Downtown Toronto: The Difference Between Cyclists and Bicycle Couriers…

Over the past few days there has been lots of sadness and anger from the Car and Bicycle community over Monday night’s altercation that ended in the death of a bicycle courier.

It is hard to forget the personalities involved, who they were, what they did and what would have lead to this horrible result. Yes, this City was built mostly for cars and we now have a strong movement to make the streets more bicycle friendly.

I don’t cycle anymore because it is dangerous out there on the City streets. I have had too many friends who have been hurt riding bikes when there were no cars around. The roads are in worse shape then they have ever been and the Trolley tracks make cycling in Toronto an event more like the “Tour de France”.

That being said, I have watched the “Bicycle Courier” community and know that they are important part of the business transacted in Downtown Toronto. Their job is to get those documents to their destinations as quickly as possible. They even have races within the community, usually ride Racing Bikes and not the more suitable, Mountain Bikes. Couriers look at the streets of the City as a race track. They have a different agenda than most cyclists and I think we need to look at them apart from more traditional cyclists. We must be aware of the different goals of Bicyclists and Bicycle Couriers but we must also be aware of the similarities:

There are no licensing rules for bicycles. They seldom are held to the same rules of the road that car drivers are: driving on the wrong side of the road, on walk ways, the wrong way in bicycle lanes, through stoplights, through pedestrian walkways, not wearing helmets etc. When was the last time you saw a bicyclist signalling a turn or a lane change?

The bottom line is this: Bikes are vehicles that are on the street in vehicular lanes. Licensing should be universal. Car Drivers have to attach seat belts but only children have to wear head gear on bikes. Everyone must abide by all the rules of the road. Both are responsible but the playing field is not equal and sadly the outcome benefits the car driver because of the size of the car and the protection it provides.

Recently on visits to Vancouver and Quebec City, I noticed that they have put up 2 foot curbs between the car space and the bicycle lanes. They are truly separate spaces not one space with a painted line on it. If we’re really serious about bike lanes, let’s move them away from vehicle lanes, license bicyclists and enforce rules of the road.

Everyone must bear the responsibility of what transpired Monday night but let’s see some leadership on both sides.

5 Responses

  1. herb

    Licensing for cyclists is a waste of money and time. Police can already hold cyclists to all the same rules as cars, so it’s not clear what advantage licensing provides. But we do know it provides plenty of down sides: expensive, diverts police from focusing on behaviour, penalizes visiting cyclists and children, and so on. The City staff have looked into it numerous times and have found each time that it’s not worth it.

  2. Richard Silver Post author

    After the past few years of “City Management”, I don’t think that Torontonians have a lot of faith in what would be proposed by this City. (Remember it was Mr. Miller that doubled the car registration fees in the 416 and to what use?). Anyway, vehicular licensing is Provincial…
    On this sad situation Mr. Miller is quiet…He loves cycling, but is a fan of Mr. Bryants. The Garbage Strike and the Bryant Case: that makes twice this Summer he is caught between a rock and a hard place…where is his leadership…again?

  3. Tina Robertson

    I agree that bicyclists should be required to have a licence, particularly the bicycle couriers.
    I grew up in a city that required all bicycles to have a small licence plate attached to the bicycle behind and below the seat and it was renewed every year. All bicycles had to have a rear reflector,a night light,a bell or horn as well as a licence plate. As a child first starting to ride you had to pass a bicycle riding test, held at the school by the police.
    It didn’t matter how old you were, everyone that rode a bike had to have all the required equipment on their bikes. If you were stopped by the police and didn’t have them, you actually received a notice and had to appear at a police station to prove you had complied or you were fined. Neither the licence nor the fines cost much, but from the time you started to ride as a kid, you realized that you had the same responsibilities as any other vehicle on the road.

    I would also like to point out that we were taught to ride against the traffic, which makes a lot of sense because then you can always see what is coming towards you, unlike riding with the traffic, where you have no idea what is behind you or how close they are to you. Sounds like I grew up in another country? It was right here in Ontario where I got my first bike licence in 1958.

  4. Richard Silver Post author

    Thanks Tina. Me too, growing up in Edmonton, Alberta, bicycles needed a license. In this City, my dog needs a license…if bicycles are to be treated seriously, they also should be licensed and pay attention to the Street laws…and helmets must be made mandatory as seat belts are…

  5. Kerr Jenkin

    Tina, riding against traffic may seem to make sense, however it has been empirically shown to increase risk to both vehicles and increase accident rates.

    This is why it is no longer taught, anywhere, at any time. It is actually more dangerous and this is now universally accepted. I too remember a time when we did not know as much as we do today on many subjects, but I do not relish returning to that time.

    As for comments that local / recent leadership may be held to account for allowing bicyclists onto the roads without a license, that was 1957 I believe, when the law requiring a license to operate a bicycle was revoked. You would need a shovel to hold those responsible to accounts for they are probably long dead.

    Mr. Silver vehicular licensing and regulation may be provincial but the City does have power to create by-laws and licensing standards for this specific purpose under the provincial act known as the City of Toronto Act.

    They have not done so because each call to do so has been rejected soundly for over 40 years. It has been requested or demanded 10 times in that period, each occasion found the need wanting.

    Great blog, but just a word of advice, capitalizing where no other would leads the reader to consider the writer uninformed. There are no “Street laws” for instance, and the reader might wrongly conclude that you are not familiar with the OHTA or Toronto municipal code when you refer to these as “Street laws”

    Also something to note, accident rates among couriers are 1/10th those compared to non courier cyclists per kilometer ridden.

    They should be licensed (couriers) but this is expressly forbidden by the province for very sound reasons. Private goods movement is rarely restricted in this manner as it can have devastating effect on urban economies that result in businesses leaving the city. This is even more important today when every effort needs to be made to prevent sprawl.

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