Cyclists gather in High Park to protest as Toronto police deny targeting them for ticket blitz
Ticketing a 'very small part of the traffic enforcement' done each day, police say
A large group of cyclists gathered in High Park on Thursday evening to protest what they say is a campaign by Toronto police to ticket and harass people using bikes in the park.
"We're here because Toronto police have descended on the park at the behest of Mayor Tory," said biking advocate and lawyer Dave Shellnut, one of the protest's organizers, before the cyclists set off on a group ride in west-end Toronto.
Toronto police deny they are carrying out an enforcement blitz against cyclists in High Park and maintain their increased presence has been due to complaints.
"Overall, this is a very small part of the traffic enforcement that occurs in the city each day," police said in a statement posted to its website on Thursday.
"Our presence in High Park, like in any other city park, is intended to enhance the safety of everyone using these shared spaces, including motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians."
But advocates like Shellnut, whose business is called "The Biking Lawyer LLP," released a statement laying out a number of incidents in late July and August that he described as a "fearful series of events", including one in which a Toronto cyclist was struck by a police car, and another in which one was reportedly ticketed for biking 6 km over the speed limit.
"We're getting lots of reports about, 'I'm going to stop going to High Park until the police are out of there, it's making me very uncomfortable,'" he said.
16 tickets given out, say police
Police said they issued 16 traffic tickets to cyclists and 1,215 traffic tickets to motorists in and around High Park between January 2021 and Aug. 10, 2022.
Officers have issued tickets to cyclists for such offences as failing to stop at stop signs and red lights, unsafe movement on lanes or shoulders, and failing to wear a helmet on a motor-assisted vehicle, police said.
"Our focus has largely been on public safety, education and cautions to both cyclists and motorists," police said. "That said, we take community complaints seriously and where officers see cycling behaviour that risks public safety, they have the discretion to lay charges and have done so, when necessary."
The statement comes after Cycle Toronto, a member-supported charity, reported an increase in police ticketing people on bikes in the popular west end park. Tensions between police and cyclists have been rising, the charity has said.
Alison Stewart, senior advocacy manager for Cycle Toronto, previously told CBC Toronto that police enforcement in the park is adding to the tensions.
"The targeting of cyclists in High Park is not only unproductive, it's inequitable," she said.
Cycle Toronto meets with mayor to propose solutions
Cycle Toronto, meanwhile, said in a news release on Wednesday that its leaders met with Toronto Mayor John Tory in a bid to diffuse the tension in the park between police and cyclists and to propose solutions.
The charity said Tory was willing to consider implementing solutions before the end of the year and expressed interest in the idea of a car-free pilot in the park seven days a week. The group said it had a "frank and open discussion" with the mayor.
We met with Mayor John Tory today to discuss how we can work together to reduce tensions in High Park and make it a safe space for all road users.<br><br>Read the full news release here:<a href="https://t.co/4EH3usLpF6">https://t.co/4EH3usLpF6</a><a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BikeTO?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BikeTO</a> <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/TOPoli?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#TOPoli</a> <a href="https://t.co/33gDh7zIym">pic.twitter.com/33gDh7zIym</a>—@CycleToronto
"We thank the Mayor for taking swift action to meet with us, and for being receptive to our ideas that support everyone who uses High Park," Keagan Gartz, executive director of Cycle Toronto, said in the release.
Among other things, Cycle Toronto said it proposed the following ideas:
- Re-imagine the road space in the park to create designated lanes for several forms of transportation traveling at different speeds, including a fast lane for people using the roads for recreational cycling and training.
- Create times during car-free hours for people on bikes to ride and train, with a posted code of conduct.
- Support what is called the Bicycle Yield-As-Stop Law, which treats stop signs as yield signs but maintains right of way for other road users at intersections, and ask Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney for a Bicycle Yield-As-Stop change in Ontario's Highway Traffic Act.
- Use StreetSmartsTO to partner with the city to provide education and cycling ambassadors in the park, which would take the place of police enforcement.