Shantell Powell knows what it’s like to cycle Waterloo Region’s roads as well as anyone.
She hasn’t driven a car since 1989, and didn’t feel tempted to give up her bicycle when she moved to the area.
In her time here, she’s learned which roads are the hardest to traverse on two wheels.
University Street, around the Conestoga Parkway ramps, fits in that category. So does Victoria Street North.
Her least favourite road of all might be King Street in downtown Kitchener, despite the ‘sharrows’ that remind drivers to share the road with cyclists.
“King Street … is a nightmare. It’s typical for me to have multiple close calls on that street,” she says.
One of the worst incidents Powell can recall didn’t occur on a road at all, but on the Iron Horse Trail.
While biking the trail one day, she suddenly found herself on a collision course with a cyclist who came “out of the bushes” at an unmarked crossing.
The other cyclist admitted the crash was her fault, Powell says, and even apologized in the moments before the crash, as they realized it was unavoidable.
Powell ended up without any serious injuries, but still worried about what could have happened.
“What if I’d been a little kid, or an elderly person?” she says.
In 2014, there were 142 crashes involving cyclists reported to Waterloo Regional Police.
That figure includes crashes between cyclists and drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, and cyclists and other cyclists.
“In the bulk of these collisions, the cyclist is at fault – usually for failure to yield or disobeying some sort of traffic control,” says Staff Sgt. Jim Strand.
Strand says on-road cyclists should always endeavour to bike in the proper areas – bicycle lanes when available, at the side of the road when not – and never on sidewalks.
“If they’re moving slower than the normal flow of traffic, they have to stay as far to the right as possible,” he says.
Cyclists, like motorists and pedestrians, should also be aware of their surroundings at all times and make eye contact when encountering questionable situations, Strand says.
Powell says she does her “absolute best” to stay within the confines of the law when on her bike, and wonders why some drivers tend to paint all cyclists with the same brush.
“You have terrible bicyclists, just like you have terrible drivers,” she says.
“You have to take it on a case-by-case basis.”