Toronto Mayor John Tory sat down with a local cycling advocacy group Wednesday in an effort to diffuse tensions between cyclists and police in High Park.

In recent weeks, tensions have risen between the two groups – with cyclists claiming Toronto Police Services (TPS) is participating in an unfair “enforcement blitz” against speeding bikers, and police claiming their presence in the park is to ensure everyone’s safety.

Tensions hit a breaking point last week when a cyclist was hit by a TPS cruiser while at the intersection of Centre Road and Colborne Lodge Drive in the park

A cycling protest is set to take place at the park, beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday.

On Wednesday, Cycle Toronto issued a news release stating they met with the mayor to “discuss evidence-based policy and design solutions.”

In the past, Tory has said police don’t deserve to be criticized for enforcing the speed limit on cyclists, but Cycling Toronto said on Wednesday the mayor “expressed willingness to consider implementing … solutions in the park before the end of 2022, [and that] he also expressed consideration of a car-free pilot [seven] days a week.”

In the short-term, the organization wants to see the following implemented:

  • The creation of 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.
  • The implementation of off-peak times during car-free hours specifically for people on bikes to ride and train at speed.
  • A show of support for the ‘Bicycle Yield-As-Stop Law’, which treats stop signs as yield signs but maintains right of way for other road users at intersections, and an ask to Transportation Minister Caroline Mulroney for a Bicycle Yield-As-Stop change in the provincial Highway Traffic Act (HTA).
  • The use of the ongoing StreetSmartsTO partnership with the City to provide education and cycling ambassador supports in the park to educate people and other organizations about these interventions, in place of police enforcement.

On Thursday, Toronto police issued a statement saying officers are attending the park after having received complaints from the community “about aggressive driving and unsafe cycling habits in and around High Park.”

“While we will always prioritize traffic safety, including cyclists’ safety, the Service is not engaged in an enforcement blitz specifically targeting cyclists,” a spokesperson for the force said.

“Our focus has largely been on public safety, education and cautions to both cyclists and motorists. That said, we take community complaints seriously and where officers see cycling behaviour that risks public safety, they have the discretion to lay charges and have done so, when necessary.”

Toronto biking lawyer David Shellnutt told CTV News Toronto he takes issue with TPS’ selectiveness when it comes to enforcing the rules of the road.

“Despite uncontradicted data that motorists on the streets of Toronto cause infinitely more and disproportionate harm to people walking, people riding bikes and other vulnerable road users, Toronto Police with the backing of Mayor Tory have descended on High Park, ticketing, harassing, and targeting people on bikes,” he said in a statement provided Wednesday.

He says, while a solution is needed for when pedestrians and drivers are in conflict, it won’t come from over-policing.

“What has become clear is that over-policing, which disproportionately targets racialized and vulnerable residents, is counterproductive to public safety and does not effectively address the legitimate issues brought forward by the community.”

Instead, he’s calling on the city to implement infrastructure changes that will reduce danger and conflict between park users, implement dedicated morning and evening hours for higher speed cycling training, end and review TPS’ targeting of cyclists for minor HTA infractions and refocus city-wide traffic safety enforcement around dangerous driving, among other requests.

According to publicly available Toronto police data, between 2006 and 2020 there have been 16 incidents of cyclists striking pedestrians in which a serious or fatal injury was reported. None of those incidents were in High Park.  

With files from Chris Herhalt, Chris Fox and Katherine DeClerq.