Open Letter to Toronto Police Service RE: Remarks in Toronto Sun

PDF of Open Letter

With Bike Month approaching, people biking are likely to be recipients of the Toronto Police Service’s (TPS) annual ticketing blitz. We wrote a letter to Traffic Services in response to problematic comments and uninformed solutions made by a TPS officer in a recent Toronto Sun article. Dangerous roads cause harm, but so does spreading a false narrative about what would make them safer.


May 11, 2022
 
Attn: Traffic Services, Toronto Police Service
CC: Friends & Families for Safe Streets 
 
I'm writing because Cycle Toronto and Friends & Families for Safe Streets read an article published in the Toronto Sun which I’ve copied below. We do our best not to elevate these inflammatory articles by reposting them, as that's exactly what The Toronto Sun wants. That said, there are many problematic statements made by a TPS spokesperson within the article. Beyond being inaccurate, there are comments that are quite offensive to people who have lost loved ones or who have been seriously injured while riding a bicycle. 
 
Our responses to statements made within the article are below:
 

  • It is not illegal for adults to ride without a bike helmet, no one should be ticketed for that. Helmets are intended to protect people from falls but do not prevent collisions nor are they designed to protect people biking from serious injury or death in the case of a motor vehicle collision.
  • Riding adjacent to a crosswalk in a two-stage left turn is legal and what we at Cycle Toronto teach because vehicular left turns are very dangerous when biking at most major intersections.
  • People end up weaving in and out of traffic when they don’t have safe space on the road. This is because: 
    • they (rightfully) don't feel safe hugging the curb or taking the lane in hostile traffic conditions, or 
    • a car or object is blocking the bike lane and they are forced to weave into another lane.
  • Cycle Toronto hands out bike lights for free every October because it's true, people are mostly unaware of the law. TPS has supported this initiative in the past and could do the same thing, handing out lights rather than handing out tickets.
  • We agree people should not blow through red lights or stop signs, but the rolling stop has been made legal in other places, and while we have not yet successfully made them legal in Ontario, treating stop signs as yield signs has been proven to be safer and more efficient for traffic flow. Anyone who rides a bike understands exactly why this is the case.

Ticketing will not solve dangerous road design or lack of political will to implement mandatory cycling education in schools, and it disproportionately impacts people who are already marginalized. The way we think about road safety needs to change.
 
These are the things TPS spokespeople should be speaking about if we want to get to a Vision Zero City. We don't condone reckless cycling, but the evidence collected by TPS and the City of Toronto Vision Zero team shows that the vast majority of collisions are not happening because of reckless cycling, they're happening because of roads that are dangerous by design, and we cannot enforce our way out of that.
 
Please consider a new spokesperson for future media interviews on this topic or ensure some education is provided to this TPS spokesperson. Don't hesitate to reach out to me if there is anything within that you'd like to discuss.
 

Keagan Gartz
Executive Director
Cycle Toronto
 


 
From a Toronto Sun article. See bolded quotes all from a TPS spokesperson for traffic enforcement.

BRAUN: Cyclists need to smarten up when they're on Toronto's streets

Author of the article:Liz Braun

When you’re out on your bike without a helmet, weaving in and out of traffic and running red lights, do you every worry about the police?

They worry about you.

In fact, Toronto Police have a whole wish list for cyclists, starting with the wish that you get home safe and sound every day.

After that, the wish list includes mandatory helmets, proper lights, an education in the rules of the road and freedom from e-bikes.

Some days, Toronto seems fully engaged in a war between cars and bikes, but as police will attest, it’s a one-sided battle.

“On a bike, you have to be the better person, more switched on and aware, because you are more vulnerable,” said Const. Sean Shapiro, whose focus is traffic safety education through social (@VoiceoverCop) and traditional media.

“The least risk is to car drivers, who are protected by the big steel cage they drive around in.

“People say, ‘right of way’ but really, it’s more like ‘right of weight’ — on a bike you have to be cognizant of everything around you, including the person who is not paying attention.”

Over the last three years, Toronto Police have issued 1,076 tickets to bike riders for many types of infractions. For sheer numbers, the biggies are helmets, lights and brakes infractions, running red lights, riding in the crosswalk and failure to stop at stop signs.

According to data collected by the Ministry of the Attorney General, cyclists also got tickets for failure to identify themselves, passing a streetcar improperly and speeding.

The lion’s share of tickets handed out were for improper bicycle lighting, with 347 tickets issued last year.

No horn was likewise frowned upon, with 308 tickets written in 2021.

Some people think there should be far more tickets handed out to cyclists, but it’s a matter of resources. If a bicycle and an SUV run through a red light, according to police, the focus will always be on the car — because they can do the most damage.

The City of Toronto, meanwhile, is doing its best to promote biking and protect cyclists. There are many kilometres of new bike lanes, for example, and ongoing plans for more.

“We’re making efforts through Vision Zero to protect vulnerable road users,” said Shapiro.

“We’re trying to create safe spaces for cyclists, but there still has to be cooperation.

“In terms of safety, the main concern is riders who put themselves in jeopardy. Certainly, there are vehicle drivers who are not safe around cyclists, but many cyclists don’t understand the rules of the road in general.”

If the police stop you for doing something wrong in traffic while riding a bike, you are subject to the same laws under the Highway Traffic Act as anyone driving a car.

Any officer in the city can issue a ticket to a bike rider, but again, it’s a matter of resources.

If there are neighbourhood complaints — cyclists constantly speeding, ignoring four-way stops, or similar — police will sometimes focus on that area.

“If you choose not to follow the rules, the biggest issue is the potential for harm,” said Shapiro.

Cyclists are vulnerable road users, compared to cars, “and though responsible if they run a red light, for example, they are generally the ones who get hurt when things go wrong. We want everyone to follow the rules of the road and go home, safe and sound.”

Shapiro said he wishes everyone would read the online Ministry of Transportation driver’s handbook and learn the rules of the road.

“We’d like to see more cooperation from cyclists. For them to be more responsible. You really do have to stop at stop signs. There’s a joint responsibility.

“Traffic safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

**END OF ARTICLE**


Cycle Toronto is a member-supported charitable organization that works to make Toronto a healthy, safe and vibrant cycling city for all. We are focused on advocacy, education and encouragement, as we work to shape policy and infrastructure, and build community to transform our city’s cycling culture.
 

By Ry Shissler on May 11, 2022

  Police, Toronto Police Service

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