Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Bike Couriers, Road Rage, and Tragedy

Following the death last night of a bicyclist near Bloor and University, the Globe & Mail is having an online discussion tomorrow about the issue of bike safety in Toronto.

Former Ontario Attorney General Michael Bryant is facing charges as a result of the death of bicycle courier Darcy Allan Sheppard. We don't know all the facts yet about the incident, but one thing appears clear: this is not a typical bike safety story. However heinously the driver reacted, the altercation started, according to witnesses, when Sheppard slammed the hood of Bryant's convertible with his pack and then grabbed the rearview mirror. It sounds like Sheppard attacked Bryant.

I'm not excusing Bryant, who then (again, according to witnesses) tried to knock Shepherd off his car, thus causing his death - but this isn't a one-sided tragedy.

I used to be a bike courier in Toronto (a long time ago) and I was appalled by the attitude and road behavior of some other couriers. The ironic thing is that the real insiders in the bike courier business get cushy routes and don't cycle that far. As a non-insider I was biking furiously all over town while the guys downtown had a two or three block radius of deliveries and spent a large part of their working day hanging out at a sandwich shop.

There are loads of horrible drivers in Toronto, and they're especially dangerous at rush hour when they're tired and hungry and want to get home. My life was endangered numerous times by drivers who were total jerks - who were essentially psychopaths in their utter disregard of the lives of bicyclists they shared the streets with.

But it's not going to make the roads any safer if we polarize the participants by misrepresenting this tragedy. Before we start drawing conclusions, we need to hear the whole story. This may be a case of road rage and a driver murdering a cyclist, or it may be a case of a driver in an open car fearing for his safety when attacked by a bicyclist. Or something inbetween, or something altogether different.

Update: Christie Blatchford wrote in the Globe tonight that "the cyclist will always physically lose in any contest with a car". That's simply not true. There was a case in Toronto a couple of years ago of a shouting match between a cyclist and a motorist, and the cyclist killed the motorist with a knife. If you're in a convertible and someone attacks you, you're pretty exposed. In this case, the developing story is that the cyclist was drunk and his girlfriend had called the police earlier in the evening because of aggressive behavior; a witness says that the cyclist tried to strangle the driver; and the driver called 911 before trying to shake off the cyclist.

Update nine months later, when charges were dropped: Prosecutor's report



Anonymous said...

I think you got the names mixed up.

Aurelia said...

Fix the names, you have them reversed.

Yappa said...

Done... Thanks. (I did get the names right in the first reference, just not the second.)

penlan said...

Hey Yappa, it still isn't correct. It's still reversed:

"when Bryant slammed the hood of Sheppard's convertible with his pack and then grabbed the rearview mirror."

Yappa said...

Ack... I don't know why I have a brain fart about those names. I considered changing the names to "the driver" and "the cyclist", but Sheppard was not on his bike when the altercation occurred, so I think that slants the story somewhat.

Thanks for the corrections.