Council ponders sidewalk bicycle ban

With local cyclists taking advantage of smooth new sidewalks on Harriston’s rebuilt main street, Minto council is considering a ban on downtown sidewalk cycling.

“Now that downtown Harriston has been reconstructed some concern has arisen with the speed at which some cyclists drive on the new sidewalks,” stated CAO Bill White in a report to Minto Council on Nov. 18.

“There have been some close calls with pedestrians, which affect the safety of some downtown customers, business operators and people working in the area.”

White said there have been some “near misses” between pedestrians and cyclists and councillor Judy Dirksen brought the matter to his attention “and  asked that we look at the issue.”

In his report, White noted a bicycle is defined as a vehicle under the Highway Traffic Act and hitting or nearly hitting a pedestrian might be dangerous operation of a vehicle and an offense under the act if witnessed by an officer, or the person affected is willing to provide a statement sufficient to lay a charge.

However, he noted, “This requires the cyclist be identified and would be subject to their statement of defense.”

While town bylaws make it illegal to park a bicycle on a sidewalk, White told council “in the case of our bylaws it is not illegal to drive on a sidewalk.”

The report suggests pedestrians could be better protected through a bylaw prohibiting bicycles on sidewalks in specific areas.

That would allow tickets to be issued to offenders “even if a pedestrian is not endangered.”

White said one option would be to limit a prohibition on bicycles on sidewalks to all or part of a downtown area.

However, he pointed out, “such a bylaw would apply to young children who may be safer riding on sidewalks in some areas.”

Councillor Jean Anderson suggested it would be confusing to have “certain areas where you can and where you can’t … You can see the point with small children. You don’t want them riding on the street with traffic pulling out and parking and there’s issues there.”

Mayor George Bridge said,  “Right away I thought, ‘why would you ride on the sidewalk?’ And younger children, maybe I can see that.”

Bridge agreed with the suggestion to seek input from downtown business groups.

Deputy mayor Ron Faulkner urged that “an education strategy be developed,” along with any potential changes to the bylaw.

“Unless a police officer happens to be right there, there’s nothing you can do. So the best cure is an education strategy to get people to ride their bicycles off the sidewalk,” said Faulkner.

“If its done correctly the citizens will enforce it themselves,” he added.

However, he pointed out, “its nice to have that bylaw there if you need it.

“I believe the major offenders are far from being kids. The age is probably late teens and 20s and even into the 30s so I think that it’s an education thing,” Faulkner stated.

Council received the report and directed staff to consult with Minto downtown advisory committees regarding the merits of prohibiting bicycles on downtown sidewalks and locations where such restrictions should apply.