I saw posts on social media about cyclists getting speeding tickets in Toronto this week. Most cyclists don’t have speedometers, so how do we know how fast we’re going? It doesn’t seem fair. – Chris, Toronto
Daniel Oulton was on his way to work last week when he got caught in a speed trap in Toronto’s High Park – on his bike.
“At the bottom of the hill by the café there were a bunch of cops there with radar guns pulling over cyclists,” said Oulton 31, who works in the park’s amphitheatre as a COVID-19 infection control monitor. “I was really frustrated by that because I was not racing by any means – I had a [saddlebag] full of supplies and my lunch.”
At 8:50 a.m. on Tuesday, Oulton got a $125 ticket for breaking the park’s 20 km/h speed limit. He was riding on a public road shared with cars.
He was charged under Chapter 608, Section 32 of Toronto’s Municipal Code. The ticket doesn’t say how fast Oulton was going.
“There were a group of three cyclists pulled over and they pulled over at least two other [cyclists] in the five minutes I was there – they didn’t ticket any cars,” Oulton said. “I asked them about the cars that had passed me going down the hill, and they said they were equally targeting everyone.”
Since bylaw enforcement officers aren’t allowed to pull over vehicles, they partnered with Toronto police for the two-day blitz, the city said in an email.
They issued 126 tickets – 62 to cyclists and 64 to drivers – for speeding and not coming to a complete stop at stop signs.
“The speed limit is posted throughout the park and painted on the roadway; however, speeding cyclists and vehicles has been a long-standing issue and remains a concern,” city spokeswoman Marcela Mayo said in an email.
Mayo said the road passes areas where children play, including the splash park, swimming pools and sports fields.
Oulton said he didn’t know he was going over 20 km/h.
“I want to know how I’m expected to know my speed on a bike without a speedometer,” Oulton said. “If they had just given me a warning, I would have been very grateful – they have a thousand-dollar radar gun and I have an old road bike I brought with me from Halifax.”
Off the radar?
So, why issue tickets instead of giving warnings?
In an email, Toronto police said, where a bylaw exists, “both police officers and municipal by-law enforcement officers can take action and lay charges if they are warranted.”
But Toronto lawyer Dave Shellnutt, who specializes in cycling cases, said he plans to help Oulton fight the ticket in court.
“How a cyclist without a speedometer is supposed to know they are speeding is beyond me,” Shellnutt said. “I’m going to argue that.”
Shellnutt worries that police enforcement might discourage people from cycling.
“We want to encourage people to bike safely and control their speed in the park,” Shellnutt said. “If there are issues during the day with pedestrians and cyclists, we need to address those – but it’s not with police who are armed with weapons and handing out tickets.”
The city and Toronto police did not say whether there had been collisions between cyclists and pedestrians in the park.
Overall, the number of reported collisions between pedestrians and cyclists in Toronto is low.
Cycle Toronto, a cycling advocacy nonprofit, said Toronto police’s collisions database shows 35 collisions between pedestrians and cyclists out of nearly 17,000 traffic collisions between 2006 and 2020. There were no fatalities.
None of those collisions between pedestrians and cyclists were in High Park.
So far this year in Toronto, 15 people, including seven pedestrians, have been killed in car crashes.
“So what is the impetus and urgency with cyclists here, as opposed to addressing other serious traffic issues?” Shellnutt said.
“There are a couple of pretty steep hills and they lead to a lot of conflict,” Perks said. “The conflict has gotten a lot sharper since we started closing High Park to cars on the weekend.”
Perks said police didn’t run their enforcement plans by him, but he understands why enforcement is necessary.
“If there’s a way we could just ask nicely and everyone would slow down, we would – but we’ve tried that,” Perks said. “You may not have a speedometer on your bike, but there are signs everywhere – and if you’ve ever ridden a bike, you know 20 km/h is pretty slow.”
After Oulton got his ticket, he tried the same route again with a smartphone app that showed his speed at the end of the ride.
“I wanted to see what 20 km/h feels like, and it felt slow,” Oulton said.
Generally, cyclists have to follow the same rules of the road as drivers. The fines are the same, but cyclists don’t get demerits.
Ontario’s Ministry of Transportation (MTO) said that Section 128 of the Highway Traffic Act, which sets speed limits, only applies to motor vehicles - so it doesn’t apply to bikes or e-bikes.
But municipalities can set their own bylaws that apply to cyclists on bike paths, the MTO said.
Speedometers aren’t required on bikes anywhere in Canada.
So, do cyclists get speeding tickets in other cities? Police in Vancouver and Montreal said they don’t issue speeding tickets to cyclists.
Vancouver police say they rarely issue traffic tickets to cyclists at all.
“Typically, they’d have to be doing something very reckless or discourteous for this to happen, and, generally speaking, we don’t see that happening on a regular basis,” said Sgt. Steve Addison, Vancouver police spokesman, in an email.
Like other cities, Calgary has seen a COVID-19 bicycle boom and there are more pedestrians and cyclists on paths now, the city said in an email.
During August, the city will roll out an education campaign to get cyclists to stick below 20 km/h on trails. It will be followed by an enforcement campaign.
Since 2017, Calgary has issued seven warnings and no tickets for speeding cyclists.
But in Toronto’s High Park, speeding tickets for cyclists aren’t a permanent solution, Perks said.
Changes need to be made to the park’s roads to slow down cyclists and to make it safer for pedestrians to cross.
“In the longer term, or even the medium term, our goal is to do this by design,” Perks said. “Right now there’s a loop that was used as part of the cycle track during the  Pan Am games.”
The city is running an online survey to get people’s thoughts on longer-term changes to the park.
“I appreciate that in the city of Toronto, cyclists get a pretty raw deal,” Perks said, adding that a network of protected bike lanes is needed. “But we have a lot of people racing through there and it’s a park, it’s not a main street – so that’s why we’re trying this.”
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