high park toronto

War between Toronto cyclists and police heats up as civilian brings radar gun to High Park

A bizarre war between police and cyclists continues to rage at Toronto's High Park this week following several high-profile incidents involving a bike-focused speeding ticket blitz, reports of targeted harassment, and a Toronto Police Service SUV literally striking someone on a bicycle.

Local cycling advocates are furious with the cops for what they describe as "over policing" people on bikes while vulnerable pedestrians are mowed down by cars nearly every single day.

"These enforcement blitzes are an affront to everyone whose safety is regularly threatened by dangerous driving behaviour, which receives very little, if any, enforcement," said lawyer and cyclist advocate David Shellnut in a statement Thursday morning.

"Each day, we witness mayhem on the streets of Toronto: drivers parked in bike lanes, drivers distracted by cell phones, drivers making unsafe turns or running lights, rage-fueled aggressive driving, and yes, even police hitting people in bike lanes."

Anyone who's traversed Toronto on two wheels can testify to the fact that our city has some serious road rage issues, but motorists aren't alone in failing to obey the rules of the road.

Does High Park have a problem with middle-aged men in Lycra ("MAMILs") racing down hills at rates of speed dangerous to both humans and wildlife? Absolutely. A lot of trails do, in Toronto and elsewhere.

Cyclists aren't allowed to ride more than 20 km/h in High Park, but neither are drivers who are accountable to the same 20 km/h speed limit. 

The Toronto Police Service maintains that it is "not engaged in an enforcement blitz specifically targeting cyclists," writing in a news release that "where officers see cycling behaviour that risks public safety, they have the discretion to lay charges and have done so, when necessary."

The local cycling community isn't buying it, however, and they're getting creative when it comes to demonstrating their side of things.

James McLeod visited the large urban park on Wednesday evening with a speed radar gun to show just unfair it seems for police to be focusing on speeding cyclists, as opposed to drivers in High Park.

What he captured was pretty damning (for drivers) and has further served to incite bike riders against the police.

Among the dozens of photos McLeod shared, several radar readings caught cars going well over twice the speed limit.

"Literally the first car was going double the speed limit," he wrote on Twitter, tagging Toronto Mayor John Tory. "Where are the police?"

"Another car going double the speed limit in High Park," he wrote in another Tweet, tagging Toronto Police to as "u up?" and Tory to as "is this ok?"

At the high end of the spectrum, one person was clocked going 50 km/h in a 20 km/h zone last night.

McLeod saw a variety of vehicles breaking the rules, including a municipal truck and a church bus.

While he didn't clock the speeds of cyclists — some of whom may very well have been going over the limit as well — McLeod caught only one single vehicle going the speed limit last night: The High Park children's train.

All in all, the 37-year-old communications professional caught some 20 motorists speeding near the intersection where cops have been hanging out to catch speeding cyclists in recent weeks.

None of said motorists were pulled over or charged.

"I started the project because I saw [Toronto journalist] Shawn Micallef using the radar gun on Parkside Drive a year ago, and I thought it was cool. So I borrowed it from him," McLeod tells blogTO.

"I don't own a bike but I use the BikeShare system extensively. It's my main method of transportation through the city from May to October. Cycling is great and we need better infrastructure for it," he continued.

"Instead we've got cops harassing cyclists as part of a deeply misguided and offensive PR blitz. The danger on our streets is cars, not bikes."

Many would say he has a point, one day after three pedestrians were hit by motor vehicles within three hours (a few of dozens this year who've been killed, injured or psychologically scarred for life on the streets of Toronto.)

Like most advocates, he wants to see the safer streets promised by Tory's failed Vision Zero. Failing that, sufficient enforcement of traffic laws would be nice.

"My point wasn't that I think cars should all be obeying a 20 km/h speed limit in High Park, and that police should be doing heavy-handed enforcement," said McLeod to blogTO, noting that he'd like to see cars banned from the park completely.

"I think the speed limit is just city hall passing the buck. It lets the politicians and bureaucrats say that they put up a sign, and then it's the fault of the drivers for not obeying the law, and the police for not enforcing the law. The police are harassing cyclists, while literally every driver in the park is breaking the law."

Outraged cyclists are scheduled to meet up as a group in High Park this evening, where organizers say they will "ride for safe streets and an end to Toronto Police harassment of cyclists."

McLeod, who lives near the park, thinks people can make a difference by pressuring their elected officials for change.

"The solution is for city hall to show some leadership, and that needs to happen by setting better policies and building better infrastructure," he said.

"Just making a rule that nobody obeys, and then leaving the police to pursue whatever uneven enforcement strategy they feel like isn't working. That's true for our entire city."

Lead photo by

James McLeod

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