Cop Out

For anyone who’s followed the travails of the King Street Transit Corridor (aka ‘The Little Pilot Project That Could!’), last week’s report from the Toronto Star’s Lex Harvey about the lawless and negligent disregard and disrepair that’s now rampant along the run of it, the news comes as little surprise. Many a summer/spring/fall day I’ve spent on one of the outdoor, curbside patios, counting the drivers ignoring and blowing through street signage, oblivious or indifferent to the blaring of a streetcar horn, continuing along their merry way. As a matter of fact, I do own the road, bub. On a couple occasions, I watched as police in their cruisers sat at traffic signals, impossibly unable to have missed a passing infraction, and yet remaining on the spot, apparently more pressing matters to deal with.

This sad, depleted result for the transit infrastructure planned to assist with the movement of what I believe is the 3rd most used transit line in the city, the King streetcar, is predictable really. Inevitable even. That it made it this far, past the pilot project stage it came into existence as in 2017, felt like something of a minor victory. So used are we to dead end outcomes when it comes to alternative modes of getting around town if you’re not behind the wheel of a private vehicle.

According to his press secretary, Mayor Tory ‘championed’ the transit corridor. The word missing in that statement, however, is ‘reluctantly’. The mayor was very hands-on, fiddling with the proposal, making sure all road users, and by all, he pretty much meant ‘drivers’, would be properly accommodated, what with this being a transit priority and all. Such a champion of the project that he’s proposed to extend it and apply the same principles to other streetcar routes running throughout the downtown core.

No. No, he hasn’t. My guess is Mayor Tory’s pretty much forgotten the whole thing except when he’s annoyingly reminded about it because nobody’s really paying attention to it anymore. Including the mayor. Including the police services who are, at least nominally, in charge of traffic enforcement.

“Toronto police Const. Sean Shapiro said it’s not surprising that drivers aren’t abiding by the traffic laws on King,” Harvey writes, “which is consistent with what police are seeing in the rest of the city where ‘there is a general lack of interest in following rules’.”

Seeing but not enforcing, I guess.

“People following the signage to ensure TTC priority isn’t as high of a priority as people, for instance, speeding and putting lives at risk,” Constable Shapiro told Harvey.

Oh well then. There you have it. The police can’t be everywhere at once. That’s why I guess, according to Matt Elliott, the service has reduced funding for traffic enforcement in 2023 despite its $50 million budgetary bump from the mayor’s office.

That’s why I guess, police have the resources to harass cyclists in High Park and along the bike lanes on Shaw Street. Because they’re concerned about ‘speeding and putting lives at risk’.

Stand at any street corner at any time of day and count the number of drivers racing through red lights, ‘putting lives at risk’, and consider just how well the police are doing that high priority job. If the TPS can’t be bothered with all the mundane and inconsequential elements of traffic enforcement, like drivers ignoring traffic signs along transit priority corridors or regularly running red lights, why is the city giving them the funding and resources to do exactly that, to do exactly not that, to be exact?

Upstanding citizenry fret and poo-poo and dismissively spit out the words ‘Defund the Police’ like a mouthful of subpar Chardonnay. Don’t be ridiculous. Our mayor’s one of those people. He uses the phrase as a political cudgel to indicate that he’s the adult in the room. Police reform is on the way, he assures us. Don’t worry. The police are on it. Trust the mayor on this. Trust the police.

We don’t.

But how about this as the most modest of reforms?

Defund the police of the traffic enforcement money that the TPS seems loathe to use for actual traffic enforcement. Take that not inconsiderable slice of their budget and use it to establish a unit that is dedicated exclusively to traffic enforcement. As Constable Shapiro admitted, it’s not really a priority for the police currently. There’s a, how did he put it again?, ‘general lack of interest in following rules’ among drivers in this city’ and unless it’s to do with speeding and other high risk lawlessness on the roads, well, the police are otherwise occupied. So why are we paying them not to do their jobs? Imagine the outrage on the pages of the Toronto Sun if other public sector employees just casually confessed to not doing certain aspects of their jobs they weren’t interested in doing.

This isn’t blue skying we’re talking about here. Other jurisdictions are taking steps in this direction, de-policing traffic enforcement. Interestingly, much of the impetus behind the movement isn’t due to the lawlessness of drivers but because of the not infrequent violent escalation that occurs when the police pull someone over, far more often than not, a racialized someone. You know, those ‘putting lives at risk’ infractions that the police tell us they prioritize.

If the bulk of traffic enforcement is below the police’s paygrade, then why do we continue relying on them for it? The fact that for the large part they are nakedly disinterested in that aspect of their jobs can only serve to embolden drivers to disregard traffic laws. Why bother taking your foot off the gas as you gun it toward a stale yellow light when the chances of being dinged for it are minimal? It’s just a spiraling of non-compliance.

As positive news begins to roll in about non-police crisis response to mental health calls, it’s not that far-fetched to think we might also be well served replacing the TPS with a force dedicated solely to traffic enforcement, dedicated solely to better outcomes on our streets, to safer streets, to better behaved drivers. Clearly, the police aren’t interested in any of that. They just seem to want to take the money, shrug, and say to us: Whattaya gonna do?


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