Knee-jerk du jour

Posted on May 21st, 2010 6 great comments. Room for one more!

This morning, on my way through Allan Gardens to get my daily jitter, I noticed a City of Toronto truck parked smack in the center of the central path with a curly-haired city employee standing beside it waving down passing cyclists. After a brief lecture the cyclists all dismounted and walked their bikes until over-the-shoulder glances confirmed that the guy was no longer looking, at which point they got back on and rode off.

“What gives?”, was my initial reaction, but without a jolt of caffeine and the other magical energy ingredients found in my canned morning concoction, I’m pretty much useless at that time of day, so that’s as far as that line of questioning went.

But once I got back to the flat and downed all 473 millilitres of liquid inspiration it suddenly dawned on me that something in the park was amiss, so I grabbed my camera and my curiosity and headed back.

The curly-haired dude in the park was actually a city bylaw officer who had been sent there in response to some accident that had happened the day previous between a dog walker and cyclist. I didn’t ask him to elaborate – seemed pretty self-evident.

If you’ve been reading TCL for a while, dear reader, you’ll know that I’m not too fond of aggressive cyclists, but none of the cyclists going through Allan Gardens this morning seemed particularly agitated. In fact, it was a warm and sunny morning and other than the fact that they were being stopped by some city employee and being told to walk their bikes through the park, none of the cyclists seemed particularly upset. Correction, most of them didn’t seem upset.

A few people did seem a little miffed at not being able to ride their bikes through a public park, and I readily admit that I shared in their miffiness. So I took curly-hair to task; “You’re not allowed to ride bicycles through public parks?”, I asked. “Through some parks and ravines, no, you can’t”, he replied. “Do you happen to know what bylaw this is? Is it posted?”, I followed up, genuinely taken aback.

bylaw, law, bicycles, bicyclists, allan gardens, toronto, city, life

Curly-hair replied by citing the city bylaw and pointing out that there was inadequate signage (to be rectified), at the north end of the park to this effect. He was nice enough about his interactions with me and other people and wasn’t handing out any citations, so I don’t want to give the impression of some brutal government clampdown on cyclists, at least not during this situation. However, the laws he was gently enforcing are still on the books and still technically punishable.

Now at this point I want to just pause for a moment and discuss municipal bylaw interpretation. I’m no lawyer; never claimed to be. But bylaws, and infractions thereupon, usually wouldn’t involve lawyers – a fine at most. Furthermore, bylaws are intended for common everyday citizens; if we can’t interpret municipal bylaws for ourselves then I’d like to suggest that there’s a serious flaw in the way that they’re written. In other words, a lay interpretation of these laws should be sufficient. Hence, if I’m reading them wrong then they need to be revised. Or I’m incredibly stupid.

The specific law being cited in this instance is part of Chapter 608 of the Municipal Code which states that “While in a park, no person shall ride or operate or be in possession of a bicycle where posted to prohibit bicycles”.

On the one hand it’s understandable that, if bikes are to be considered vehicles, that they shouldn’t be allowed to mingle with foot traffic. I mean, if they’re potentially that dangerous then yeah, ban those fuckers. But ban them everywhere – all footpaths, all parks, anywhere where they’re likely to come into as close contact with pedestrians as they might in Allan Gardens. And considering how wide the paths through that park are, that should mean pretty much everywhere.

But if arbitrary enforcement of laws based on knee-jerk reactions is the soup du jour then we have a potentially much more serious problems staring us in the face. I mean, the cycling bylaw is somewhat sensible, but this section of the Municipal Code has a few other things to say about what citizens can and can’t do in public parks. Here are some choice selections:

Section 608-3 C. “No person shall release any balloons filled with lighter-than-air gases in a park.”

This was probably intended to prevent people from launching weather balloons and parade floats from public parks. Unfortunately, it also covers your kid’s helium balloon.

Section 608-17 A. “Arrange or engage in an organized sport or activity, unless authorized by permit.”

Okay, no professional soccer matches; makes sense. Unfortunately it also covers you and a group of your friends tossing the Frisbee around. What constitutes an “organized sport or activity”? — “… a game or activity pre-planned by a group or organization whether or not formally constituted and whether or not the players or members wear uniforms.”

Section 608-9 B. “Unless authorized by permit, no person shall use, enter or gather in a park between the hours of 12:01 a.m. and 5:30 a.m.”

All those late tipsy nights stumbling home through Allan Gardens, all those Tai Chi practitioners in the park before dawn – CRIMINALS!

Section 608-25 A, B, C. “While in a park, no person shall fly a kite with a line that is metallic or contains wire; fly a kite within 25 metres of any tree, building, light pole or hydro or other utility pole; fly a kite in parking lots, roadways or pathways;”

Now I know this is supposed to keep people from getting fried but has anyone realistically tried to keep within these limits? It’s a bit like the proposed three-foot berth that cycling advocates want motorists to stick to when passing bicycles – is there even three feet of road available for this?

Section 608-32 “The maximum rate of speed for vehicles, motorized recreational vehicles, bicycles and personally powered devices in a park is 20 kilometres per hour.”

That’s 12 miles per hour if you’re imperially Inclined. On a bike that may be reasonable though I have yet to see a single bicycle with a speedometer installed. And in a car, well, let’s say I tried it, manual transmission, on the lowest gear possible, with my foot off the gas, the lowest engine RPMs pulling me along, and I was breaking the law at 25 clicks.

Sections 608-34.1 to 608-34.3 — The most extensive part and covering about four pages deals with regulations for commercial dog walkers, obviously a scourge on modern society.

Section 608-35 “No person as owner or person having the control of an animal shall bring into or permit the animal to enter a park if it may or does constitute a danger to other persons or wildlife, or is reasonably likely to frighten other persons.”

Get that butt-ugly dog of out of our parks!

Section 608-43 “The Commissioner is authorized to prune or cause to be pruned all trees located on private property, the branches of which extend over a park, including the pruning of branches that are hazardous or create an unsafe condition.”

I wasn’t able, in my five-minutes’-worth of research, to find out who the commissioner is, but clearly you’ll need them by your side to do your yard work.

Section 608-47 “While in a park, no person shall take or permit to be taken for remuneration any film, photograph, videotape or television broadcast unless permitted under the City’s film bylaw28 and authorized by permit from the Toronto Film and Television Office.”

Well fuck, I guess that photo at the top is illegal. Do you supposed that if I make more than a buck off advertising that they’ll take me to court?

Look, I know that a lot of these bylaws won’t be fully enforced, and many of them probably have good intentions behind them. But since witnessing the bylaw officer tongue-lashing cyclists in the park this morning I’m not fully convinced that the laws are entirely benign. At the very least they’re unenforceable and basically a waste of money to keep on the books; beyond that, they tend to verge on this side of absurdity. Or worse.

6 Comments on “ Knee-jerk du jour ”

  • Zach
    May 21st, 2010 7:00 pm

    Hahaha, I love the balloon one. I actually have a likely hilarious potentially arrestable idea I just thought of! I'll talk to you about it next week! ;)

    Read more from Zach at:
  • Patrick
    May 21st, 2010 7:21 pm

    I'm all ears, Zach! :D

  • Staya
    May 22nd, 2010 11:35 am

    This by-law thing is not really funny. I don't live in Toronto but it doesn't matter where you live those books full of creative nonsences are everywhere. In Elliot Lake we had neighbour who owned 3 rotwailers. Taking care of them consisted of letting them into the garden few times a day to do their business. It is beyond imagination how their garden looked like after few months, never been cleaned. As those were townhouse's gardens it means neighbouring side by side and therefore the odor comming from their garden was overwhelming everything. When we called by-law officer to do something with those people in contrary he actually acused us saying that we are in trouble calling him and that he doesn't want us to do so again. So you see it looks like nice benevolenc from the city to let some peopel feel important up to the point that they can create their own law. Some of the officers can go as far as use their own style of punishment. Which almost happened in our case. Well by the end this guy got his lesson fortunately for us. But it is something to think about.

    Read more from Staya at:
  • Patrick
    May 22nd, 2010 3:13 pm

    In many way I have to agree with you, Stanya. The bylaws by themselves seem somewhat arbitrary and their enforcement even more so. As you say, some officers (like the gentlemen I spoke of), seem to be concerned with doing their jobs properly and with civility. But some other people…

  • Grace
    May 22nd, 2010 1:09 pm

    Have some fun with these:

    Read more from Grace at:
  • Patrick
    May 22nd, 2010 3:13 pm

    Those are great, Grace. :) I guess every city of note can be identified by overreaching and not always well-thought-out municipal laws.

What's on your mind?