Last week I rather glibly described falling off my bike on Dundas Street West, where the bridge spans the train tracks. Little did I suspect that there would be another tragic death of a cyclist on Toronto’s roads, just steps away from where I fell.
Yesterday, Jenna Morrison was run over by a truck turning West onto Dundas off Sterling. She sustained severe head injuries and died on the spot.
Jenna was an instructor at Spiritwind Internal Arts, which she co-founded ten years ago in Kensington Market. She was the mother of a young boy who, thank god, was not on the hitch-on bike she was towing behind her when she was killed. In fact, she was on her way to fetch him from kindergarten. It is not yet entirely clear how exactly this tragic accident happened. But what is certain is that deaths such as Jenna’s are preventable, if only our city would recognize cyclists not just as annoying intrusions on roads that belong to cars, but as co-owners of Toronto’s traffic system: highly vulnerable co-owners who need to be protected from drivers of motor vehicles. Drivers who are often tired, angry, distracted, talking on the phone or texting, or who simply don’t understand the rules of the road.
Dave Meslin of the Toronto Cyclists Union is right when he says that Jenna’s death is “not about drivers versus cyclists, it’s about the lack of proper infrastructure on the streets.”
But we will not be able to develop proper infrastructure until we overcome the views expressed by Constable Hugh Smith of Toronto police’s traffic services division, commenting on Jenna’s death. According to the CBC, Constable Smith said the bicycle was towing a trailer, which may have also contributed to the accident. “Anything you attach to a bicycle is going to hinder your movement as far as the length of the turn, the amount of work it takes — the gear that you’re in — for you to get through the turn,” Smith said. “Most times we say a bike is designed for one person, unless it’s a tandem.” And Sergeant John Winter, with traffic services, is quoted by the National Post as asking: “How many times have you seen cyclists going outside the bike lanes to pass other cyclists at a high rate of speed, and cutting others off and disobeying the traffic lights and stop signs, so it works both ways?”
This is not the point. City infrastructure needs to be improved so I don’t have to ride on the sidewalk when I take my daughter to daycare in her trailer in the mornings. And bike lanes need to be improved so bikes can pass each other safely, without having to veer out into traffic. Not to mention all the cars that park in bike lanes, so strangely invisible to police. And as for stop signs and red lights, well, we’ve had that discussion haven’t we?
In our current climate of auto-eroticism in Toronto, cyclist will have to fight every inch of the way to get our safe spaces on the city roads we pay for.
You can begin by sending a short note to your city councilor, saying something like “Following the tragic death of Jenna Morrison, I demand that my representative in city hall do everything possible to ensure that this will not happen again.” … and making whatever suggestion you feel may be appropriate for cycle-safe streets in your ward.
Please come to the vigil for Jenna next Monday, 14 November. Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists is organizing a memorial ride and a moment of silence. Meet at Bloor and Spadina at 7:30am, or at Dundas and Sterling at 8:00am to take part in the ride. It’s a chance to support her family and community and raise awareness about the need for safer streets.