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driving concerns

Are cyclists supposed to walk their bikes in crosswalks instead of riding through? I don’t dismount at crosswalks when I ride my bike and I don’t often see anyone else do it. – Lance, Toronto

In Ontario, the law says to get off your bike and walk it across a crosswalk. That’s because bikes are considered vehicles under the law.

“All cyclists must obey all traffic laws and have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers,” Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation said in an e-mail statement.

In Ontario, that law states that nobody can “ride or operate a bicycle across a roadway” within a crosswalk or a pedestrian crossover (a dedicated crosswalk that’s not at an intersection). That means you have to walk across with your bike.

“If you are a cyclist [on your bike], you should be crossing in a lane of traffic just like any other vehicle,” said Sean Shapiro, a constable with the traffic services division of the Toronto Police Service. “Cyclists have this wonderful ability to transform. They go from being a vehicle wanting all the rights and freedoms of being a vehicle. … Then they want to transform into pedestrians when they want to ride in crosswalks or on the sidewalk.

Cyclists riding in crosswalks are “really causing a safety issue for pedestrians,” Shapiro said. “[A bicycle] is still a vehicle … You’re still travelling at a considerable speed.”

The rules vary by province and sometimes by city – but in cities including Vancouver and Halifax, riding a bike across crosswalks is banned.

Some cities, including Edmonton, have some specially marked crosswalks meant for both pedestrians and bikes – and cyclists are allowed to ride in them.

Build more (and better) bike lanes?

Some people think the no-riding-in-a crosswalk law should take a ride.

“I usually ride myself across [crosswalks] – not at speed and I make sure that I’m keeping an eye out for pedestrians,” said Lanrick Bennett Jr., a Toronto biking advocate. “Sometimes, that forward momentum is what actually keeps me safe – and I’d rather keep myself alive riding my bike than put myself in unnecessary danger.”

Bennett said the crosswalk law is one of several laws – including the rule that cyclists must come to a complete stop at stop signs – that should change because they don’t recognize that pedal-powered bikes are different vehicles than cars or motorcycles.

“They’re two completely different modes of transportation,” Bennett said. “[Those laws] should be completely upgraded for the times that we’re living in.”

But Michael Longfield, executive director of advocacy group Cycle Toronto, said building more bike lanes and including specific crosswalks and signals for cyclists is a better idea than changing the law.

“We don’t have the kind of cycling networks that we really need so that folks can get around and feel safe and protected,” Longfield said. “Often people will make other choices, [like] riding in crosswalks because, from their perspective, that space [will keep them safe].”

Scott Butler, the executive director of Good Roads, an Oakville, Ont.-based road advocacy and research group, agrees.

“The law is pretty clear, and I think it’s a surprise to many cyclists,” Butler said. I think the other bigger [issue] really is ensuring that we’re putting in place infrastructure that allows people to cycle safely.”

Toronto is behind on a 2021 plan to add 100 more kilometres of new bike lanes by the end of this year, Butler said.

Shared fault if you’re hit?

If you’re hit while riding your bike in a crosswalk, you still may be able to sue the driver who hit you, said David Shellnutt, a Toronto lawyer who specializes in cases involving cyclists.

“Just because a cyclist is riding in a crosswalk doesn’t give a motorist free rein to hit them,” Shellnutt said. “There was a case where a police officer hit a cyclist illegally biking in a crosswalk … and the officer was still found to be 60 per cent at fault because the judge said you still should have seen the guy.”

Shellnutt, who walks his bike across crosswalks, doesn’t think the law should be changed.

“I get why people don’t [get off their bikes],” Shellnutt said. “It doesn’t make sense for the flow of traffic and people’s transportation needs – but that’s because we don’t have the infrastructure.”

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