monitors, analyzes and corrects media reporting errors and bias concerning messengers and couriers.

Messenger Institute
 for Media Accuracy

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Once again the media refers to kamikaze couriers. Apparently in Toronto, couriers aren’t very good kamikazees since of the 14 cyclists killed on city streets since 1998 none of them were couriers.

The article’s choice of words is also predictable as cyclist behaviour is portrayed as more dangerous than that of motorists. The campaign “CRACKS DOWN down on bikers who aren't wearing helmets and ATTEMPTS TO CURB motorists who block bike lanes.”

Police say their purpose is to make Toronto more bike-friendly yet they target the symptoms of problems rather than the cause. No mention is made of the major report by the Toronto Coroner on cyclists’ deaths and bicycle safety in the city.

Here is the letter from MIMA to the Star and their ombudsman:

Re: Bike couriers unimpressed with safety effort (Toronto Star, June 8, 2004)

The Star's report on the police's "Cycle Right" campaign is pejorative, misleading, and factually incorrect. Bike messengers are portrayed as reckless "kamikaze couriers" (are there any other kind) who break the law with bad attitudes.

Although none of the 14 cycling deaths on the city's streets were bike couriers, the article begins by referring to them (yet again) as "kamikaze couriers". Not one piece of evidence is recited to back up this description. Instead the facts are twisted to imply that couriers recklessly break the law.

Bike courier, Michael Francis is described as having an attitude that warrants police targeting not because of his attitude toward safety or the law but because of his egotistical statement that couriers are "the only cyclists who should be on the road."

It is noted that the Cycle Right campaign "cracks down on bikers who aren't wearing helmets," and it is further emphasized that Francis is "helmetless." The implication is that Francis is in violation of the law by not wearing a helmet. That's misleading and wrong.

Under Ontario law, adults (including bicycle couriers) are not required to wear helmets. Ontario only requires those 17 and under to wear helmets.

When mere alliteration and bias can overrule facts,  shoddy, unbalanced and misleading journalism is the result.

The Messenger Institute for Media Accuracy

Here is the unpublished response from the Star:

I agree, the helmet law applies only to cyclists under 18. That probably should have been specified in the story. As for statements by cyclists, you're welcome to submit a letter to the editor disagreeing with points they made in interviews.


Don Sellar

Bike couriers unimpressed with safety effort
Police to crack down on lawbreakers

14 cyclists killed on city streets since '98

Toronto Star, June 8, 2004
by Gabe Gonda and Cal Millar

For the kamikaze couriers who bomb through rush-hour traffic, city streets are a battle zone unfit for civilians.

"We're the only cyclists who should be on the road," messenger Michael Francis said yesterday as cars whizzed by Temperance Society, a courier hangout in the heart of Toronto's financial district. "It's because of our skills."

Francis' attitude - one extreme view of urban biking - is among the likely targets of an annual police safety campaign launched yesterday.

The two-week blitz, called "Cycle Right," zeroes in on people who ignore traffic laws, cracks down on bikers who aren't wearing helmets and attempts to curb motorists who block bike lanes.

"The focus of our campaign is to promote safety for cyclists as part of an overall plan to make Toronto a more bicycle-friendly city," said Superintendent Stephen Grant, head of the Toronto police traffic services unit.

Fourteen cyclists have been killed on city streets since 1998.

Grant also told reporters at police headquarters yesterday that 6,504 people have been injured in 7,590 crashes involving bicycles.

The worst year was 1998, when six cyclists were killed. Only one bike rider was killed last year.

During the "Cycle Right" campaign last year, police charged 312 people with failing to stop for red lights, cited 319 with ignoring stop signs and charged 11 with failing to yield to pedestrians.

They also charged 261 cyclists for riding on the sidewalk.

For the cynical riders at Temperance Society, like the helmetless Francis, such campaigns are an exercise in futility.

"The city's rapidly growing in every direction," said Blair Brown, another courier, pointing to the construction cranes looming in every direction around the gritty bar, just off Yonge St. near Adelaide St.

Unless the city undertakes major road construction to keep up with all the growth, Brown said, traffic will continue to be unmanageable and streets will become increasingly unsafe for bikers.

Councillor Adam Giambrone, who rides a bike to city hall every day from his home near Dufferin and Bloor Sts., said Toronto has a long-term plan to make the city better for cyclists.

He points out that the city is working through a $75 million, 10-year plan to develop bike lanes on major streets. Giambrone (Ward 18, Davenport) said about 250 kilometres of a planned 1,000 kilometres of bike paths have been built in city parks, while some 70 to 90 kilometres of bike lanes are already on city streets.

"When complete, Toronto will be a much bike-friendlier city," he said. "We are somewhere around a quarter of the way toward that goal."

Giambrone said bike lanes only work if they are clearly marked, and he urged motorists to avoid stopping or parking in them.

"When people even stop briefly, it means bikes have to go out in the roadway and that becomes dangerous," he said.

His point is well-taken, said Darren Stehr, a cyclists' advocate who runs a Web site at http://www.getoutofthebikelane.com. But too often, Stehr said, police don't do enough to keep motorists out of the way.

"They just don't care enough," he said yesterday. "You go outside 55 Division (where there are many bike lanes) and there are cars everywhere."

Stehr's Web site features photographs of drivers stopped in bike lanes, an attempt to shame motorists into respecting bikers' rights.

Giambrone prefers the gentler approach of "Cycle Right" to Stehr's tactics.

The police program will provide stickers that drivers can put on their mirrors to remind them to look out for cyclists, the councillor said.

"It's about being aware."


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