Police repression of cyclists in Montreal

Letter from a friend in Montreal —

Hadn’t heard from you in a while John, and was noticing too no recent updates on your blog. I see now a recent one, so am sending this along. Hope you were having a good vacation.

This has been a summer of police repression against cyclists here in Montreal. Starting in April they set up many sting operations on the bike paths. Ticketing cyclists for blowing through red lights and stop signs is one thing, but they were doing rather more, or should I say different. One cyclist was standing with his bicycle (astride it I suppose) near a metro entrance. A cop came and told him to move along (I doubt that command was legal). As soon as he pedaled off, the cop gave him a ticket for riding on the sidewalk. People riding their Bixis [bike-share bicycles] to a dock on a sidewalk were given tickets for riding on the sidewalk. Then there were the reflector fines: tickets for not having six reflectors during the day, $37 for each missing reflector- including for no pedal reflectors on clipless pedals. Rather different from previous years, when they would hand out lights to cyclists on the bike paths at night.

A police spokesman said it best: “We want cyclists to be afraid.” So, instead of “to serve and protect”, the motto seems now to be “instill fear and harass”. I guess they got someone new on the job at a management level.

A website was set up to mark the locations of the traps, but it got hacked- I suspect by the police. A fellow who got a ticket for Idaho-stopping through a red light then got a $651 ticket for going back up a block and warning other cyclists of the sting.

This past Friday was the regular Critical Mass ride. I’ve never participated but I think now I might go by to photograph the next one- here’s the story of how it went down this time.

And here a story that’s just really outrageous. [The title is “Better city infrastructure could mean fewer cyclist injuries”. It describes a recent collision in which a cyclist swerved to avoid a car door and was critically injured in a collision with a bus. About that type of crash, please see my previous post — John Allen.]

I don’t expect any better from Morency, who was one of the co-authors of Lusk et al., [see review here: http://john-s-allen.com/reports/montreal-kary.htm] but I was disappointed in the Velo Quebec response.

I got lucky this year: I had to do a major overhaul of my bicycle, and have had it dragging on and on, having to shelve it again and again to wait for parts, or get busy with something else. I haven’t missed much as weather-wise it has been the worst summer for bicycling in years. However, I also missed a lot of reflector fines (although these days I only ride in daylight, I have lights in my bag if I ever get caught out at night). A beneficial side effect of all these police stings: people have been avoiding the bike paths more, because that’s where the traps are set.

Have a good summer.

29 responses to “Police repression of cyclists in Montreal

  1. Any chance of a civil suit against the Montreal Police? I know nothing about Canadian law, or that of Quebec province, either.

    A nationwide boycott of tourism in Montreal would be an option. See if Streetsblog will carry the message.

  2. Jean-François

    It seems that a lot of big city police departments are doing this kind of thing nowadays. Even in Vancouver BC here they set up traps to ticket people riding without helmets (they are mandatory for adults in BC). Bike Snob NYC’s blog makes it sound like the NYPD has a grudge against cyclists too.

    Perhaps the next generation of cycling advocates will need to stop arguing about vehicular vs the other kind of cycling and instead focus on getting rid of the systematic harassment of cyclists.

    IMO this problem stems from the fact that nearly all traffic laws are selectively enforced. Selective enforcement invariably leads to discrimination because it’s up to the police department or the individual officers to choose which laws to enforce – and for whom.

    • “Perhaps the next generation of cycling advocates will need to stop arguing about vehicular vs the other kind of cycling and instead focus on getting rid of the systematic harassment of cyclists.”

      Ah, but Jean-François, restrictions beyond the ordinary rules of the road are another form of systematic harassment. I’m not speaking here of vehicular (or as I prefer to call it, integrated) cycling as a general concept, but of the severe legal disadvantage to a cyclist who has to justify being in a place on the roadway which is restricted. The cyclist may even be meeting one of the legal exceptions to that restriction — for example, preparing to turn left, or merely crossing the street — but unable to explain that to a police officer or a jury. This is not only an issue of citations, it also is one of loss of insurance claims and lawsuits against someone else who actually caused a collision, and is especially troubling if the cyclist suffered amnesia due to a concussion or was killed, and is unable to testify on his or her own behalf.

      I’m pleased to have read that Quebec repealed its mandatory sidepath law. That was a step in the right direction!

    • City-specific laws, while potentially well intentioned, put the cyclist into a situation where merely crossing a legal boundary can result in being cited or subject to exclusionary rules. A good example, recently successfully litigated by bicyclists in Colorado, was Black Hawk’s total bicycle ban on some major streets. Asking for equal treatment includes having reasonable, predictable requirements for both operation and equipment.

  3. Repression? Stepped up enforcement is a common police tactic to boost law abidance by any group. When laws go unenforced, they are soon ignored. Years of ignoring cyclists (both the wrongs by and the rights of) has created a public perception of cyclists and cycling that has proven to not be beneficial.

    Perhaps I am missing something, but it sounds like no law-abiding cyclist would experience the so-called “repression” the author complains about.

    BTW: I got ticketed once in a police crackdown on stop sign-running cyclists. EVEN THOUGH the officer recognized me (in part because I had initiated a project to secure funding for the bicycle cops in my city) and offered to tear up the citation, I asked for it anyway. I did run a stop sign, and even though I could see there was no traffic coming from any direction, I failed to see the police “bike trap.”

    Helmets? If it’s the law, wear them (ineffective as they are, IMO).

    Reflectors and lights? Ineffective as they are, equip your bicycle to exceed the minimum, but don’t ignore it.

    Riding on sidewalk? Sidewalks are for pedestrians. Walk your bike on sidewalks.

    The “real” repression of cyclists is something too often supported by cycling “advocates.”

  4. It’s not just the enforcement of the laws that is oppressive (repressive?). Sometimes it’s the laws themselves. Like British Columbia’s helmet laws, the reflector laws mentioned in this post don’t make any sense from a safety POV. Rather, they’re just an excuse for heightened surveillance and harassment by police, and potentially a money maker for jurisdictions where fines are enforced.

    Cyclists are smart enough to figure out ways to circumvent this type of obviously unjust BS. Police enforcement of broken laws will change cyclists behavior, but not necessarily in the ways the police want. So instead of installing reflectors on your bike or wearing a helmet, you could perhaps just as easily avoid bike paths where cyclist traps are being set.

    First time visitor to this blog, BTW. Good stuff. Will definitely be back.

  5. All that’s necessary to avoid citations is to obey the law. Is it really that hard to dismount before mounting the sidewalk? Is it really that hard to equip one’s bike with the legal number of reflectors? A bicycle is not a toy, but if cyclists keep on treating it like a toy, they will keep being cited, and deservedly so.

    As for the idea that it’s unreasonable for police to require clipless pedals to have reflectors:

    Getting ticketed for breaking laws is not ‘repression’ – it’s justice. Sure, it would be great if police would spend time equal to the harm done by the various types offenders on the road, but in a world where most police drive and are biased towards drivers, we are not going to get that. Nor do we deserve it as long as we keep breaking the law and proving we’re just as irresponsible as the motorists.

    • Quickly stated: law should set a reasonable minimum standard, and should allow flexible implementation of that standard.

      A headlight is essential to be seen at night, even where not needed to see one’s way. A taillight, or at the least a large rear reflector, also is essential. I like to use reflectors in the pedal area, but they can just as easily be ankle bands. Wheel reflectors are problematic — they unbalance wheels, break spokes and can get hidden behind baggage. Side visibility can be provided by the lights or by other reflectors. Nighttime equipment that meets safety requirements can be portable and easily attached or removed.

      Police who do not understand these issues may issue citations which do nothing to improve safety. Narrowly-written and excessive equipment requirements, and citations for failure to have nighttime equipment when riding in daylight, invite harassment.

      I have published more detailed comments on reflectors. Have a look.

  6. Tickets for reflectors during the day? Gimme a break, guys. Besides, its pretty much accepted by serious cyclists that the all reflector rule on bicycles contributes to UNSAFE rather than safe riding at night. Finally, if the city puts its bike docks on the sidewalk, it is reasonable to ride a minimalist amount to get them there while on the sidewalk.

    This clearly sounds like it went beyond a normal tightening of the screws on serious misconduct and amounts to harassment. Even the cop spokesperson talks about “be afraid” rather than obeying the law. I’m sorry but if I want to live in fear of the cops, I’ll move to a police state.

    If these same cops are citing motorists for driving 31 kph in a 30 kph zone and being absolutist about motorists making even minimalist rolling stops, I’ll retract my grouching. Until then, I’ll be thankful that at least in little Los Alamos, some sanity prevails.

  7. I’ve got Speedplay pedals on two road bikes. There is not a way to put reflectors on them.


    All of my cycling shoes, including those with the Speedplay cleats on them, have reflective rear surfaces, and since those two road bikes are indeed “toys”, they are not ridden at night anyway. My two commuter bikes have SPD pedals which could be fit with those SPD platform reflectors. I have a set of those platform reflectors sitting in the garage. But my commuter shoes have reflective surfaces on them, and I use reflective ankle bands at night and both commuter bikes are festooned with 360 degrees of retroreflective yellow tape as well as a large rear reflector and front and rear lights. None of these other countermeasures would presumably keep me from getting a ticket. I’ll make sure I don’t ride in Montreal!

  8. I checked and found our code does not require reflectors as a matter of law. I wonder what the Province of Quebec requires.

    Sec. 38-547. Lamps and other equipment on bicycles.

    (a) Every bicycle when in use at nighttime shall be equipped with a lamp on the front which shall emit a white light visible from a distance of at least 500 feet to the front and with a red reflector on the rear of a type approved by the division which shall be visible from all distances from 50 feet to 300 feet to the rear when directly in front of lawful upper beams of headlamps on a motor vehicle. A lamp emitting a red light visible from a distance of 500 feet to the rear may be used in addition to the red reflector.

    (Ord. No. 85-218, § 2, 1995; Code 1985, § 10.11.007)

    Often, the commonly accepted uniform vehicle code expectations on equipment enforced on motorists are not offered to cyclists. Helmet laws vary by state and province. I’d hate to be a cyclotourist from an area without such laws as apparently Montreal chooses to enforce. As most of you know, I don’t offer incompetent or willfully negligent cyclists much quarter, but I wonder about what’s going on in Montreal.

  9. Jean-François

    Khal Spencer said:
    “If these same cops are citing motorists for driving 31 kph in a 30 kph zone and being absolutist about motorists making even minimalist rolling stops, I’ll retract my grouching. ”

    This exactly echoes my thoughts on selective enforcement of traffic laws. I hate it when people say “It’s easy not to get a ticket, just follow the law!”, but they don’t realize that our argument is that the laws themselves are either unjust/nonsensical or enforced in an unfair way. You don’t get to change the status quo in a system that disadvantages you at every turn by following the rules of that system.

  10. Esther Lumsdon

    I use speedplay frog pedals, and older Look pedals. It would be challenging to mount something reflective on the pedals. My biking shoes have reflective stuff on the heels (most biking shoes do). There is reflective stuff on the road-id on my left ankle, and I usually remember to put an ankle cuff on that ankle. I am addicted to rear blinky lights – but I might not meet the 6-reflector requirement.

  11. My experience disagrees with “All that’s necessary to avoid citations is to obey the law.” (If this is true of Ian’s experience in MD, this is good.)

    The bicycle provisions (FTR) and exceptions are complicated enough that I find understanding and enforcement depends on the individual officer. I haven’t been cited, but I have been pulled over trying to make a left turn from the left lane (or impeding traffic, or whatever might work), and for riding on a multiple lane arterial to go to the shopping centers. (I think the officer thought bicyclists were prohibited on riding on such roads without shoulders).

    I do know others who have been cited for not using RTOL lane when going straight (other bicyclists hit in RTOL have been considered at fault when not turning right). While the citation did not survive appeal, he was cited and convicted in JP court before reaching the Superior Court.

    I haven’t been to Montreal, but locally it’s hard to be law abiding if the law depends on each individual officer’s training and attitudes.

  12. Northern Delaware (New Castle County). It’s not common, but hard to justify why it happens at all.

  13. Such laws should not be followed any more than the Alabama voter qual tests of the 50’s – which I was able to pass. Easy to do doesn’t justify discrimination.

  14. “One cyclist was standing with his bicycle (astride it I suppose) near a metro entrance. A cop came and told him to move along (I doubt that command was legal). As soon as he pedaled off, the cop gave him a ticket for riding on the sidewalk. ”
    This screams of entrapment, and is likely a favorite, well rehearsed trick, ordering the cyclist away, then issueing a fine when they inevitably touch the sidewalk. Quite ironic that the bicycle paths, ostensibly built to improve rider safety, have simply become a means to harass and fine them. A relative of mine was issued a ticket for jaywalking in North Montreal a while back, the police of course hiding behind a billboard during morning rush hour, randomly picking some people for stopping while letting others go. If someone wants to record the sheer absurdity of these types of laws, which should make this town a national embarressment to the rest of the country, simply stand across the street from a downtown Tim Hortons with their webcam and watch what group typically flaunts the anti- jaywalking laws.
    Another friend was issued a $150 fine ( warnings are not given any more ) for simply sitting on a park bench after hours.
    Yet another, a $147 ticket for the charge of leaving a garbage bag in an alley. No criminal records or previous history of misconduct for any of these people.
    The point I’m trying to make here is the powers that be in the city have a clear agenda, and that is to fine everyone in the city ( minus those with hotshot lawyers ) for the simplest kinds of offenses.
    Marois has eliminated this and other forms of corruption ? You be the judge.

    Khal Spencer: “A nationwide boycott of tourism in Montreal would be an option. See if Streetsblog will carry the message.”

    I couldn’t agree more, hit them in their pockets which this abuse is all about in the first place.

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  16. hello my friends
    i am a bike rider and today i was fined $42 because of not riding in the same direction as the general traffic ,what are your suggestions pay the penalty or go to the court?

    • Pay the fine unless you can prove you had to do it for some exceptional reason (unlikely.) If you go to court you’ll end up paying other charges. The cop that handed you the ticket doesn’t even have to be there, unlike other jurisdictions.

    • You were breaking the law. Pay up unless there is some extraordinary reason (for example, to avoid the imminent threat of a crash, and you wish to protest, but if you don’t have evidence, you still may lose). On the other hand, if you go to court, and the officer doesn’t show up, the citation may be dismissed.

  17. Today I was fined $42 for running a red light. There was a trap on the intersection between Green and Clark streets on the De Maisonneuve bike path. The cop had his patrol car hidden and was monitoring both Clark and Greene St. Lights from a block away between them and handing tickets all day. I had come to a full stop before proceeding at walking pace when there clearly was no traffic in either direction (Canada Day aftera ll). Hours later on my way back, only 2 blocks from where I was ticketed, I stopped at the red light even though the street was clear, however, I looked to my right and there was a patrol car also stopped at the red light. Moments later on the opposite side a cyclist went flying past 2 other cyclists and thru the red light, I looked at the cops and they were busy talking to each other and didn’t see a thing. Selective BS enforcement indeed.

    I liked that bike path for its safety and distance from car exhaust, but will now revert to using Sherbrooke St. (which was the common path before the bike path was setup ~2 years ago) and would suggest you do the same.

    Funny I actually considered going back to the intersection the ticket was given for to warn other cyclists, but after reading here that somebody was given an additional $650 for doing it, I’m glad I didn’t.
    And the statement about the police wanting to be feared by cyclists…they really are a bunch of assholes, the city is a shithole, and if you’re a tourist do yourself a favor and save your money for some place you’ll actually enjoy.

    • This all seems to make sense…….rather than being set up as a safety measure for cyclists, the bike paths simply seem to provide the tax farmers AKA police with a ‘revenue stream’. A $37 fine, per reflector no less ( as one poster mentioned) is absurd, yet the current cycling laws in place, ( enforced by Montreal’s current corrupt mayor du jour ,who says bikes and two ton cars are equally dangerous) are mired in absurdity. Very sad that something that is better for the environment, as bicycles are, has been regulated by sleazy politicians to the realm of repression and quick profit making.

  18. Hi,

    I realize this was posted 3 years ago, but I’m interested in cops giving away multiple tickets for each missing reflector. In the highway safety code and on the SPVM website, reflectors, (all 5) are under one infraction listed as costing 37$. How can it be that each reflector merits another ticket? If that were the case wouldn’t each reflector have its own provision or section in the highway safety code?
    Asking because at 3:00pm every day they are out on the de maisonneuve path ticketing cyclists at red lights for not having something or other!

    • Gillian — multiple tickets for the same infraction are the kind of issue which demands an appeal to a higher court if the judge in the trial court does not invalidate the charge against you or at least reduce it to a single infraction. I might also ask whether reflectors are required at all during daylight hours. I don’t know Quebec law, but in the USA, reflectors are required to be installed on new bicycles as sold — except racing bicycles — by Federal regulation, but cyclists are required to have and use nighttime equipment only when riding at night. Ticketing for lack of reflectors at 3 PM? Sundown in Montreal isn’t till around 4 PM even on the shortest day of the year. I’m reminded of the story of how Abraham Lincoln referred to an almanac to show that the moon wasn’t up on the night when a witness in a trial claimed to have identified the defendant.

      I suggest contacting Vélo Québec, the province-wide bicycling advocacy organization, for further advice. Its headquarters are in Montreal. I would be interested in knowing Vélo Québec’s response. Vélo Québec should support you and other cyclists faced with this injustice but may on the other hand may be too tied up with government in its efforts to promote infrastructure construction. Unfortunately, court challenges can be expensive, and so they are best handled with support from an organization, or with multiple plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit. There may be another organization which would support you. Then there’s publicity in the media.

      The frivolous and excessive citations described in this thread suggest the issues we have in the USA with some police departments’ viewing traffic enforcement as a revenue stream rather than a public-safety measure, and with discrimination against minority groups in enforcement — “driving while black.” Cyclists also are a minority group! Or it may be just that the officer didn’t know the law. That is often the case with bicycle law.

      Ticketing may reflect (sorry!) path design, and traffic congestion in general resulting in friction between cyclists and other travelers. These conflicts provide a strong incentive for cyclists to take the law lightly in order to avoid annoying delays, and pressure from other elements of the community to crack down on cyclists.

      That taking the traffic law lightly, by citizens as well as the police, has long been the norm in the USA and Canada makes for an awkward shift to more attention to enforcement as cyclist numbers increase.

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