Hailed as a champion of the city’s cycling community, veteran Toronto cop Hugh Smith is being honoured with a Lifetime Achievement Award at the Toronto Bike Awards gala on February 24.
Smith, who retires later this year after 29 years with the Service, was instrumental in creating standards that have allowed the use of bicycles by the Toronto Police Service (TPS) officers to become a part of day-to-day work.
He has also significantly raised awareness about the legal rights of cyclists through his work in driver training for the Service, and he wasn’t fazed when the MTO announced that scooter-type electric and pedal-assisted bicycles were to be classified as a vehicle type by the province.
Instead, he worked with provincial staff and the TPS, providing support for their report to council, which recognized the differences between these vehicles in the city’s municipal code and proceeded to help educate officers and the public about the municipal code standards that are now in place.
When the Morning Glory Cycling Club succeeded in convincing former councillor Karen Stintz that the city’ single-file riding by law, that essentially made the sport of peloton-riding illegal, was unreasonable, city staff collaborated with Smith to develop education materials surrounding the actual wording of the Highway Traffic Act, found position statements, wrote the member motion, and got the bylaw rescinded.
Aside from peloton-riding, Toronto cyclists can now lawfully ride two abreast, provided they don’t block traffic flow on a roadway.
Cycle Toronto executive director Jared Kolb nominated Constable Smith for the recognition from the cycling community.
“Constable Smith helped change the conversation on cycling in Toronto," he said. "Through his role as media spokesperson for the Toronto Police, his involvement in overturning the single-file riding by-law and helping reform driver curriculum, we're honouring Hugh's work.”
Smith was delighted to be the recipient of the award.
“I am quite pleased with the work I have done with cycling activists, bike-user groups and city cycling committees on safety issues,” he said. “To know they think I am deserving of such a prestigious honour is very gratifying. This is quite the honour.”
Smith and 11 officers at 52 Division were part of the Service’s re-established bicycle unit in 1989. The first incarnation of the bicycle unit saw officers wearing long pants and pith helmets and rode tall, heavy, steel bikes with clunky chains.
Smith and the other trailblazing officers covered mainly the Entertainment District and Church St., in those early days, and took their share of ribbing from fellow officers for riding in cut-off police pants and black socks. But their effect on the streets justified the fashion statement.
“We were able to go into spaces where squad cars couldn’t and also reach out to more people in the community,” he said. “Once citizens started to see us more in their community, they approached us and there were more positive interactions. The other good thing about what we were doing was that we were getting to most of the calls before officers in their cars.”
In the first year, the officers patrolled on their bicycles for three months.
“The next year was our first full year and we rode in pairs,” said Smith, who rode a bicycle for eight years before being assigned to vehicle operations training.
Beginning in 1993, officers started to receive formal training through Cycling Canada CAN-BIKE program, a series of courses on all aspects of cycling safely. The cycling safety program provides a nationally standardized set of courses that can be taught through a variety of organizations interested in education, safety and health.
To qualify for training, officers’ Ontario Fitness Pin has to be up to date.
The Toronto Police Wellness Section is responsible for providing programs and training to support the TPS global wellness initiatives, that include organizational health, fitness, nutrition, fatigue management and work/life balance and co-ordinating the provincial fitness pin testing for the Service.
Smith became a training instructor in 1994 and has trained close to 1,000 officers on bike safety in the last 22 years.