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Ticketing blitz seeks rapport between cyclists, drivers

Toronto Police Constable Blair Begbie, left, and Constable Vince Wong work a detail on Beverly Street south of Baldwin Street in Toronto on April 29, 2011. Both officers are "bike cops" and were working during the one day bicycle blitz.

Peter Power/Peter Power/the globe and mail

As warmer weather brings out more cyclists, Toronto police have started a ticketing blitz in a bid to persuade downtown cyclists and drivers to respect each others' rights on the road.

Police say most cycle-related accidents in the downtown core happen when drivers open car doors without first looking for cyclists. They also said residents have complained about cyclists driving on the sidewalk and not obeying traffic signals.

Urban cycling consultant Yvonne Bambrick agrees that it's the job of the police to enforce cycling-related traffic laws, but thinks police should focus more on public education for cyclists.

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"Not everybody knows the rules or how they apply to cyclists. People do need to know," she said, adding, "and ideally they would be wearing lights on their bike at night and obeying the stop signs and giving right of way to pedestrians."

As the ticketing began on Friday, cycling advocates from across Canada and the world met at a downtown cafe to talk about strategies for promoting cycling to municipal politicians. It was part of the Complete Streets Forum, a conference organized by the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation. The group's website says the goal of the conference was to "embrace and protect cyclists and pedestrians while accommodating all road users, including transit and cars."

"The most important issue is creating excellent bikeways and encouraging people to bike, to get out there and do it, enjoy it, take it seriously and smile while you're doing it," said Mia Birk, a speaker at the conference, and president of Alta Planning and Design, a Portland, Ore.-based firm that works with cities across North America to promote biking, walking and mass transit.

"That's far more important than focusing on enforcement," she added.

She said less attention should be paid to the negative aspects of cycling like ticketing for violations and more on the positives, such as the city-wide bike-sharing program that launches next week. The program starts May 3 and will put 1,000 bikes at the disposal of Torontonians.

"Having all these bikes is going to be a big moment for Toronto," she said.

But not everyone at the event shared Ms. Birk's enthusiasm. The police campaign comes after council voted to stop work on the Fort York pedestrian and cycle bridge, and Mayor Rob Ford's executive committee voted to dissolve the cycling advisory panel, along with 20 other citizen advisory groups.

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Toronto Councillor Mike Layton said he worries that eliminating the advisory committee shuts down an important line of communication between Torontonians and their municipal government. He said he hopes it's not a sign of things to come under Mr. Ford.

"The cycling committee is made up of people who actually bike and are dedicated bike activists," he said, adding, "We need to have their opinion when we're making decisions."

The advisory committees will be shut down after the next council meeting unless something is done to save them, Mr. Layton said.

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