Cops target cyclists for breaking rules of the road during marathon blitz
By BRETT CLARKSON, SUN MEDIA
Last Updated: 4th October 2009, 4:51am
At 6 p.m. on a night earlier this week, a cyclist heading east on the Danforth slowed down at a red light at Playter Blvd. and came to a full and complete stop.
Toronto Police Sgt. Jack West, driving a 54 Division minivan, couldn't help but notice the relative rarity of such a sight. In addition to the mere fact she actually stopped at the red, the cyclist seemed to be observing all the rules of the road.
She was also wearing a helmet -- even though it's not mandatory for cyclists over 18 -- and she even had the requisite bell and reflective lights on her bike. And after the light turned green, this safety conscious cyclist actually used hand signals when she went to change lanes to avoid the parked cars along the curb on Danforth Ave.
"Awesome behaviour of a cyclist," West noted.
Although more cyclists are adhering to the rules of the road, too many cyclists still do not, according to cops like West, who monitor local streets.
On the same night he observed that responsible cyclist, police in 54 Division -- encompassing the east side from Danforth Ave. north to Eglinton Ave. E., between the Don River and Victoria Park Ave. --issued 184 tickets against cyclists in a five-hour blitz, from 4 p.m. until 9 p.m.
And although police across the city enforce laws for cyclists, West wanted to organize a concentrated effort in 54 Division to get the word out that police are serious about cyclists -- and drivers -- who break the law.
For the three weeks prior to Wednesday evening, police in the division had handed out hundreds of flyers to cyclists in an effort to make them aware of the law as it pertains to them. For instance, all bicycles in Ontario must have a working bell or horn and they must have proper lighting, which includes a white light or reflector tape in the front and red in the back. Fines range from $18.75 for riding on the sidewalk to $325 for careless driving, although most fines are $110.
The riding habits of cyclists have been under increased scrutiny since former attorney general Michael Bryant was allegedly involved in an Aug. 31 fatal incident with a cyclist, Darcy Allan Sheppard. As well, with the province this week legalizing electric bikes, the roads are only going to see more pedal-pushers.
West, the lead traffic cop in 54 Division, said there are more cyclists on the road but also more irresponsible cyclists too.
He estimates of the approximately 150 cyclists he saw during the blitz, only 35 were fully compliant.
West wants all of the cyclists in his police division to be fully compliant, for their sake as well as for the drivers and pedestrians with whom they share the road.
"There are more cyclists today," West said.
"I think it's a fantastic mode of transportation. I want cyclists to understand the law in order to protect themselves."
Of that 184 tickets police issued to cyclists, 49 went to bikers whose bikes didn't have a working bell. Forty of the tickets were issued because the cyclist didn't have proper working lights, and 38 were issued to cyclists who were riding on the sidewalk. Other citations were given to cyclists who didn't stop at red lights or who made improper lane changes.
It's part of West's effort to emphasize the fact that bikes need to make themselves obvious on the road. It's a stance he repeats several times during the enforcement blitz.
"A bicycle is a small unit, therefore there's two important factors to me," West said.
"They have to be seen and they have to be heard. That's why the lighting and the bell are important."
Cops also tagged drivers -- though not as aggressively as cyclists, judging by the numbers -- but only wrote five tickets to motorists who made life difficult for cyclists.
Those offences included three improper turns, one failure to signal a lane change, and one ticket for a driver who opened his door in the path of a cyclist.
The cyclist didn't hit the door, thankfully.
"I just think that for years, we've been enforcing the highway traffic act on drivers," said West, adding the focus of enforcement on drivers has contributed to a lax attitude among cyclists, too many of whom blatantly ignore the rules of the road while riding.
But still, drivers need to be aware that they share the road equally with cyclists, West said.
"If both the motorists and the cyclists start obeying the existing laws, we're all going to get along better," he said.