Longboarder's death has riders assessing risks

The death of a longboarder in downtown Toronto after an apparent altercation with a cab driver has fellow riders thinking about their safety when travelling on city streets.
An apparent altercation between a cab driver and a longboarder on Monday left one man dead and another charged with second-degree murder. (CBC)

The death of a longboarder in downtown Toronto after an apparent altercation with a cab driver has fellow riders thinking about their safety when travelling on city streets.

Longboarder Benjamin Andringa said the city's back streets and alleys are the only safe place to ride these days, adding that Toronto drivers are simply too unpredictable.

"Well there's just so many cars ripping around…It's classic downtown," he said. "And I've heard so much about people getting killed on bikes that I stay off the road as much as I can and take back alleys."

Police initially believed the death of Ralph Bissonnette, 28, was a tragic accident, but they now allege he was intentionally run over after a verbal exchange with a cab driver. Bissonnette had been skating in the curb lane with a taxi beside him in the passing lane when the vehicle suddenly swerved and struck him, investigators say.

The cab driver, Adib Ibrahim, 43, now faces a charge of second-degree murder.

Jonathan Nuss has been riding a longboard for a decade and said he experiences road rage all the time.

"I can feel the tension lately," he said. "It's because there's not a lot of room, people are really stressed out. People are on their cellphones, they're not paying attention to the road, and it's really frustrating."

Growing popularity

Sebastien Bravo, who runs the Longboard Living store, said motorists must get used to sharing the road with longboarders.

He said sales at his Kensington Market store have doubled this year, with many adults turning to longboards as a way to get around the city.

Longboarders say they can do 15-30 km/h, often next to vehicles on the road.

However, a space on Ontario's roads for skate and long-boarders isn't currently on the books.

"Whether it's a skateboard, longboard, inline skates, you're still considered a pedestrian," said Constable Hugh Smith of Toronto Police Traffic Services.

"There's no area in the Highway Traffic Act that deals with skateboarders or longboarders."

Technically, longboards are supposed to be on the sidewalk, but police admit that's rarely enforced.

On Toronto's sidewalks, a person walking has the right of way.

Andringa takes the subway downtown and then skates his modified longboard the rest of the way to work.

He knows that's not safe, especially on the road, which is why he stays on the sidewalk.

"So I weave through people but I try to be pretty respectful, like I don't rip around people or whatever." 

City of Toronto bylaws say that "riding/operating a bicycle (or roller skates, in-line skates, skateboard, coaster, toy vehicle) on a sidewalk without due care and attention and reasonable consideration for others" is prohibited.

Fines for violating that rule vary across the city, from $3.75 in Scarborough up to $85 in downtown, Smith said.

Unlike skateboards, bicycles are defined as vehicles and are not allowed on sidewalks, unless they have a tire size of less than 61 centimetres. That caveat is meant to allow young cyclists to use the sidewalk while they learn to ride.

However, bicycles with tires over 61 centimetres must go on the street, according to the bylaws.

Rules that govern what is permitted on municipal roads and sidewalks vary from city to city depending on bylaws.

The introduction of new forms of transportation is also raising questions about where they can and cannot  go.

E-bikes, which include power-assisted bicycles and low-speed electric scooters, are still relatively new to Ontario's streets and roads after the provincial government legalized them in 2009.

Toronto says it is reviewing its bylaws because its current rules don't reflect products now on the market.

However, in Toronto parks, e-bikes may be ridden on parks roads, but motors are not allowed to be used on park paths and trails.

with files from Jeff Semple and Priya Sankaran