Changing municipal by-laws

June 29, 2012

As some of you may know the Morning Glory Cycling Club was pulled over on a group ride recently and told that they were in violation of the Toronto by-law stating that cyclists must ride single file. The MGCC was told that if they were found riding 2 or more abreast in the future, the riders would be fined.

The MGCC and I have been doing some digging: While there is nothing in the Highway Traffic Act stopping cyclists from riding side-by-side, it is against city bylaws.

Since that incident, I’ve been working with Dan Egan and Christina Bouchard (both of whom work for the city in Cycling Infrastructure and Programs Transportation Services on the best way of getting this bylaw dropped from the books.

Dan and I worked together on the recent Coroner's panel on Cycling death in Ontario. He’s a very good guy. Dan thinks our best bet on getting this law changed is to email the City’s by-law working group. As Dan pointed out to me "The Coroner has sent a letter to the City identifying Recommendation 9 as something the City should address”. Coroner’s recommendation 9 suggests the City do a “comprehensive review of ... City by-laws... to ensure they are consistent and understandable with respect to cycling and cyclists and therefore easier to promote and enforce."

The city now has now formed a working group to review the city's cycling-related by-laws. Several of the panel members in this working group are very sympathetic to this issue. Christina Bouchard (one of the members of this working group) has kindly offered to collect any letters sent on this issue and bring the letters to the group’s attention.

Below is a copy of the letter I sent to Ms. Bouchard (cboucha@toronto.ca).

Dear Ms. Bouchard,

I would very much appreciate it if you would pass on the concerns outlined below to the cycling bylaw working group.

I have reviewed Toronto’s cycling bylaws (as found at: http://www.toronto.ca/legdocs/bylaws/2011/law1409.pdf) and several of the existing bylaws are of particular concern to those of us who use our bikes for training and competition as well as commuting. As you are probably aware, there has been a marked increase in recent years in the number of road cyclists and triathletes who use City roads not only for commuting, but also for training. This is consistent with the general growth in popularity of road cycling across Canada. Indeed, a recent article in the Globe and Mail (reported http://www.theglobeandmail.com/sports/more-sports/cycling-is-the-new-golf-the-rise-of-an-on-trend-activity/article4246149/) reports that the growth rate is in the 10% range and commented that Canadian road cyclist Ryder Hesjedal’s recent victory in the Giro d’Italia is likely to contribute to the continued popularity and growth of this sport:

In particular, I would like to draw the working group’s attention to the following 2 by-laws:
1) No person shall operate a bicycle upon a roadway other than by riding in single file except when overtaking another vehicle.
2) No person operating a bicycle shall carry any package, bundle, or article which prevents the rider from keeping both hands on the handlebars

As any cycling club will tell you- riding single file increases (not decreases) the risk to cyclists. A group of cyclists needs more room on the road than an individual cyclists in order to avoid the usual road hazards as well as the cyclists in front or behind them. For this reason- The only safe way for a car to pass a large group of cyclists is to switch lanes. Riding single file adds to the temptation of car drivers to attempt to pass the group without changing lanes, which is not a safe way to pass a larger group of cyclists.

When a group of cyclists claim the lane and ride two or more abreast- it increases their safety in several ways:
1) It sends a clear message to drivers that they must switch to another lane in order to safely pass the group
2) By riding 2 or 3 abreast, the length of the group is shortened by ½ to 2/3, making it far quicker and easier for motorists to pass the group.

As any experienced group cyclist will tell you, Riding in formation with 2 or more cyclists abreast is a standard safety procedure performed by any large group of cyclists. This procedure is so well established that the various formations cyclists use (which are dependent on the wind direction and the speed of the group) have a universally used set of names and the same formations are used by cycling clubs throughout the world (see the following websites for some examples of the formations use):
http://www.pearlandcyclingclub.org/safety-paceline.html
http://www.cyclingtips.com.au/2009/02/rolling-turns-pacelining-echeloning/

I should also add that group cycling is supported by the cycling safety research, which shows that increasing the density of cyclists improves their overall safety. Researchers refer to this as the “safety in numbers effect” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Safety_in_numbers).

I am also concerned about the bylaw preventing cyclists from carrying any “article” that prevents them from keeping both hands on the handlebars at all times. Presumably, this means it is against the law for cyclists to remove a hand from their handlebar to eat and drink while on their bikes. There is no evidence that eating and drinking while riding is unsafe and as someone who drives a car and rides a bike. I can say that it is at least as safe for me to eat and drink on my bike as it is in my car.

For these reasons, I believe the bylaws noted above should be dropped.

Chris Cavacuiti
Staff Physician, Department of Family and Community Medicine
St Michael's Hospital
Toronto, ON
M4X 1K2