I just came back from the 22 division's police station. I went there to have my complaint heard. Staff sergeant Glen Dewling (#2704) was good enough to listen to my complaint. He was prepared with his paperwork to hear my complaint about a specific officer. After reading my letter, he realized that it wasn't a specific officer I was complaining about, but the "we" in the officer's comment, as you'll see in the letter I wrote to them.
Glen Dewling was impressed with the letter. He did not know that sidewalk cycling was a factor in about 30% of crashes and collisions. He also did not know some other facts I presented. As he had no pre-set process or procedure or forms for handling this complaint he offered to copy and share the letter both with the Traffic Sergeant and his boss. I hope that it helps, but it is likely not enough.
My hope in publishing the letter here, I can inspire you to be better a better cyclist, a better mentor and teacher, and a better cycling advocate. And I hope that you can also share some ideas with us here to further the cause.
The letter I wrote is this:
To Everyone, as it likely concerns you too;
Yesterday my daughters had their swimming lessons after school. We rode our bicycles there as it's not too far. The roads were still wet from the recent rain, and we were getting strong "skunk stripes" up our backs, but the threat of more rain had passed.
Our route, from Mimico, takes us along quiet residential roads to Royal York, where we ride on the bike lane down to Symons, across to Dwight, down to Birmingham, and across Birmingham's bike lane to Gus Ryder Pool at Kipling. This route is really Ideal for us, as my daughters only have a bit more than two riding seasons under their belt, and they are still quite young. My eldest is 6, and the other is 4, but she'll be turning 5 this weekend.
We have done this route many times last year. They swim at Gus Ryder pool quite a lot, just not so much during the summer. We just started again, and yesterday was the second week's lessons.
Our ride was going well, but the younger one noticed that her bell was bit out of alignment, making it difficult for to ring it while keeping hands on the grips. She wanted to stop and fix it. We were approaching the lights at Islington, and they were turning red which would give the opportunity to correct the bell's alignment. She did so, and while we are waiting car pulled in on either side of us, the one's on the right were in the right hand turn lane, the ones on our left were going to proceed straight along Birmingham, as we also intended to do. The bike lane, in which we were sitting, cuts between these two lanes. It's about 5:15p, and the lessons start at 5:30p.We weren't running late, but nor did we have any spare time.
One of the cars that happens to pull up on our right is a police car. The officer in the police car open his window, and informs me that "We're ok with them using the sidewalks".
I reply, "Thank you, we're fine on this bike lane."
He insists "No really, we're ok with them on the sidewalks. Many people feel it's safer, you know. We don't mind them using the sidewalks." and he persisted with his argument "It's an option. just wanted you to know that we're ok with it." The tone (even though it initially sounded friendly), and the persistence with which this last part was being delivered, it sounded to me much more like a warning, or almost a threat.
I was stunned.
No, it's NOT OK to be riding on the sidewalk.
Just then the light turns green, and we all proceed. I was so stunned that I did not get the vehicle number/plate number or any other identifying feature of the cop car that had been beside us. I doubt that it would matter, as most police I've met seem to have this attitude.
The rest of my ride, which wasn't occupied with my shepherding of my daughters, was filled with the many reasons why it's NOT OK to ride on the sidewalks. And why it's not OK for the police to be encouraging sidewalk riding at anytime, and especially why it's not OK for the police to be doing this where there is a bike lane.
I am only going to have to assume that you don't ride a bike, or teach bike riding, as to understand why this is so wrong. I have to assume that because so many of the police that I have met don't. I am a CAN-BIKE instructor, and I ride my own bike quite a bit, and I have been riding a bike for over thirty years. So I'll do my best to explain why sidewalk riding is wrong, and why it's promotion by the police is so wrong.
Sidewalk riding for kids is allowed only because kids need a place to learn and master the basics of balancing a bike, and learning to ride in straight line, and to gain strength and endurance. My kids have done that. Now they are on to learning how to drive in traffic safely. Seeing young kids on bike you might not know that.
The route we able to use is great because it is relatively low traffic, excessive speeding is uncommon, and most of the route is either in a bike lane, or on quiet residential streets. These are ideal places to learn to ride in traffic. The primary skills like riding in a straight line and placement on the road are made easier by the presence of a bike lane. follow the path. What could be easier? Risk is reduced as drivers rarely place the motor vehicles into the bike lane. The presence of a bike lane both alerts drivers to be aware of cyclists, and improves their tolerance of bicycles on the road. All of this only works in our favour.
Sidewalk cycling is not as safe a it seems. Toronto's coroner did a report about cycling injuries and death and indicated that sidewalk cycling was a factor in about 30% of crashes and collisions. See
Sidewalk cycling can be made safer by dismounting at each intersection and walking one's bike across the street through the crosswalk. But that's really slow, not to mention annoying. I will do this with my daughters, but only under the most inhospitable road conditions, which I usually try to avoid. Such is not the case on Birmingham, the traffic is light, moderately paced, good sight lines, it's a wide road with plenty of room to manage passing a cyclist, and even has a bike lane, and I have rarely seen motor vehicles parked in the bike lane here. With only three lighted intersections along it's length, and no other stops along our path, it's fast, direct, and easy. Riding on the sidewalk would be slower, tedious, and would be discouraging to young cyclists who are not as adept at mounting and dismounting. And it doesn't teach hem anything about riding in traffic, nor give them the opportunity to learn anything.
The most significant problem with riding on the sidewalk, and one of the biggest reasons that I took offence to the officer's insistent suggestion, is that it both sends and re-enforces the message that cyclists don't belong on the road. bicycles are vehicles, as defined in the HTA. Vehicles belong on the road, not on the sidewalk. We don't encourage drivers of motor vehicles to use the sidewalk, not even for 16 year olds learning to drive, why would we want to encourage cyclists to use the sidewalk?
Children (and adults) have to learn to ride on the road safely, and they need practice time to hone their skills. Not all roads are appropriate for this, but many are. Roads with bike lanes, roads with low traffic volumes and lower speeds, roads with lots of room for motorists to pass cyclists-in-training are the best roads on which to learn, in short exactly the roads like those which were on. The same is true for new motorists, which is why we have graduated licensing. Driving any vehicle on the road takes time. There are lot of rules to be learned, and the subtleties of the actual behaviour of road users within this framework of rules is complex. Negotiating with others for right-of-way and for space on the road is not something that can be taught or learned from a book. The same is true for the myriad of other skills required to drive any vehicle on the road, it must be learned by practicing on the roads.
As I ride and drive around this city I see many adults riding their bikes on sidewalks, even where perfectly good bike lanes exists. I keep wondering to myself how and why this happens. I think that this attitude is a very big part of the problem. For kids it's OK to ride on the sidewalk, but then no-one bother to teach them how to ride on the roads. Teenage comes on and these people start driving without ever learning to ride their bike in traffic. As adults they drive, and sometimes they drive a bit carelessly, and think of the others that they have put at risk by doing so. They see other drivers doing the same, and they must think to themselves "Gee, these roads are dangerous", and get scared of riding their bikes there. Ironically, per trip, more risk of for the motorist and their passengers of death or being injured in a collision while in a motor vehicle than riding a bike. And the very presence of more cyclists makes the roads safer for everyone, cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists. Cyclists are constantly reminded to wear their helmets, and so the myth of "dangerous" roads persists. And worse, yesterday it was the police, the very people in charge of keeping our roads safe, who were advocating the wrong way to get our roads safer. More cyclists on the roads will make the roads safer, not cyclists on the sidewalk which will actually increase the risk for the cyclist.
Which means that we must encourage parents, and other adults, to ride with children on the roads, to mentor them, to teach them. Having our police pull up beside a family to encourage sidewalk cycling is not at all helpful. In fact, for the reasons above, it is truly harmful.
I hope that you will include more cycling training for ALL of your officers. Promotion of road cycling will save lives, not endanger us.
Police don't have a good reputation for doing what's right when it comes to cycling and cyclists issues. See: http://www.carectomy.com/index.php/Politics/Right-of-Way-Data-as-Defense
I hope that this letter will help to foster a more encouraging attitude from the police.
CAN-BIKE COP COURSE?Fri, 10/12/2007 - 17:48
Hey, I agree with what you wrote, and what you did. Since you are a Can-Bike Instructor, you might know how to go about instructing the police force.
I don't mean at all to be frivilous. If they are responsible for the roads, they are responsible for EVERYONE on the roads. We know they have automobile driving licences, and we know they are short on sensitivity, as a group, to cyclists' concerns and enforcement against automobile drivers who recklessly endanger us. Making them all go through a Can-Bike course would probably do more good than any amount of legislation or any number of (promised) bike-lanes. People are going to smarten-up when they start getting tickets and losing points.
Cop Bike coursesSat, 10/13/2007 - 02:26
Hugh Smith (#6974) is one of the Police Vehicle Operations trainers. I had the fortune of meeting him last march. He teaches the CAN-BIKE curriculum as part of his training for some of the police who end up on bike patrols. But he can only train a few. 'Everything cycling' is not on the curriculum, he doesn't get nearly enough time time to cover the base curriculum, certainly he can't cover everything. Not everyone learns at the same speed.
But this is an attitude not just of the police, it is also of the public at large. The police just reflect us, that is where they are recruited from.
It also does not help that most of Toronto's Police force (80% last I heard) does not actually live in the 416. Their experience here in the city is skewed by their work. They see the aftermath of the worst and not much of the usual, everyday good. They are like the cleaners at the end of the parade who can only think of Elephants as large, messy beasts. Not at all like the trainers, who know the elephants to be kind and intelligent creatures. Our work and our experiences clouds our perceptions. What they think of our city is probably not be as nice as what those of us who live hear know the city to be. The same with our roads, traffic, motorists and cyclists.
While riding with my kids I've been told by motorists, who usually shout, that "they should be on the sidewalk". No, they shouldn't. They may be allowed to ride there, and there are times when we/I/they prefer to be on the sidewalk. But most of the time, as much as traffic and their skills allow, they should be on the roads. The roads are where they will learn something useful, and where they can practice what they know and have learned.
Most motorists are like most people, they do care about doing the right thing. It's hard to find a truly homicidal maniac. Yes, sometimes people can be careless, can be distracted, and be reckless, this is what causes the bulk of the crashes and collisions on our roads. You, dear reader, are just as likely to guilty of these occasional transgressions as I am. Rarely does this actually cause a crash, just a close call. We live and we learn. We get better, we know better, our behaviour and skill improves. Practice makes us better.
The same is true for cyclists. We try, we fail, usually in a small way. We learn, we do better next time. And we practice the new and better things we've learned. Our skill improves, and we can do more, we feel more confident, proud.
It's really hard to articulate these thoughts roadside. It's not like there's time to deliver this whole argument succinctly before the motorist drives away. And not when my own daughters are also focused on getting to their destination, as well as they should be. Which is why I took the time to write and to post these arguments.
One last argument for this. In Jewish law it is written "You shall teach your children to swim." How a bunch of nomadic people living in a desert found to having swimming such a valuable skill that they made it into law, I don't know. But today I interpret it to mean both the literal "give your kids swimming lessons", but also the more generic "You shall teach and provide your kids with the basic skills that they will need to survive in the world." In today's jargon I've heard these referred to as 'life skills'. And negotiating in traffic would definitely be a 'life skill'. Many of the same skills that they acquire by cycling in traffic they will need to have while in control of any other vehicle in traffic. The biggest irony is that this incident occurred as we were on our way to the kid's swimming lessons.
I don't expect change overnight. Our cycling 'culture' has forgotten so much which are just now starting to re-learn. And now we have to teach each other and everyone else in our society. Many other cycling advocates who are older and wiser than my self know instinctively that riding on the roads (with supervision and instruction) is better for kids than riding on the sidewalk. But they have not yet had the words for it. Now I have, and it is up to them, and to you, to pass this message on. Bikes belong on the road, and cyclists of all ages belong there too. Kids need the opportunities to learn, and we have to teach them. So let's get on our bikes and ride!
Wheel sizeMon, 10/15/2007 - 13:06
The law says that anyone with wheels under 26 inches can ride the sidewalk. The law is for the safety of children I would guess. I have heard of adults buying folding bikes so that they can abuse it though.
Just because you can doesn't meanMon, 10/15/2007 - 14:27
Just because you can do something doesn't mean that it is always a good idea to do it.
Kids and adults learning to ride can be unsteady and unstable. And while they are unsteady, they should not yet be on the roads. They can use the sidewalks, parks, paths, parking lots, or anywhere else that's safe so that they can aquire more skill.
Novice riders don't understand all the mechanics of Traffic Dynamics and how they fit in. Kids should ride on the roads with an adult mentor. This is what will provide them with the experience needed to do so safely on their own one day. Novice riders of all ages should find a mentor to ride with them, and should also take a CAN-BIKE course, if avaialble.
New motorists, too, go through a period where they must drive with a mentor before they can drive on their own. This is done because it it is hard for new drivers to be aware of all of the variables, ie things to watch out for, rules and exceptions, changing traffic patterns, road conditions, excessive speed, insufficient spped, weather, and anything else a novice might yet know how to anticipate to respond to. We expect motorists to take a drivers' ed class of some kind, we shuld also expect Cyclists to participate in educating themselves as well.
The reasons that both cyclists and motorists should have drivers' ed, and should be mentored is the same. Traffic on our roads is complex and dynamic. Co-operation is required to make things work smoothly. The laws only explain so much, negotiaing for right of way at an intersection is not as straight forward as the laws would have us beleive, and the same is true with many other situations on our roads.
One of the things I have heard about sidewalk cycling, besides the many complaints from pedestrains, is that sidewalk cyclists who venture out on to the roads are extrememly likely to become involved in a crash or collision. This is because they have neither the skills, knowledge, nor experience to keep themselves safe.
I don't want my daughters be involved in a crash or collision. And I do want them cycling. So I ride with them, and I mentor them. And at their age, I'll be riding with them for a few more years.
CQ (not verified)
Cop's well-intended concernSat, 10/13/2007 - 14:08
In Summary: a four year-old girl riding in-between a turning and through lane, as bikelane indicated, before crossing Islington Avenue, at about 5-5:30pm on an October Weekday, motioning to correct something (a bell) on her bicycle. Anyone WITHOUT cycling expertise or related statistical knowledge might suggest the 'illegal' sidewalk.
To be sure, roads and cycling in the 905 areas are different. Some through streets will have paved trails alongside grass median strips instead of traditonal sidewalks.