Why Toronto needs protected intersections now
Story by Robert Zaichkowski
This year has been a tragic one on Toronto’s roads with seventeen pedestrians and four cyclists killed during the first six months of this year. Many of these tragedies – including the recent collision killing 58-year-old Dalia Chako at Bloor and St. George – happened at intersections. If the city is serious about acting to make our roads safe, intersections are a good place to start.
An intersection like Bloor and St. George presents an opportunity for Toronto to try something new to improve the safety of people who walk and bike. This solution – which originated from the Netherlands and is recently gaining popularity in North America – is known as the “protected intersection.”
Imagine a protected bike lane such as the one found on Bloor. People riding bicycles there have noticed the use of plastic flexi-posts and other barriers have helped (sometimes) to keep motor vehicles out of bike lanes. This helped played a role in making Bloor one of Toronto’s most popular cycling routes with over 5200 people riding that street per day. However, these barriers found on protected bike lanes disappear at intersections, where the majority of collisions involving people walking or biking happen.
Now imagine if that protection can be extended into the intersection itself. This can be done by adding four corner safety islands with minimal impact to existing road capacity. For people riding bikes, these corner islands give them an advance stop line for greater visibility, reduced crossing distances, and a waiting area to make two-stage left turns.
Protected intersections have also been proven to improve the safety of people on the sidewalk, including those with disabilities. With the bike lane shifted to the right, the pedestrian crossing is placed further back to help reduce crossing distances. Crossing distances can be shortened even further by adding pedestrian waiting areas between the protected bike lane and the roadway.
People who drive stand to benefit with this improved intersection design. The corner islands lead to drivers crossing protected bike lanes at a 90-degree angle, which helps them make eye contact with anyone crossing by foot or bicycle and reduce the risk of “right hook” collisions. Buses and trucks (which should be required to have side guards) can be accommodated with the use of corner aprons to allow them to mount the corner islands while keeping overall vehicle speeds low.
Fortunately, Toronto is already recognizing the need to improve intersections. While bike boxes have been around for a few years, Toronto installed its first bicycle-focused intersection improvements last summer at Bathurst and Adelaide Streets with Peter-Queen-Soho and Woodbine-O’Connor also expected to get intersection improvements soon. Now, Toronto needs to take road safety to the next level by installing protected intersections at Bloor and St. George, as well as at other places where bike lanes intersect.
A growing number of North American cities have already adopted protected intersections including Vancouver and Montréal, while Ottawa is planning to install them on Dynes Road. If other North American cities can build protected intersections, there is no reason Toronto cannot do the same.
NOTE: A similar article about cyclist-friendly intersections has been written recently by Gilbert Ngabo in the Toronto Star.
Robert Zaichkowski is a Board Member with Cycle Toronto, an accountant, and author of the “Two Wheeled Politics” bike blog.
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