Another open letter from one Toronto cyclist to another: the law’s the real problem.

Editor’s Note: Last week we posted an open letter by Emma Woolley about bad cyclist behavior in Toronto. The post generated lots of discussion here, on Twitter and even landed Emma on CBC’s Metro Morning earlier this week to discuss. Below is another open letter responding to all that by Lisan Jutras. Lisan is an editor and former columnist at The Globe and Mail. She learned to ride her bike on the sidewalk of Howland Avenue. Photo by Commodore Gandalf Gunningham.

Emma Woolley recently wrote a guest post about cycling on Spacing, the gist of which was, jerky cyclists, stop being jerks! I get it: There are jerky cyclists and they do deserve to be told off for weaving in and out of traffic, blowing through open streetcar doors, failing to pay attention to what’s around them, or being unnecessarily rude and/or inconsiderate to drivers, pedestrians and other cyclists. And they need to be told off. Cyclists can, and sometimes do, inflict terrible bodily harm.

But I’m disappointed by the cyclist-on-cyclist pile-on that’s resulted. Let’s be honest with ourselves — I’ll go first. I frequently break the law whilst bicycling and – unless you’re an exceptionally patient, pedantic or cautious person — so do you. And I am not a jerk. I’m a normal, safety-abiding cyclist and so are the hundreds of others who do commit the same “crimes.” And I don’t wish to be reminded that stop signs are for stopping at and one-way streets are one way, and so on, because there’s a glaring fact that no one seems to be addressing. One: We know this. Two: We break those laws anyway, and for a good reason.

The majority of cyclists who run stop signs, use pedestrian thoroughfares when making a left-hand turn at a busy intersection and go the wrong way up a one-way street – and there are hundreds and hundreds of us – are not, in the main, scofflaws and irresponsible drivers. I believe we represent the majority of cyclists (and the number of confessions to these infractions in the comments on Emma’s post indicate as much). When a law is consistently broken by people who don’t usually indulge in criminal behaviours, it is worth examining that law.

And that is what is oddly absent from this whole conversation. Why are we made to abide by rules that were designed for a completely different physical experience of driving? Laws predicated on the idea that the driver has a mass ten times that of your average cyclist, is shrouded in metal and is easily capable of speeds of 100 km/hr? It makes sense that cars approaching an intersection should stop. If they didn’t, there would be no end of collisions – drivers would not see each other until too late; they would be incapable of manoeuvring around each other, and they’d be going too fast to stop in time to avoid the crash. However, I can recall dozens of occasions on which I was comfortably crossing a quiet intersection while a cyclist crossed perpendicularly to me in complete safety. A good cyclist will watch for a car when approaching an intersection and, seeing one, will slow and wait for a sign from the driver to either proceed or stop.

Years ago, I was dinged for running a stop sign by a cop who tore up my ticket when I pointed out how ridiculous it was. I even saw four bicycle cops coast through a stop sign once.

It bears repeating: The law is simply not designed for cyclists.

This is acknowledged as fact in the state of Idaho, where “bicyclists have been allowed by statute since 1982 to approach stop signs and roll through, after first yielding the right of way.  Bicyclists in Idaho are also allowed to turn right at red lights without stopping, so long as the bicyclist first yields to other vehicles.  In 2005 the Idaho legislature further changed the law to allow bicyclists to stop, yield to other vehicles and then travel through a red light.”

In Hamburg, I saw bicycle lanes that allowed cyclists to proceed against the flow of traffic on one-way streets when the streets were wide enough to safely allow cyclists’ passage. As Mark Jull points out in a blog post that touches on many of the same points I make, many one-way streets are wide enough to safely let bikes squeak by. We know this instinctively, and that is why we do it.

This essay is not an argument in favour of lawless anarchy. In fact, quite the opposite. We need laws — just better ones.

For cyclists to chew each other out – even with good intentions — over failing to respect laws that most of us implicitly recognize are impractical and unrealistic seems to be apportioning blame to the wrong party and deepening rifts within the cycling community.

The other problem with the status quo is that is has created a cycling culture that disregards the law, because cyclists are already accustomed to committing minor infractions dozens of times a day. If I disregard the stop-sign rule with the implicit approval of dozens of other cyclists who do likewise, is it so far-fetched for me to disregard the stop-light rule? If one traffic law doesn’t apply to me, do any of them?

Increasing numbers of people are choosing to cycle, and, as a result, an increasing number of cyclists will soon be breaking laws that don’t make sense to them. Change the laws to make them easier to obey and you have fewer excuses for people to step outside of them, and real reason to punish those who do.

It’s a tougher battle to fight to get a law changed than it is to warn a fellow cyclist that he or she is breaking the law. Neither battle is unworthy. But if we win the big one, we’ll have so many fewer small ones to fight.


  1. Stop at fucking stop signs. It’s not difficult, it’s not an injustice. Just fucking do it.

  2. The inherent problem with all this is that a majority of cyclists cause dangerous situations by not following the “rules of the road”. I completely understand that some are silly and unnecessary when there is minimal vehicular traffic but in rush hour and slightly off-rush, it’s a safety hazard. And the problem is, whenever any incidents occur between cars and bikes, cars are inherently at fault no matter what. That’s a problem. If a cyclists wants to weave in and out; run a red light; etc. and gets hit, so be it. That was his/her choice to be stupid. Drivers have a responsibility to be aware of their surroundings and drive safely but that is impossible if cyclists who share the road consistently put themselves, drivers, and pedestrians in danger.

  3. Sorry, that was somewhat overheated. But really, the whining by cyclists who can’t be bothered to follow the simplest regulations is ridiculous. I rode along Huron St. twice yesterday, and out of dozens of cyclists I saw, I was the only one who stopped at stop signs. At best, other riders made the concession of not pedalling, but coasting through.

  4. A well written letter and a good way to see things in a different light.

    Thank you so much! I personally would never even have thought along these lines if you had not submitted this open letter. You are absolutely right in saying we should rethink the traffic laws regarding cycling.

    That being said, this is the wrong city to do it in. Try Montreal instead, where drivers are NOT allowed to turn right on red lights within the city limits, and there are actual left hand turn lanes (and signals) for cars, which provide for a better driving experience for everyone overall, as opposed to Toronto

  5. Agree, definitely, on certain points. Esp the one-way street thing. In fact, there’s a bike lane that directs one to go against the flow of traffic on the one-way street on Montrose north of Harbord. (Hilariously, if you look at the Google Map street view of that intersection, there’s a car parked in the bike lane. Yep.)

    I’m standing pretty firm on the red lights though. When I’m a pedestrian I want to be able to cross the street, and cyclists who don’t consider red lights applicable to them are a total menace. Not to mention how drivers will gun it, to get in through the yellow. A cyclist running a red, even when they think it’s “safe” is taking some major risks.

    I think the thing with cyclists, is that we’re very exposed to each other, in a way that drivers aren’t. So it all feels more personal. You can give someone the finger from your car, and the person in the other car might get mad, but you can’t usually talk to each other, or come in physical contact.

    Cyclists are simply more connected to each other, and run greater risk of physical harm when other cyclists do the unexpected (and that’s the point; “jerky” cyclists are unpredictable. That’s scary, at the least, dangerous at worst.) And we take that more personally, because we can see that person, not just their metal enclosure. Jerky cyclists deny your personhood; they refuse to acknowledge that you have rights to safety, because they need to get all road-warrior on your ass. Feh.

  6. @Paul: If you force me to stop at stop signs, I will start taking fast-moving, dangerous arterials where there are no stop signs instead of empty, safe local roads. I’m pretty sure that moving all the cyclists onto arterials is not a good end goal.

  7. Sorry, but habitually violating traffic law makes you a scofflaw. You can’t admit you do so and also claim you are not a scofflaw. Thats pretty much the definition of the term and from a pedestrian point of view, is pretty jerky. Everyone else doing it is no excuse either. 

  8. I notice that a lot of the responses to Emma’s letter focus on stop signs and the Idaho stop idea — despite the fact that, in her letter, she herself advocates the Idaho stop concept (stop signs as a yield for cyclists rather than a stop).

    The issue is more aggressive behaviours — such as running red lights, not signalling when there is traffic around (including other bikes), cycling on sidewalks, and not even slowing down at stop signs. Most of these are minority behaviours, but like Emma I’ve certainly had the experience of watching many fellow cyclists pass by me through a red light, even in locations where pedestrians are crossing and there could well be oncoming traffic (including other bikes). And it seems like few cyclists signal much at all.

    I’m sorry to see that no-one has mentioned the Toronto Cyclist Union’s excellent Toronto Cyclists Handbook, which has lots of sensible suggestions for how to cycle in a way that is safe and harmonious for cyclists and other road users:

  9. ABSOLUTELY AGREED! Cyclists share none of the physical characteristics with cars that these laws were designed around. 
    Any use of our streets comes with a weighted amount of responsibility; pedestrians, our most vulnerable road users deserve the highest respect from all other users. Similarly, the right to operate a motor vehicle on our streets requires a significant amount of care and thus rules. Most importantly, we all need to recognize the distinction between road users and have this appropriately reflected in our traffic laws. 

  10. Rajio> I tend to agree, but also, now we get into George Berkeley — “If a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” was often attributed to him (not his quote though). But if there isn’t a pedestrian around to bother, does the cyclist have an excuse?

  11. You wouldn’t think stopping at stop signs was that hard, and in theory should be even easier if you’re in a car, but the number of cars I see stopping at stop signs is on par with the number of cyclists I see stopping at stop signs.

    (Yeah, I’m one of those crazy cyclists who actually stops at stop signs, but now I’m thinking of changing my behaviour to “slow down as much as the car beside me” instead. I figure it’ll make my trip home quite a bit faster…

    I also don’t really care what other cyclists do. If people are stupid enough to judge me by the actions of others, then I don’t really care about their opinion.)

  12. @Paul: While coming to a rolling stop at stop signs is a perfectly reasonable thing to require of cyclists, asking them to come to a full stop at a leafy residential intersection is akin to asking drivers to turn off their ignition in the same situation: it is impractical and does not increase safety.  As the article points out, it is the law that is the problem here.  There is little justification for making cyclists come to a full and complete stop at these intersections other than “it’s the law, so follow it.”  It would be better to adjust traffic laws so they make sense for cycling, and then crack down on those who don’t follow the new rules. 

  13. I could not agree with this post more.

    In shoddy Toronto, where physical infrastructure for proper separation of traffic will never exist due to dollars and lack of political will, the only realistic way forward is to adjust the traffic laws and woonerf the heck out of the place. Cars should woonerf around cyclists, cyclists should woonerf around roller bladers and joggers, roller bladers and joggers should woonerf around pedestrians — everybody woonerf! This is much more achievable than changing infrastructure or making cyclists 100% comply with auto traffic rules.

  14. This is precisely the essence of the problem, well-argued and thank-you! It is strange indeed how hard it is to get people to understand this.

    As a ped, I’ve never come close to being hit by a scofflaw cyclist. As a driver, I’ve never come close to hitting a scofflaw cyclist. As a cyclist, I recently ran right over a dog being walked by a jaywalking ped. Whatever.

  15. Hey Shawn, I find it strange that cagers won’t fess up to that rather obvious but inconvenient reality. Thank you for reminding them.

  16. I agree wholeheartedly with this post.

    I think having a more sensible line in the sand (ie smarter laws for bicycles) will make it easier for cyclists to take a critical look at themselves and acknowledge which of their actions on the road are proper, and which aren’t (because god knows that not every cyclist out there is reasonable when it comes to their place on the road).

    A better middle ground that makes a few concessions to cyclists will make it easier for cyclists to realize, for example, that while strolling through a stop sign might be ok, burning through a red light at full speed is not.

  17. Biking against traffic on a one way street is one of the most dangerous things you can do on a bike. Traffic turning on to the one way street, or rounding a corner, or in any number of other situations, do not expect to find you there and may not see you. I live on a one way street popular with bikes near an intersection and see near collisions all the time. Bike a block over to the next street and travel in the same direction with traffic for your own safety.

  18. I’ve been talking with Lisan via Twitter, but I wanted to pop on and leave a comment for her and everyone participating in this discussion: Bravo. This piece is great and really important. Thanks for writing it, Lisan.

    There’s nothing I really disagree with here, and I too have been disappointed by the cyclist pile-ons that have resulted from my post. My target audience was indeed jerky cyclists, who are different than cyclists who break rules safely. When it comes to safety that’s all fine and dandy in my mind, it just seemed complicated and messy to address that while also advocating for following the law (or at least, approximately). I did my best to not paint rule-breaking cyclists with the same brush.

    There has been a large focus on stopping at stop signs, which to me, was the least important point in my post—I’m more concerned about not paying attention. And while I am generally a stickler for following rules, I don’t call out cyclists verbally who go through stop signs safely, especially when there are no cars around. I reserve comments for the particularly arrogant and despite what many commenters have suggested, I don’t do this because I get off on being self-righteous. I do it because I’m concerned for all cyclists.

    Some existing laws are silly, especially the stop signs on less busy streets not being yield signs for cyclists. There are many things wrong with the bike infrastructure in this city. But there is a difference between law reform and following existing laws, the latter of which being something I advocate for because of: 1. Jerky cyclists who can’t seem to break them without jeopardizing someone else’s safety, and 2. It’s just easier to follow the same rules so that everyone knows what’s going on. If drivers understood why some cyclists take the liberties they do, perhaps I’d be singing a different tune. But it’s difficult for other people (motorists, pedestrians) to anticipate a cyclist’s actions when they differ from what is expected.

    Anyway, this has been a great discussion and Lisan frames this issue in a different and necessary light, making the next steps figuring out what cycling rules *should* be, which is indeed more productive than calling each other out. Lookin’ up!

    -Emma, a.k.a. the angry one

  19. Oh for God’s sake, enough self-justification. Yes, laws should be flexed and tweaked for cyclists. Stop signs, especially, are a nuisance.

    But that’s not the only thing Woolley was talking about. If you’re riding on the sidewalk, or super-fast on a recreational path, or weaving through crowds of pedestrians, or running red lights, or you’re on a brakeless fixie, or you’re cycling with earbuds in screwed into your head so that you can’t hear what’s around you, then simply, fuck you.


    A cyclist tired of sanctimonious bullshit from other cyclists.

  20. The dishonesty on this really bugs me. Cyclists talk about ‘Idaho stops’ and ‘rolling stops’ but the reality is that most of the scofflaws blow through stop signs at full speed, or close to it. I see cars do rolling stops all the time… but they at least slow down to a crawl. As a cyclist on the ‘leafy streets’ I’m concerned about the bike behind me crashing into me when they ignore the laws that I’m following.

  21. Amen, Lisan.

    I roll through stop signs, but I NEVER fail to yield the right of way. Rules for fast-moving vehicles make no sense applied to slow-moving vehicles. In modest traffic volumes, I think “rolling stops” actually help the flow of car traffic.

    The biggest risk I think remains being squeezed off the road from behind by approaching cars.

  22. I’m sorry but you people are rationalizing this way too much, as any group facing the obvious. For example, to use the logic presented here, if a car arrives at a stop sign and sees no one else should the car be obligated to stop because that is the law? YES. To suggest otherwise results in a breakdown of the rules we allmust follow for consistency and order. I don’t know about you but as a child I was taught these same rules of the road and none have changed in 50 years. If you can’t abide perhaps don’t ride and put others at risk, including yourself.

  23. Firstly, I will admit that j-walking is an issue that we pedestrians need to be held accountable for

    Having said that, as a pedestrian, I tire of the battle between car and bike. When crossing at lights I face both vehicles trying to turn and cut me off on my light to walk. Although most cars stop, cyclists rarely do when a streetcar is stopped and passengers are getting off. But by far, my great complaint is that all to often I am forced off the sidewalk by cyclists.
    Pedestrians, cars and bikes need to learn to share the road and bikes must stay off sidewalks.

  24. True story:

    A few weeks ago I was biking home from work. I want to make a left turn in a signaled intersection, so with the light green I rode half way into the intersection and wait for oncoming traffic to clear so I could turn safely. Though there was an oncoming car, a car behind me also waiting to turn made the turn from behind me – an illegal and dangerous thing to do considering the situation. The oncoming car, driven by someone in their late teens/early 20s, then honks at me and looks bewildered, I then noticed he had his left turn signal on – he wanted to make a left turn from the through lane and not the left turn lane AND didn’t even realize the mistake he was making!

    Moral of the story: Bad drivers will be bad drivers, regardless of whether they are riding a bike or driving a car.

  25. I agree that some of the “rules of the road” are inconvenient for cyclists, but as long as these rules exist, they have to be followed. To not do so merely feeds into the stereotype of cyclists as unpredictable. I say this as a non-cyclist who is nonetheless very supportive of cycling in general.

  26. If the problem is that the rules don’t always work for cycling, the solution is to get those rules changed, not to act as if they already have been changed.

  27. @Larry:

    No, Larry. If we only waited for the rules to change, and didn’t try to push the envelope, as it were, nothing would ever ever change. Rosa Parks would have given up her bus seat, there never would have been a critical mass ride, etc etc

    Civil disobedience (and let’s face it, riding a bicycle in Toronto is very similar to an act of civil disobedience), is an important role that we must take to change injustices and inequalities in our society.

  28. Excellent article. I agree with the premise that some laws need to be tweaked within the inflexible Highway Traffic Act. But tweaking the laws such as permitting rolling stops (which most motorists and cyclists do anyway) should then be accompanied with stronger enforcement of the laws that do make sense – such as not yielding right-of-way when making those rolling stops – and nab those scofflaws that threaten the safety of other users of the road and even themselves.

    Reforming the rules will make it easier to go after those who have no regard for safety and comfort of other road users while bringing the rest of us fully within the law with no excuses for then not following it to the letter. A carrot and stick is precisely what’s needed.

  29. Just pointing out the hazard of riding on the left or going the wrong way on a one-way street: drivers entering the street look to the left, where traffic is expected. If you are coming from the driver’s right, you’re invisible. (one of my friends learned this from experience. His arm is out of the cast now) Especially because cyclists are so small, we need to respect how other traffic moves. Cautious “Idaho” stops aren’t dangerous; most of the other behaviours mentioned by Emma Wolley are.

  30. Just spent a couple weeks in Germany and have some observations.

    1) no stop signs anywhere. Only yield signs. Ends the rolling stop problem.
    2) cyclists rode on the street and on the sidewalk and no one seems to have died or whatever. Rode the wrong way down one way streets too. Traffic adapts automatically.

    So… Basically.. I think this issue is being way over thought. Perhaps the system could use a little more chaos to make everyone a little more mindful. Bike lane curbs? Don’t need them. Don’t need curbs separating the road from the sidewalk either.

    In the past I really cared about bad cyclists and bad pedestrians and bad motorists. Now, I generally and enthusiastically don’t care anymore.

  31. I can’t think of another issue that gets as much traction through anecdotal evidence as cycling in Toronto.

    As a cyclist in Toronto, my reality doesn’t match up with all these accounts of ‘scofflaws.’ Maybe once or twice, but it’s certainly no scourge. I can’t help but wonder how many times a someone just rolling safely through turns into another “I’ve seen cyclists blow through stop signs!!”  Or how many of the “cyclists are crazy, have a death-wish” statements come from people who’ve never ridden a bike and completely mis-read the situation or behaviour. 

    In any case, it’s strange.. there’s just as much anecdotal evidence against drivers, roller-bladers, etc. but it doesn’t ‘count’ like it does for cyclists. 

    (And: great post, Lisan!)

  32. It’s very revealing that this open letter doesn’t use the word “pedestrians” once. At U of T, I frequently see pedestrians having to dodge cyclists that are ignoring stop signs and blowing red lights.

  33. An instructive exchange. If there’s an overarching insight to be gained from all this, it’s that neither the law nor peer pressure are, by themselves, powerful enough to change attitudes and / or behaviour.

    Traffic laws can punish individual violations, and of course there’s an argument to be made for applying them in a spirit of reason and flexibility, but there’s no law that can force jerks to stop being jerks. That kind of change has to come from the individual, for whatever reason — financial, ethical, or social. And that applies not just to cyclists but to motorists and pedestrians as well.

  34. You are correct.  

    Traffic laws aren’t made for cyclists – they are made for traffic.

    That includes motor-vehicle, pedestrian traffic, and cyclists.  Traffic laws are made so that a variety of things can move at directions at different speeds harmoniously.

    I also disagree with your comment that everyone breaks the rules sometimes.  As a former car driver now cyclist, I never break the rules.  No I am not kidding.  Deciding to skirt a light because I was in a hurry, or tailgating someone causes injury in a 2 tonne hunk of metal and isn’t safe with cycling as well.  Just as I can’t just run across an intersection on foot because I don’t feel like waiting.  The laws are there to protect society, not just you and your needs.

    As a pedestrian, I expect when a light is green or there is a stop sign and there is traffic approaching, it will stop as directed. So now cyclists should just continue through legally if they choose?  What also consists of a rolling stop? What speed?  Would you feel safe crossing a street with someone barreling down towards you because, “Hey, they are rolling a stop, chances they may not hit me?”

    Its comments like this that make non-cyclists really dislike and distrust cycling issues.  How much more elitist can you be by vying for your own legal exceptions?

  35. But if we give cyclists a break, won’t that lead to cars speeding when it seems absurd not to, or pedestrians jaywalking when there’s a gap in traffic?

    Oh wait.

  36. @Rick. A bunch of white commuters on bikes is nothing, NOTHING like Rosa Parks. We might not have the blessing of the mayor, or drivers, but I wouldn’t go anywhere near saying those are Jim Crow conditions.

  37. @MJ: “Traffic laws are made so that a variety of things can move at directions at different speeds harmoniously.”

    Actually that is not true. Traffic laws are made to facilitate the movement of *motorized vehicles*. There is an implicit value assumption in that: streets are for cars, not for people; if you are not driving a car, you do not count.

    Bicycles have fundamentally different operating characteristics from cars, trucks, and buses (among other things they start and stop much faster). And pedestrians have yet different characteristics. It is about time that our road codes are updated to recognize that these ‘soft’ modes of transportation also have their place on the streets.

    Driving a car is a privilege, not a right. An inattentive cyclist/pedestrian may easily get killed, whereas an inattentive driver may well kill someone else.

  38. @Paul – glad to hear you follow the letter of the law so closely! I’m sure you are an upstanding citizen who pays their taxes on time, keeps their front lawn nicely trimmed and keeps a close eye on youngsters who might one day cause trouble.
    Now please go get a life, and get out of my way as I pedal through stop signs when there are no cars around.

  39. I don’t think this topic is being “way over thought” at all. The fact is that there are probably 5 times more cyclists in most city centres in North America than there were just 5 years ago. This is why it’s so damn noticeable. 

    I would say that by the majority of these cyclists are newbies. Meaning that they probably have never ridden a bike before or haven’t done so since they lived in suburbia with ma and pa.

    The fact is that they don’t know how to ride in city traffic. They are “scared” so ride the sidewalks (don’t even let me get started on this…). They disregard traffic rules because they can get away with it. 

    The problem seems to be one of education and being considerate and conscious of all the other people sharing the roads, rather than laws. 

  40. @Zvi: I distinctly remember acing my written driver’s test by applying the rule “the pedestrian is always right” to every question of cars vs. pedestrians that came up. (OK, this was 20 years ago, but I bet the test hasn’t changed much.)

  41. @Electric Landlady: Of course, but that just shows how far removed the “rules of the road” are from the reality of what is happening on the streets. We design our roads to facilitate vehicular movement, so logically drivers expect to be able to move easily and without interruption.

    I think that the era of universal car dominance is coming to an end. How our travel and land use patterns evolve from here is unclear, but clearly there are competing demands for scarce resources (road space). Clearly this is a very contentious issue in the Greater Toronto Area.

  42. An eminently reasonably article, but the oversecuritized, authoritarian mentality has taken deep root in the North American psyche to the point that common sense has to be legislated and that every behaviour must be regulated by the law and the police. 

    The fact that Lisan has to make a caveat about not advocating “lawless anarchy” demonstrates how far we are along on this path. The irony is that a lot of the people who advocate a hardline approach seem pretty libertarian when it comes to taxes et al that has to pay for this enforcement.

    Maybe proper cycling etiquette should be taught at schools or have some advisories behind it, but creating fear of punishment when cycling is already an elite affair in many circles, just discourages cycling which in essence is about freedom.

  43. I’ve hesitated to use that minority discrimination analogy myself, but the fact is, you can get yerself good and dead while carefully observing the HTA, and in some cases the perp will face no significant consequences. Anyone here remember the 57 year old who was doored to death? Just what was the penalty imposed in that case? Was it a wrongful death charge? No by golly it was not. So, at some point you do start to wonder about lessons that can be learned from others who caused laws that were previously taken for granted by the comfortable majority to be revisited.

  44. When I read all these people getting the vapours over cyclists I feel like I’m living in some kind of Bizarro world. You know, one where all the pedestrians are killed by cyclists, not cyclists…where cars come to a complete stop all the time and never go over the speed limit.

  45. @Rick: Notice I said ‘get the rules changed’, not wait for them to be changed. Going against the rules because they don’t work for you or are counterproductive makes you unpredictable to other road users, including other cyclists. It’s not practical to participate in traffic and have to figure out whether some road users are following the rules or are deciding some rules don’t work for them, some of the time. You can’t expect to be able to bike against traffic on a one-way street as long as the rule is that you cannot and as long as other cyclists are obeying that rule.

  46. I roll through stop signs almost every day and no fine or cop is ever going to stop me.  I will do so as long as I live.  

    Stop signs were invented for cars.  Cars can kill.  Just the reality of the situation.

    One-way streets were invented for traffic calming in certain neighborhoods, and the traffic they’re calming is car traffic.  Just reality, kids.

    “So bikes should have free reign and do whatever they damn well please and screw pedestrians?!?!” is just hyberbole and I can live with Paul’s temper tantrums.

    The fact is, I can see pedestrians a long ways off in almost every intersection.  If a pedestrian’s there, great — more happy to let them go by.  I’m a pedestrian myself half the time.  

    The fact is, if a corner is blind and one can’t see what may be approaching, a sensible person (on a bike, in a car, on foot) exercises due caution for the safety of themselves and everyone else.  *MOST PEOPLE ARE SENSIBLE PEOPLE*, which seems to elude certain commenters.

    The fact is, there’s no reason at all for me to complete full stop at a stop sign if there’s nobody there.  A rolling stop is perfectly safe.

    The fact is, bikes don’t disturb the peace, and that’s why there’s no reason why a bike should ever be obliged to heed one-way streets.  I live on one.  Have zero problem with cyclists taking it either way.

    The fact is, there are horrible arrogant people in the world and it doesn’t matter whether they are in a car or on foot or on a scooter or a bike or in a space shuttle.  Boiling the issue down to “those pesky cyclists!” or “those damn drivers” is simplistic and unproductive.  Neither “Cyclists” nor “Drivers” are the problem.  

    BTW Paul, in the last week, I’d say I’ve stopped fully at as many intersections as I’ve rolled through.  Different intersections are, well, different.  Generally I’m a sensible person and if you want to fully stop at every stop sign, great.  That’s your right.  It’s not your responsibility.

  47. Silly Panic, bikes aren’t for “white people”.  

    Larry’s wrong — nothing changes without people making a fuss about it.  It’s good and right to challenge pointless, ineffective laws.  Rosa Parks is not the best example, but she certainly shows how off-base Larry’s comment is.

  48. Well said Lisan! A little common sense tells us which laws are helpful, and which ones just are silly.

    And a cyclist is much more sensitive to wasting energy than a driver, because it’s the cyclist’s own energy that’s required to start up again after every needless stop sign!

  49. @S.H.

    Total curiosity, tell me where in the books it says jaywalking when there is a lull in traffic is illegal. You use your sarcasm with such verve and style, I must assume it’s backed up by fact… not urban legend.


  50. I must be one of that minority of cyclists who make left-hand turns from the left-hand turn lane. It’s not hard. If you’re afraid of cars, plan your route and make left-hand turns from side streets. By using the crosswalk, you’re bothering pedestrians.

    I’ve had cyclists pass way too close, unannounced—sidewalk or crosswalk—when I’m a pedestrian. Not just on busy streets, mind you, but in quiet residential areas. Oftentimes they’re not travelling at walking speed, but rushing past at the same speed as cars on the road.

    Time and time again I’ve seen cyclists race the red light or enter the intersection before it’s green. How is that justified? It’s unpredictable behaviour like that which will get you or someone else injured.

    That’s part of what the road law is for: to keep everything predictable to reduce risk of injury.

  51. Two interesting videos as food for thought. 3 way street (a video of a New York City intersection examining the behaviour of cyclists, pedestrians and drivers).

    And morning rush hour in the 4th largest city in the Netherlands. Streets look like this when 33% of ALL trips are made by bicycle.

  52. Hi, Ian,

    I for one routinely enter the intersection when the other direction just turned red, and my signal has not turned green yet, of course only when I am sure the traffic has stopped and the intersection does not have a left-turn phase. Why, I am basically using the second time difference as something very beneficial yet missing, an advanced green (the same is done by many pedestrians as well). It is actually safer in many cases as the headstart give cyclist the chance to make his/her intention clear (gotta merge into the car lane because of that car parked in bike lane etc.), and the drivers know what to expect.

  53. Perhaps the laws do need to be examined. But they can only be rationally judged if cyclists and motorists are willing to take themselves and their egos out of the discussion. We can neither create one set of rules for all vehicles nor a specific set of rules governing specifics types of vehicles if we have to keep entertaining arguments like “Well, I’m smart so I don’t have to obey all the rules.”

    If you want to change the rules, you’ll have to create a new argument where the talents of a specific driver or cyclist are entirely immaterial. 

    Regardless of the vehicle they regulate, the rules of the road exist to moderate interactions between vehicles based on the understanding that all vehicle operators are not created equal. If all drivers were highly skilled and attentive, we could certainly raise speed limits, reduce the number of stop signs and lights and generally allow people to interact based predominantly on their experience and good judgement. But even the most idealistic person would agree that we do not live in such a driving utopia and as such, rules are required. All the same logic applies to cyclists.

    I’ve very happy that you (Yes, you.) are so smart and that you can coast through an intersection without worry. But not only is it not about you; it’s not about you at all. It’s about treating all people equally, smart and stupid alike. That’s why the rules are what they are and why your specific talents don’t matter one little, teeny, tiny bit.  

  54. I don’t fully agree with the latter part of what CETI said. I don’t think cycling is in essence about freedom, that is too philosophical for me. As a pragmatist, cycling is most sensible way for me to get from A to B in most cases. However, I think his first paragraph is spot-on and worth repeating:

    “An eminently reasonably article, but the oversecuritized, authoritarian mentality has taken deep root in the North American psyche to the point that common sense has to be legislated and that every behaviour must be regulated by the law and the police.”

    That is why I am pretty comfortable with the situation today in terms of rule and enforcement. Most people know the rules, and most people, out of common sense, know when to ignore the rules (the cops know too, and that is why you don’t see vigorous enforcement on cyclists).

    If we just read these posts and passionate comments, we’d think this conflict is at boiling point, and tomorrow there will be a ped pull out a gun to shot a cyclist on sidewalk, or a cyclist strapped with explosive to blow up a car in bike lane. In reality, day in and day out I see cyclists breaking rules without endangering anyone, and peds walk by without being bothered. After all, most people as sensible, and when conflict is about to happen, instinctive negotiation happens, often unconsciously; in the end, everyone involved just gets on his/her own business without any trouble. I sometimes become conscious about it and actually enjoy this kind of negotiation, which has a very nice human touch. Cars are different, not only because they are bigger, faster, they also great impede the drivers vision and ability for this kind of negotiation. That is why the rules must apply to car stringently, but much more relaxed for cyclists, and even more relaxed for peds.

    Really, let us relax and just let common sense prevail. Try to regulate common sense is not just useless, it is even harmful.

  55. I don’t think your response to the original letter is intelligent.

    You have focussed too much on certain things while paying no attention to the respect issues Emma brought up including signalling and respect for pedestrians. 

    In her article, Emma even mentions that stop signs could be used as yield signs for cyclists but you continue on a tirade about changing the laws to suit cyclists.

    The point here is that many cyclists don’t show respect for cars, pedestrians or other cyclists, and you seem to have missed that.

  56. You know, after my rant on this I’ve been wondering why this is such a trigger for me. I just saw a news item about people using their blackberries on flights after being told to turn them off, and realized that I get bent out of shape about that, as well. It’s something about the attitude that ‘rules are for other people’ that really pushes my buttons. Maybe I have too much pent-up hostility from being a rules-follower my whole life and feeling like other people were taking advantage. Anyway, that’s my comment-as-therapy for today!

  57. @Jason – I never said we shouldn’t challenge or make a fuss about pointless and/or ineffective laws. But there’s a difference between doing that because it’s safer or works better for you and doing something that also makes you unreliable or dangerous to others. I understand that biking the wrong way on a one-way street works because you become visible to cars and that cars are the ones that the rule is mainly directed at. But until it is legal and acceptable and to be expected that cyclists do that, it creates uncertainty for pedestrians, for drivers and for cyclists who happen to be obeying the one-way rule.

  58. Larry, really, such a big deal? I have been riding the wrong way on quite one way residential street for years, almost daily, never had any problem. Never observed this great “uncertainty”. Of course, I know I am breaking the rules while doing so, so by definition I never have the right of way, that is why I always yield, to oncoming cars, cars pulling out of parking, jaywalking pedestrians and so on. Again, no need to blow this out of proportion, use a little bit common sense and courtesy, it works out just fine.

  59. Your article misses the point entirely. Yes ,there are occasions when a small transgression might be acceptable on safety grounds but they very few. I also accept that the laws relating to cyclists could be better and that cycling provision is very desirable. None of that excuses the inexcusable behaviour and rudeness that I witness every day – both as a pedestrian and a cyclist.  Yes, I am a cyclist and have been for 49 years now. I do not break the law and I have never been knocked off my bike. The problem is that the majority of cyclists use the safety argument to justify breaking the law when the truth is that is is a really a matter of convenience and speed. Amongst my bad experiences: (i) hit ten times in the last ten years by cyclists on pavements and other pedestrian areas; (ii) often forced, as pedestrian, into the road by cyclists on the pavement;  (iii) uncountable times, unable to cross at pedestrian crossings because of cyclists going through red lights. Moreover, cyclists who cause these incidents almost never apologise – they just try to justify the unjustifiable.  There are many other examples of bad behaviour and I am not alone in experiencing it. My neighbour has similar experiences and refers to cyclists as ‘lycra louts’. Most people I know have similar feelings – even though they like the idea of cycling in principle. In short, cyclists as a class need to get their act together and start behaving properly if they want to get any sympathy from those that could improve their lot. Sorry about the rant but I am heartily sick of the behaviour of most cyclists.

  60. I read your letter this morning and took all day to think about it. I’m one of those exceptionally patient, pedantic cautious people you describe, and have been for 20 years of Toronto cycling. I’ve had as many people shake their head at me as I have at them. I originally agreed with you, then thought differently as I cycled to work.

    Your comment “It makes sense that cars approaching an intersection should stop. If they didn’t, there would be no end of collisions” is not true and assumes that drivers are incapable of making the same judgement calls that you credit cyclists with in the next couple of sentences. Note for an example of civilized driving without traffic signs.

    “A good cyclist will watch for a car when approaching an intersection and, seeing one, will slow and wait for a sign from the driver to either proceed or stop” is also problematic. You, as a cyclist, become unpredictable in this scenario; you are waiting for some “sign” from the driver ( a nod of the head? a wink? a shouted “Move Yer Butt”?). Over time, this “good cyclist” risks becoming a “dead cyclist” because of a misinterpreted signal.

    The flaw that I find in your argument is that you are ignoring the ideas that laws are also created to set universal expectations of behaviour in a public setting. For car drivers, other drivers, cyclists and pedestrians expect you to stop at the stop sign; they don’t need to communicate a “by your leave” before crossing into the intersection, the stop sign is enough. Or, to use your terms, the oncoming red octagon in your lane is a clear sign from other drivers that they think that you should stop, and yield right-of-way to traffic that got to the intersection first.

    One-way streets have the same problem. When in a car, I am not expecting traffic to be travelling the wrong way up the street, and will be spending less time and attention looking at the wrong way when turning into a one way street, when pulling out of a parallel park on a one-way street, or when opening the door. All of the very real events are dangerous to the cyclist. And all can be avoided if the cyclist behaves in the way that others who share the road, through the law, expect.

    It’s somewhat appropriate that I am writing this response a couple of days after I saw a bicycle collide into a motorcycle at Yonge and Adelaide. The motorcyclist was turning east onto Adelaide, after waiting for the oncoming traffic to stop because the light had turned red. The bicyclist had ignored the red light. Apparently, he misunderstood the sign.

  61. @Yu: the one-way thing may not be such a big deal overall, but it’s the principle that’s important. If you decide the rules don’t apply to you, at best you end up alienating and annoying others and at worst you endanger yourself and others. I know how tempting it is go the wrong way, use the sidewalk as a shortcut, pass other cyclists on the inside, ride right on the crosswalk, etc. I know those things could make riding easier for me, sometimes with little or no inconvenience to others. But when you’re on the receiving end of the same attitude of making up one’s own rules, you’re vulnerable and you don’t know what to expect. Should I really have to look both ways before walking across a one-way street? Should I expect cyclists to be going through and across the crosswalk? What happens when drivers make up their own rules? As cyclists we get little enough respect or goodwill from many drivers; I’d rather not be another cyclist who earns the contempt of pedestrians. I’d prefer drivers be able to anticipate what I’m doing and why, rather than have to try figure out why I broke a rule or why I ‘came out of nowhere’ before hitting them.

  62. I said much the same at my own blog. In Tokyo bicycles are unpoliced, cyclists ride all over roads and sidewalks, and take traffic signals only under advisement, yet they have far fewer cycling, pedestrian and automobile accidents. In fact, per-capita traffic carnage is a fraction what it is in N.America (in which Toronto is one of the worse medium to large cities). Note that it is the rare Tokyo road that has a bike lane, and the roads are far busier. The differences? A critical mass of cyclists, and the policing and courts focus harshly on automobile drivers. It works. Imagine that.

    Link has a bare backside: be warned.

  63. Totally agree. By amending the laws to make cycling more efficient and enjoyable, the province and city would promote this healthy and sustainable method of transportation.

  64. @Richard:

    Sheesh. Since you’re nitpicking: I didn’t make any claim about what’s legal and what’s not. I said “if we give cyclists a break” then that might lead to other terrible scourges, such as jaywalking and speeding. You pointed out (sarcastically skewering my sarcasm! Oh noes!) that this is a disanalogy, since it’s illegal to coast through a stop sign, but technically legal to walk across a street mid-block when there’s a lull in traffic. You’re right that there’s a legal disanalogy. But that doesn’t matter at all in practice: as the Star has documented, cops fine “jaywalkers” when they feel like it, irrespective of Spacing’s careful interpretation of the laws and bylaws. I’ve been stopped by cops for walking midblock across Bloor on a deserted Sunday morning. They insist that it’s illegal. So on the matter of being ‘given a break’, cyclists and jaywalkers are treated similarly: usually not fined, but sometimes. For that reason I don’t think it’s outlandish to liken them to each other. Hence the spirit of my original point–these are all fairly harmless practices and the world won’t end if cyclists roll through stop signs, any more than it does when pedestrians cross mid-block or cars go 70 in a 60 zone.

    Did you have a problem with that point, or was it the hermeneutics of the Highway Traffic Act that you’re more interested in?

  65. Once more, in the interests of a rational debate, please separate the question of whether cyclists should obey the law (generally yes when safe and possible) from the question of how drivers view us. I have two very good reasons to separate these questions.

    First, too many drivers simply don’t know the law. They don’t know we can legally take the lane, legally turn left, legally ride on all roads except the 400 series. They don’t know we can legally ride on Lakeshore despite the existence of the Martin Goodman Trail. They don’t know where they should turn in bike lanes (merge over the dashed lines before the intersection and turn right from the bike lane). They don’t know that adult cyclists in Ontario can legally decide for ourselves whether or not to wear helmets. All that makes trying to “earn” the respect of drivers by complying with “the rules” a mug’s game. That doesn’t mean we should not make the effort to know the laws and follow them; it means we should follow the laws to ride safely and correctly. What motorists will think shouldn’t enter the equation.

    Second, why should cyclists want the respect of motorists as a group? Look at car culture in this country, and particularly in this city. You will see a far greater display of contempt, for the law, for the environment, for the needs of other people, and for the livability of this city, than anything cyclists ever show. As long as people who represent car culture in this city boast of their exploits flouting the stunt driving law, as long as the overall motoring culture remains dominated by impatience, entitlement, and discourtesy, then drivers collectively have no standing to judge cyclists, and cyclists should neither abide their judgment or aspire to have their respect. We should obey the law, yes, but for our sake, not theirs.

  66. I can’t thank you enough for writing this!  I’ve been struggling to articulate these very points and I’m hugely relieved and grateful that someone smart has done it, and so well 🙂
    Lisan Jutras, you are my new hero.

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