RENÉ JOHNSTON/TORONTO STAR
Bicyclists oppose proposals for mandatory helmets and licences
Sep 15, 2009 04:30 AM
CITY HALL BUREAU
Tales from the city’s streets:
Cheng-Gan Jiang movingly told Toronto councillors about the day his sister was run down and killed by a bicycle last month.
Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker related how a careless taxi passenger knocked him off his bike and onto his head.
Councillor Shelley Carroll spoke of the apple-sized chunk of foam padding knocked out of her husband’s bicycle helmet in a fall.
In a city still stunned by the death of cyclist Darcy Allan Sheppard, resulting in charges against former attorney-general Michael Bryant, the city’s works committee discussed two proposals yesterday: That all cyclists be required to wear helmets, and all cyclists be licensed.
Both proposals had been made by Councillor Michael Walker before Sheppard’s death.
The committee resolved nothing: Cycling advocates opposed both proposals, which were referred to city staff for review. But the debate traced continuing tensions among cyclists, drivers and pedestrians.
Jiang showed raw emotion as he recalled the death of his sister Cheng-Li Jiang, 56, struck by a 15-year-old cyclist on a sidewalk on Kennedy Rd. near Sheppard Ave. E. on Aug. 9. She died the next day, without regaining consciousness.
The boy on the bike was not charged. “Nobody was responsible for an innocent woman’s death,” her brother said. “I cannot speak without anger: A person’s life is nothing. A Chinese-Canadian’s life is worthless,” he said.
Toronto councillors haven’t paid enough attention to safety, he said. “Cheng-Li’s tragedy should never happen again if council takes action now.” He supported mandatory helmets and licences for cyclists as well as speed limits for bikes.
In most of the stories, it is the cyclists who are victims.
De Baeremaeker, who regularly cycles to work, recalled a passenger opening a taxi door in front of him on Dundas St. “I flew onto the asphalt, hit my head, headfirst onto the asphalt, and slid under a taxi cab. That helmet, I’m sure, saved me from very serious harm.”
And Carroll spoke of how her husband hit an unseen obstacle on a bike path at night a dozen years ago, falling and knocking a hole in his helmet. Were it not for the helmet, “that would have been his brain – there’s no question in my mind.”
But Yvonne Bambrick, of the 800-member Toronto Cyclists Union, vocally opposed both proposals, saying they miss the point.
Helmets protect cyclists after they fall, she said: The objective should be to prevent collisions in the first place. “(Removing) the things that are happening to them, which I think is the responsibility of municipal and provincial government … that’s the issue,” she said, calling for more and better bike lanes and better education for drivers.
Still, there was strong support for mandatory helmets from both left- and right-wing councillors.
“I’m not normally in favour of mandatory anything,” said Councillor Doug Holyday, but it would be “almost irresponsible” not to make helmets compulsory, he said.
City legal staff said council can’t act alone to make helmets compulsory, however, because that would conflict with the Highway Traffic Act, which makes them mandatory for cyclists younger than 18.
Councillors were likewise skeptical about the value of licensing but asked city staff to look into the idea.