[Warren Huska has been cycling with his trusty pool noodle force field since Ontario enacted laws requiring passing cars give bikes one-metre of space. Twitter/warrenhuska; Facebook/Warren Huska]
The inspiration struck Warren Huska after a particularly nasty run-in with a particularly nasty pick-up driver.
A daily bike commuter riding 16 km each way on the mean streets of Toronto for years, he considered packing it in.
“I was really debating how to keep my space and whether I should continue to ride on the arterial roads at all,” Huska told Yahoo Canada News.
At that moment, his daughter showed up with a pool noodle, and a life hack was born.
Using a bungee cord, he attached it to his bike, protruding out the left side and forcing vehicles to consider the noodle when passing.
That was more than a year ago, right around the time the provincial government brought in a law that drivers must give cyclists one-metre of room when they pass.
The effect was instant.
“It was mind-blowing,” he said. “I would be constantly having my teeth set as people roared past my elbows… but as soon as I put on that noodle, suddenly I was surrounded by a bubble. People changed lanes to pass or they slowed down if they were going to pass in the same lane.”
The vast majority of roads in Toronto don’t have bike lanes, he said, and he doesn’t expect them to.
He has never been hit by a car.
“But I’ve been in fear for my safety many times from aggressive drivers,” Huska said.
“Lanes or not, I need space to operate in.”
In 2014, 35 traffic fatalities in Canada were cyclists, or 2.8 per cent of the overall, according to Transportation Canada. But the percentage of serious injuries to cyclists was higher, accounting for 4.3 per cent, or about 415 of 9,647 serious injuries that year.
The provincial government passed the law in September 2015 as part of its Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act. But compliance is touch and go, with only 19 charges laid almost a year later, Metro News reported.
Nova Scotia and Manitoba have similar laws.
Over the summer, Ottawa Police equipped two bike officers with sonar detectors to alert them to vehicles that passed too closely.
Those vehicles were pulled over by officers on the road ahead. Fortunately for the drivers, Ottawa Police were only handing out pamphlets to educate drivers about the one-metre rule, though the penalty can range from a $110 ticket up to $500 if found guilty in court.
The pool noodle is Huska’s one-man education campaign, reminding drivers how much room is required.
Erin O’Mellin, executive director of HUB Cycling in Vancouver, would like to see B.C. put a one-metre law in place and, just as importantly, have police enforce the rule.
She hasn’t seen a pool noodle but she has occasionally seen a flag or other similar territory markers on bikes.
“It’s a problem for many people that ride across the country,” she said. “It’s quite nerve-wracking. You are a more vulnerable road user and people need to provide space.”
The city of Vancouver has invested heavily in separated, or traffic calmed bike lanes and bike-auto collisions are decreasing, she said.
But the province’s Motor Vehicle Act hasn’t changed much in 50 years, and thought government officials admit an update is needed, it doesn’t seem imminent, she said.
At least one other cyclist in Toronto has recently adopted the pool noodle hack, according to Huska.
“He put in on and the next day he came back with this huge, long rant about ‘Oh my god, you have totally undersold this thing. This is amazing,’” he laughed.