Bryant's road rage: cycling lawyer weighs in

Bob Mionske, a cycling lawyer, author of Bicycling & the Law, and contributor to Bicycling magazine, weighs in on the incident of road rage and death involving Michael Bryant, former Ontario Attorney General, and Darcy Sheppard, now deceased bike courier. Despite the work of Bryant's PR firm, Navigator Ltd, feeding the prejudices of newspapers such as the Ottawa Citizen or the Toronto Sun (with the help of their Twitter account @bryantfacts), there was an amazing amount of corroborating evidence from witnesses and security cameras that make it quite hard to spin it so that Bryant appears to be just an innocent victim. Rather we know that Bryant rammed Sheppard out of the way before fleeing the scene while Sheppard gave chase:

So to set the record straight, here’s what really happened.

The night of August 31, Darcy Allan Sheppard was on his bike on Bloor Street, riding home from his fiancee’s apartment. It was 9:45 p.m. As he approached a traffic light, he passed to the left of a Saab convertible that we now know was Michael Bryant’s. After passing Bryant, who was stopped at the light, Sheppard cut in front of his car and also came to a stop. Shortly thereafter, as the light turned green, Bryant drove forward, perhaps bumping Sheppard’s wheel. Sheppard turned his head back, in Bryant’s direction. Witnesses reported that when the light turned green, there was a toot of the horn from Bryant, and a shout to “get moving,” followed—perhaps—by a return shout from Sheppard. Then, incredibly, Bryant hit the gas, pushing Sheppard forward into the intersection, knocking him off his bike. As Sheppard struggled to get to his feet, Bryant backed up, stopped, turned his wheel and began to drive past Sheppard as he sped away.

Sheppard gave chase, grabbing onto Bryant’s car as it sped by. Witnesses reported hearing shouting, and noted that Bryant was “very, very angry.” They also reported that as Bryant sped down the street with Sheppard clinging to his car, he was driving on the wrong side of the street, at about 60 miles per hour, driving up onto the sidewalk, driving against the trees and posts and newspaper boxes lining the street in what they reported appeared to be an attempt to brush Sheppard off his car. Down the street 100 yards, Sheppard was slammed into a mail collection box, and crumpled into a heap in the street as Bryant’s rear wheels ran over him. Witnesses reported that Sheppard, who lay in the street bleeding heavily from his nose and mouth, attempted to get up, but was advised to remain still until an ambulance arrived. Bryant continued driving down the street to the end of the block, before turning in to the driveway of a luxury hotel, where he finally stopped his car.

This is not spin. It is not supposition. It is not rumor. It is fact. We know this, because remarkably, the incident was captured on security cameras, which corroborated the eyewitness accounts . Anonymous spin doctors can suggest news leads and story angles to divert media and public attention, and anonymous internet comments can invent fantasy versions of what actually happened, but the camera doesn’t lie.

And the camera shows that on the night of August 31, Michael Bryant used his car to ram Darcy Sheppard out of his way, before fleeing the scene as Sheppard gave chase on foot. Moments later, Darcy Allan Sheppard lay dying on a Toronto street as Michael Bryant sped away.

Lower speed limits proposal by Toronto councillor

(Photo: sniderscion)

Councillor Bill Saundercook will be proposing to the City of Toronto's Pedestrian Committee a 10 km/h reduction in the speed limit across Toronto. His call is taking place just as Councillor Walker is pushing his own idea of "safety" by imposing more restrictions on cyclists with mandatory helmets and licenses. Guess which proposal is not blaming the victims and trying to instead get at the root of the problem: almost all traffic fatalities involve heavy motor vehicles.

"When you start seeing the (pedestrian) fatalities across Toronto, and you start studying where they're occurring, then you're going to see in the suburbs of Toronto ... where we have posted 60 km/h speed limits and in some places even as much as 70, that whenever there's a collision in those areas, it's usually a fatality," he said yesterday.

"You don't want people to say, 'I'm not going to walk because it's too risky.' "

Are motorists shirking their responsibility? Yes.

There’s a feeling “out there” that because motorists pay “user fees” for licences and registration as well gas taxes and insurance, that they somehow have more “rights” to the road than everybody else. And that because motorists pay for those things, somehow motorists are more “responsible” that the rest of society which includes lowly cyclists.

Let’s dispel a myth today. It is my assertion that motorists are, in fact, acting much less responsible than they claim, and further, that they are to blame for a lessened quality of our public spaces.

First off, there are plenty of articles about who pays for the roads, including articles on this very blog. I’ll refer the reader there to read these entries, and I won't bother repeating those arguments.

My copy of the driver’s handbook, copyright 2007, has written in the second paragraph of Chapter 1 that would be motorists “have to pass a test” for “driving privileges.” What this means is that everybody has the same and equal right to share the road, but licensed drivers have the privilege of doing so with an insured and registered motor vehicle. That’s all. Somewhere along the way many seemed to have forgotten this.

The Fixer vs. I Bike T.O.

Massive bike-eating pothole on Dundas St.Massive bike-eating pothole on Dundas St.

I have noticed this series of potholes on Dundas St., eastbound just west of Prince Edward Dr. (map) growing bigger over the last few weeks. The potholes are long and somewhat narrow, parallel to the roadway and probably about 1.5m from the curb.

Riding eastbound on Dundas St. towards the Humber River, there is usually a fairly high amount of traffic, plus the downhill grade of the road really allows cyclists, and motorists, to pick up speed. A momentary loss of attention or movement to avoid another hazard could cause a cyclist's front wheel to drop into this chasm leading to a terrible over-the-handlebars kind of crash, or just a mangled wheel and fork if you're lucky.

The Star's "Fixer" column earlier this week got very quick results with the bike-crash causing pothole on Dupont St. I want to see how quickly the City responds to a request from a regular schmoe like me who doesn't have media credentials.

The Fixer: Sunken grates menacing Dupont cyclists

Jack Lakey, writer of the Toronto Star's "Fixer" column reported today on a dangerous pair of sewer grates on Dupont St., north side between Edwin Ave. and Osler Ave. (map).

"Pietro Taleporos emailed us photos of a sunken storm-sewer grate on the north side of Dupont, just west of Edwin Ave., with a utility cover next to it that caught the wheel of his 14-year-old son's bicycle and sent him sprawling."

Also, according to the article, "a small cone and a much larger, orange-and-black traffic pylon were placed over the rough patch", although this was definitely not the case when I rode by at about 8:40 this morning.

You can view the original article on The Star's website here.

This is definitely a dangerous situation for any cyclist who does not see this chewed up section of road in time to ride around it. Let's hope the City fixes this soon.

Cure to cycling

Dr. Chris Cavacuiti was hit by a turning truck on Unwin a few years ago while cycling. Since then he's done a lot of research on bike safety, has become a cycling advocate and written a regular column in Dandyhorse. He's interviewed in the Toronto Star.

Things we learn: males are the most dangerous drivers.

The study showed that drivers were largely culpable in 74 per cent of all of accidents and partially culpable in another 16 per cent. Interestingly, one of the big findings was ... that 97 per cent of the drivers in cases of fatal accidents involving cyclists were male. It is highly unlikely to get that kind of statistic by random chance. One of the things we know about young men is that they tend to be the most aggressive drivers on the road.

The Netherlands has the lowest cycling fatality rate and really low helmet use.

...helmets are quite a small part of the picture when it comes to preventing major cycling injuries. Particularly for adult cyclists, most deaths occur from massive body trauma that occurs as a result of being hit in the torso by the grille of a car. The helmet does not help you with that.

Education not licensing, idiots!

Sometime around Grade 6, when kids usually want to start being more independent, start wanting to be going off on their own and meeting their friends, that would be an excellent point at which to have some kind of mandatory training.

Cyclist hit on Coxwell

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The Toronto Police are reporting (PDF) that a cyclist was hit and injured last night while riding on Coxwell Ave., north of Gerrard St.

On Thursday, May 7, 2009, at 11:07 p.m., police responded to a call for a personal injury collision on Coxwell Avenue, north of Casci Avenue.
It is reported that:

  • a 19−year−old man was riding his bicycle north on Coxwell Avenue, in the right lane,
  • a Safari van was travelling north on Coxwell Avenue, in the left lane,
  • the cyclist turned left into the path of the van and was hit.

The cyclist was taken to hospital with life−threatening injuries.

The cyclist was not wearing a helmet but was wearing headphones, which may have limited
his ability to sense his surroundings.

Although the cyclist is at the age where helmets are not mandatory for cycling, the use of one
has been shown to reduce head injuries when worn properly.

The story has been picked up by a few media outlets today too:

The Toronto Star reports that, "His chest was crushed and he suffered a closed-head injury to his brain. He was taken to St. Michael's Hospital in life-threatening condition, but he is now expected to survive."

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