A report showing that cyclists in Montreal are ticketed 42 times as often as those in Toronto proves that Montreal police are unfairly targeting bike-riders, a leading cycling organization charged Monday.
“It’s mainly because of the fact that the SPVM (Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal) is carrying out operations that specifically target cyclists,” said Suzanne Lareau, the president and director of Vélo Québec.
The Toronto Sun reported Monday that Toronto Police issued only 292 traffic tickets to cyclists in 2018, compared with 12,285 tickets issued to riders in Montreal. Other Canadian cities also went easy on cycling violations, with Vancouver slapping cyclists with 380 tickets, Calgary 399, Edmonton 113, Winnipeg 114 and Ottawa 180.
Lareau said that while she supports ticketing cyclists whose reckless conduct endangers others, police often issue fines for minor reasons, like missing one of the six reflectors Quebec’s Highway Code requires bicycles to have, or failing to make a full halt at a stop sign even when no other vehicle is coming.
It takes a lot of energy for a cyclist to make a full stop, she noted.
“You’re requiring the same thing for bikes and cars, but it’s not the same form of transportation,” said Lareau, who favours making the rules for stop signs different for bikes and motor vehicles.
For cyclists, they could become the equivalent of a yield sign, allowing them to slow down, look around and continue if there is no traffic from other directions.
Last year, cycling advocates protested against amendments to the Highway Code that more than quadrupled some fines for cycling violations.
“Right now, it costs you more if your bike is missing one of its reflectors than if one of the headlights on your car is burned out. It’s ridiculous,” Lareau said.
“What bothers me sometimes with police operations is that I have the impression they wait on a street corner to catch cyclists for minor violations,” she added.
Last fall, Montreal police started issuing $127 tickets to cyclists who did not have front and back lights.
But Samaki-Eric Soumpholphakdy, commander of road safety for Montreal Police, said there’s a reason his department has been cracking down on cycling violations: it’s to reduce the risk of accidents for road users who are at greatest danger of being hurt, namely cyclists and pedestrians.
Tickets issued to cyclists have risen gradually in recent years from 8,890 in 2014, he noted, although they dropped slightly in 2018.
Other measures to protect vulnerable road users, including seniors and children, include public awareness campaigns and redesigning streets to make them safer, he said.
Of the 12,285 tickets given to cyclists in 2018, the top four offences were going through a red light (2,887), riding with headphones (2,199), failing to stop at a stop sign (1,388) and not respecting other road signs (1,230).
While enforcement is not the only way of reducing accidents, “we do believe that when a person gets a ticket, it can increase their awareness (of traffic rules),” he said.
Soumpholphakdy also noted that Montreal has implemented a pilot project, first deployed by Longueuil, that allows cyclists to beat a traffic fine by attending a road-safety course.
Another reason Montreal cyclists are getting more tickets is simply that there are far more of them, Lareau said.
A 2015 study by Vélo Québec found that 1.9 million Quebecers regularly or occasionally bike to work. In Montreal, 55 per cent of cyclists use their bikes for transportation, not just recreation. In 2011, 2.9 per cent of Montreal commuters travelled by bike, a number that has surely increased since then, it found.
In central districts like the Plateau Mont-Royal and Villeray, up to 10.8 per cent of trips were made by bike, a proportion similar to bike-friendly European cities, the report said.
Graeme Gordon of the Toronto Sun contributed to this report.