You’re Not Allowed To Park There


Photo of a tempting truck ramp in the Wellesley bike lane by Jake Tobin Garrett.

You're Not Allowed To Park There You Know?

A new planner's perspective on parking in the bike lanes

With more bike lanes we're seeing more cars parking in them. New Torontonian David Tran has used his skills as a planner to better understand the relationship between where, when and why people think they can park wherever they like.

dandyhorse caught up with him to ask how street design can help battle the plague of parking in the bike lane we have in Toronto.

I recently moved to Toronto from Kingston to work in urban design and data analysis. I'm particularly interested in studying public policy and how it impacts the way we exist in cities. With the use of available data, my aim is to help the public make more informed decisions in planning especially when it comes to walking, cycling and public transit.

Full disclosure: I don’t own a bicycle yet, and instead I use Bike Share from time to time since I recently move here to Toronto. I mostly use the TTC to get around since the destinations I need to get to can be far. I plan on cycling more in the new year.

A previous project I worked on was the Sydenham Street Revived in Kingston, which tried to better understand the relationship between cars and pedestrians in a dense area of the city. I currently don't have access to a team of planners and volunteers to do qualitative and quantitative studies -- so to better understand my new city I decided to do a little study of my own.

Traffic congestion in Toronto is problematic, like many other cities, and with the rapid population growth, the city will need to encourage people to use other means of transportation including cycling. Safety and the perception of safety for cycling is very important. One of the issues that is most commonly raised is how dedicated cycling lanes are often obstructed by vehicles. This is dangerous for cyclists and drivers alike.

Although it's easy to blame oblivious drivers, the real culprit is often bad street design. To better understand this problem I analyzed the locations where people parked in the bike lane the most.

The City of Toronto has a portal with a list of available datasets open to the public, including parking tickets issued every year since 2008. For this data analysis, I used the most recent dataset, from 2015, and took a closer look at the different parking infraction codes. By simply filtering out the irrelevant infraction codes, I was able to reveal interesting information such as the location of these offences and to plot them on a map. You can check out a city-wide map here. It looks like this:


The three infraction codes relating to this analysis are:




A heatmap showing the distribution of parking tickets for infraction code 383, 384 and 387 based on the day of the week and hour.

I plotted the parking tickets from across the city and the intensity level is based on the frequency and distance of addresses.


A man parked in the Bay/Avenue bike lane during lunch hour. Photo by Tammy Thorne.

I wanted to take a closer look on why there was a high count of parking ticket on on particular street section. On my walk there I noticed two large vehicles on the cycling lanes with their flashers blinking.

Now this data relates to last year, when Gerrard Street had a slightly different street design. If you look at the Google Street View in 2015, there were just white lines on each side separating bicycles and vehicles. Now, the City has done a pretty good job in redesigning the street to be safer for all users. All the markings are clearer, the bicycle lanes are more visible (more bicycle stencils) and there is now a buffer separating the cycling lane and moving traffic. As for the more high profile bike lane project in Toronto - the Bloor bike lane - I have heard comments from both sides, but from a design point of view I think the City did a good job. The polls [bollards] and buffers are basic elements for a safe bicycle lane and I’m relieved that they incorporated them. It will be interesting to see the impact and results of this pilot project.

It will take some time for drivers to get accustomed to the new environment. It’s a question of educating people, and to developing new habits. People riding bikes need to beware of being doored by passengers, Most of the passengers will develop these [new] habits [like checking before they open the car door] as they experience more of this new setting. Perfection can never be expected in a pilot project such as the one on Bloor. Pilots serve as a great way to learn what works and what doesn’t and gives the city a chance to gradually perfect them.

But back to the Gerrard bike lane. As you can imagine, vehicles still block the cycling lanes even with the new design. But we don’t have this year’s data yet to compare with last year’s and see if the new design made a big difference. I suspect parking in the bike lane might be less of a problem now that the design is better, but it still persists.

img_4080 img_4072

Photos by Tammy Thorne. Same bike lane, same time, two different trucks.

What constitutes a good bike lane design? Do we need to remove on-street parking to make truly safe and secure bike lanes?

Generally speaking, we want bicycle lanes to be connected (strong network), safe and convenient (with enough bicycle parking). A logical and efficient way to plan this, is to consider the following:

1. Design segregated bicycle lanes on major roads that can connect different neighbourhoods such as Bloor St. AND through high-density residential/commercial areas such as the central core of our city. I view this as the spinal cord of our bicycle network where, just like the subway, it allows cyclist to quickly and safely move through (and to) different parts of the city.

2. We need our local streets to be safer for cyclists and pedestrians. One of the things that aggravates me the most, aside from traffic congestion, are self-entitled drivers speeding on local streets! Unfortunately, this happens quite regularly. There are many possible design interventions with the intention is to slow down cars. This will create a safer environment for cyclists.

Once you have these two elements laid out, you have a really good start.

So, to answer your question, removing on-street parking can be a double-edged sword. Yes, [those parking spots] can be replaced with a great bicycle lane, but they can also slow down car traffic, which is good if they’re isn’t a a bicycle lane.

I do believe it is safer when the cycling lanes are next to the sidewalk and have parked cars act as a protective barrier [from moving traffic.]

David Tran is new in town but you can follow him on twitter (@dave_tran) as well as check out his work  on his website: 

Related Articles

Point/Counterpoint: On-street parking

How much does a bike lane cost? 

Paint the Town Green

Mo Bike Lane Mo Problems

City Cyclist at it again: Bike lanes on Bloor and on-street parking



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