How one man is making our city streets safer for cyclists
Twitter’s (and Toronto’s) famous bike cop shares why he handed in his badge to help cyclists
AS TOLD TO LAURA KENINS
There’s something pretty liberating about pedalling your way across the city, cruising past all the cars idling in the daily reality of Toronto traffic. But when you strap on a bike helmet these days, do you find yourself wondering whether you’ll make it to your destination completely unscathed? From “doorings” (when someone opens their car door in the path of cyclists) to dodging vehicles parked in designated bike lanes, cycling in the city is becoming an increasingly perilous pursuit. (There were 21 pedestrian and cyclist deaths on city streets in the first six months of 2018 alone).
The rise in deadly encounters between drivers and cyclists had Toronto Police parking enforcement officer Kyle Ashley so worried that he made headlines in 2017 when he took to Twitter to call out vehicles—often delivery trucks—that were parked in bicycle lanes, forcing cyclists to make often unsafe merges into busy traffic. Today, Ashley is a full-time bicycle advocate. We sat down with him to find out why he’s so passionate about bike safety in the GTA—and what he plans to do about it.
I think it’s time for the community to be outraged about road violence, because it’s completely preventable. We need to stop accepting that the car is king in Toronto and that just walking on roadways or biking down the street is an inherent risk.
I was riding between 40 to 80 kilometres a day, five days a week, and I saw it every day out there on the streets—there just wasn’t dedicated enforcement for the most vulnerable users on the road, sidewalks and bike lanes. In June 2017, I sent out a tweet about vehicles parking in bike lanes that went viral—and that set the stage for how the Toronto Police parking enforcement department began using Twitter. Not only did it highlight the bike lane safety issue, but it also showed the community that we were out there doing this work, and it got actionable change.
At first it was just me focusing on bike-lane enforcement, but now there’s a team of three officers. I’m proud to have built a legacy that’s still in place, even after I’ve left the force. (It didn’t just change the way that parking enforcement operates here in Toronto; it spread to cities like Hamilton and Burlington—it’s even gone overseas and in Dublin there are officers who are starting to do similar work.)
Now, I’m making the transition into being a road safety advocate full-time. In the first episode of my new podcast State of the Lane, I talk to pedestrian and cyclist accident victims and their families. It really breaks my heart to see the amount of pain people are put through by completely preventable deaths and injuries. Too often these people are just statistics, and I think these are stories that the community needs to hear.
I also announced my run for council in 2018 because I think we need to have elected officials who tone down the rhetoric of the “war on the car.” We also need traffic-calming measures to protect those who are vulnerable, so in areas where there are seniors or elementary schools. And, for cyclists, we need protected lanes on all of the major streets, with connected routes in every ward instead of just sending people through laneways and forcing them to bridge their commute in an unsafe way. Then, we need automated traffic enforcement cameras for right-hand turns because enforcement only works so far as a police presence is there to deter the behaviour. As soon as an officer leaves and there’s no fear of being caught, people will break the rules.
If you’re going to the airport, you know you’re going to wait in line, they’re going to take your passport, they’re going to check you, your bag is going to be checked. We build infrastructure in places where we expect dangerous behaviour, so why are we expecting any less on our roadways? The stakes are too high in the end. It’s time to reimagine our streets.