Skip to main content

Toronto Police Constable Blair Begbie and Constable Vince Wong, here, work a detail on Beverly Street south of Baldwin Street in Toronto on April 29, 2011. Both officers are "bike cops" and were working during the one day bicycle blitz (Photo by Peter Power/The Globe and Mail)Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

The death last month of an Ontario man, after being struck on a sidewalk by a cyclist, is only the latest in a rash of serious collisions involving pedestrians and bicycles across Canada. An oft-given excuse is that the cyclists are themselves only trying to escape very real dangers on the roads, but that does not give them licence to endanger pedestrians. Motorists certainly pose a danger to cyclists, but it does not follow that cyclists can seek sanctuary on the sidewalks. We do not occupy a planet where cyclist safety trumps all else.

As the death of Nobu Okamoto shows, bikes are a menace on sidewalks, and vigorous enforcement of existing penalties is needed. Police are right to consider criminal charges in Mr. Okamoto's case.

In Ontario, bicycles are considered vehicles under the province's Highway Traffic Act. Yet there is a large gap in enforcement. Cars that fly through red lights or stop signs would be quickly reported and, if caught, severely prosecuted. Not so bikes, which are a lesser threat, but a threat just the same.

While police in Winnipeg, Hamilton and Ottawa have cracked down on the practice, the rulebook often seems to go out the window when cyclists take to the sidewalks, where they are not permitted any more than cars or trucks are (with an obvious exemption for children). In Toronto, the law is more malleable, permitting bicycles with a wheel diameter no more than 61 centimetres on the sidewalk. In some cases misuse of mini-bikes has resulted in serious accidents. Clearly the law must be toughened on all fronts.

Even the most severe penalty under the Highway Traffic Act, careless driving, which carries a fine of up to $2,000 and six months in jail, is slight in response to serious injury or death. Why then should Criminal Code provisions for dangerous driving, which carry much stiffer sentences, only apply to operators of motor vehicles, and not bikes? For Mr. Okamoto, and others who have been seriously injured, the effect is certainly the same.