Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Cycling and Our Environment

Gord Miller is Ontario’s Environmental Commissioner (ECO). Each year he takes a look at applications made by Ontario residents for government ministries to “review an existing policy, law, regulation or instrument if they feel the environment is not being protected or to review the need for a new law, regulation or policy.”

This one caught my attention.

Applications R2007005 and R2007006 requested that two ministries (the Ministry of the Environment (MOE) and the Ministry of Municipal Affairs and Housing (MMAH) review the need for new legislation or amendments to the Provincial Policy Statement, 2005 (PPS) under the Planning Act for the protection of bicycle couriers and cyclists in general.

The applicants claimed that:

*cyclists’ civil rights of mobility, safety and health have been compromised and overlooked.
*all levels of government are responsible for the due care and protection of residents’ right to security and right to life.
*not implementing cycling transportation plans has contributed to thousands of bicycle collisions in the past decade.
* the road network can be considered an unhealthy work environment for bicycle couriers.

There were other valid points but the thrust of the argument was that since municipal governments (in this case Toronto) promote cycling they ought to be responsible for providing good cycling infrastructure. Further, it was contended that a new provincial law should be enacted, under MMAH jurisdiction, to enhance safety and reform the system of tort liability, and particularly the mechanism known as “contributory negligence.”


I’m a blogger not a lawyer but this is how I understand the tort issue:

Municipalities should have liability since they are partly at fault for the damages or suffering of cyclists involved in a collision with a motor vehicle, for not providing reasonably safe cycling conditions.

Makes sense, right?

The Result

The MOE said the application was outside its mandate.

The MMAH denied the application but only looked at aspects related to the Provincial Policy Statement (i.e., not the liability issues.) The PPS was strong on cycling and had a lengthy consultation said the Ministry. Besides “creating and regulating cycling lanes” is a municipal matter. (Check out the Municipal Act, 2001 if you need clarification.)

The Commish’s Comments

The ECO agreed that MMAH had grounds for denying this application. However, he noted that 2,400 Ontario cyclists are injured and 10 to 15 killed each year on the roads. Many smaller incidents likely go unreported.

Miller questions how strong an environmental document the PPS is. A comment from his 04 - 05 annual report “that some land uses are given clear priority over others” and that the focus “of transportation planning in Ontario has traditionally been the expansion of the road network primarily for motor vehicles” captures his concerns.

As well, while the 2005 PPS says that streets “should be planned to meet the needs of cyclists (it) does not require municipalities to provide safer cycling networks.”

But if municipalities understood they could be liable for not doing enough for cyclists it would provide “sufficient incentive for municipalities to begin allocating appropriate amounts of road space to cyclists and installing protections to increase the safety of cyclists on city streets.”

This would require the action by another ministry - the Attorney General.

You’ll see the Summer Olympics in Milton before Environment, Municipal Affairs and your local government take any action on this one.