- Toronto’s High Park has become a speed trap for cyclists who look for car-free areas to ride.
- Police have also been ticketing cyclists for trespassing, an off-duty officer physically assaulted a cyclist, and on-duty officer blew a stop sign and hit a cyclist.
- David Shellnutt of The Biking Lawyer LLP calls on Toronto’s mayor to take action to protect cyclists and urges cyclists who are fined to fight the tickets rather than pay up.
In recent weeks, Toronto’s High Park has become a battleground as cyclists try to ride in the car-free area safely and police target and ticket them. But beyond simple speeding tickets, there’s a darker side: Police have also been ticketing cyclists for trespassing, an off-duty officer physically assaulted a cyclist, and an on-duty officer blew a stop sign and hit a cyclist.
Lawyer and cycling advocate David Shellnutt of The Biking Lawyer LLP has been vocal about these incidents, calling on Toronto’s mayor to take action and protect cyclists by hosting pop-up rides in the park and taking legal actions against the police who have been terrorizing the city’s cyclists.
Shellnutt wrote an open letter to Toronto’s mayor, John Tory, earlier this week, detailing the most recent incident. A police officer who was driving his SUV in High Park while ticketing cyclists actually hit one just outside of the park, while the rider was cycling in a bike lane. He was at a four-way stop with the officer and stopped. The officer turned right into him, failing to yield the right of way. The officer claimed that the sun was in his eyes. A supervisor came down to the scene, but it is still unclear if the officer was charged for the collision or effectively running a stop sign.
When asked about the incident, a spokesperson for the Toronto Police Department said: “We can confirm that on August 2, 2022, at approximately 6:30 p.m., a minor collision took place between a police vehicle and a cyclist at the intersection of Colborne Lodge Drive and Centre Road in the High Park area. There were no injuries reported. Traffic Services is continuing their investigation.”
While the cyclist was uninjured, his bike sustained significant damage—$2,067.90 worth of damage, according to Shellnutt. “This represents the only collision we have heard of in the park for weeks, caused by the very people alleged to be there preventing collisions and dangerous driving,” he adds.
“In no other incident would ‘the sun being in his eyes’ be an acceptable excuse for any traffic violation,” Shellnutt says. “It makes no sense that it could be an excuse in this situation.” (And from a vision perspective, sun in one’s eyes shouldn’t have made a cyclist only feet in front of a car invisible.)
One of several incidents
Shellnutt describes another worrisome incident that happened last week: “We received a call from a woman who was chased down on her bike by some man just outside of the park, who said he wanted to teach cyclists a lesson. He grabbed her bike and tossed her to the ground, essentially assault. She called the police. They showed up and let the guy go. We were curious as to why… Later, it turns out, that he’s actually an off-duty police officer. It’s wild.”
When asked about the incident, a spokesperson for the Toronto Police Department said: “We can confirm police attended the High Park Avenue and Bloor Street area on August 1 at approximately 5 p.m. for an unknown trouble call. The incident was investigated and there were no injuries reported and no charges laid.”
The week prior, a BIPOC cyclist riding in High Park reported another incident to Shellnutt, saying: “A police officer was driving his SUV in the bike lane, so I tried to get around him from the left. He gave me a warning for speeding. I asked him not to drive in the bike lane and squeeze people in. He proceeded to speed up pull up in front of me in an aggressive way and make me stop. I asked the officer if he was detaining me. He then gave me a $65-ticket for ‘engaging in prohibited activity.’”
And in the background, there are the speeding tickets we’ve written about previously: Police officers patrol the park, citing cyclists who are going even a kilometer per hour above the posted limit, while just outside of the park, cyclists are in danger even while riding in the bike lanes. Shellnutt recalls that last August, he retained three clients who had all been struck at intersections surrounding High Park while riding in the bike lanes, all suffering serious injuries as a result. “And that issue isn’t being dealt with,” he says. “Instead, cops are ticketing riders.”
A spokesperson from the Toronto Police department says that the ticketing is in response to concerns from other park users about cyclists, and says that their approach has been to “educate and caution cyclists who are speeding or committing offenses such as failing to stop at stop signs, and on some occasions, to issue Highway Traffic Act tickets, when necessary.”
“Overall, this is a small part of the traffic enforcement that occurs in the city each day,” the spokesperson noted. “The City of Toronto’s parks bylaw includes a 20 km/h speed limit and officers can use their discretion when deciding to ticket. Cyclists, like all road users, have a responsibility to obey the rules of the road to ensure the safety of pedestrians, motorists and other cyclists.”
But Shellnutt argues that the enforcement feels targeted, compared to other road users—including the officer who struck the cyclist with his SUV. “The officer issuing HTA tickets to cyclists failing to stop himself failed to stop but has not been charged, and that seems like inconsistent enforcement,” he says. “That inconsistent enforcement is at the crux of cyclists concerns: We see cars and delivery trucks parked in bike lanes across the city and in 2018 roughly 140,000 fewer speeding tickets were issued than a decade earlier; 44 per cent fewer careless driving charges; a 7,000-ticket drop in charges for making an unsafe left turn at an intersection, a 93 per cent decline.”
So, what are Shellnutt’s next steps?
Currently, he’s arming cyclists with information on how to fight speeding tickets while also rallying public support for cyclists and calling on the mayor to lay off riders. He’s also taken on the case of the rider who was struck by the police SUV pro bono, while filing a complaint against the off-duty officer who assaulted the female cyclist. And he’s urging cyclists who are fined to fight the tickets rather than quietly paying up.
Regardless of where you live, if you receive a ticket on your bike and don’t think it’s fair, Shellnutt recommends fighting it. Thanks to more virtual/remote options, you’ll likely never have to actually physically appear in court.
“Financially, it’s hard to say that fighting these tickets is worth people’s time, especially those with busy jobs and families,” he says. “But we do think it’s worth it. In Toronto, you have three options when you get one of these tickets: pay, bring it to trial, or speak to a prosecutor. We recommend that everybody opts to speak to the prosecutor. It’s depressing, but we know that in every one of our cases where cyclists are seriously injured and there are charges brought against the driver, those are most often talked down. If motorists who cause serious injury can talk tickets down, then then surely people who didn’t stop at a stop sign in a park or were going a few kilometers over the speed limit will be able to talk their tickets down as well.”
Ultimately, Shellnutt is worried about what this recent onslaught of anti-cyclist sentiment means. “Seeing this targeted enforcement blitz against cyclists strikes us and in the cycling community as a real affront,” he adds. “Every day, we report dangerous drivers parked in bike lanes, and we see scant resources dedicated to solving any of those problems, which cause real harm. We feel like it’s indicative of a mayor and a police force who are either completely out of touch with what’s happening on the on the streets of Toronto, or willfully blind to the carnage being caused out there. Because if you actually cared about safe streets, you would dedicate the resources to where, where people are actually getting injured.”
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