on a frigid sunday morning acouple of weeks ago, I was cycling up Euclid Avenue north of Bloor, my breath forming little clouds in front of my face. All of a sudden, a siren sounded right behind my rear wheel and a police cruiser pulled up beside me. The passenger window lowered and I felt a rush of warm air wafting from the cozy squad car."You just ran through a stop sign back there," the officer said, adding ominously, "We could fine you $110 for that, and if you have a driver's licence you'd lose points." I said I was sorry and would never do it again, but my mind was reeling. Here were two motorists ensconced in heavy metal and glass, lecturing an all-season cyclist in a non-polluting, non-lethal form of transit about public safety.
That's the law for you. In this case, it's the Highway Traffic Act. Back in the days when city cycling was a novelty, the orthodoxy from two-wheel advocates was that riders should obey all the rules to win engineless vehicles a place on the pavement. But what have 20 years of playing by the rules of the Highway Traffic Act gotten us? Not much, judging by the testimony last weekend at the annual Law Union of Ontario conference, held at OISE.
The fact that the law treats cyclists the same as motor vehicles is a problem, participants declared, not a plus. "We're not the same," protests Steve Brearton of Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists. "We're more vulnerable. We don't take up as much space. And we don't kill people."
How antiquated is the Highway Traffic Act? It still talks about "gongs" as approved warning devices. More sinisterly, it requires cyclists to act in ways that endanger their safety. For example, it's illegal for cyclists to use flashing lights. And the act insists that those who pedal stay as close to the sidewalk "as practicable' although it also says you're supposed to pass on the left. If a car is making a right-hand turn and a cyclist is moving through the intersection, who's supposed to yield? The law doesn't say.
But there's nothing more ridiculous than the way Toronto police are going after cyclists who don't come to a full and complete stop at stop signs. Riders have even been dinged when they've stopped but failed to put both feet on the ground, Brearton says.
The law needs to be rewritten so that it recognizes a hierarchy of road users, with pedestrians at the top, bike advocates say. Cars and cyclists would defer to walkers; cars would yield to cyclists. How likely is that to happen?
Well, there are some bright spots, like Allan Heisey, an all-year cyclist, a development lawyer and a member of the police services board, who told the Law Union that instead of going on the regular ride-around in a car offered members of the board, he's insisted on going with officers on bikes. Now, if we could only teach Julian Fantino to pedal.