Making cyclists’ safety a priority

Cycling has been gaining popularity in Canada in recent years, especially as an environmentally friendly and convenient commuting option in urban areas. Between 2011 and 2015, the number of daily bicycle trips in Canadian cities more than tripled. In Montreal for instance, only 29,000 commuters biked to work in 2011, compared to 115,100 just four years later. But whether they are biking to work or just heading out for a leisurely ride, ensuring cyclists are safe needs to be a priority. Operation Lifesaver and its partners are working to prevent rail-related incidents from happening by educating cyclists on how to stay safe near trains and tracks. Another part of the solution is investments in railway crossings and paths to minimize these risks. “We would like to see the federal government putting more money toward railway crossings that do a better job of keeping cyclists and trains separate,” explains Michael Bourque, president of the Railway Association of Canada. “Whether Canadians are cycling, walking, or driving—from the perspective of the rail industry—nothing is more important than keeping them safe. But ensuring this happens is a shared responsibility.” Anders Swanson, chair of Canada Bikes, a cycling advocacy organization, says you only need to look to a country like Netherlands—where both cycling and rail use are common—to see what a difference infrastructure such as grade separated crossings can make when it comes to safety. “Accidents do happen. A moment of inattention can lead to tragic consequences. In our view, the best way to design and plan things is to make sure that doesn’t happen by recognizing that there are systemic infrastructure issues,” he explains. There are currently 40, 390 road-railway crossings in Canada and only 11,358 of those are grade separated, so it’s important that cyclists remain vigilant around railway tracks. Here are some simple tips cyclists can follow to stay safe:
  • Always cross railway tracks at designated crossings.
  • At a crossing, slow down, look both ways and listen for approaching trains; proceed only if you are sure it is safe to do so.
  • When approaching railway tracks, signal your intention to slow down. 
  • When crossing, go slowly and stand on your pedals to cross railway tracks in order to keep your balance. 
  • If it is too risky, get off your bike and cross the tracks on foot.
  • Be aware, rails can be very slippery when wet.