Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Call me an outlaw: I will keep breaking laws on Toronto's streets and I won't apologize

The city has been ticketing pedestrians who walk into intersections once the countdown starts on crossing signals.
The city has been ticketing pedestrians who walk into intersections once the countdown starts on crossing signals.

A confession: when I leave my house today, I am going to break the law.

If I decide to ride my bike, I’ll probably make a few “Idaho stops” at low-traffic stop signs, slowing way down and yielding instead of coming to a complete stop with my feet on the ground.

And I might even ride the wrong way up the one-way residential side street near my house. It’s the most direct way to get to the closest bike lane.

My law-breaking ways are even more brazen when I’m on foot. As a pedestrian, there are several intersections I regularly pass through that take many minutes to show a walk signal. If the coast is clear, and the crossing is safe, I’m not waiting.

But that’s not the worst of it. When it comes to pedestrian countdown timers, I might be the city’s number one scofflaw.

Though the highway traffic act, Toronto police and Mayor John Tory say pedestrians aren’t supposed to cross when the countdown has started, I never obey this. If there are five or six seconds left, I’m crossing.

I break this rule at least a dozen times a day. And I’m not sorry.

I admit all this not to brag about my cool rebellious ways but instead to point out that our infrastructure and our laws are too often set up to criminalize common-sense behaviour.

The reason for this is generally rooted in an old-school desire to prioritize cars over active transportation – those travelling on foot or by bike.

It means one-way residential streets are designated as such to direct car traffic, with little regard to connectivity with the bike network. It means the legal definition of a complete stop at a stop sign is obviously written with cars in mind and applies to bikes only as an afterthought. It means, in many parts of the city, signals are still timed to ensure the free-flow of vehicle traffic, even as frustrated pedestrians pile up and wait forever on street corners.

And then there's those pedestrian countdown timers. Once hailed as a technological advancement that would help pedestrians, they're now being used to admonish pedestrians who rightly judge they can cross the roadway within the remaining time displayed.

They say we’re slowing down traffic and causing congestion.

But here’s the thing: pedestrians and cyclists are traffic too. It’s just that the laws don’t want to acknowledge that.

I don’t relish being a criminal. I will continue to advocate for change that properly prioritizes road users.

But until that change comes, so long as getting around the city in a quick, safe and efficient way puts me at odds with the rules, then, well, you can call me an outlaw.

This post was originally published at on 2016-10-11T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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