Police target cyclists with ‘information tickets’

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

Critics call the campaign discriminatory, but police say many cyclists don’t realize they’re subject to specific rules under the Motor Vehicle Act

Denise Ryan

A Vancouver police traffic enforcement officer hands out information tickets Friday. Like drivers, cyclists who hit a pedestrian and then leave the scene could be charged with hit-and-run, a criminal offence. Photograph by: Ian Lindsay, Vancouver Sun

There is good news and bad news for Vancouver cyclists.

The bad news is that during June, Bike Month in the city, traffic cops will be ticketing cyclists who violate the rules of the road.

The good news is that they’ll mostly be handing out “information tickets” aimed at educating bikers.

The fake tickets list all the possible violations bikers can commit — and just how much they’d be on the hook for if they get caught when the police are more focussed on enforcement than education.

Cyclists can be dinged for $109 for riding without a bell, another $109 for not having a red reflector on the rear of the bike or a light on the front. Talking on a cellphone while wheeling down the road is also worth $109.

Forget doubling your kid on the back; that’s another $109. And no, you can’t grab on to the back of a car for a free tow. Nor can you stand up on your pedals to get up that hill — if you don’t have your butt in the seat, that’s another $109.

If you bump into a pedestrian and cycle away without turning over your particulars, that’s considered a hit-and-run — and it’s a criminal offence.

“A lot of cyclists, and usually it’s the casual cyclist, may not realize they are subject to specific requirements under the Motor Vehicles Act legislation,” said Lindsey Houghton of the Vancouver police department.

Houghton added, “By conducting this information campaign we want to educate cyclists rather than punish them. We want to see people on bikes obeying the rules of the road.”

Houghton said that 3,730 violation tickets at $29 a pop were issued to cyclists without helmets between Jan. 1, 2008, and May 1, 2008.

Arno Schortinghuis, president of the Vancouver Area Cycling Coalition, said many cyclists are infuriated by the campaign.

“It’s discriminatory. You would never see a police officer pulling over a car to hand out the rules of the road to a driver.”

Schortinghuis said he believes the campaign is misguided, and would prefer a campaign that addresses both drivers of vehicles and cyclists.

“Yes, cyclists are breaking the law if they don’t follow the rules of the road, but it’s not the cyclists that are going to kill or injure the driver of the car,” he said. “We want cyclists, drivers and pedestrians to be very well-educated and get where they are going as safely as possible.”

He said the money might have been better spent by policing bike routes for drivers who speed or cut around diverters meant to keep the routes car-free.

Schortinghuis complies with all VPD and city cycling bylaws, he said, including a few he considers ridiculous.

“The bell rule is totally absurd,” he said. “A bell is going to do nothing to alert a car that you’re coming. The biggest focus should be on changing behaviour of drivers.”

He said Vancouver could use improvements, such as vulnerable road user legislation, to protect cyclists, but “it’s probably safer than a lot of people think.”

He recommends bikers educate themselves through safety courses such as the one the cycling coalition offers called Streetwise.

Houghton said that during Bike Month while the information campaign is under way, real violation tickets will be issued “with a very high degree of discretion.”

While he agrees that drivers also need to be educated, he said the focus of the campaign is on cyclists. “If we save one life, it’s worth it.”

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