I grew up cycling in the Collingwood/Thornbury area with my dad and brother. From “the Eliminator” to “Frog’s Hollow”, over 15 years we rode through this beautiful part of Ontario. It was our home. Our backyard was hilly and sprawling. I still go up and ride with dad, though nowadays, I am the one who drags his butt up the hill (sorry dad).
Fond memories aside, it comes as no surprise to me to read the recent news reports about the region, as well as a jarring Canadian Cycling Magazine article by Philippe Tremblay. These stories are all too familiar. Thankfully, in my experience, the number of problematic incidents on those escarpment roads between cyclists and cars are less frequent than what I deal with in Toronto (it’s a numbers game). However, it only takes one incident to spin out of control and end with life changing consequences.
In March of this year, my dad and I were ending our ride and headed home down Grey Road 2 when we heard an aggressive “HONK HONK HONK” from behind. We were already riding single file, but hugged closer to the gravel shoulder in anticipation of a close pass. A minivan flew by. It veered in front of us, quickly and purposefully running its passenger side wheels onto the gravel shoulder, kicking up dust and rocks right into our path. Thankfully, dad and I escaped this insanity unscathed.
That was an overt act of violence, committed against us simply for cycling. (To be clear, there was no oncoming traffic and we were easily passable.)
Having lived that experience and knowing that incidents like this occur, I find the reported police behavior in the Collingwood area infuriating. It strikes me as (albeit a less overtly violent) targeting of cyclists simply for using the roads. Instead of working to protect vulnerable road users, police appear to be targeting them.
The idea that police would be using valuable emergency services resources to fly aerial drones to catch cyclists rolling through stop signs on quiet country roads sounds like a budgetary scandal. I acknowledge the Highway Traffic Act violation involved here, but as compared to other violations/actual crimes and the impact on others, it seems low on the scale of what police resources should be spent on.
If a cyclist rolls through a stop sign who do they hurt? Maybe themselves? A car driver’s estimated time of arrival by a few seconds? Certainly, the remedy to this minor infraction must not be the ham fisted roadside handcuffing of grey haired cyclists?
In contrast, this past spring I rode about 60 kms one morning after the snow had all melted. Nearly every km I saw a beer can or vodka bottle in the ditch, clearly tossed from a car or truck window by a driver or passenger while driving. I remain shocked by the scale of what I perceive to be drinking while driving in the area. Have drones or police manpower been used to combat that in any meaningful way?
I doubt it. And, when it comes to police, I also doubt that change in attitudes or behaviours towards cyclists will come from them unprompted.
I do not propose that the cyclists of the region ban together and start demonstrating against police or pushing back against other non-cycling community members. But, I do recommend action.
With respect to non-cycling community members, town councils and police should surely be listening to their concerns, but most importantly they should be promoting safety, caution, and patience on the roads.
Cyclists in the area should be advised on their rights, the rules of the road, and practical safety tips even in the face of another road user acting contrary to the Highway Traffic Act.
I would strongly urge community cycling groups to write directly to local police departments, the Ontario Provincial Police, and their town council members, raising their concerns and asking for clear authoritative direction on road usage and rules specific to cycling.
Get in writing that you can bike 2 abreast. Get in writing that you can use Grey Road 19 just as lawfully as if you were riding on the Bruce Trail. Heck, laminate those responses and keep it in your seat sack for the next time a cop pulls you over. If you get ticketed, fight it.
Most importantly, be safe. See you out there.
*Dave Shellnutt is a Personal Injury and Human Rights Lawyer in Ontario. He regularly represents injured cyclists and those who have experienced police violence. For free legal advice, workshops, and more visit www.thebikinglawyer.ca.