or the safety of others? The tired “shared responsibility” response just states the obvious and does nothing to advance the discussion. It’s unnecessary and I cringe every time I hear it.

When cities and other organizations push the message that cyclists and drivers share the road, what they are inadvertently doing is suggesting that both parties have equal footing. But, that is just not the case. Cyclists have nothing to “share”. By virtue of their ability to injure and kill, drivers own the power, and, ultimately, the road. Cycling infrastructure is infinitely more effective at ensuring cyclist safety than a “share the road” campaign is. We share the road inasmuch as we’re forced to exist in the same space as vehicles. No amount of sharing will do anything to mitigate getting injured or killed by a speeding driver.

Just yesterday, a 58 year old woman was tragically killed while riding her bike in Toronto. We desperately need to change the conversation. We can’t afford to wait.

Shared responsibility campaigns and empty condolences from politicians are futile; if we want to change our streets, we need to change the conversation we’re having about them.

The solution lies in better urban design; design that slows down drivers and creates safe spaces for cyclists and pedestrians to move happily through their city. We know exactly what to do. Standing by and watching people die on our streets when the solutions are within easy reach is just unconscionable. Politicians who are holding back on making the necessary changes to make our streets safer must pause and reflect on the legacy they wish to leave. Should they continue on as they are, history will not be kind to them.

One thought on “Sharing Isn’t Caring: Shifting Gears on Shared Responsibility

  1. “… the roadway is simply too narrow and cyclists need to get to the right of the road.”

    Surely that should read:

    … the roadway is simply too narrow and car drivers should not try and overtake.”

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