Bike Boxes in Toronto

Image of a green bike box in Portland courtesy of the City of Portland, from dandyhorse issue 1.

Bike Boxes in Toronto

Evaluation report due this summer

By Justin Robertson

On her way to work on recent spring morning, Nancy Smith Lea was cycling along College, approaching Spadina Avenue, when on her left, a tractor-trailer was making its way through traffic trying to pass her to make right-hand turn at the intersection. When Smith Lea approached the intersection she stopped, put one foot on the road and waited along with four or five other cyclists inside the safe haven of the bike box. The big truck sat a good few meters back behind the pack of cyclists, behind the white painted line.

“This is a typically dangerous situation, and especially at College and Spadina, it’s a pinch point for cyclists," she said.

Smith Lea, the director of Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) and the lead on next month's Complete Streets Forum, said bike boxes may form part of the discussion on improving cyclist safety from a Complete Streets perspective.

"Bike boxes are just another tool to increase safety. In Toronto, they seem to work well, but I wish there were more of them to use,” she said. “It’s still early days to evaluate them. People are still getting used to them and I think cyclists don’t know exactly what to do with them or how to use them. I really think more education is required." (Check out our new Bike Spotting set from the Bike Boxes on St. George at Harbord.)

Toronto installed its first bike box on Harbord Street in 2010 (following a stunt in which the Urban Repair Squad guerilla art group painted bike boxes at Bathurst and Harbord that cyclists started using right away) then the city installed more on College in 2011. It was a decision to improve safety for cyclists.

Daniel Egan, manager, cycling infrastructure and programs transportation services division City of Toronto, said the use of bike boxes in North America has spiked in the past three years. “I’ve seen them across Canada – including Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver – but also in Portland and New York,” he said. “We are starting to see more and more of them.”

In 2008, more than 60 bike boxes were installed in New York City; Chicago installed their first green bike box last year; and other cities including San Francisco, Washington and Boston all boast a handful of painted bike box squares. Portland has become highly touted as North America's biking capital, with 200 miles of biking paths installed since 2000.  Over the last decade, Portland's cycling community has increased by 80 per cent. Their iconic bright green bike boxes are hard to miss, making it easy to use for cyclists and clearly visible to motorists.

A study released by The Center for Transportation Research at the University of Texas worked with city employees in Austin’s Transportation Department to analyze and collect video data at a number of intersections where a variation of four traffic devices were installed -- including bike boxes. The data showed bike boxes initiated positive changes and, only one out of five cyclists figured out how to use them correctly.

The study also highlighted how brightly coloured lanes prompted 74 per cent of drivers to yield to bicycles, compared to 38 per cent prior to the changes.

The City of Toronto is working on an evaluation of bike boxes, which, according to Egan will be released this summer. The evaluation will involve collecting anecdotal feedback from cyclists and motorists and will analyze video footage taken at designated bike box intersections Egan said, because bike boxes are relatively new on the road, searching for data on their impact and if they reduce collisions is difficult.

“One of the major hurdles is that, there hasn't been many studies conducted -- in Toronto and other cities -- to determine how the boxes get used, how effective they are, and if cyclists feel comfortable using them,” he said.

CHECK OUT our first Bike Box Bike Spotting here.

TCAT is hosting Canada’s fifth Complete Streets Forum on April 23 at the Evergreen Brickworks.


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