Friday, March 20, 2009

Metro Vancouver Cyclists and the Police

A limited study of ideas and interactions between police and the cycling community.

A report to the membership, by the membership, for the membership.
January 2009

Bicycle Theft
Red Lights
Driver Distraction


The VACC’s mission is to make cycling an integral part of the transportation culture in Metro Vancouver.  We strive to make cycling safer by advocating for better cycling infrastructure and through education and encouragement programs.  We are eager to work with local police and lawmakers so that the roads can be as safe as possible for cyclists.  This document lists some concerns expressed by cyclists with regard to cycling safety issues.

The membership of the VACC was informally canvassed to comment upon their preconceptions and perceptions, and their interactions with local police. Comments posted on the VACC bulletin board were reviewed back to March 2000, with a focus upon police interactions with members.

Other cycling specific websites and discussion boards were similarly reviewed and monitored towards the stated criteria.

SUMMARY: Concerns and Suggestions

The threat of bicycle theft is a major concern for existing bicycle riders, and is a deterrent to riding for potential cyclists.

Cycling advocates should partner with the police, Translink, business and community groups to identify high risk areas for bicycle theft, and to provide highly visible, monitored and secure bicycle parking in shopping, business, school, and other high use districts.

As the most vulnerable and unprotected road users, cyclists are acutely aware, and rightfully feel threatened by motorists’ moving violations. Excessive speed and lack of road-user education, courtesy and patience on city streets increases the danger for all road users.

We recommend a speed reduction on all city surface streets to 30 KPH. We recommend the return of red light cameras at major intersections, and increased enforcement of traffic law. Speeding, accelerating through yellow lights, and running red lights pose a significant danger to all road users.

Many studies have confirmed that performing secondary tasks while driving is, in fact, impaired driving. Operating cell phones, PDA’s, and a host of other distracting devices significantly increase the chances of a driver being involved in a crash, or near-crash. Despite the danger, car makers and manufacturers of lifestyle products actively encourage this kind of impaired driving.

Distracted driving is impaired driving. We need to work together to change the public perception and, if necessary, change the law and the enforcement priorities to reflect this fact.

Cyclists are concerned about the apparent indifference of police towards enforcement of the motor vehicle code on our city streets. Cyclists are frustrated with the annual “crackdown” on helmetless riders, while motorists are seemingly allowed free and unfettered reign upon the streets.

City Hall has put a priority upon encouraging non-motorised transport within the region, yet the enforcement model does not seem to reflect this priority. Focus enforcement, in a sustained and persistent way, on the most dangerous road users, not the least dangerous ones.

Dedicated bike routes are little more than paint on the road and ineffective signage.

We must work together to upgrade the term “bike route” to have some weight under the law. We recommend motorist infractions within bike route designations carry similar penalties as to those in place with school and construction zones.


Bicycle theft is a major concern to all bicycle riders. The lack of end-of-trip facilities, primarily secure parking, is a major deterrent to increasing bicycle use as a viable commuter and short trip option.

"Vancouver is Canada’s property crime capital and anything that can be stolen will be stolen -- and rarely recovered. Bike owners know that the odds of having their bike ripped off are better than even...[23May 08][vacc bb#2406]

In public spaces and internet bulletin boards there is a constant stream of notices and pleas for sightings of stolen bicycles. Many stolen bikes are never reported to the police. Indifference on the PD’s part is usually cited as the reason why thefts are not reported.

Many thefts are not reported to police because victims know they’ll get little more than a shrug, and sometimes a scolding for not being more vigilant. [2406]

A public spokesperson for the VDP (Cst. Tim Fanning) readily acknowledges that theft of bicycles in Vancouver is common, and to be expected.

“Don’t leave expensive bikes outside, because almost any lock can be compromised....I will not lock my bike up outside anywhere.”

His warnings are sobering.
“We have unearthed chop shops. We have busted a ring stealing bikes, because we caught them shipping a van load destined for Edmonton.”

One low-rent hotel in Vancouver’s Gastown, he said, is notorious for bike thieves. “Whenever you go into a room there, there’s a roomful of bike parts. [original: Jones, Deborah, The Globe & Mail, 1Mar 07][vacc bb#1245]

Bicycle parts are easy to remove from bicycles locked in public areas. Stolen bikes are easily sold. A bicycle “chop shop” can be as simple as a white cargo van. Persons engaged in the breaking of bicycle locks are indistinguishable from ordinary cyclists. Parked bicycles are virtually invisible to the general public.

A typical consumer grade lock can be defeated inside a minute, those promising higher protection are only marginally better. Tools to steal bikes and parts are readily available in hardware stores and bike shops.

It is no wonder that intact bicycles are rarely returned to their owners. A bicycle can be stolen and disappear down the road in less than a minute. A bicycle can be stripped of its valuable parts in less than ten minutes. The high value and small size of bicycle parts, combined with seemingly total indifference on the part of police, and a failure of the justice system to bring petty thieves to task all combine to make bicycle theft the “perfect crime”.

Even when they are caught, bike thieves have few worries when it comes to paying for their actions...the consequences are minimal.

Const. Fanning said that unless a suspect has a long record of previous convictions, “theft under $5000 doesn’t carry jail time.” [23May 08][vacc bb#2406]

To aid in combating bicycle theft, it was suggested a theft location map would be beneficial in identifying problem areas. It seems this issue has been broached before, but without success. Perhaps it is time to revisit the issue with the police.

Seems like action here is unlikely to come from the Vancouver Police Department, judging from the lack of action since our meeting with them last November [Nov ‘06].[29Mar 07][vacc bb#1314]


Over a short distance, a bicycle’s acceleration from zero is vastly superior to almost any car. As a traffic light turns green, it is common for a cyclist to be the first one into an intersection. Motorists running red lights pose a particular danger to unprotected bicycle riders. The consequences of a t-bone collision between two cars, and between a car and bike will be markedly different, most likely fatal in the case of a cyclist.

Motorists running red lights pose a danger to all road users.

Sane, sober and considerate road users like the idea of red light cameras. Other Metro Vancouver municipalities successfully employ automated camera systems in their enforcement and prevention model. At a time when Washington state passed new legislation to that effect, it was suggested to re-visit this idea for Vancouver city streets, garnering this comment:

Now that the Province will cost-share fine revenue with the municipalities I'm sure that we will see better support for enforcement from local government. My hero is still Ray Canuel the former Chief of Vancouver Police whom emerged from a Police Board meeting that overturned Council's policy of not allowing photo radar because they 'weren't to receive the revenue' and stated '' I don't care who gets the money, my job is to make the streets safer! ... Then the BC Liberals killed photo radar when elected. [9May05][vacc bb#254]

“My job is to make the streets safer.” Let us hope that is the thought of every police officer, and it applies equally to all citizens, regardless of their chosen mode of transportation.

Perhaps we can partner with the VPD to help promote both bicycle rider, and driver education toward road user safety for everyone. Awareness and predictability are key concepts to target.

Drivers accelerating at yellow lights to attain the intersection while the light has turned red is again at issue more recently. In response to a forwarded concern by a Translink driver, that bicycle riders are often seen “blowing through” stop signs, in reply it is noted that:

I have noticed a disturbing trend among downtown bus drivers.  On numerous occasions I have witnessed city bus drivers running red lights at high speeds, and they beep their horn to let people know they are (or intend to) run the light.[28Jul08][#2709]


Insp. Andy Hobbs, who heads the VPD traffic section, says the vast majority of bus drivers are professional and doing a good job.
"They are serious about their responsibilities to get the public around the city in a safe manner as well as protecting the public that isn't actually on the bus," Hobbs said. "But there is an issue with a minority of drivers."
He said the "honk-and-run" phenomenon is common.
"We've all seen it. It's something that shouldn't be condoned or done. When you stop people for running lights, the typical argument is it wasn't safe to stop, or, 'I didn't have enough time,' or 'It's a full bus with people standing and I don't want to slam on the brakes.’
"However, the reality is, yellow lights are yellow for a substantial time and if you are going the speed limit you have enough time to stop safely. So I don't accept the argument it's not safe to stop. We do take enforcement action when we see that," said Hobbs. [28Jul08][#2720]


I counted eight drivers deliberately driving through red lights, often speeding up to do so when other lanes of traffic
were either slowing or stopped... phoning the police in such instances will usually result in no action taken.[30Sep08][#3016]

I was noticing exactly the same thing just yesterday when I saw three people go through fully red lights at different intersections while I was out. As an example of something similar that's enforced, I know a fellow in Germany who had his license revoked for a month because he was caught speeding twice within a relatively short time span. It's a question of priorities. Apparently traffic violations aren't seen as a priority by the police here. Our police - together with the rest of our society - seem to believe that driving is a basic right, regardless of how badly we do it.[#3017]

Four-way stop signs are no different. I often see people driving right through them, I often see vehicles follow a vehicle in front of them that has stopped at a four-way stop right through as if the first vehicle was towing them. [#3018]

There is a real lack of traffic enforcement in most parts of the Metro Vancouver that I've noticed, or for that matter, a lot of BC. I'd like to see more red light cameras, a return to photo radar, and 24 hour roadside suspensions for repeat offenders. Making someone abandon their car for 24 hours would have a greater effect than another traffic fine.[#3021]

There's a lack of enforcement of traffic laws. The police should be primarily targeting motor vehicles as they pose the greatest threat. If they see cyclists breaking the rules, I'm sure they'll ticket them as well.
Personally, I cringe when cyclists perform reckless acts in front of motorists, because I feel the motorists witnessing these acts will develop a disrespect of cyclists in general. [#3029]

I'm still flabbergasted that despite photo radar lowering average road speeds, collisions and injuries from those collisions, it was thrown on the scrap heap primarily because it was unpopular.
I would guess the unpopularity came from the fact that those who were speeding were being caught.[#3030]

Violations around diverters are increasing and I have almost been hit a few times by motorists who went the wrong way around a traffic circle. Yesterday, I say a cyclist almost hit another cyclist for doing the same thing. 
There needs to be more enforcement of traffic laws in general. The priority should be for (but not limited to) offences that cause the most risk to others. [#3031]

Drivers obviously cause more damage, and I'd say driver education on how to behave around cyclists in this city is long overdue, but education for drivers and cyclists is needed. It would be great for the VACC to be able to team up with ICBC and do a dual education program with PSAs, etc. [#3039]


From the perch of a bicycle saddle, it is an essential skill to be constantly peering into motor vehicles, making eye contact with drivers or seeing if there is someone who might open a door in your path. It becomes habit. Doing so, you see examples of all manner of in-car distractions.

From this vantage point, cyclists often see drivers engaged in every manner of action except the one they should be most concentrating on, the actual driving. Often drivers are seen talking on cellphones, fiddling with radios, reading magazines and newspapers, minding children, reviewing notes, preparing presentations, applying make-up or using an electric razor, all inside moving cars.

The most comprehensive study of drivers and distractions, both in scope and methodology, is the April 2006 NHTSA report: The Impact of Driver Inattention on Near-Crash/Crash Risk: An Analysis Using the 100-Car Naturalistic Driving Study Data. Among its conclusions, it is noted:

A clear relationship between involvement in inattention-related crashes and near-crashes and engaging in inattention-related activities during baseline driving was observed. []

For the purposes of this study, driver inattention was defined as one of the following:
1) Driver engagement in secondary tasks
2) Driver drowsiness and fatigue
3) Driving-related inattention to the forward roadway
4) Non-specific eye glance away from the forward roadway

The results indicated that driving while drowsy results in a four- to six-times higher near-crash/crash risk relative to alert drivers. Drivers engaging in visually and/or manually complex tasks have a three-times higher near-crash/crash risk than drivers who are attentive.

There are specific environmental conditions in which
engaging in secondary tasks or driving while drowsy is more dangerous, including intersections, wet roadways, and areas of high traffic density.

Short, brief glances away from the forward roadway for the purpose of scanning the driving environment are safe and actually decrease near-crash/crash risk. Even in the cases of secondary task engagement, if the task is simple and requires a single short glance the risk is elevated only slightly, if at all.

However, glances totalling more than 2 seconds for any purpose increase near-crash/crash risk by at least two times that of normal, baseline driving. [ibid.]

Of great concern to all road users is the level of in-car distraction seen on the road. Of particular concern to all road users is ever increasing cell phone usage. For other motorists, this may be a source of frustration, and may lead to more aggressive driving. For a cyclist, a moment’s distraction may result in catastrophic consequences.

First, there is no longer any question that cellphone use while driving is as bad as, if not worse, than drunk driving.  It is not merely benign conduct, but conduct that has the potential to kill.  Worse yet, it lacks the moral stigma of drunk driving, so that ordinary law-abiding people wouldn't think twice about chatting away on the cellphone while behind the wheel.  It doesn't make you a bad person.

For some, the point can be quickly driven home on a policy basis by noting that there is no conversation that someone needs to have so desperately that is worth the life of my child.  Until recently, society survived without cellphones.  We were not on the verge of crumbling for lack of an opportunity to chat with a friend, or even a client.  Are cellphones convenient?  Absolutely.  Are they worth taking a life?  No.

You need to talk to someone immediately?  So pull over and talk all you want.  Talk till your blue in the face.  Just don't do it while driving a car.  No one is taking away your right to talk.  They are taking away your privilege of driving while you talk on the cellphone. 

Anecdotally, I've had about 100 near misses driving around people with a cellphone glued to their ear.  And this is New York, where it has been unlawful to do so for a while already.  It's another law observed primarily in the breach, with a substantial number of otherwise nice people breaking the law without a second thought.  []

We know that in-car distractions compromise a driver’s reaction times and situational awareness. Reaction times are affected by interacting with the device (e.g. dialling a cellphone) and also by becoming engaged with the content that the device supplies (e.g. GPS information, or a phone conversation). It has been shown that distractive devices negatively affect both novice and experienced drivers equally.

The Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) provides the following relevant observations:

“Drivers on cellphones (hand-held or handsfree) are 4 times more likely to crash.

One study showed that nearly 80% of crashes and 65% of
near-crashes involve some form of driver inattention within 3 seconds before the event. []

Most recently (Oct 2008) the IBC has officially endorsed the Ontario government’s enacted ban on hand held in-car distractions.

Toronto, ON – Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) today commended the Ontario government for taking action on the serious road safety issue of distracted driving.
Don Forgeron, Vice-President, Ontario, IBC said: “IBC agrees with Transportation Minister Jim Bradley on the total ban on the use of all hand-held communications devices while driving.” []

Already three provinces in Canada have some type of official restriction on in-car cell phone use. Newfoundland/Labrador, Nova Scotia, and Quebec have existing restrictions on electronic in-car distractions, and Ontario has most recently passed this kind of legislation as well.

A government of Alberta report from September 2007 further notes:

Approximately one in four collisions involve driver distraction.
The relative risk increases with the frequency of use.
Handsfree phones are no safer than hand-held devices.
All drivers, not just novices, show reduced ability when on the phone.

However, some reports suggest that legislation towards cellphone restrictions simply do not work. New York City has a cellphone ban in place and it is reported, after the initial introduction and increased enforcement period, in-car cellphone use returned near to its previously observed level.

New law may not be the answer. Existing law already encompasses reckless behaviour. Police may regard any kind of cellphone ban as unenforceable.

Despite the number of countries with cellphone bans while driving, there is no available evidence that such legislation has reduced the number of collisions. Internationally, those jurisdictions who continue to run post-legislation public awareness campaigns and who have strict, publicised enforcement campaigns tend to have a better, long-term compliance. [ibid.]

Both the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC) and the Canada Safety Council favour public education and promoting attitude change above the need for legislative action.

A concerted effort to change public attitudes towards driving while distracted is expected to provide a long-term solution to the issue. However, this approach requires a long-range strategic plan in order to bring about social change. [ibid.]

It should be noted that all of these major transportation studies in examination of driver distraction do not concern themselves at all with bicycle transportation. When mentioned at all, cyclists and pedestrians are most often classified as “hazards”, grouped with signposts and traffic medians. Legitimate non-motorized road users are seen as causes of distraction and collision, but are rarely considered as vulnerable road users. It must be remembered that these reports are produced by motorists for the benefit of motorists.


Cyclists are rightly concerned over an apparent lack of enforcement of the motor vehicle code on our city streets.

Working with its advisory partners, City Hall has made the commitment to prioritising non-motorized forms of transport in its Official City Plan. This is a mandate for planning and city engineering, and must also be considered in the traffic enforcement model.

If [we] wanted to make things better for everybody, not just cyclists, there should be more police driving the streets pulling over those drivers who tailgate, pass too close, drive without due care and attention while speeding[25May 08][vacc bb#2407]

Traffic enforcement should place the point of its focus upon those who have the greatest potential to cause the greatest danger to other road users, regardless of their chosen form of transportation. However, it should be noted that a reckless cyclist will usually only endanger himself; the reckless driver endangers all he sees (or fails to see.)

The enforcement model already recognises this potential for danger scenario, as the traffic code allows increasingly stiffer penalties for increasingly dangerous behaviour. Another example is the prominence police and media have placed upon street racing, going so far as to allow the confiscation of vehicles in the most egregious cases. Yet it should be remembered that to the most vulnerable of road users, cyclists and pedestrians, a carelessly driven family sedan has as much destructive capacity as any “road rocket”.

Therefore we recommend an enforcement model that targets the most dangerous road users, those whose demonstrated recklessness presents a significant danger to all road users. We recommend punitive fines and penalties for reckless behaviour, not simply inconvenient ones. We recommend a sustained effort in this direction, not merely a temporary blitz.

Posted speed signs [and other static measures are] ineffective without proper and consistent policing which [we believe] we are just not going to get. The best they will do is temporary blitzes which do not invoke behaviour change in drivers...We are aware that the conduct of people on roads is a low or non-existing priority to the police, to city politicians, to provincial politicians. [10May 06][vacc bb#828]

Unfortunately, faith in the police services among the cycling community is low. Many assume an attitude of being solely responsible for their own safety, which in many cases accounts for cyclists ignoring rules designed for motorists alone. Many assume that, in the absence of credible witnesses, a cyclist will always be found at fault in any “accident”. Many cyclists feel that the oft heard cry of the motorist after hitting a cyclist is “I didn’t see her there, she came out of nowhere.” and that it equates to a get-out-of-jail-free card. Penalties impinged upon drivers for road negligence are typically minimal.

In some European countries motorists are required to treat cyclists and pedestrians with an extraordinary degree of caution. As a result, few accidents between cyclists and motorists are found to be the fault of cyclists. We [in North America] are the opposite. While our police regularly stage crackdowns on cyclists, they never crack down on the real dangers, which are aggressive and careless motorists who endanger the safety of cyclists. ...The police simply do virtually nothing to protect the safety and rights of cyclists to use the streets.[4Sep 08][correspondent Steve G.]

We should also like to see greater police presence on designated bike routes, ensuring that both motorists and cyclists are piloting their vehicles safely. We should like to see some legislative weight attached to the term “bike route” with similar considerations and penalties as are presently attached to the term “construction zone”, or “school zone”.

Strides have been taken by the city to shift bicycle traffic off main commuter streets and onto parallel side streets. In some areas of the city this has proven to be a highly successful strategy for separating car and bike traffic. For many new and potential cyclists, separation from car traffic is a major determiner of apparent safety, which in turn is a major determiner of whether people will actually get on their bikes and ride.

However, when motorists attempt to beat slow moving traffic on the main commuter routes by using the parallel bike route, the purpose, functionality and safety of the designated bike route is severely compromised.

Motorists are regularly seen skirting fixed traffic impediments in order to access bike routes, a practice we would like to resolutely discourage.



- Pick a heavily travelled, well-lit location.

- The most secure object to lock your bike to is a well-designed bike rack that is permanently anchored to the ground. Try to lock up at racks near building entrances.

- If a rack is full, find another. Don't try to squeeze your bike into a space that won't allow you to lock properly.

- When racks aren't available, try to find a sturdy immovable object like a signpost.


- By far the most secure type is the flat U or D shaped lock made of solid steel.

- Use two locks. The more tools, time and trouble it takes a thief to steal your bike, the less likely it will be stolen.

- The best position for the locking mechanism is in the centre of the cross bar.

* A cable lock should be at least 9.5 mm in diameter to avoid being cut by bolt or wire cutters.


- With a quick release front wheels, remove the wheel; place it next to the rear wheel and fit your U-lock around the rack through all parts of the bike -- rear wheel, frame and front wheel.

- Lock your cable around the front wheel and the rack.

* With non-quick release fronts, U-lock the rear wheel and frame to the rack.

- Use a cable lock to secure the front wheel to the frame and a stationary object.

- Since the rear wheel is twice as expensive as the front one, if you can't lock both, lock it.

- Don't lock your bike only by its wheel. The thief will steal the rest of the bike.


- Less than 15 per cent of stolen bikes recovered by Victoria police are returned to their rightful owners, primarily because owners don't check with police and lack proper identification for the bike.

- Record the following about your bike: Make, model, manufacturer, serial number, colour, type, men's/women's, speeds. Take a good colour photograph.

- For greater security, engrave your B.C. driver's licence number several places on your bike. Engravers are available free at police headquarters and at most bike retailers.

Source: Victoria Police Department

© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2006



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Avoiding Driver Distractions. Insurance Bureau of Canada, no date. no cited author.


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TP 14409E

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DOT HS 810 594

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DOT HS 810 971