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Your Ride: Edmonton

Jay Smith is a writer who cycles, walks and runs on Edmonton's streets and pathways.

Cameras are sadly an essential tool for cycling safety for many

Considering these encounters uniformly involve the cyclist explaining the rules of the road, and then being beaten up for it, shouldn’t we ask other questions?

The bike lane along portions of 106 Street. Metro file photo.

Kevin Tuong/For Metro

The bike lane along portions of 106 Street. Metro file photo.

After a video of a British motorist trying to chase down a cyclist exploded the internet last week, I discovered “road rage against cyclists” is a YouTube genre. In the video, a man, red-faced with rage, gets out of his vehicle and tries to kick the cyclist but misses, loses his balance and falls face first, rolling head over heels into the gutter.

The clip is slapstick, but the video is depressingly familiar to cyclists, who face harassment and often have to explain the rules of the road to motorists. They face intimidation and violence as a result: The driver narrowly cuts off the cyclist, the cyclist chases down the driver to tell him as much, the driver sputters and swears about cyclists not having the right to take up the whole lane, the cyclist says this isn’t true. The driver assaults the cyclist.

Spoiler alert: In the overwhelming majority of videos I watched, cyclists were defending their rights to occupy space on the road and explaining, frequently politely, that the driver’s behaviour is dangerous or illegal. These videos have titles like “Driver Punches Cyclist — Caught on a Cam” or “Aggressive Driver Assaults Cyclist.”

These videos made me wonder: Are cyclists in Edmonton riding with video cameras as a security precaution? Considering the incredible amount of harassment that cyclists — and female cyclists, in particular — face, could it be that cyclists in this city are finding ways to document when they’re treated badly by those they ostensibly share the road with?

It didn’t take me long to find someone who answered yes. There were actually a lot of someones, but the first person to say yes was Rachel Keglowitsch, a bicycle advocate who pedals year-round.

After being hit by a car last April, she bought a GoPro camera and started riding with it. “Luckily I got enough information (then),” she explains, “but the lady who hit me was trying to say that I wasn’t hurt. Like I was bugging her.”

Once while she was riding home at night, a strange male chased her on foot for a while. She wished that she’d been able to record that, too.

“I’m a 24-year-old woman by myself at night. It’s not funny.”

She also worries about people getting out of their cars to confront her. Riding with a camera is assurance to her that any such incident will be documented.

But like me, Keglowitsch wonders if riding with a camera heightens conflict.

Most of the videos I saw were from Britain, which seems to have a much more antagonistic road culture. Cyclists responded with more anger than I would have mustered for seemingly minor violations, like passing too closely on a road. (I was cut off and nearly crushed into the curb by an accordion bus last week and my response was to pass back and — gasp! — take up the full lane. After watching these videos, my response seemed quaint and meagre.)

Considering these encounters uniformly involve the cyclist explaining the rules of the road, and then being beaten up for it, shouldn’t we ask other questions? Like, “Why don’t drivers already know the rules of the road?”

Jay Smith is a writer who has cycled, walked and run on Edmonton’s streets and pathways her entire life.

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