Interactions between cyclists and other users along multi-use paths inevitably cause concerns when the paths are not designed with sufficient safeguards to allow safe and unobstructed passage. Situations in High Park in Toronto, Ontario have seen a recent elevated level of discussion about cyclists and their speeds in the park.

Is a cyclist travelling at 26 km/h within High Park in Toronto a dangerous speeder that requires police intervention? This is an interesting question that sparked debate this week causing Toronto’s Mayor to jump into the verbal fracas. Chris Fox of CP24 News reported that Mayor John Tory defended police for ticketing cyclists when police received complaints that cyclists were speeding through High Park. Tory referred to a “safe balance between all those different activities and no group can have their rights supersede the rights of others”. With reference to a cyclist ticketed for travelling 26 km/h in the park’s 20 km/h posted maximum speed, does this speed represent an unacceptable danger to other users of the park?

It would seem that an important issue is that the danger of speed is relative to the situation and location. Travelling 6 km/h faster than the 100 km/h speed limit on Highway 401 would seem dangerous only because this speeding is too little and could result in a vehicle being rear-ended in some parts of the expressway where average speeds are well over 120 km/h. Similarly a passenger car travelling 6 km/h faster than the 50 km/h speed limit on an urban street also would not draw any attention from police.

But what about a cyclist travelling 26 km/h along the right edge of an urban street? Is that dangerous? Again, does it not matter where this speed was attained? Was it on a busy roadway with many pedestrians and average cyclist speeds of only 15 km/h? Or did it occur on an open portion of a arterial road where few pedestrians are found? So does the actual speed matter or does it matter whether a cyclist is travelling substantially faster than the average cyclist at that location and time?

In order to understand what danger is posed by a cyclist speed of 26 km/h, one should also have some idea of past instances of injury and cyclist speed. But what information do persons have about this important relationship? How many persons actually have the data and knowledge to have a clear idea of what danger is posed by a cyclist speed of 26 km/h? In fact essentially no data is publicly available about this relationship.

The danger of cyclist behaviour was demonstrated in the CP24 News article by the following: “CP24 cameras saw dozens of cyclists breezing through an intersections (sic) in the park without slowing or stopping at the clearly visible stop sign”. Thus this observation brought to the public’s attention seems like a good reason to believe that cyclist behaviour in High Park is exceptionally more dangerous, thus requiring police presence. But what is typical of cyclist behaviour at stop signs generally in Toronto or anywhere else in the Province of Ontario? Do cyclists typically come to a full stop at any intersection where there is a stop sign? Did CP24 News know that information? Did they conduct a study? At Gorski Consulting all kinds of vehicle motions have been documented by video throughout southern Ontario for many years. We can conclusively say full stops by cyclists at stop signs, unless forced by opposing traffic, are a very, very rare occurrence, much more rare than the full stops not achieved by motor vehicles. Suggesting that such non-stops are an indicator or dangerous actions is simply wrong.

Speeding is believed to exist when a traffic unit moves at a speed greater than the posted speed of a roadway or path. As an example, the City of London recently posted maximum-speed signs of 15 km/h along several sections of its Thames Valley Parkway (TVP). In that sense a cyclist travelling at 6 km/h above this posted speed should be ticketed by police. Cyclist speeds were documented by Gorski Consulting in July, 2021 at one of these segments (Greenway Park). This location was very flat and straight. This showed that eastbound cyclists travelled at an average speed of 21.8 km/h whereas westbound cyclist speeds were 19.4 km/h. Should more than half of the eastbound cyclists be ticketed by police? This segment contained a very minimal downgrade in the eastbound direction yet, even this minimal influence, caused the average speed of cyclists to differ by 2.4 km/h between eastbound and westbound directions of travel. What would happen if the path slopes were much greater as they are in Toronto’s High Park?

Observations at several locations of such slopes in London have shown that average speeds of cyclists rise essentially proportionate to the steepness and length of a down-slope. As an example taken from video on the TVP near Trafalgar Street, average speeds were noted to be over 40 km/h. This occurred from travelling down a slope for about 150 metres with a maximum 9.5% grade at one short segment, and an average slope of 5.5%. No measurements of slopes have been obtained from the High Park location in Toronto but it is known that significant drops in elevation occur as the park approaches toward the edge of Lake Ontario.

A cyclist approaching a familiar while descending a steep downgrade on London’s Thames Valley Parkway. There is a poor understanding of the effect that slopes have on cyclist speeds.

So yes, speeds of cyclists at High Park could be quite high along these significant down-slopes. But that has little to do with the dangerous actions of individual cyclists. It has more to do with the fact that, given any recreational cyclist, a high speed will be attained on a significant down-slope regardless of the location, whether on a roadway or on a path within a park. This conclusion is not mere baseless comment but is supported by substantial video documentations.

In summary, a narrow preoccupation with speed as the sole designator of what is unsafe or dangerous is an erroneous approach. At what location was the speed attained? How does it compare to the average speed of similar traffic units? What could the consequences be of such a speed in terms of injury causation? And there are many similar questions that need to be considered before conclusions should be drawn about speed and its consequences.