Cyclists and pedestrians call for less police enforcement, better travel through High Park

With tensions between cyclists and police in High Park boiling over in recent weeks, critics say the key to long-term safety solutions in the park lies in changing how it’s used, not increasing police presence and ticketing.

Alison Stewart, senior advocacy manager for non-profit Cycle Toronto, says high tensions in the park have been made worse by police enforcement.

“The targeting of cyclists in High Park is not only unproductive, it’s inequitable,” said Stewart.

“We can’t address individual behaviour. But we can address the safety of our roads by engineering out conflicts.”

Cycle Toronto says it’s grown “increasingly alarmed” by recent run-ins between people on bikes and police, requesting a meeting with Toronto Mayor John Tory and Toronto Police Service chief James Ramer to de-escalate tensions in a letter sent Friday. Its call comes days after a Toronto cyclist was struck by a police car.

Stewart and other critics say the incident highlights the need to change the way people travel through and use the park,  rather than increasing police presence.

That’s something the High Park Movement Strategy has been exploring since launching last year — but changes to the park’s infrastructure and use aren’t coming until next spring.

“It’s a slow process, and in the meantime, people are at risk,” said Lee Scott, a member of the steering committee for Walk Toronto, a pedestrian advocacy group.

Scott says on top of rethinking the park’s interior, the city needs to work quicker in transforming the surrounding streets. According to the city, the speed camera outside High Park on Parkside Drive issued 2,845 speeding tickets in May — about 14 per cent of all 20,052 tickets issued in Toronto, and the most of any device.

“With these these kinds of situations arising, it just makes sense that the city institutes that plan as soon as possible,” said Scott.

Police say enforcement ‘welcomed’ by community

Toronto police say while their presence in High Park is just a “small” part of its city-wide traffic enforcement plans, it’s also in response to concerns from people in the community —  particularly families with young children, runners and dog walkers — over speeding cyclists and vehicles. 

“This has been welcomed by the local community as well those visiting the park,” Const. Robert Reid told CBC Toronto in an email.

High Park is Toronto’s largest public park, featuring hiking trails, sports facilities, a lakefront, wildlife and other attractions. Lee Scott from advocacy group Walking Toronto says it’s a key place for people to go for green space. (Patrick Morrell/CBC)

Reid says the police’s approach has been to educate and caution cyclists that are speeding or ignoring stop signs, and officers can “use their discretion when deciding to ticket.”

However, biking injury lawyer David Shellnut says police seem to have taken a targeted enforcement blitz against cyclists in High Park, even though vehicles are involved in most fatalities and serious injuries.

“You can go into any intersection in this city and see motor vehicles breaking the law,” said Shellnut, who says he represents dozens of cyclists who have been hit by vehicles in the High Park area alone.

“People are telling us they’re [not] going to High Park. They’re scared. They feel intimidated and bullied.”

In a statement from the mayor’s office, spokesperson Lawvin Hadisi says Mayor John Tory supports police in exercising their own discretion when enforcing the law. She also states the mayor has to “look at all sides” to make sure everyone is safe.

“This is a big park in a big city and it shouldn’t come as a surprise or an outrage to anyone that from time to time, police conduct enforcement in response to community complaints,” said Hadisi.

Hadisi says Tory is “happy to look into” speeding up the High Park Movement Strategy review, and has asked staff to make sure it looks at “innovative solutions” to help all park users better enjoy the park.

The public can weigh in on the future of High Park in an online poll on whether to cut car traffic as is the case on weekends, or continue sharing the road under current rules.

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