Written By: Patrick Brown and Ruth Aruliah, Summer Student
As of April 2019, Quebec’s Highway Safety Code permitted cyclists to cross intersections on the pedestrian walk signal rather than to wait for traffic signals to turn green. This change was designed with the intent to make cyclists more visible to cars as a way to ensure cyclist safety. In 2021, 137 fatalities involved pedestrians, cyclists, motorcyclists and moped riders. On top of that, the number of accidents involving cyclists in 2021 was 1,459. Quebec took a pro-active approach to prioritize cyclists and pedestrians who were vulnerable on the roads, but what about Toronto cyclists? According to the Canadian Automobile Association and Statistics Canada, around 7,500 cyclists are seriously injured each year. In addition, between 2006 and 2017, 890 cyclists died in Canada, with an average of 74 deaths per year. By permitting Toronto cyclists to follow pedestrian walk signals, this could make cyclists more visible to motor vehicle drivers and therefore better ensure bicycle safety on the roads.
Currently, can Toronto cyclists legally rely on pedestrian walk signals?
According to the Highway Traffic Act, R.S.O. 1990. c. H. 8, it appears that cyclists are obligated to follow the same traffic lights that motor vehicles use. The HTA defines a driver as a person who conducts a vehicle on a highway. Therefore, since bicycles are considered vehicles under the HTA, they are required to follow every traffic control signal that applies to the lane that they are in.
When concluding that Toronto cyclists are not legally able to rely on pedestrian walk signals, it is important to focus on the legislative intent of the HTA. The following sections will help understand why.
Riding in pedestrian crossover prohibited
(6) No person shall ride or operate a bicycle across a roadway within a pedestrian crossover. 2015, c. 14, s. 39 (2).
Obeying lane lights
(10) Every driver shall obey every traffic control signal that applies to the lane that he or she is in and, for greater certainty, where both a traffic control signal that is not a bicycle traffic control signal and a bicycle traffic control signal apply to the same lane,
(a) a person riding or operating a bicycle in that lane shall obey the bicycle traffic control signal; and
(b) a person driving a vehicle other than a bicycle in that lane shall obey the traffic control signal that is not a bicycle traffic control signal. 2015, c. 14, s. 40 (1).
Riding in crosswalks prohibited
(29) No person shall ride or operate a bicycle across a roadway within a crosswalk at an intersection or at a location, other than an intersection, which is controlled by a traffic control signal system. 2015, c. 14, s. 40 (2).
All three sections add to the differentiation between a cyclist and a pedestrian, by requiring cyclists to follow similar motor vehicle rules. Therefore the HTA gives the impression that cyclists are to follow traffic lights in Toronto rather than pedestrian walk signals like in Quebec.
Obligations as a Toronto Cyclist
As a cyclist, you:
- must obey all traffic laws
- have the same rights and responsibilities as drivers
- cannot carry passengers if your bicycle is only meant for one person
Furthermore, it is expected that if there are no designated bicycle signals, cyclists must follow regular traffic signals.
What about the Toronto Municipal Code?
Chapter 886 of the Toronto Municipal Code creates an exception for bicycles to operate on both footpaths and pedestrian ways.
A. No person shall drive or operate any vehicle, except a bicycle, on a footpath. [Amended 2007-12-13 by By-law 1367-2007; 2017-07-07 by By-law 801-20176]
A. No person shall drive or operate any vehicle, except a bicycle, on a pedestrian way. [Amended 2007-12-13 by By-law 1367-2007; 2017-07-07 by By-law 801-20179]
Though the Toronto Municipal Code may create room for confusion as it does permit bicycles on pedestrian ways and footpaths, it does not clearly state whether a cyclist can follow a pedestrian signal. Furthermore, though there is a limited amount of case law on the topic, in R. v. Grahorac, Justice of the Peace De Morais said, “this cyclist not only rode his bicycle within the crosswalk, he was riding in the wrong direction against oncoming traffic.” This, again emphasizes the obligation for cyclists to follow similar rules as motor vehicles.
In our opinion, Ontario needs to take better measures in ensuring the safety of their cyclists. This includes permitting cyclists to follow the pedestrian signals as a way to make them more noticeable to drivers. There is a significant difference of vulnerability cyclists face when navigating the roads alongside drivers and some can fall susceptible to injuries or even fatality. If you ever find yourself in a situation that could have been avoided but for the other person’s actions resulted in you or a loved one getting harmed, it is important you reach out to our team of personal injury lawyers as soon as possible. There are limitations set out in Ontario legislation that could prohibit your claim from taking place. We are here to advocate for you and ensure that you get the best outcome for your claim. Contact our office for a free consultation with one of our personal injury lawyers to discuss what you can do next.