Cycling safety takes centre stage in Canada after pregnant woman dragged to death under truck
Nation's ruling Conservative Party rejects renewed calls for side guards, but more hope for action at local level
A female cyclist killed after being dragged underneath a lorry at a junction, hundreds of cyclists taking part in a ride to commemorate her life and highlight road safety, and calls for improvements to vehicles and junctions to help protect bike riders; it reads like a summary of events of the past few days in the British capital, London, but also reflects events in Canada’s largest city, Toronto, following the death of a cyclist there last Monday.
However, unlike in Britain, there is the prospect of something being done, with politicians at provincial level vowing to review cycling infrastructure despite the national government rejecting calls to require trucks to be fitted with side guards to protect vulnerable road users such as cyclists and pedestrians.
Jenna Morrison, aged 38 and five months pregnant, was killed on the afternoon of 7 November when she was dragged beneath a lorry as she rode her bike, with a tag-along attached, to collect her five-year-old son Lucas from school.
The death of the dancer and yoga teacher has provoked renewed calls for Canada to implement laws that would see lorries having to be equipped with side guards to prevent similar tragedies in the future.
In the wake of that tragedy, the Canadian government insisted it is not planning to enact legislation requiring lorries to be fitted with side guards, saying that there is insufficient evidence that such a measure would be viable.
One of the country’s opposition MPs has introduced a private member’s bill demanding that such measures be adopted, although that initiative seems doomed to failure due to the ruling Conservative Party’s intransigence on the issue.
Side and rear guards are required to be fitted to certain lorries in the UK and elsewhere in the European Union to protect vulnerable road users, although there are some exceptions – crucially, those include tipper trucks, involved in the deaths of a number of cyclists in the UK and especially London in recent years.
Last week, Mélanie Emma Quesnel, a spokeswoman for Transport Canada, said that the federal government did not intend to bring in such a law, reports the Globe & Mail, despite a 1998 coroner’s report into deaths of cyclists in the Toronto area recommending them as a potentially life-saving measure.
“Unfortunately, side guards are not a guarantee of safety,” she said. “Transport Canada has not found research data indicating that side guards would be effective in Canada. Studies completed don’t provide sufficient evidence to move forward with a regulation.”
At the weekend, Toronto MP Olivia Chow, herself a cyclist and the opposition New Democratic Party’s critic (spokeswoman) on Transport, Infrastructure and Communities, said that she would introduce a private member’s bill calling for side guards to be made a legal requirement.
It will be the third time she has attempted to get such legislation enacted – previous attempts in 2006 and 2010 failed, she believes as a result of the trucking industry lobbying the Conservative government and convincing them it would make businesses less competitive.
“Jenna Morrison’s death was so sad and senseless, and immediately I thought, these panels or guards between the wheels of the truck might have saved her,” she told thestar.com on Sunday.
“It’s very sad that so far the minister is only hearing the voices from the trucking industry,” she added.
The national government reiterated on Monday, however, that side guards are not the answer to the problem, with the haulage industry also voicing its opinion.
David Bradley, president of the Ontario Trucking Association, told the newspaper that with relatively little trailer traffic on city-centre roads, it made sense to pursue other options.
“The issue requires a more complex solution including education and awareness on how to safely share the road with other types of vehicles and ultimately separating bicycles from other vehicles through the use of bike lanes, for example,” he maintained.
Prospects for improving the safety of cyclists are perhaps brighter at provincial level, however. Liberal Party politician Bob Chiarelli, Ontario’s minister of transportation and infrastructure, has stated that making the streets safer for cyclists is a priority.
“I’m going to ask my officials to review the infrastructure requirements for cycling on our roads and I’ll also do that as minister of transportation,” said Mr Chiarelli, quoted by the Toronto Sun.
“The matter hasn’t been brought to the attention of cabinet or any cabinet committees at this point but it will be.
“I think there is significant concern,” he added. “I have two daughters, two adult daughters, who often commute to work in Ottawa and quite frankly as a parent, I often worry about them because they’re a lot more vulnerable, anybody’s a lot more vulnerable, on a bicycle than they are in a car.”
It was concerns over why Jenna Morrison hadn’t picked her son up from school that led to a friend, Carlos Gonzalez-Vio, coming across the scene of her death after her partner, Florian Schuck, had asked him to check on her at home.
On his way there, he first saw the police tape at the junction of Sterling Road meets Dundas Street West.
When he saw the tag-along, he says, “That’s when I realizsd that’s why Florian couldn’t get a hold of his lady.
“It slowly started to become apparent that might be as far as I’m going on that day.”
Mr Gonzalez-Vio broke the news to Mr Schuck over the phone.
Once his friend, a production designer, to travel from the film site he had been working on, the pair had to wait for official confirmation of what was already apparent to them – because Ms Morrison hadn’t been carrying ID, police were unable to formally identify her immediately.
“My focus was to catch him as he fell into the reality of what happened,” he added.
On Wednesday, Mr Gonzalez-Vio was among those who accompanied the cyclist’s mother and the grief-stricken Mr Schuck, a survivor of non-Hodgkin’s lymphona, to the site of her death for a press conference, reports the National Post.
Addressing the crowd, which included friends and fellow cyclists, Mr Gonzalez-Vio said: “Jenna’s husband Florian was told that he was going to die. Florian did survive and he describes his life as a miracle brought to him by Jenna.
“Jenna would hug anybody,” he continued. “It didn’t matter if they were wealthy or homeless.”
He concluded his address with the reading of a passage named ‘The Divine Light Invocation.’
“I am created by divine light. I am sustained by divine light. I am every growing into divine light,” he said.
Cycle campaign group Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists held a ride in Ms Morrison’s memory yesterday morning, with more than 300 riders taking part.
Police are not bringing charges against the 55-year-old truck driver involved in the incident, reportedly saying that he had done nothing wrong.