On the eve of the season's first winter storm, the City of Guelph sent out a press release on behalf of the Ontario Ministry of Transportation and the Ontario Road Builders’ Association asking drivers to not play chicken with snow plows; specifically no speeding and no passing if you should find yourself in the vicinity of a plow, sanding truck, or other kind of road work vehicle. I've been looking for another opportunity lately to let off some steam about the way some people our driving on our roads, and as the old saying goes, ask and ye shall receive.
“We want to make the roads safer for Guelph residents by reminding everyone of the dangers trying to pass a snow plow,” said Geoff Wilkinson, Executive Director, Ontario Road Builders’ Association (ORBA). “To help prevent collisions and injuries we are asking all drivers to show caution on the road when they see a snow plow’s flashing blue light, and let the plow lead the way. It’s a simple message to prevent injuries and save lives.”
The original issue I was going to hang this screed on is the difficulty in recruiting new crossing guards. Personally, I get why people might think twice about stepping out in front of traffic 30-40 times an hour, especially when we're to the point now when city hall has to send out reminders to people to not drive recklessly around snow plows. For a great many people, there seems like there's nothing to stop them from getting where their going a few seconds faster, even people helping little kids cross the street to and from school.
There were also some comments at a recent planning, building and environment committee by Coun. Cam Guthrie about how the proliferation of bike lanes have made driving in his ward the proverbial living hell. "In my opinion it's awful," Guthrie said during the meeting about a staff report proposing 100 kilometers in new bike lanes. "Cars have to sit through several lights and because it's lined with commercial buildings, the amount of traffic backed up into commercial parking lots is awful."
Of course, how bike lanes along a single block of Silvercreek between Speedvale and Willow causes all that is a good question. Even before the bike lanes, traffic was horrible in the area around Willow West Mall and the various plazas and developments in the area, and the second lane didn't really make that much of a difference. What has changed, at least in my anecdotal estimation, is the aggressiveness of drivers. I was walking home from work the other week along Silvercreek Pkwy, north of Speedvale, and if you know the area, you know there's no sidewalk, so walking can be perilous at the best of times. Of course, when you're walking on the side of the road and a car sneaks between you and a truck waiting to turn with a yard of clearance, the whole experience is even more perilous than normal.
“Ontario’s winter maintenance crews work hard to make sure our highways are salted, sanded and cleared of snow, but drivers need to do their part to stay safe. Stay alert, slow down and stay in control – and never pass a snow plow,” said Glen Murray, Ontario’s Minister of Transportation and Minister of Infrastructure.
But it's not just plows and trucks cars are anxious to wiggle around, it's city buses too. I don't know how many times I've seen a bus stopped at the side of the road, pick someone up, and then maneuvre to get back onto the road only to get cut-off by a car trying to get somewhere faster. It's enough to make me wonder if their are drivers out there pasign stopped school buses. Of course, I believe that there's a matter of law that keeps people from crossing that line; matters of decency still lay outside the realm of legal prosecution.
“Each winter the City works diligently to ensure our roads are clear and safe for motor vehicles to travel and pedestrians to cross. We ask that drivers in Guelph do their part by sharing the road and being cautious around snow plows,” said Rodney Keller, general manager of Public Works for the City of Guelph.
I know that there are some people out there thinking, "There's another looney left auto-hater who won't be satisfied till we all ride bikes and go vegan." Well, you can eat what you want, and you can even drive, but what concerns me is that you don't drive carelessly. If I've said it once, I've said it a thousand times, in a match of wits between myself and a car, if I screw up and get hit, I lose, but if the car driver screws up and I get hit, I still lose. And no matter how vigilant I am, I sometimes think the odds just aren't in my favour. Regardless of right of way, cars race to get past you as you cross the street, and they sneak around the corner behind you as if to prompt you to move faster. It's very hard not to feel threatened, and it's very hard not to feel as if you don't matter as any other type of traveller other than car driver.
So what is a person to do? I hear all the time about bikers who don't obey the rules of the road and jay walkers that dart in front of traffic, but really we all need to be better behaved on the road. Perhaps drivers need to accept that being behind the wheel of a couple of tonnes of force comes with an enhanced level of responsibility. While we all need to try harder to make sure the roads are able to accomodate everyone safely, cars, taking the majority of the road for themselves need to recognize that they have the bigger burden.