Toronto’s Dangerous Streets

Update:

Cyclists should be able to move around the City and arrive home without incident. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
Cyclists should be able to move around the City and arrive home without incident. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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Constable Clinton Stibbe is having a rough summer. The Toronto police officer got in hot water last month when he suggested that impatient pedestrians dashing across busy intersections were to blame for slowing traffic. He was in hot water again last week when he suggested that “cyclist error” might have been responsible for the death of a 71-year-old man whose bike ran into a parked van.

Constable Stibbe promptly apologized. Police were still investigating the events that led to the bike crash, he said.

The Yonge St and Dundas Street intersection. This is one of the most vehicle/pedestrian travelled intersections in Canada. photo by fightyourtickets
The Yonge St and Dundas Street intersection. This is one of the most vehicle/pedestrian travelled intersections in Canada. photo by fightyourtickets

But the incidents point to a troubling tendency to blame the victim in road accidents. As the number of pedestrians and cyclists killed or injured on the roads piles up, and Canadian cities struggle with how to bring the toll down, some are pinning responsibility on the distracted, reckless behaviour of those who are being hurt.

It’s easy to see how that idea has taken hold. Just about anyone who has spent time behind the wheel has had to jam on the brakes when a pedestrian sprints to get through a gap in moving traffic or a cyclist in black clothes and no bike light bombs out of the dark, taking his life in his hands. Sometimes, it has to be said, pedestrians or cyclists are indeed to blame for putting themselves in danger.

But that is not the root of the problem. Scolding pedestrians and cyclists about their wayward habits won’t do much to bring down the toll on the roads. People are programmed to take the shortest route between two points. In a hurry-up world, it’s unrealistic to think that we can curb the impatience of those who are bustling around urban streets on the way to work or play.

A row of bicycles in the downtown core. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
A row of bicycles in the downtown core. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

The answer instead is to redesign our roads, and the rules that govern them, to acknowledge the fact that the roads are not just the preserve of motorists but shared among everyone who uses them.

Take a look at an old photograph of, say, Dublin a century ago and you can’t help but notice that the main streets are filled with all manner of traffic: people, bikes, horses, carriages. The motorcar changed everything. Engineers designed new roads to get vehicles from one place to another with maximum dispatch. Pedestrians were an afterthought and cyclists were barely considered.

A recent investigation by The Globe and Mail’s Oliver Moore found that many pedestrian deaths and injuries happen on broad avenues in car-dependent suburbs where vehicles move fast and crossing lights are far apart. Many of the victims are not impetuous young people dodging across the street but older people who are not as fast on their feet. Seniors accounted for half of pedestrian fatalities, though they make up just 14 per cent of the population.

One of the busiest intersections in Canada. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
One of the busiest intersections in Canada. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

Making the roads safer, Mr. Moore wrote, will require a “fundamental shift in mindset, one that challenges the car culture and the unspoken attitude that traffic fatalities are an unavoidable reality of urban living.”

One country that has made that shift is Sweden. Its much-copied Vision Zero approach is “based on the recognition that people make mistakes and need a system that allows for that, so that these mistakes aren’t fatal.” That means more pedestrian crossings, lower speed limits in some places and better-designed intersections that require cars to slow if they turn.

Toronto Mayor John Tory’s road-safety plan, coming before City Council this week, would lower speed limits in many places, improve safety at dangerous intersections and create school-safety zones. It would set aside an extra $40-million over five years for the safety measures

Consider what engineers have accomplished where Toronto’s Hoskin Avenue meets Queen’s Park Crescent, right near Ontario’s legislative building. Cars coming south used to whip around the curve, which was designed like a highway off-ramp. University students hurrying to class scrambled to cross in front of them. Now, a built-out corner makes cars slow or stop. The crossings are better marked and signalled.

That is a much more effective approach than tut-tutting about impatient pedestrians. However careless, a pedestrian or cyclist is always the more vulnerable party in an encounter with a hurtling ton of metal. Rather than try to modify the behaviour of the victims, authorities need to focus on modifying the roads and the rules to make venturing out on city streets safer for all of those who use them.

Require drivers to wait until pedestrians have completely crossed the road before proceeding at school crossings and pedestrian crossovers. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
Require drivers to wait until pedestrians have completely crossed the road before proceeding at school crossings and pedestrian crossovers. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

Toronto: Should Bicycles Be Licensed?

Update:

License on bicycle
License on bicycle carrier, mounted on bike. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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An Etobicoke councillor is looking to wheel out an old and controversial idea at city council next week: bicycle licensing.

Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre) has submitted a motion asking transportation staff to report back early next year on options to license or register adult Torontonians’ bikes.

In an interview with the Star, Holyday said his goal is not to crack down on riders who break the rules of the road, because police already have the ability to ticket cyclists under the provincial Highway Traffic Act. But he said licensing the city’s two-wheeled vehicles could be an effective way to raise money for cycling infrastructure, gather ridership data, and increase safety awareness.

Bicycle with license. Some cyclists have taken it upon themselves to place licence plates on the bike of their bikes. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
Bicycle with licence. Some cyclists have taken it upon themselves to place licence plates on the back of their bikes. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

“Are there potentials for revenue? Are there potentials for information gathering? Is this a way that we can have better cycling infrastructure and better cycling in the city?” he asked.

Holyday, who last month was one of only two councillors to vote against adopting the city’s new 10-year cycling plan, said that if his motion passes he would support whatever staff recommend as a result of their study. But he believes licensing has broad public support.

His motion, which is co-sponsored by Councillor Justin Di Ciano (Ward 5, Etobicoke Lakeshore) cites a Forum Research poll from last month that found 56 per cent of respondents agree that bicyclists should be licensed (Holyday’s motion wouldn’t license riders, however — merely their bikes).

A row of bicycles in the downtown core. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
A row of bicycles in the downtown core. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

Asked why there is such strong support for the idea, Holyday speculated that it may in part be based on the perception that “if cyclists have exclusive use of infrastructure, they should also have to shoulder the cost of that.”

Predictably, the councillor’s motion is not going down well with cycling advocates. Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, said licensing “creates a disincentive to ride a bike” while “not providing any discernible benefit.”

He suggested licensing cyclists to raise money for bike infrastructure was unfair, because riders already contribute to infrastructure costs through property taxes.

Kolb argued that anyone who supports licensing as a way to ensure cyclists obey the rules of the road should instead advocate for more separated bike lanes to “create delineated space for motor vehicles and for cyclists. That is a fundamental way to bring order to the street.”

The idea of bicycle licensing is such a recurrent topic of debate at city hall that the city has set up a web page that outlines why the idea has repeatedly been rejected.

It notes that the city implemented a licensing bylaw in 1935, but rescinded it in 1957. Since then, the city has studied licensing on at least three separate occasions in 1984, 1992, and 1996, and decided against it each time. Previous studies determined that licensing would be a drain on police resources, require the creation of a costly bureaucracy, and be less cost-effective than existing enforcement measures.

Holyday argued that the idea is worth revisiting now because technological advancements could enable the city to institute a licensing regime more efficiently.

Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, the city’s manager of cycling programs, said staff will study the idea again if council asks them to, but “at this point I don’t think our recommendations would change.”

She said that no major jurisdiction in North America or Western Europe has a bike licensing system that takes in enough revenue to even cover administrative costs. “So the concept of it being a source of funds for cycling infrastructure, I think that hasn’t been proven,” she said.

Holyday’s motion will require the support of two-thirds of councillors to make it onto council’s agenda next week. If it fails to win enough votes, it will be referred to the public works and infrastructure committee.

 

Ontario: New Law Limits Level of Window Tinting, Cyclists Rejoice

Update: see previous post – January 16, 2010 Tinting Motor Vehicle Windows

Row of parked bicycles.
Row of parked bicycles.

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Cyclists in Ontario are applauding new laws that go into effect today and will reduce the amount of allowable window tint on vehicles.

New laws prohibit the front windshield from being tinted after market and stipulate windows to the right and left of the driver must not block more than 30 per cent of light.

There will be no new limit for rear windows.

While the law technically goes into effect today, they only affect cars built after Jan. 1, 2017.

Oliver Swainson, who manages City Cyclery in Windsor, Ont., says tinted windows make it difficult for cyclists and pedestrians to know whether the driver sees them.

So, he approves of the changes.

“You can’t tell that that driver is seeing you and it’s almost like Russian roulette as you pass in front of that car,” he said. “If you can see that they see you, it’s a sign of recognition that you’re both aware of each other, you’re not going to hit each other.

“When you can’t make that visual eye contact, it’s very nerve-wracking for both.”

It’s a view shared by police in Ottawa.

A police board report issued in March called the current Ontario laws regulating window tint “vague and problematic.”

“Windows that have too much tint can obstruct the view of the drivers and can make it difficult for pedestrians to make eye contact with drivers prior to stepping off the sidewalk to cross the road safely,” the report reads, in part.

Police also say less tint makes it easier for them to look for distracted drivers, who may be on their cellphone, for example.

Also known as light or tint meters, photometric meters are used to determine how much light passes through a car window.

A police officer in Gatineau, Que., uses a light meter to test the tint of a car window. A report coming before the Ottawa Police Services board on Monday will urge Ontario to match its rules with those that exist in Quebec.
A police officer in Gatineau, Que., uses a light meter to test the tint of a car window. A report coming before the Ottawa Police Services board on Monday will urge Ontario to match its rules with those that exist in Quebec. (CBC)

In Quebec, drivers can be ticketed anywhere from $154 to $525, depending upon the size of their vehicle, if their front side windows fail to let in at least 70 per cent light.

Not ‘end-all, be-all’ solution

Some cyclists say the new laws could prevent “dooring” incidents because they may now be able to see inside the car sooner as they approach — even though changes will not be made to rear window tint.

“If you can’t see effectively out those side mirrors, you have increased risk of striking a cyclist,” Swainson said.

Swainson said the new laws are “not the end-all, be-all” solution.

“It’s one more small step in making our streets safe,” said Swainson, who has been struck at an intersection in the past.

The last update to the province’s laws around car window tinting was in 1990.

Nationwide, approximately 7,500 cyclists are seriously injured every year in Canada, according to CAA. Sixty-four per cent of cyclist deaths from traffic crashes occurred on city roads — those with a speed limit up to 70 km/h. The remainder occurred on rural roads.

B.C.: Cyclists want Ontario’s One-Metre Rule Between Cars/Bikes

Update:

What is the penalty to drivers for not leaving a minimum of one-metre distance when passing a cyclist? The penalty for not leaving a minimum one-metre passing distance is a set fine of $85.00 plus a $5 court fee plus a $20 victim surcharge fine for a total payable of $110.00. Drivers who contest their ticket by going to court may face a fine of up to $500 if found guilty (fine range is $60 to $500). Upon conviction, two demerit points will also be assigned against the individual’s driver record. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
B.C. Cyclists want the B.C. government to adopt Ontario’s one-metre spacing rule between vehicles and cyclists which came into effect on Sept. 1/15. On that date, Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act, Bill 31 came into effect. It means that motorists must give cyclists 1 metre (3.28084 feet) of space when passing them. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

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Reaction on social media to a CBC video about the new law has been interesting, to say the least

A Metro Vancouver cycling advocacy group is calling on the B.C. government to adopt a controversial new Ontario law that requires motorists to give one metre of space when passing cyclists.

Ontario is beginning to enforce the new legislation, passed last September, aimed at making roads safer. It includes a $110 fine and two demerit points for motorists who don’t give cyclist at least one metre of space.

“It’s actually something that we’re pushing for here in B.C.,” said Erin O’Melinn, executive director of HUB.

“It’s indicating to motorists when you have a law like this that you can’t just squeeze by people on bikes, you have to wait until it’s safe.”

Reaction to a CBC News video about police pulling over drivers as part of an awareness campaign included many complaining that vehicles would have to cross the centre dividing line to give cyclists a wide enough berth.

But O’Melinn said that is the safest tactic for keeping cyclists safe.

“You can go into the opposing lane if it’s safe to do so, and if it’s not then you need to slow down and wait until it is safe,” she said.

Police in Ontario agree. They say crossing the centre dividing line is exactly what drivers should do when it’s warranted and safe, just as they do on rural roads to pass slower vehicles.

Some Facebook comments called the law “hypocritical” and “sick.”

“What’s a better way than extorting citizens already taxed to drive a car and on the road and on gas only to deal with idiotic cyclists who never abide by any traffic laws ever,” wrote Nick O’Brien.

In B.C. there are no rules around how close a motorist on the road can legally get to a bike. However, there is a law that says cyclists must stay as far to the right as is practical.

One-metre rule between cars, cyclists gets heated reaction online

Update:

Drivers are being asked to leave one metre of room between their vehicles and cyclists they pass. The relatively new law came into effect in September 2015, and police will begin to enforce it after an educational campaign.
Drivers are being asked to leave one metre of room between their vehicles and cyclists they pass. The fine for not leaving 1 metre or 3.28084 feet of space between a vehicle and a cyclist is $110.00 plus two (2) demerit points. The relatively new law came into effect in September 2015, and police will begin to enforce it after an educational campaign. (CBC)

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‘Absolute idiocy and hypocritical enforcement with a raging double standard’

When you’re driving, do you make sure to keep at least one metre between your vehicle and the cyclists you pass?

If not, each offence in Ontario could cost you $110 and two demerit points — and Ottawa police say they’ll start enforcing the law soon.

But before that happens, police are conducting an educational, awareness-building campaign about the relatively new rule, which came into effect in Ontario in September 2015. To do that, they’re using two fancy new gadgets that beep when drivers get within one metre of them.

Officers used the devices earlier this week to pull over drivers on Somerset Street West as a demonstration only, and the reaction to a video CBC News Ottawa posted about it on social media has been interesting, to say the least.

As of Friday morning it had been viewed nearly 800,000 times and commented on almost 800 times, with the vast majority of people strongly against the rule and its pending enforcement.

Ottawa police cruiser. Ottawa police will start enforcing the one-metre space law that must be maintained as vehicles are passing cyclists. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
Ottawa police cruiser. Ottawa police will start enforcing the one-metre space law that must be maintained as vehicles are passing cyclists. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

Crossing centre line

Many commented that vehicles would have no choice but to cross the centre dividing line to give cyclists a wide enough berth.

Police say that’s exactly what drivers should do when it’s warranted and safe, just as they do on rural roads to pass slower vehicles.

Const. Chuck Benoit Ottawa police cycling one metre rule June 2016
Ottawa police spokesman Const. Chuck Benoit says the law isn’t being enforced with fines and demerit points yet. (CBC)

Ottawa police spokesman Const. Chuck Benoit says the law isn’t being enforced with fines and demerit points yet. (CBC)

“[Drivers are] able to cross that yellow line … when it’s safe to do so,” Ottawa police spokesman Const. Chuck Benoit said in an interview this week.

But what about when there’s oncoming traffic in the opposing lane?

“The motorist has to stay behind the cyclist until it’s safe to [pass],” Benoit said.

Cue the anger.

Ottawa police cruiser. When police begin to enforce the one-metre rule, motorists convicted face a fine of $110 and will gain two (2) demerit points on their driving record. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
Ottawa police cruiser. When police begin to enforce the one-metre rule, motorists convicted face a fine of $110 and will gain two (2) demerit points on their driving record. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

‘This is sick’

“Absolute idiocy and hypocritical enforcement with a raging double standard,” wrote Nick O’Brien on Facebook. “Guess they needed some revenue and what’s a better way than extorting citizens already taxed to drive a car and on the road and on gas only to deal with idiotic cyclists who never abide by any traffic laws ever.”

“I for one will not get myself caught in a face to face with another motorists just because the cyclists didn’t want to ride his bicycle over a manhole on the side of the street and decides to jolt himself in my lane, sorry but it will not happen, tax payers’ money went into making paths for those people and that’s where they belong PERIOD!,” wrote Francois Brousseau.

“This is sick. We pay a lot of money for our right to have our cars on the road and now we have to get out of the way for cyclist. Sorry…but have cyclists pay for their rights to use the road like the others and maybe I will share. Don’t tell me that they are saving the environment …They are killing the economy. People don’t spend and that is not good for our economy. Sorry but this is the way I feel,” wrote Jocelyne Lacelle.

“Good idea, but let’s see the cyclist follow the same rules of the road,” wrote Lily Rose.

“What if the cyclist swerves towards the car? What then?” wrote Marc De Silva.

What is the penalty to drivers for not leaving a minimum of one-metre distance when passing a cyclist? The penalty for not leaving a minimum one-metre passing distance is a set fine of $85.00 plus a $5 court fee plus a $20 victim surcharge fine for a total payable of $110.00. Drivers who contest their ticket by going to court may face a fine of up to $500 if found guilty (fine range is $60 to $500). Upon conviction, two demerit points will also be assigned against the individual’s driver record. photo by fightyourtickets.ca
Making Ontario’s Roads Safer Act, Bill 31 went into effect on Sept.1/15. As a result, what is the penalty to drivers for not leaving a minimum of one-metre distance when passing a cyclist?
The penalty for not leaving a minimum one-metre passing distance is a set fine of $85.00 plus a $5 court fee plus a $20 victim surcharge fine for a total payable of $110.00.
Drivers who contest their ticket by going to court may face a fine of up to $500 if found guilty (fine range is $60 to $500). Upon conviction, two demerit points will also be assigned against the individual’s driver record. photo by fightyourtickets.ca

‘It’s a healthy discussion’

Gareth Davies, president of the Ottawa group Citizens for Safe Cycling, says he’s glad to see any discussion about the issue.

“It’s a start to hopefully a bigger investment in education for all road users around how to share our roads effectively and safely. … I think it’s a healthy discussion. It’s important for people to feel like they understand what the rules are, especially a new rule like this, and it’s nice to see police showing that it’s enforceable without actually enforcing it the first time,” Davies said.

And he understands people wondering about the practicality of the rule, especially downtown.

“It kind of highlights the lack of space we have on some roads, really, and drivers need to know [that] the law allows them, they can cross the yellow line to provide that one-metre cushion for cyclists, and that they need to wait until there’s room in the oncoming lane to do that.”

Gareth Davies president Citizens for Safe Cycling Ottawa June 2016

Gareth Davies, president of Citizens for Safe Cycling, says the discussion being had about the relatively new rule is a good thing. (CBC)