John Tory meets with Cycle Toronto over High Park feud

As cycling advocates push for a string of active transportation-focused retrofits, including a car-free pilot, at a popular west end park, Mayor John Tory placed the microscope on drivers on Wednesday during talks held to quash conflicts between cyclists, police and park users.

Tory said during the meeting with cycling advocate group Cycle Toronto he expressed his openness to solutions tailored towards ensuring all park users get along while sharing the facilities. This included “specific ways in which the city can work with Cycle Toronto to help increase public education efforts,” as part of the High Park Movement Strategy, a review intended to reshape the area’s transportation network, it says will reduce conflicts and make best use of the car-free pilot in the park.

The mayor also urged Cycle Toronto’s representatives to meet with city staff undertaking the review and with police who are handling enforcement.

“I want everyone to be safe in High Park and everywhere else in the city,” Tory stated. “That includes pedestrians, seniors, families, cyclists, TTC riders, motorists — everybody.”

Cycle Toronto took the time to raise a string of proposals it said could be piloted in 2022 as part of the review.

Those include creating designated lanes for multiple forms of active transportation travelling at different speeds including a “fast lane” for people using the roads for recreational cycling and training. Also it proposed creating off peak times during car-free hours specifically for people on bikes to ride and train at higher speeds, with a posted code of conduct, while still sharing the park with other users.

Tory said while everyone is expected to accommodate each other while sharing public spaces, there is a “greater onus,” on car drivers to respect the law, due to the elevated risk of injury created by the operation of motor vehicles.

The Star was unable to obtain police statistics (in time for deadline) detailing police enforcement and tickets issued to cyclist and other users of the park, compared to those meted out to motorist. The city did share its own speed camera data indicating that, in May, speed cameras across Toronto issued 20,052 tickets, with the device just outside High Park on Parkside Drive south of Algonquin Avenue issuing the most tickets at 2,845, or approximately 14 per cent of all tickets.

Tory stated that the emphasis on drivers “doesn’t absolve others from obeying the law.” It does mean the vast majority of traffic enforcement is on vehicle drivers,” with Toronto police agreeing that’s the case.

He wants police to release its enforcement statistic showing the disparity, adding that only a small number of tickets are issued to cyclists or for cyclist-related offences in the High Park area.

“I believe it will help put this entire conversation in context,” he said, adding that police have been exercising their own discretion in response to community complaints.

Cycle Toronto released its own statement on the meeting which it said could “diffuse tensions.” It also said the mayor expressed willingness to consider implementing “quick-win solutions,” in the park this year, including the potential for a car-free pilot 7 days a week.

Cycle Toronto wants to see support for a bicycle yield-as-stop law, which treats stop signs as yield signs but maintains right of way for other road users at intersections, and to ask Ontario Minister of Transportation Caroline Mulroney for a bicycle yield-as-stop change in the provincial Highway Traffic Act.

“We thank the mayor for taking swift action to meet with us, and for being receptive to our ideas that support everyone who uses High Park.” said Keagan Gartz, Cycle Toronto’s executive director.

In recent months, the Star has reported on the uptick in disputes between riders, who have been flocking to the park in increasing numbers and other residents who frequent High Park.

The spat has prompted police to beef up enforcement, with cyclists responding by planning a protest in the park this week.

Last week, the advocacy group issued an open letter asking for an urgent meeting with Tory and Chief James Ramer, saying advocates “have grown increasingly alarmed by the recent and escalating tensions between” riders and police.

Jason Miller is a Toronto-based reporter for the Star covering crime and justice in the Peel Region. Reach him on email: [email protected] or follow him on Twitter: @millermotionpic

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