Yesterday marked the beginning of this year’s Bike Blitz. Officially, it’s called the “Safe Cycling – Share the Responsibility Campaign”. It’s a week-long Toronto Police campaign with a stated purpose of “promoting awareness and education” and “reducing the potential for cycling related injuries.” On paper, it sounds like a great idea. After all, who isn’t in favour of more safety and fewer injuries?
The premise is sound, but the problem lies in the implementation. There are two different approaches that can be taken for a campaign such as this. One approach is to use discretion, giving tickets to cyclists who are riding dangerously while educating and warning cyclists who make minor infractions. This can include handing out printed materials about safety and traffic rules. The other approach is to embrace a ‘zero tolerance’ model and hand out as many tickets as possible for minor infractions. The first method increases awareness and strengthens the relationship between police officers and cyclists. The second approach results in cyclists feeling targeted and harassed (some tickets are $100+) while increasing hostility towards the police.
In recent years, the annual campaign has fallen squarely into category #2. There is reason to believe that this year’s event will be better, but we’ll believe it when we see it.
On Monday morning I rose early to attend a 7am press conference (pdf release) about the Bike Blitz. I was a little worried. After all, it was the first press event that I was attending as a blogger. Would I be taken seriously? Would the TV networks shove me aside? Would the daily reporters interrupt my questions? I emotionally prepared myself for the worst as I biked along College to the event. (On the way, I had to swerve around a police car parked in the bikelane…). The two scheduled speakers were Police Officer Hugh Smith and Yvonne Bambrick (from the bike union). I arrived at College and Bellevue five minutes late and was thrilled to see that the media turnout was low. Less competition means more interview time for me. In fact, there was only one media person there. Me.
The three of us spent the next thirty minutes chatting back and fourth about the “Safe Cycling” campaign. I talked bout how the blitz is perceived by many cyclists and I gave examples of things that I thought they could do better:
- Don’t set-up ‘sting’ operations in locations where cyclists are breaking rules in a harmless way, just to hand out more tickets. For example, a favorite spot is College and Augusta, ticketing cyclists who are turning south. Technically, it’s a one way street (northbound), but everyone knows that cyclists go both ways in the Market, and it works just fine. Handing out tickets there does not increase safety. It increases anger. (Especially when the police are giving tickets to customers of Bikes on Wheels who are taking a bike for a test ride on Augusta – This happened last year). Riding two-ways on a one way street is considered safe practice in many cities, and in some places it’s actually written into the law.
- Let cyclists use a ‘rolling stop’ at stop signs. This means that they slow down, look both ways, and proceed. Again, this is common legal practice in some jurisdictions and for good reason: it works and it’s safe. Toronto’s Bike Blitz often sets up on Beverly, north of Dundas, where officers give tickets to any cyclist who does not come to a complete stop (by putting their foot on the ground). No discretion. No warning. $110 fine. Please, please tell me how this increases awareness or safety? It’s annoying, immature, petty and fits my description of ‘harassment’ to a tee.
- Don’t just go after cyclists. You want to “reduce the potential for cycling related injuries”? Then put tickets on all those cars that are parked in the bike lane! They are the people who are putting lives at risk, not the cyclists who slow down at stop signs, or bike slowly south on Augusta.
Officer Smith was quite friendly and supportive. He was a Cycling Officer for ten years (52 Div) as well as a bike instructor. He’s an expert on the Highway Traffic Act, safety education and policy reform. He assured me that the police want to take a new approach to the Blitz, and only go after the ‘bad apples’ – on bikes as well as in cars. He said that his goal is to get “all users to the share the road responsibly” and to “raise awareness about bike use.” I asked him what he thought about biking in the city and without hesitation, he said “it’s the way to go.”
Hopefully, the seven day campaign will focus on dangerous drivers and cyclists who are truly riding recklessly. Bad cyclists give the rest of us a bad name, and I’d be happy if the police confiscated their bikes and threw them in jail for a day or two. But leave the rest of us alone. Targeting cyclists for minor infractions with expensive tickets will only increase resentment towards the police and make cyclists feel that they are, once again, being treated as second class citizens by a city that says it wants to be green but discriminates against the very people who are actually trying to live sustainably.
The blitz campaign runs from Monday June 22nd to Sunday June 28th. Share your stories here. I’ll post updates during the week.
Resource: “How To Fight Traffic Tickets” (by ARC)