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On The Road

Mobility & the Law

See what the road rules are when it comes to active transportation.

by Alex Kelly
Picture this: you’re taking your new bike for a ride through the city streets when, bam! You get a ticket from the police, which is never a great addition to a ride. As the world increasingly embraces active transportation, more people are moving through their neighbourhoods, potentially unaware of some of the specific regulations at play. We checked up on what you should know before you go, no matter what ride you choose.

Riding on e-scooters

Blowing through town on an electric scooter? Recently, the Ontario Government initiated a pilot allowing the province’s municipalities to test out kick-style electric scooters — think Lime or Bird — in their respective jurisdictions. With many people choosing to rent or buy e-scooters, the roads have become flooded with them.

If you’re contemplating these as a last-mile transportation option, stay on the right side of the law. While still part of a five-year pilot, e-scooters come with a number of regulations; street legal units must max out at 24 km/h, and carry a bell, as well as lights. Just like bikes, scooters must be equipped with a white light on the front and a red light on the back (of the scooter, or the rider), with both lights on half hour before sunset and a half hour before sunrise, as well as in limited visibility. Parking is an important consideration for scooters too, with riders required to keep thoroughfares open for pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

While municipalities have the final say on bylaws, e-scooters are still governed by Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act. Just like bikes, e-scooters are expected to use the bike lanes (but check your local city’s bylaws to make sure), are intended for solo riders, and aren’t to be used to carry cargo. The pilot is designed for users over the age of 16, with those under 18 required to use helmets. To keep confusion to a minimum, the Ministry of Transportation has released best practice guidelines, helping everyone steer through this trial.

Getting around as a pedestrian

Of all the ways to get around, pedestrian life may be the most familiar. In Canada, pedestrians are classified broadly as anyone using foot or small wheeled devices for mobility. This can include travel by foot, wheelchair, stroller, skateboard, Segways and more. Given this, it’s important to brush up on the basics, no matter how straightforward being a pedestrian may seem.

For example, did you know that pedestrians can be ticketed if they enter a crosswalk after the “don’t walk” countdown timer has started? If you’ve already entered the crosswalk when the countdown timer starts, it’s okay to finish crossing — just stay aware of your surroundings. When on the crosswalk, you’ve got the right-of-way over other vehicles, but vigilance is still important. While jaywalking isn’t explicitly banned in the Highway Traffic Act, the City of Toronto recommends crossing mid-block only when you are more than 30 meters from a crosswalk — otherwise, stick to the marked crossings.

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Keeping you predictable, the crosswalk is where vehicles will anticipate pedestrians to be. You may actually contravene the Highway Traffic Act by stepping off the curb or out of a crosswalk in such a way that a vehicle can’t practically avoid you. This may not seem like a big deal if you’re walking, but if you’re travelling fast on a skateboard or rollerblades, vehicle velocity may not be in your favour.

Pedaling a bike

Bikes are classified as a vehicle in Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act, and are expected to act accordingly on the roads, obeying signs, signals, and lights just like any other vehicle. Cyclists have to stick to the roadways or cycle tracks, leaving sidewalks to cyclists under the age of 14. Just like e-scooters, bikes must be equipped with lights and a bell, keeping cyclists visible throughout their ride. Stay predictable on the roads, and ride appropriately throughout municipal bike infrastructure. Study your local signs, and know the cycle routes before you head out.

Eager to get across the roadway? Cyclists can be ticketed for riding their bikes through a pedestrian crosswalk or crossover, where proper etiquette (and bylaws) dictate dismounting and walking the bike through. On city streets, watch out for public transit. Like cars, bikes must stop at least two meters away from the open back doors of a streetcar,< allowing occupants to disembark safely.

Thinking of using your bike after a couple of drinks? Think again. This can lead to charges under the Liquor Licence Act, such as public intoxication, or careless driving charges under the Highway Traffic Act. It’s better to walk your bike home, or collect it the next morning.

Know before you go

The rules of the road can feel complex, and to a new rider, cyclist, or pedestrian, even daunting. Designed to keep everyone on the roadways safe, it’s critical to brush up on them before you head out. While provincial regulations provide an outline, municipalities may have specific nuances that require specific bylaws to keep people safe. Every time you change up your commute, be sure to double-check to make sure you’re on the right side of mobility and the law!

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