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Politeness vs. the Pedalist: biking in St. Albert is dangerous

No one should ride a bike in St. Albert. Ever. It’s far too dangerous … because of all the drivers.
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Writer Scott Hayes waits at a stop sign on his bicycle in St. Albert on Wednesday, July 30, 2019. DAN RIEDLHUBER / St. Albert Gazette

No one should ride a bike in St. Albert. Ever. It’s far too dangerous ... because of all the drivers. You would have to disregard your entire life and safety in order to go out on the road, especially when knowing full well how motorists are in this city. Granted, most are just fine and give you plenty of space. Others are not. The worst ones in my experience are the overly cautious drivers out there whose lack of knowledge about the rules will one day come crashing down on your helmet.

We all know that a bike on the road is considered a vehicle. A bike on the sidewalk is considered a pedestrian. Each situation carries with it its own set of rules.

During my weekly two-wheeled travels, I will periodically find myself at a stop sign facing a two-way thoroughfare, meaning the traffic going left and right in front of me has the right of way. I’m the one who needs to wait for the traffic to clear before I can enter the intersection. That’s the way it is for all vehicles. It’s pretty clear.

Still, there is at least one occasion each and every week when one of those very drivers will stop at the intersection in a grand and altruistic act of allowing me to take a turn.

One of these people is going to get me killed. That’s my fear. The whole situation arises out of purely ridiculous emotional/psychological reasons, too: they stop because they’re afraid that I’m suddenly going to pop right out into the way like they’ve no doubt seen other bicyclists do. I’ve never seen it myself but I do know of people who have been hit while riding their bikes, so the imagination easily makes that small stretch. And one day, I will feel obliged, guilty and shamed that the person stopped and I didn’t move. I will be peer pressured into biking straight into traffic against the right of way, and as soon as I do, one of the other vehicles on the road won’t see me and I’ll be run right over. Bam. Blood on the pavement. Another victim of the awkward situation and its eventual outcome.

A big part of the problem is that St. Albert is just not a city of bicyclists. It isn’t a city that’s designed for travel except by car. It’s barely a city for driving, either, but that’s another opinion for another time. Bike on the road and you earn not only the title of ‘risk-taker’ but you also earn the scorn of the drivers who despise you for taking up their lane. Yes, I can hear you swearing at me. Every time a vehicle approaches me from the rear, I say a little prayer for my silly butt. I’m confident that every bicyclist says this prayer for their own silly butt in the same situation. We know that we shouldn’t be on the road. I'm pretty sure that the traffic light sensors don't even recognize that a bicyclist is sitting at the line for minutes at a time waiting for the red to turn green.

That’s why most of us stay off the roads if we venture out at all. That’s also why the paths are safer and therefore preferred, except for all the untended pavement cracks and the pedestrians who walk two abreast. When I ring the bike bell, they ignore it entirely or they scatter as if an explosion has just gone off.

The driver and the pedestrian are both just not at all familiar with encountering the bicyclist. The bicyclist is an alien. The bicyclist is an enemy. The bicyclist is an intruder.

That being said, bicyclists also deserve a fair bit of the blame. We sometimes ride from the sidewalk to the road and back again. We prefer to slow down but not stop at stop signs. We don’t get off and walk through crosswalks or along footbridges. We don’t use those hand signals or have lights to make us more visible. Sometimes, we even ride in a wobbly line so our path is unpredictable.

That’s because we grew up in St. Albert, a city that is not meant for people to ride bicycles.





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