TORONTO – Simmering tensions between cyclists and motorists in Toronto were brought to the surface Tuesday after the death of a cyclist who was dragged by a car allegedly driven by a high-profile former Ontario politician.
Former attorney general Michael Bryant was charged Tuesday with criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death.
Bicycle courier Darcy Allan Sheppard, who was known as Al, was killed Monday night in an incident in the upscale Yorkville neighbourhood.
At a downtown Toronto hangout for bike couriers Tuesday many expressed shock at the death of their friend, but were not surprised a cyclist could meet such a terrible end.
“This roadway that we work in Toronto is so corrupt with rage – everybody wanting to get somewhere faster than the next guy,” said Barry Ridley, who has worked as a courier for 39 years.
With so many cars on the road and so few bike lanes, Toronto is not a safe city for cyclists, Ridley said. Now 55 years old, Ridley was hit by a car while cycling when he was 20, and the situation has only become worse, he said.
“It’s just bound to happen, and unfortunately it happened to Al,” he said.
“(It) will happen again.”
The bicycle courier community is relatively small, and many people at the downtown location where they often gather called Sheppard a personal friend. Many were too distraught to speak, and one courier, who would only identify himself as Craig, said Sheppard’s death is a huge blow.
“I think I speak for all of us down here today,” he said. “We’re all in a daze.”
To add to the shock, another bicycle courier was hit by a car Tuesday afternoon, Craig said. She was hit on nearby University Avenue and was taken to hospital, he said, though he didn’t immediately know her condition.
Online commentators flooded websites Tuesday to share their opinions on the story. Many expressed condolences to the victim’s family or took aim at Bryant over the charges.
But some suggested that the struggle between cyclists and cars to share the same roadways, sometimes portrayed as an all-out war, could be solved with more bike lanes.
“I feel like this could have been avoided if the city would just put some paint down and make it safer for everybody,” one person wrote on a bicycling forum.
Sheppard’s death has highlighted some of the tensions that do exist between drivers and cyclists – in particular bike couriers. Some are on a guaranteed salary while others are on commission and must rush from job to job simply to make ends meet, Ridley said.
But some Toronto drivers and pedestrians perceive them as aggressive and dangerous.
“Ever seen how these couriers ride downtown?” one poster wrote on a news website. “I’m lucky they haven’t run me over 10 times this year alone.”
The issue was also brought to the fore in November 2008, when a taxi driver was charged in an alleged hit-and-run that cost a 36-year-old cyclist his right leg.
Chris Kasztelewicz endured a series of major operations since being crushed against a hydro pole by a taxi allegedly driven by Sultan Ahmed.