From the Horse’s Mouth: Michael Black on Building Better Bike Lanes


Illustration: Ian Sullivan Cant

Safe Cycling Means More Protection

For our latest instalment of From the Horse’s Mouth: We asked Active Transportation champion Michael Black what the City of Toronto could do to improve  bike lane design as it continues to build on its protected bike lane network:

In Toronto, we continue to blithely install mediocre bike lanes at a snail’s pace on arterial roads, even though studies show that many feel safe cycling only if they can use high-quality, protected bike lanes on these busy streets. We need a network of connected (and preferably) protected bike lanes for users of all abilities to be able to comfortably get around by bike.

But not all protected bike lanes are created equal. What features make a unidirectional,  protected bike lane suitable for use by everyone?

My number one priority: separation from traffic, preferably using concrete horizontal separation. Where space is limited, long, rubber wheel stop curbs will suffice to physically help prevent incursions by taxis and other vehicles. (These wheel stop strips are frequently used in parking lots.)

Vertical separation should also be provided. Reflective flexiposts, or bollards, can be installed for added safety. When they break (which appears to happen often on the new Richmond Adelaide bike lanes) they need to be replaced promptly.

The crème de la crème of vertical separation for bike lanes: planter boxes. Everyone loves planter boxes, which should be bolted down to avoid the shuffleboard look we get on Simcoe Street.

Beyond the Bollard

Toronto planners are starting to think of safety beyond adding bollards. For example, where on-street parking exists and cannot be removed to accommodate the bike lane, the bike lane can be located curbside. Here, it is separated from traffic by a row of parked cars, with a buffer zone that can be fortified by bollards. This will keep cyclists from receiving the notorious ‘door prize’, common on streets like College and Harbord. When motorists are allowed to park next to the curb (like they do on College for example), they drive through the bike lane to get there, making physical separation impossible to implement. The classic example is Shuter, where on-street parking is a hazard for cyclists when it could, in fact, function to increase safety.

The same principle applies to bus stops. If possible, locate them on floating islands (similar to streetcar stops) so that buses don’t have to cross curbside bike lanes, like they do on Harbord. Islands generally work better than mixing zones like we have on Sherbourne, which can create conflicts between transit riders and cyclists. Oh, and on the subject of Sherbourne, its green paint is expensive, slippery and tends to peel off. I’d prefer to see all of our bike lanes surfaced with long-lasting red asphalt – Dutch style.

Rethink the Interesection

But the major problem with Toronto’s bike lane designs is a lack of separation near intersections. Intersections are where most collisions  happen, so we need more care when it comes to design, not less. Somewhat of an exception in Toronto is St. George. Unfortunately, I’m leery of its bike boxes because they position cyclists making left-hand turns in the middle of the street without giving them an advanced green – something that some less-experienced riders may feel nervous about. Most would be more comfortable executing a two-stage turn using corner refuge islands. Another very simple alternative for making intersections safe would be to place a concrete base topped with a “Yield to Cyclists” sign precisely where drivers would start a right hook.

Another major design issue is the narrow width of many of our bike lanes. Virtually all of Toronto’s unidirectional bike lanes are limited to a maximum width of 2 metres, which isn’t generous enough for a fast rider to comfortably pass wide bike trailers, trikes, etc. I’d like to see 2.5 metre minimum on busy protected lanes like Richmond, Adelaide and Bloor.

Most streets with protected bike lanes should be prioritized for cyclists. Other road users must be prepared to make concessions, or bike lanes will suffer from so many design compromises that a high level of safety cannot be maintained. We must all remember that safety is a shared goal.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Farewell to Rob Ford

From the Horse’s Mouth: Cycling forecast for 2016

From the Horse’s Mouth: Councillor Mike Layton on building community support for bike lanes

From the Horse’s Mouth: Nancy Smith Lea, TCAT

From the Horse’s Mouth: Councillor Joe Cressy on bike projects in Ward 20

From the Horse’s Mouth: Dr. David McKeown on how Toronto can get healthy in 2016


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