Driver Sheila Perry says she was coming back from the grocery store last Thursday when she witnessed the fatal collision that left a 43-year-old Ottawa cyclist dead.
“This is just the most horrific nightmare that you do not wish on anyone,” she said.
Perry said she was stopped at the north end of the intersection of North River Road and Donald Street when she saw a female cyclist wearing a purple helmet stopped on the west side, down from the Adàwe Crossing bridge and the Rideau Sports Centre.
A City of Ottawa grader was behind the cyclist, Perry said, but then she saw it pull forward and turn right, overtaking the cyclist.
Perry called 911 and later gave a statement to the Ottawa police, which is seeking other witnesses.
Police have released few details about the collision, which happened shortly before 5 p.m. east of the core. Footage from the scene showed the bike lying under the grader.
It’s the 11th cyclist death in the city since January 2016, and the first in 2022.
“My heart goes out to the family. Tremendous, tremendous loss. I can’t even begin to imagine,” Perry said of the cyclist, who has not been publicly identified. “And similarly for the driver.”
A resident of the Overbrook neighbourhood, Perry said she is speaking out because she wants some positive change to come out of the collision.
It was a busy time of day traffic-wise and she wants to know what the grader was doing out there at the time, she said.
“This is more than just cycling. I think the [city] operations have to be reviewed,” Perry said, adding that she hopes the grader’s sightlines are also looked at.
The City of Ottawa has previously said it would not comment on the incident, citing the ongoing police investigation.
WATCH | Witness calls for change after cyclist killed in collision with grader:
In an email, Overbrook Community Association president Heather Amys said the group has reached out to Rideau-Rockcliffe Coun. Rawlson King to ask for improvements to the city’s spring snow and ice removal, to the intersection design and for safety needs of cyclists and pedestrians.
King, who has already flagged the neighbourhood’s “longstanding” traffic safety concerns, pointed to the simultaneous collision investigations by police and the city’s public works department.
“It’s probably inappropriate for me to provide further comment on the incident, especially since I did not observe it,” he said. “But I personally am looking forward to any recommendations that might emerge from both investigations.”
Heidi Cousineau, the city’s program manager for neighbourhood traffic calming, said the city has received a study request for North River Road between Donald Street and Wright Street to the south.
“Further information about the study will be communicated once the study is initiated,” she said in an email.
‘Paint won’t protect you,’ cyclist says
On Sunday afternoon, members of local cycling advocacy group Bike Ottawa locked up a painted roadside memorial known as a ghost bike to a post at the intersection. Both King and Coun. Catherine McKenney, who represents Somerset ward, were present.
Group president Erinn Cunningham told a crowd that after two years of the pandemic, the group was eager to see each other.
“But this isn’t the way anybody wanted [it].”
The collision renewed calls to make the four-way stop safer.
The intersection is a key connection for pedestrians and cyclists moving between Sandy Hill and Overbrook, and is heavily travelled by cars moving to and from Cummings Bridge, ceremony attendee Ken Walker said.
“To only have painted bike lanes for cyclists … it’s a bit of a travesty,” Walker said, referring to the bike lanes that were painted just east of the intersection on Donald Street in 2017.
“There’s been a lot of push to try to get segregated, safe cycling infrastructure throughout the city. Obviously, we’re focusing on this intersection today and we have to keep the pressure on,” Walker said.
In her email, the community association president said traffic taking a shortcut to avoid the Vanier Parkway has always been a problem at the intersection.
Amys said a raised cycle track or physically separated lanes like those the city has installed elsewhere might be a better long-term fix.
Overbrook resident Dave Weatherall, who also attended Sunday’s ghost bike ceremony, said protected lanes are what’s needed.
“Paint won’t protect you from an out-of-control car,” he said.
A draft version of the city’s Transportation Master Plan update proposes bike lanes on North River Road north of Stevens Avenue, which is just north of Donald.
Zlatko Krstulic, a transportation planner at the City of Ottawa, said in an email that projects in the master plan are in the public consultation stage, with approval expected in early 2023.