Taxi driver charged for assault on cyclist

As many readers are no doubt aware, a taxi driver and cyclist were involved in an altercation a few days ago which escalated into a fight that ended with the cyclist’s leg being amputated. The driver was charged today with six offenses: criminal negligence causing bodily harm, dangerous operation causing bodily harm, fail to stop at scene of accident causing bodily harm, attempt to obstruct justice, aggravated assault, and assault with a weapon. He appears in court tomorrow.

This is a sad story, but one we should all try to keep in perspective. Nearly 25,000 people mount bikes each day in Toronto and most are able to get to their destinations without incident. But it seems once or twice a year there is an altercation of this nature that escalates to more than just yelling between a driver and cyclist. Most cyclists will never be in a situation where their life is being threatened by an irate driver.

While I’m sure many of Toronto’s most dedicated cyclists will see this incident as a symptom of our car-oriented culture, I feel it has less to do with that and more to do with someone who has much greater issues than a hate-on for cyclists. After reading numerous blog posts and comments on this incident over the last few days, I’m concerned that too much energy is being spent raging against this driver instead of using the incident to push for much better cycling infrastructure and awareness. I would assume most cyclists are more concerned with getting doored by cars on roads without bike lanes, since the chances of that happening are much greater than being attacked by a taxi driver. I’m not trying to minimize this awful scene — rather, I’m hoping to put this into a wider perspective on how to approach these isolated incidents.

I’m curious to hear how people think we should view this incident.

photo by Trevor Hunter

28 comments

  1. Good points, Matt. Trouble is that it’s not an isolated incident just a severe example of a bigger problem.

  2. Martin: I think you’re lumping in the “bigger problem” (which I agree exists) with a truly isolated incident. As matt writes, this is more of a personal/mental/rage issue than a cyclist safety issue. And since we don’t know what sparked the altercation, we shouldn’t assume the cyclist is an angel in this situation. I’m sure there are a few more sides to this story.

  3. Dovercourt, as a route, stands out as worse than average.

    The road doesn’t have traffic calming stop signs, speed bumps or lights between Dundas and Queen (I imagine this is because the police cars stationed just north of Dundas need to zip down to southern emergencies).

    The parked cars, two way car and bike traffic simply can’t co-exist. It’s too narrow. It’s actually frightening to walk on the “unprotected” east sidewalk as cars try to deal with each other, cyclists, and pothole filled pavement.

    The cab flow from the newly opened bars on Ossington will often cut across Foxley and zip south to ferry their weekend drunks to Queen West bars – making weekends more dangerous.

    It’s just one road, but it’s one with some serious problems for any vehicle (or pedestrian). It’s definitely worth avoiding.

  4. it’s true, dovercourt is even bad for cars. parked cars get their side-view mirrors smashed off all the time because it’s so narrow. i’ve never understood the on-street parking considering there are back alleyways along its entire length south of dundas.

    i have to take exception with this statement: “Most cyclists will never be in a situation where their life is being threatened by an irate driver.”

    i have experienced verbal death threats, been involved in hit-and-runs, and had things thrown out car windows at me. all this when i try to avoid confrontation by speaking politely to drivers (no swearing), signalling and stopping at all red lights. you could more accurately say that while most frequent cyclists *will* have their lives threatened by an irate driver, most will never have to experience those threats being carried out like the poor victim in this case.

  5. “I would assume most cyclists are more concerned with getting doored by cars on roads without bike lanes”

    Actually, I’d say the chances of being doored while in a bike lane are higher than when there is no bike lane. Way too many of Toronto’s bike lanes are built completely in the door-zone, and we’re pretty much expected to ride there.

    When there’s no bike lane, I never have to worry about being doored, except in those few places where there is minimal room between the door-zone and streetcar track.

  6. Maurice, what have we got by being nice? Martin, Jeef, complete agreement. WTF are we going to do about it?

  7. @jeeff
    I’ve had your experiences in reverse with cyclists hurling the abuse, blocking the road, not signaling, never stopping for signs or lights, etc.

    Frankly the entire population could use some serious lessons in courtesy!

  8. jeeff: I’ve had numerous altercations and been verbally abused (and I’ve done my share of sniping back at drivers). But never had my life threatened or been in a spot where I really thought I was in danger.

    Which is exactly why I said “most” cyclists, and not “all” cyclists when I wrote: “Most cyclists will never be in a situation where their life is being threatened by an irate driver.”

  9. I think we have to look at the severity of the assault as isolated, but the disrespect between drivers and cyclists as a growing issue that is only getting worse as driving becomes more expensive, further frustrating drivers.

    Education doesn’t seem to be effective and law enforcement seems equally ineffective (both sides break laws too often, but the cyclists is more endangered due to his lack of personal armoured transport).

    I agree with Matthew that we have to push for improved infrastructure. Having commuted in London, U.K. as well as in Toronto, I found London much more congested, but overall much safer; the roads wind, preventing drivers from reaching speeds at which they’re unable to make emergency stops, there are cycle lanes everywhere, road-paint signage is highly visible, and the canals provide an option to many of riding most of their way free of cars.

    I think its safe to say that the City Traffic engineers often seem out of touch with what makes a city livable (witness the ridiculously high curbs on the St. Clair streetcar extension), and that we have to bring them to task and demand more from them. Too often it appears that the car is considered the primary mode of transportation on any street while the city’s mandate is quite the opposite.

    I’m hopeful that this year’s infrastructural projects will finally make it past the dinosaurs who think the suburban American dream is still feasible.

  10. View the incident as a crime. The driver was charged and if found guilty, will be convicted and sentenced.

  11. The good news about a recession is that more people are going to give up their cars, or not get loans for replacements. Not enough people, but more people will be out of their cars for their own money than the shame of an anglo-oil-war, global-warming, smog, childhood asthma, premature repiratory and traffic deaths, destruction of civic-society and urban street life, strangling of public transit, growing obesity and diabetes, and the paving over of valuable farmland… I don’t know what makes me more sick, the fumes of cars, or the stupidity of the species addicted to them?

  12. Nice speech, Matt. But I have to agree with those that point out this incident is only the most extreme of thousands that occur all the time. And a lot cabbies seem to have a particular hate-on for cyclists, not to mention pedestrians. Maybe they do need some re-education as driving standards are notoriously dangerous in the countries-of-origin of many cabbies.

    Having said that, in my own experience it seems that motorists in general are becoming a bit more considerate towards cyclists in the past year, roughly. Maybe due to the whole green awareness thing.

  13. The automobile IS the primary mode of transport in this and EVERY city, perceived mandate or not. Which ‘mandate’ are you referring to? When the same cabal of unemployed show up to the meetings and shout down anyone who disagrees, how can there ever be a mandate?
    I would wish we could accomodate both vehicular and bicycle traffic, but that is not possible. Toronto’s roads are simply not wide enough. Therefore, trying to accomodate everyone is only going to worsen things. Alas, incidents like these are only going to get worse.
    I witnessed a woman on a bicycle just a few nights ago, driving up the middle of the curb lane on Bloor St. by Kingsway. Every time I got ahead of her, she would ride up the white line at the next red light and get in front of cars.
    She is lucky she wasn’t doing that to me.

  14. Not to take this comment thread off topic, but I want to respond to the above post by Chris Carbis. The streets of Toronto CAN accomodate both cars and bikes, especially in the suburbs. Downtown it gets harder but it can be accomplished if on-street parking on major routes is eliminated. It would help every mode of transport involved.

  15. @Chris: London’s roads are narrower than Toronto’s so explain to me how it’s not possible to accomodate multiple modes of transport in Toronto? Are we just inferior in endeavour to the Brits?

  16. I think that this this IS an manifestation of the conflict that exists between car drivers and cyclists.

    Every time I speak to people who ride bikes I hear them tell stories of how just recently they had to put up with some idiot behind the wheel who did something ONO PURPOSE to threaten thier safety, and I’m not talking about the usual clueless suspects on cell phones.

    Stories like the one described here
    http://www.torontocranks.com/?p=690
    are happening every day, and Toronto Cranks is quite right in asking when does intimidation cross the line to threat with a deadly weapon?

    I like to ride with my family, and even with my kids I have had too many people do these kinds of stupid things. Heck they do it me and each other in cars, too.

    I feel for the cyclist: there but for the grace of god goes I. And it makes me mad that this happened at all.

    And I’m glad the police took this seriously enough to file criminal charges. I hope that the insurance company is hit so hard that they mandate cyclists’ training for ALL taxi drivers, because the Provinvce still hasn’t made a move to pass a safe passing law for cylists, the three foot minimum that required in other jurisdictions, even though it’s already in the driver’s handbook.

    We’ve accepted bad behaviour from motorists and given special names like “aggressive driving”, and “Raod Rage” — its all criminal behaviour if you ask me. The cutesy names just mask the seriousness of it all.

    Whould better infrastructure help? Yes, and let’s start with education. Every person will have to 1000 hours of traffic training on a pedal bicycle before being able to qualify for a driver’s licence. Sounds like a good start to me.

    Then we can start the province to pass some rational laws for cyclists. Finally we can start demanding the city for reasonable spaces on or roads.

  17. I couldn’t agree more. The Car vs Bike argument is insane. I am an extremely avid and competitive cyclist. I commute by car and bike. My girlfriend has our car most of the time because she goes to school in oakville. As both a driver and a cyclist I think that we need to join together and work towards better infrastructure, not argue over who cut who off. The roads are extremely cramped and it’s a dangerous situation for everyone.

    streetcars cant move because of traffic, traffic cant move because of streetcars. Cyclists are completely forgotten about come winter. There is no logic to this system.

    If you build it they will come.

  18. @Chris Carbis:
    Lucky she wasn’t doing that to you? Did you seriously just threaten a woman, over the internet none the less, for ‘riding in front of you?’ Wow.

    In relation to the actual article; as someone who has admittedly participated in far too many cyclist / driver confrontations – this entire situation is a solemn reminder of just how quickly things can escalate and how permanent the damage can be. I hope the cyclist heals well (all things considered) and I hope the cabbie has lots of time to think about what he’s done and I most certainly hope that he never sits behind the wheel of another motor vehicle – commercial or otherwise.

  19. I think the difference between this altercation and one between two people not in a car is that one of the people in this confrontation had a deadly weapon. A weapon that they choose to use.

    Even assuming the bicyclist provoked it (for which there is no evidence either way at this point), if the cabbie had pulled out a gun and shot him, what would be thinking? Remove the weapon and you prevent somebody angry from spilling over into somebody doing something truly life-alteringly stupid.

  20. @ Justin: “…driving standards are notoriously dangerous in the countries-of-origin of many cabbies.”

    Classy, very classy.

    Anyway — more likely, I think, is that cab drivers tend to flout traffic rules because they spend so much time driving — all while under pressure to get around quickly — that their sense of their own skills increases out of proportion to their actual (generally quite high, IMHO) technical competence.

    Speaking as a pedestrian whose close calls with red light runners are split 50/50 between cyclists and motorists, it often seems that cab drivers and hardcore cyclists are quite similar in this way… rules, they think, are for the ‘civilians’, not the hardened ‘road warrior’ traffic veterans.

  21. Actually, I think the comment by Chris Carbis expresses many of the attitudes that lead to the kind of irresponsible violence of the sort that the horrifying incident that led to the charges against Mr. Ahmed. If we allow the attitude that cars somehow ought to take priority on the roads to go unchallenged, we do both cyclists and drivers a disservice.

    So:

    City council has a clear mandate to encourage cycling. If the voters elected a council made up of individuals such as Case Ootes or Rob Ford, it would hardly matter how many meetings the cycling and environmental communities went to. If you do not like the environmental policies of this city, including the cycling policy, you have two choices: accept that the majority of your fellow residents elect politicians who support these policies and try to change their minds, or else find a city or town where the majority of your fellow residents will elect a council that will cater to the car.

    The highway traffic act defines a bicycle as a vehicle. These question at issue involves the best way of integrating heavy, highly polluting vehicles with high top speeds together with non-polluting light vehicles that have low top speeds. In this respect, three principles apply, each one critical to the safety of our streets:

    1) Nobody has a right to drive a car
    Our society offers no entitlement to use a heavy, highly polluting vehicle at will, particularly in a dense urban environment with significantly less polluting alternatives. The city makes roads available according to the priorities set by the representatives of the residents. Those priorities include the avoidance of congestion and the reduction of pollution, both of which favour bicycles.

    2) Nobody as a right to pick their speed
    Some drivers seem to think that a cyclist riding in front of them has done them some injury. That feeling stems from a sense of entitlement that has no basis. If you have a slower vehicle in front of you, wait to pass it. If you cannot do so, then wait.

    3) Nobody has a right to use violence
    If motorists respond to frustration with violence, then the courts ought to enforce the law, and the city and the province will have no alternative but to implement tougher licensing and traffic enforcement policies.

  22. In many situations, there’s a really fine line between not wanting to blame the victim, and nominating them for a Darwin Award.

    But, unless/until we learn more about what happened, as Bob wrote, the smart course is to view this incident as a crime. Who the victim was and how he came to be a victim doesn’t matter.

  23. “Speaking as a pedestrian whose close calls with red light runners are split 50/50 between cyclists and motorists….”

    But which would you rather tangle with, given the choice?

  24. @Justin: The cyclist, of course — but I shouldn’t have to tangle with either. The cavalier approach to traffic rules seems to cut across all modes of transport.

    Actually, to be fair, I see cyclists run red lights and stop signs far more often than motorists — but I tend not to experience those as “close calls” because I don’t always feel at risk. But often they pass close enough in front or behind me that I can feel the whoosh of air as they whip by.

    Practically every day I see cyclists run the red light eastbound at Danforth and Chester on my way home from work. I do my best to anticipate cyclists’ failure to stop, but often my attention is drawn to the cars and a cyclist escapes my notice (especially with un-lit bikes in the early dark at this time of year).

  25. Bottom line: for the sake of your owns safety, whether on foot or bike, yield to cars. No matter how right you are, people or bikes stand no chance against cars. We can debate this or that until the cows come home but the physics don’t lie – if you get hit by a car, you’ll suffer. In the descending order: I walk, take transit, bike and drive in the city and am absolutely stunned at cavalier attitudes of some. Now, drivers need to be responsible, too, and there’s many problems there but, again, the bottom line: cars will win every time over a pedestrain or a bike.

  26. This case still has to go before the courts but reading what has come out in the news so far, this seems less like the heated confrontations that sometimes develop between motorists and cyclists, and more like a deliberate act of violence, with someone using a vehicle as the weapon at their disposal. I can’t imagine that the road was exactly congested at that hour. Regarding Matts’ comment, I agree that some cyclists drive in a way that makes accidents all but inevitable (running red lights, weaving in and out of lanes, etc.). But it doesn’t sound like this situation was like that at all. If a motorist is intent on running you down (and we don’t know that this is the case here), there is often very little that you can do as a cyclist.

  27. In a couple of weeks, women not only in Montréal but in Toronto and many other cities will be speaking out against violence against women, after a man who thought women were getting in his way decided to lash out and kill 14 of us. (I was writing an exam in an adjacent building).

    Chris Carbis’s fit of rage against a woman daring to get in his way – and against people whom he assumed to be “unemployed” – because they were advocating cycling??? – is a textbook example of such attitudes.

    The wider roads are, the more cycling and pedestrian-unfriendly cities are, so that is utter nonsense.

    Of course that can never be changed. Slavery and child labour will never be eliminated, and universal public education will never become reality – we need that labour? Women will certainly never get the vote, or become engineers or prime ministers. And a Black man will certainly never become president of the US.

    Slavish worship of the established fact, and in this case, an established fact – planet-destroying pollution and climate change – that will kill us all, even Mr Carbis.

    Here is the declaration (in French and in English) speaking out against violence against women, from 25 November to 6 December:
    http://www.ffq.qc.ca/actions/6-decembre-2008/Signataires-declaration-violence-25novembre2008.html

    The FFQ was also among the groups launching the Québec, then the World March of Women, speaking out against poverty and violence – against all human beings, whatever their gender.

    Perhaps they could add “contempt” to those evils.

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