Not Happy With The Bike Lanes This Winter? Suck It Up.


Photo via The City of Toronto 

The City is doing it's best to keep priority lanes clear this winter.

By Taylor Moyle

This winter, City of Toronto staff have been tasked with clearing certain “priority” bike lanes  -- with mixed results. Bikers aren’t completely happy  with the still-messy conditions in the bike lane, but the City is trying.

Bike lane maintenance has become a big issue in this city because people are actually using the bike lanes. In January, volunteers counted almost 2,000 trips per week on the new Bloor bike lane.

One of the biggest issues with the snow clearance is that snowbanks are being created at bike lane intersections after the plows (or cars from side streets) go through, which makes it unsafe for cyclists. Joey Schwartz says these messy intersections might be a deterrent for other cyclists, but not for him -- he rides every day.

Hector Moreno, manager of road operations for Toronto said that the snowbanks in the intersections is “never going to go away.” The snow has to go somewhere: It can’t be pushed back onto the laneway or roadway, so snow clearance from bike lanes and sidewalks can be labourious. Moreno added that because bikes don’t generate as much friction as cars and therefore don’t melt or break up the snow as much, it makes it more difficult for the city to deal with.

Despite bikers being unhappy, as seen with our bike spotting, Moreno does not think there is a “significant issue” with bike lane clearance this winter.

Some leftover snow in the bikes lanes. Photo by Cayley James 

In the program's first year there are naturally going to be some bumps in the road, (or in this case snow) and the city is recognizing this, and they are trying to improve procedures based on what they learn this year. And, the City is trying new things too. Moreno described a pilot project the city recently started where a pull-behind trailer, with multiple wheels goes along all the dedicated bike lanes in order to agitate the snow which would make it melt faster. He also noted the trailer will be used on city sidewalks in the future.

Cars also push snow and slush over into the bike lanes, Moreno noted.

Laurie Featherstone, another year-round every-day Toronto cyclist noted this as a problem as well but does admit the lanes have been “pretty good” this winter.

She said that when there is a large snowfall, as we had in December, cars can spill slush onto the bike lanes and when it’s cold, it hardens. This makes the lanes practically unusable, rendering Featherstone to use the car lanes for “a couple of days.”

Moreno said that residents will sometimes put snow onto the bike lanes when clearing their own properties. And, although patrollers are 24/7 and can be deployed at any time, Moreno invited people to call whenever they do see a problem. Still, Moreno said people need to manage their expectations -- they can’t expect the city to respond in five minutes.

Toronto cyclist Chloe Hill says that the lanes do get plowed once, at first, but the city is doing a poor job at maintaining them after. “They don’t maintain it and it doesn’t go far enough. They’ll plow it once and then they’ll let it melt on its own,” said Hill.

Some leftover snow in the bikes lanes. Photo by Cayley James 

Schwartz, along with Featherstone, think the issue can be fixed with two plowing sessions to clear the bike lanes. One at the usual time, and another several hours after to clear the remaining snow put on the road by civilians, cars, and snow plows, especially at intersections. Moreno said that there is no specific timing for the when the maintenance crew is deployed: They can be deployed any time of day, depending on need.

According to Moreno, about 66 units are dedicated to clearing the bike lanes. Overall, there are 200 road salters, 600 plows and 300 sidewalk machines that the city deploys to keep the roads clean in the winter season. That means about 17 per cent of the road units are dedicated to the 33 km of bike lanes the city has said it’s committed to maintaining during winter.

The city has also not taken any strategies specifically from Montreal, another city that gets lots of snow and bikers. Montreal does much more snow removal than Toronto.

At the end of the winter season Moreno and the city plan to sit down and evaluate how they did. There will be no public report, yet. Moreno said that might come in “two or three more seasons.” Moreno also noted that there is no official way for bikers to voice their input to the city on this matter. There are also no plans as of now for the priority bike lane list to be expanded.

Moreno said, “The city is committed to providing safe and passable conditions throughout the winter on the priority bike lanes.” Moreno also stressed that every winter is different and this one in particular has brought much more snow so far than previous winters. Despite the complaints Moreno seems satisfied with the service the City has provided so far this season. “We believe the program that we have in place is working fairly well,” he said.

Moreno said, “All of us need to do a better job at managing the expectation.”

Related on

Winter Bike Counts on Bloor

Bike Spotting: Is the city doing a good job of clearing bike lanes this winter?

CITY CYCLIST: cycling in a winter snow squall

City says it will clear priority bike lanes

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