~ This article first appeared in dandyhorse's Spring 2009 issue~
UPDATE Nov 30, 2013: The provincial government has announced a new cycling strategy to move forward on making Ontario more bicycle friendly. Read about it on the dandyBLOG here.
Provide input directly to the transportation ministry here.
Taking it to Queen's Park
Bicyclists want and deserve a safe place to ride
On November 18, 2008 Eleanor McMahon took a significant step in what has been a long personal journey.
McMahon, founder of the Share the Road Coalition, spent the day at Queen’s Park at the invitation of Transport Minister Jim Bradley. She was in attendance to witness the tabling of legislation known as “Greg’s Law” – amendments to the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) that target repeat offenders and specifically, suspended drivers.
She has been working on this legislative change since September 2007.
Her journey began with her realization that the status quo was not acceptable. Well, it really began the day she learned that the man who killed her husband had already been charged with multiple driving offenses.
On June 6, 2006, McMahon’s husband Greg Stobbart, an Ontario Provincial Police Sergeant, was riding his bicycle when a dump truck driver clipped him with his mirror while trying to pass, sending him hurling in the air. He died in the hospital shortly after, with McMahon at his side.
It was at the dump truck driver’s sentencing in September 2007 that she learned of his driving record. He had five prior convictions for driving while suspended, two for driving uninsured, and $14,000 in unpaid fines. And just two months after he killed her husband, he hit another driver and was charged and convicted of following too closely.
Outraged, McMahon realized that there needed to be increased penalties for drivers who have a history of high risk driving, and has since dedicated her time to making Ontario’s roads safer for all users.
“I’m trying to make something meaningful out of a tragic circumstance,” says McMahon. “Stricter laws give the police the tools they need to make our roads safer.” McMahon, points to similar legislation in other jurisdictions, like Saskatchewan, where they have seen a significant drop in the number of suspended drivers caught on the road. People think twice before getting behind the wheel if they know there is a risk they might loose their car.
The amendments known as “Greg’s Law” targets suspended and unlicensed drivers with stiffer penalties that more accurately and acutely reflect the risk these drivers represent. Currently, it is estimated that unlicensed drivers are responsible for 2,000 fatal and injurious crashes per year.
“We’re becoming increasingly enlightened about the importance of road safety in the province. Part of that has been Commissioner Fantino who has, notwithstanding all of the other police pressures, decided that road safety is going to be an important focus for him and that has led to legislation that is going to save lives,” says McMahon. She also endorses lower speed limits in cities. “Lower speeds means lower fatalities.”
McMahon herself is full speed ahead. In addition to her work with the Coalition, she is vice-chair of the Burlington Cycling Committee. No lightweight in the political realm, McMahon worked eight years on Parliament Hill, including time in the press secretariat of former Prime Minster Jean Chretien. She knows the power of persuasion. “Over 20 years I’ve learned how to take the slow road,” she says of the process of policy wrangling with government bureaucrats. But says she never dreamt she’d be using those skills for this.
“At the end of the day, most of us want the same thing.” McMahon said, we need to build bridges, not point fingers. “That’s why I named this a coalition… we need as many people around the table who have interest and concern because we can’t do this alone, nor should we do this alone.”
Share the Road will be hosting a conference this fall in Waterloo with guest speakers from all over North America, including Andy Clarke the executive director of the League of American Bicyclists, and Minnesota Congressman Jim Oberstar, the driving force behind the legislation that created Rails-to-Trails and Safe Routes to Schools.
“I see the summit as a means of providing politicians with feedback about the direction they need to take and hearing what the cycling community wants, and what other key stakeholders want them to do,” she says. “Let’s get this conversation started.”
“For me this journey has been personally driven, but I’m trying to broaden it so it’s not about me. And to a great extent it’s not even about Greg. Except that…I’m looking at a picture of him now, it wouldn’t have started if it wasn’t for his death. I think he would be happy with what I’m doing because of the prudent nature with which I am undertaking it. But he would understand that it’s very soon going to be less about him and more about other people.”
~ This article first appeared in dandyhorse #2 (Spring 2009)~
RELATED ON THE dandyBLOG: Ontario announces cycling strategy: public input needed by Jan. 29, 2013