Saturday, June 14, 2008

Boy, am I glad I’m out of town this week!

The Toronto Police Service celebrates Bike Month in their usual fashion: by cracking down on Highway Traffic Act (HTA) and Municipal Code offences by cyclists.

The Police Service’s news release is unobjectionable, but Cyclometer (the City Corporation’s cycling newsletter) is a bit scarier:
The annual police enforcement campaign for Toronto cyclists begins officially on Monday, June 16.

Police will be enforcing Highway Traffic Act violations such as no bell ($110), failure to stop/stop sign ($110), red light ($180), no front light/rear light beginning a half hour before sunset, sidewalk riding, unsafe lane change, failure to signal, and others, and encouraging proper safety equipment for all wheeled road users. Conviction can result in points on a driver's licence in addition to the fines. The campaign, also known as 'Bike and Wheel Sport Safety', lasts for one week.

Cyclists are advised to consider carefully the rules of the road and the Highway Traffic Act as it applies to them before setting off.

My personal skin in this is minimal: the only offence I commit on a regular basis—or, indeed, ever—is not having a bell.

What bothers me much more are two things: First, the notion that a blitz on cyclists is really a worthwhile use of police time. Second, is the inherent unfairness of enforcing the cycling provisions of the HTA only one or two weeks of the year. Let me explain: if I drive through a stop sign without slowing down, in plain sight of a P.C. in his or her cruiser, they’re very likely to pull me over, even if they’re not assigned to watch that stop sign. On the other hand, if I blow through that same stop sign on my bike, again in plain sight of a P.C. in their cruiser, I am very unlikely to be ticketed–unless it’s blitz week. This sets up a sense of gross unfairness in the ticketed cyclist’s mind.

And the way the blitz is organized almost guarantees that relatively unimportant offences are focused on. During the blitz, each of the Police Service’s 17 divisions is required to report how many cycling-related offences they ticketed, and the division’s traffic sergeant reminds the patrol officers of their responsibility to (literally) fill out a form counting up the number of offences ticketed in the division. That means that the much vaunted “officer discretion” that police officers enjoy under common law is thrown out the window, and inconsequential but highly provable offences like the lack of a bell are ticketed heavily.

Regardless, I’m safe. I won’t be riding a bike in the City of Toronto until June 22. This week, like last, I’ll be in Burnaby, British Columbia, specifically its Metrotown district. (You can see a nice, schematized map of my temporary neighbourhood here; I’m staying in the Holiday Inn Express in Station Square.) I’m doing some work for the transit agency that serves Metro Vancouver and its environs, and, as I remarked to a friend, “TransLink is paying me to work this week, and they’re getting their money’s worth!” In the nearly four days I’ve been here, I’ve managed only two, or more precisely 1½, of my scheduled six work-outs: I swam nine hundred metres in the Bonsor Recreation Complex’s chaotically crowded pool, and ran 44 minutes to Central Park and back, getting tangled up in the Vancouver Easter Seals 24 Hour Relay for the Kids. Coach Steve responded to a report of my poor results by revising my training plan, and remarking, “It looks like you can get some good training in the rest of the time you’re there. Carve it out of your schedule and try to get it in.” (Emphasis added.) For the mild-mannered Steve, that’s his equivalent of yelling in my face. With my Ironman less than three months away, perhaps I need some yelling at.

Tomorrow will be a four-hour(!) ride on my bike. I have no idea where I’ll ride, but I have a hard copy of the official Greater Vancouver Cycling Guide & Map to pore over this evening–after I assemble my bike! Steve has set me with some more swims and a 1:45 run on Tuesday, which I’ll probably do along the B.C. Parkway, which mostly follows the right of way of the British Columbia Electric Railway, which last carried passengers in 1954, but traces of which you can still see, e.g., at Patterson Avenue; the r.o.w. is now mostly occupied by the elevated SkyTrain.

UPDATE: The City of Toronto’s cycling office sent this correction on June 17:
The June issue of Cyclometer contains incorrect information about the Highway Traffic Act as it applies to bicycles. We apologize for the error. Please note of the following correction:

The HTA defines bicycles are defined as vehicles. As vehicle operators, cyclists are subject to most of the same HTA requirements as drivers of motor vehicles. However, there are some important differences. The application of demerit points is an important difference.

According the the Ontario Ministry of Transportation, "the demerit point system only applies to certain offenses committed in a motor vehicle. However, I understand that on rare occasions demerit points are in error assigned to the driving record of an individual for an offense committed on a bicycle. When the Ministry of Transportation is notified of such occurrences, the error is immediately corrected." (1993 letter from Ontario Minister of Transportation to the Chair of the Toronto Cycling Committee)

We continue to hear that cyclists are being charged with demerit points in error. If you are being given a summons by a police officer ask them to clearly indicate that the "vehicle type" is "bicycle" on the Provincial Offenses Notice. If the notice is submitted to the Ministry of Transportation without a bicycle being indicated then it could be mistakenly coded as a motor vehicle offense.

Note: Some of the fines listed in Cyclometer were also incorrect. The fine for running a red light on a bike or motor vehicle is $190. Bikes are required to have a front light and a rear reflector beginning a half hour before sunset until a half hour after sunrise.


Blogger Mona Albano said...

I guess I'd better put a bell on my bike if I'm going to ride it down to Ian's place to feed cats.

8:57 p.m.  

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