The Bike Calgary board today sent a letter outlining our concerns about the recently introduced changes in the Alberta Driver's Guide to Minister of Transportation Ric McIver. The main complaint, as previously discussed, concerns the misleading information contained in the most recent edition of the Driver's Guide which suggests cyclists must ride near the gutter. As the Driver's Guide is the only place most Albertans learn anything about the rights and duties of cyclists, and those of motorists vis-a-vis cyclists, getting it right here is of the utmost importance.
There are a few minor, positive changes to the Guide regarding cyclists. But where the previous editions of the Driver's Guide were slightly more accurate on the question of where cyclists should position themselves, the new edition now simply states that they should "ride close to the curb." Given that some novice cyclists believe that, like pedestrians on highways without sidewalks, cyclists should ride against traffic on the left side of the street, it would have been good to mention that it's supposed to be the right curb. But, and that's the important part, there are many circumstances where safety and sometimes even the rules of the road require cyclists to be away from the curb! Not to mention that the law itself excepts cyclists from riding close to the right curb when they're preparing to turn left, or on one-way streets in urban areas.
Read the complete letter below.
Dear Minister McIver,
We are concerned about the section on vulnerable road users in the current (Winter 2011) edition of Alberta Transportation’s Driver’s Guide to Operation, Safety and Licensing. Specifically, in Chapter 8, “Sharing the Road: Vulnerable Road Users,” on page 97, the Guide states:
Cyclists are required to ride close to the curb. However, they may need to ride further out when avoiding drainage grates, pot holes, debris, gravel or sand, wet or slippery surfaces, and rutted or grooved pavement. Be aware of the roadway conditions that may affect a cyclist.
And further down in the same section:
Cyclists using the streets and highways should do the following:
• Ride close to the curb. [...]
These statements are incomplete, misleading, and contrary to the Alberta Traffic Safety Act and to accepted best cycling practice.
The Alberta Traffic Safety Act, Use of Highway and Rules of the Road Regulation (Alta. Reg. 304/2002), states:
77(2) A person who is operating a cycle, other than a motor cycle, on a highway shall operate the cycle as near as practicable to the right curb or edge of the roadway unless that person is in the process of making a left turn with the cycle.
(3) Notwithstanding subsection (2), a person who is operating a cycle, other than a motor cycle, on a one-way highway in an urban area shall ride as near as practicable to either curb or edge of the roadway unless that person is in the process of crossing from one curb or edge of the roadway to the opposite curb or edge of the roadway.
By leaving out “as practicable”, failing to specify that cyclists must ride on the right side of two-way highways (but may ride on either side of one-way urban streets), and neglecting to list the exceptions in the Rules of the Road regulation, the current Driver’s Guide does two things:
It encourages unsafe riding behaviour on the part of cyclists; and
It generates a false expectation on the part of motorists that cyclists have an obligation to stay close to the curb, out of their way, at all times.
The first makes cyclists objectively unsafe by encouraging unsafe lane position, the second creates or exacerbates motorist-cyclist conflict. In the absence of accessible cycling education materials and campaigns, information about the rules of the road pertaining to cycling through the Driver Licensing program is the best and most effective way to educate Albertans about safe and legal use of the roads both when driving a car and when riding a bicycle.
It is accepted best practice, taught in cycling safety courses in the US and Canada (under the CAN-BIKE program), that a cyclist should occupy the safest position in the lane. Sometimes that is close to the right edge of the roadway, but there are many instances where the safest place to ride is not close to the curb, e.g.,
when vehicles are parked next to the edge of the road. (Cyclists must ride far enough away from the parked cars to avoid being struck by an opening car door.)
when parked cars or other obstacles, e.g., construction site hoarding, would obscure a cyclist riding close to the curb from the view of other road users. (Cyclists should travel in a straight line and not swerve in and out between parked cars.)
when there is any obstruction, damage, or debris on the road.
when there is not enough room for a vehicle to pass a cyclist safely in the same lane, to discourage unsafe passing (“controlling the lane”).
when the cyclist is travelling at the same speed as other traffic (“speed positioning”).
Being close to the curb can expose a cyclist to opening car doors, road surface hazards, and vehicles passing too closely. Being too close to the edge of road makes the cyclist less visible, increasing the chances of collision. This is especially true at intersections. Cyclists must not continue straight from right-turn-only lanes. Riding close to the curb in right-turn-optional lanes leads motorists to think that the cyclist might turn right. In these situations, current cyclist proficiency education (e.g., Cycling Canada's CAN-BIKE program) teaches cyclists to “take the rightmost lane that serves their destination” and in a multi-destination lane, to “ride on the side of the lane closest to their destination.”
Equally importantly, the qualification “as practicable”, together with Section 75 of the Rules of the Road Regulation (cyclists have all the same rights and duties as motorists), means that cyclists, by law, are required to ride away from the curb in some circumstances, e.g.,
when preparing to make a left turn;
when moving from one side of a one-way street to the other,
when the outside lane is a right turn only lane;
when the outside lane is a restricted lane;
when passing another vehicle;
when there is not enough room in the outside lane due to cars parked in the lane or other obstructions, to avoid lane splitting (section 15(6)).
Riding too close to the curb is the number one mistake made by novice cyclists.
The current edition of the Driver’s Guide is promoting unsafe behaviour and is confusing for both motorists and cyclists. For the safety of all road users, everyone should drive in a predictable manner and be able to predict what other road users may do. The Driver’s Guide should be clear, giving safe and consistent advice. Currently, we fear that the advice to cyclists in the AB Driver's Guide is at odds with the AB Traffic Safety Act. We urge you to correct and amend the section on cyclists in the next edition of the Driver’s Guide, and that you take any reasonable steps in the meantime to alert new drivers and driving instructors of the shortcomings of the current edition in this regard.
As Calgary's largest cycling advocacy group we are very concerned about the welfare and safety of cyclists and respectfully request to be informed of plans to address our concerns.
Brent Clark, President
Alan Fedoruk, Director
Richard Zach, Vice-President
Alberta Motor Association
Alberta Bicycle Association
City of Calgary Transportation Planning
Calgary Police Service Traffic Section
Edmonton Bicycle Commuters
Elbow Valley Cycling Club