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How should the city separate its new bike lanes?

Posted by Chris Bateman / December 10, 2012

toronto sherbourne bike laneToronto's first fully separated bike lane arrived on Sherbourne Street this fall, for the first time giving bikers the opportunity to move north and south through the eastern portion of downtown without mixing with traffic. But despite a rolled curb segregating autos and bikes, there have been numerous instances of cars using the narrow lane for on-street parking.

The curb was designed to allow emergency responders, TTC Wheel-Trans, garbage trucks, and snow removal vehicles to pass over the top while acting as a barrier to everyday traffic. Unfortunately, by making it easier for those that need to reach the curb, the city has also made it easy for drivers to illegally block bike traffic.

toronto wellesley bike laneAt last month's city council meeting, a similar separated cycle lane for Wellesley and Hoskin was given the green light. According to David Dunn from the city's Cycling Infrastructure and Programs department, a temporary rubber curb will be bolted to Wellesley east of Yonge in 2013. Between then and 2014 the same system of raised and separated lanes will gradually be installed between Parliament and St. George streets, the entirety of the bike track.

"For the section that will be reconstructed in 2014, both a street level or raised cycle track design will be investigated. Sherbourne provides examples of both of these types of permanent cycle track designs - "raised" from Gerrard to King and "street level" rolled curb design from Gerrard to Bloor," Dunn says in en email.

The exact look hasn't been finalized yet, but it's likely to match what's already in place on Sherbourne and under construction on Queens Quay at the expense of all on-street parking and left turn lanes.

Cities like Vancouver and Montreal separate traffic in a much more dramatic way, using concrete planters or high curbs in some cases, making it much harder for confused delivery truck drivers and motorists to blunder onto the bike track.

Given that the city has a chance to learn from the problems on Sherbourne Street should it too look at alternative ways of marking the edge of the bike lane, or should we spend that money educating drivers and ticketing those that break the rules? Is our current method the best since it allows access to the curb to those who need it?

Chris Bateman is a staff writer at blogTO. Follow him on Twitter at @chrisbateman.

Photo: "New Sherbourne Separated Bike Lane" by Martinho from the blogTO Flickr pool.



joe / December 10, 2012 at 01:48 pm
Maybe they could build actual separated lanes. The ones on Sherbourne are a joke!
jnyyz / December 10, 2012 at 01:54 pm
I don't feel safe on the Sherbourne bike lanes, whereas I felt absolutely safe on the Hornby bike lanes in Vancouver. http://www.blogto.com/city/2012/12/how_should_the_city_separate_its_new_bike_lanes/

It is a combination of the clearer separation from traffic, as well as the larger width. Granted that the Hornby bike lane is bidirectional, but I thought that part of the Wellesley bike lane was going to be bidirectional as well.
jnyyz replying to a comment from jnyyz / December 10, 2012 at 01:55 pm
sorry, the link in the above comment should have been:
grieves / December 10, 2012 at 02:05 pm
Another example of how TO is a cheap city that does not any pride in itself. The goal on Sherbourne was clearly to build the lane as cheaply as possible. In Montreal and Vancouver they not only want the lanes to be functional, but also positively contribute to the streetscape by being visually appealing.

The result is you get a half-assed and ugly biked lane that does not do what it is intended to.

Why do the emergency responders in TO get priority to use the lane while in Mtl and Vancouver this is not the case? I'm pretty sure in Mtl to clear the snow from the bike lanes they simply use the same machines that clear the sidewalks.

I also think its much more effective to have one bike lane with two-way traffic. This way the other direction can be used as a passing line.
gooner14 / December 10, 2012 at 02:23 pm
I agree with all the comments above. The Sherbourne bike lanes are just a place to park and stop and drop of equipment etc. The portion below Gerrard is not raised or separated at all. All-in-all a sad first attempt. We simply refuse to in-convenience cars in any way in this city.

Chris / December 10, 2012 at 02:27 pm
These are not parking infractions, these are abandoned cars in live lanes. Why are abandoned cars allowed in live traffic lanes? They should be tagged and towed just on the highway.
mike / December 10, 2012 at 02:29 pm
Bicycle separation works great in Vancouver because it doesn't snow.
crackity replying to a comment from mike / December 10, 2012 at 02:35 pm
and Mtl? it snows plenty and the bike lanes work great
Ben Smith / December 10, 2012 at 02:42 pm
While not exotic, I don't think they are that bad at all. Granted I am nowhere near downtown and am comfortable riding with high speed traffic, so I can see why others may want more segregation.

If parking in the lanes is a major issue, putting no stopping signs along the barrier may help to get the point across. Another option could be to paint no stopping logos on the lanes themselves. All else fails, get the tow trucks and cops armed and ready to go at a moment's notice...
Andrew / December 10, 2012 at 02:43 pm
The construction hasn't even finished and we already see delivery trucks and such.
The little humps that act as separators are beyond useless.

Way to go Toronto.
McRib / December 10, 2012 at 02:45 pm
grieves hits the nail on the head, especially the comment on how cheap this city is.
steve replying to a comment from grieves / December 10, 2012 at 02:45 pm
I felt the separated bike lanes was all gravy, 2+ million dollars to placate cyclist over the loss of the Jarvis lanes. They were not designed to work well, just a talking point for the ant-bike crowd.
anon / December 10, 2012 at 02:46 pm
Some cities have decades of bike lane experience, why are we just making silly mistakes they have since solved? Let's see what other, successful cities have done, and just do that.
Andrew / December 10, 2012 at 02:53 pm
I don't get it. On street parking blocks garbage trucks, emergency services and TTC and Wheel Trans from access to the curb, no one worries about that! Make the divider an impassable barrier to vehicles.
_n / December 10, 2012 at 02:53 pm
Toronto could take a tip from other cities and really separate their lanes with concrete barriers. Or if that's too much, use bollards and bright paint. Bollards are a good flexible solution already in use in other places.
_n replying to a comment from steve / December 10, 2012 at 02:54 pm
Hey Steve, most of the money went into resurfacing Sherbourne, which was pretty much like riding your bike on the surface of the moon. Frankly, the roads in general would be safer if we just paved them more often.
iSkyscraper / December 10, 2012 at 02:55 pm
I second that Sherbourne is a joke. A "separated" lane means just that, physical separation. Barriers and space place cyclists out of reach of moving or stopped traffic, which makes them comfortable, which makes cycling feasible. Fucking this up only gives Ford/Wong et al. license to say "we built separated lanes and nobody used them, so let's stop building bike lanes".

Enough! Toronto needs actual separated lanes. Sherbourne is not it. Hoskin is not it. Queens Quay is not it. You need to create this image in Toronto for people to understand what a freaking separated lane is and what it does for cycling:

http://dc.streetsblog.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/04/portland-cycletrack.jpg (NYC separated bike lane)

And yes, plant some trees and grasses so that Toronto's main streets actually have some beauty to them rather than being the ugly bald cousins to the leafy sidestreets.
ziurande / December 10, 2012 at 02:58 pm
I think the Montreal bike lanes are great.

steve replying to a comment from _n / December 10, 2012 at 02:59 pm
I have not seen the breakdown of the costs. What would be the cost to repave Sherbourne without the separate bike lanes? As I see it it is not much of an improvement.
Khristopher / December 10, 2012 at 03:03 pm
Actual separated lanes would be so much better than these. When they were building them, I thought to myself, "this isn't going to do anything to stop vehicles from taking up the bike lane." And looks like I was right.
Greg replying to a comment from steve / December 10, 2012 at 03:10 pm
All 12,000 regular cyclists downtown will get cars then, you see gridlock now? Just wait until we all get cars. ...anti-bike crowd, give me a break.
Ben / December 10, 2012 at 03:13 pm
How is it possible to suck this much? The job was so simple.
UPS Guy / December 10, 2012 at 03:26 pm

All you whiner bikealysts should stop c'plainin those Sherbourne lanes are great, and hopefully all te other lanes that get built in the the city are the same. It is so nice to be able to roll over those smooth humps and park my rig ( that what we call it) in that " bike lane" I'm out of traffic, never get tickets, and never have to circle to look for a spot! I get my route done early! Thanks city of Toronto, keep up the good work. Now how do we get separated bike lanes on Bloor? No even better King!!!!! I get a semi just thinking about that! Mmmmm mmmm mmmm

UPS Guy!
Phil / December 10, 2012 at 03:49 pm
I guess I'm in the minority but I think the Sherbourne lanes are a good precedent, and an improvement over existing infrastructure. Hopefully consistent ticketing of people parking in the lanes, plus clear markings, bollards, etc will eliminate abuse eventually.

Keep in mind that the Portland photo seems to show 3 lanes of 1-way traffic plus one lane of street parking, in addition to the bike lanes. And the Montreal example shows 2 lanes of 1-way traffic and one lane for parking. In short Sherbourne is too narrow to be done exactly the same way. And a lot of downtown streets have the same problem.

Would people support turning Harbord into a 1-way street? I suppose not.
Paul / December 10, 2012 at 04:01 pm
I reserve my final opinion until I actually roll over the lanes on Sherbourne. Sadly, the only time I'm in the area I have to use Jarvis because that is my destination, so that may take some time.

That being said, I've spent plenty of time riding in Montreal, Amsterdam, Munich and Berlin. I personally would prefer standard marked bike lanes over what I see in photos. I didn't like the lanes in Amsterdam as you are confined and can't easily get out of the lanes if you have to. Combined with scooters using the bike lanes and it's a bit of a shit show. Berlin's solution seems to be the best, but is not an option for us as our roads are nowhere near as wide as they have there.

The problem with the fully separated curb with posts is that it's a two way block. Cars can't get in and you can't get out. The problem with the Sherbourne solution seems to be that it's trivial for a motor vehicle to get into the bike lane, but actually dangerous for a bike to get out.
Jerly / December 10, 2012 at 04:44 pm
I think the bigger issue with a real separated bike lane, as in with a physical barrier, is to protect vehicular traffic and its all important flow from dangerous and aggressive cyclists thinking that they can have their own lane and weasel in and out of exclusive car lanes at their leisure. Hopefully cyclists will be forced to get off their bikes and walk when coming to left turn lanes, etc. You 'stay' in your lane and vehicles and other highly productive and essential traffic will stay in theirs - no mix. As with a small percentage of car users who used their cell phones manually to endanger regular traffic, so do the majority of cyclists endanger the highly regulated roadways with their lack of close submission to road laws. Toronto roads are not free use open spaces for your leisure use. They are highly regulated no-fun zones where you know your place and stay there and that's the cyclist problem. Lack of proper respect for the strict brutal structure that needs to take place on all roadways - and cyclists can't handle that. The next step of course will be sidewalk fences to stop pedestrian jaywalking along the high volume/use streets.
the lemur / December 10, 2012 at 04:49 pm
With actual curbs that cars can't drive over, or which drivers won't want to drive over?
m / December 10, 2012 at 04:53 pm
How about flexible (plastic) skinny bollards every couple of feet.
iSkyscraper / December 10, 2012 at 04:58 pm
Phil, you are correct that the image I linked to shows a very wide street in Manhattan. Sherbourne is very narrow, like many Toronto streets, and a challenge to design correctly as a complete street. This is why separated bike lanes would have been ideal on Jarvis, which was wide enough to handle them. Oops.

timmis / December 10, 2012 at 04:58 pm
(at) Jerly
Yes. and the bike lanes could be closed in the winter for snow pile zones. As non-essential traffic, bikes could restricted to res streets and intersections only during snow fall. The lanes would have to physically blocked and cops posted to stop cyclists endangering the already slippery and narrowed roadways for the official vehicles such as cars, trucks, and transit. Finally a safe area for pedestrian and official road users (ICE vehicles).
Ian / December 10, 2012 at 05:09 pm
Lengthen the width of the sidewalk and divide it between bikes and pedestrians with a small bump and evenly spaced trees.
m replying to a comment from Jerly / December 10, 2012 at 05:10 pm
All lanes are open to cyclists on city streets, wether there's a bike lane there or not.
braps / December 10, 2012 at 05:10 pm
how does one (cyclist) pass another is these proposed lanes?
mike / December 10, 2012 at 05:19 pm
the rolled curb keeps the bikes out of the car lanes but not the cars out of the bike lanes. this is pointless, you're protecting the cars from the bikes. way to go toronto city council! ur doin' it! ending the war on the car for once.
jen / December 10, 2012 at 05:26 pm
If people keep parking in the Sherbourne bike lanes then I will continue to bike on Jarvis and take up a whole car lane doing so.
Alan / December 10, 2012 at 05:47 pm
silly downtowners and their bicycles, so glad we no longer have a mayor that panders to them
steve replying to a comment from Greg / December 10, 2012 at 06:37 pm
How do you get anti-bike from comment?
Chris / December 10, 2012 at 06:50 pm
There should be a car day/week where cyclists drive in to work. It would help show the impact that cyclists have on amount of traffic. The next group should be those who take the TTC instead of driving. We all pay for the roads so we should all drive.
Paul / December 10, 2012 at 08:04 pm
why dont you just trade the sidewalks with the bike lanes and vice versa. then the city will take more care that the cars dont go on the sidewalks. because the city doesn't seem to care that bicyclist get run over all the time.
jay / December 10, 2012 at 08:06 pm
use the cities back lane (laneways) as a complex network of bike lanes.
David / December 10, 2012 at 11:27 pm
The new bike lanes on Sherbourne are no improvement over the pre-existing bike lane, oither than they have a new surface. I avoided the previous bike lanes as the road surface was so awful as to be dangerous.

Repaving Sherbourne and repainting the bike lanes would have been a way cheaper solution.
David / December 10, 2012 at 11:33 pm
I haven't figured out why north of Carlton and on the west side by Allan Gardens there are these large bumps, which are no hinderance to cars parking on the bike lane, yet are dangerous to cyclists who need to leave the bike lanes, yet south of Gerrard there is only a gutter separating the cyclists from car traffic. What logic was used to differentiate these lanes?
Qaf / December 10, 2012 at 11:33 pm
When we're talking bike infrastructure, we're not just talking about catering to a few bikers. It's about creating the opportunity for more people to bike safely, which in turn could help reduce the number of cars on the streets and therefore aid congestion and pollution. It benefits bikers AND drivers.

Nope, hold on, let's wait for a few more bikers to die in collisions until we start taking it seriously.
Ken / December 11, 2012 at 01:59 am
To offset the cost of making these lanes for cyclists, they should be licenced for the excluse use of them. Then, whatever input they wish to have now and in the future, they will have a stronger voice at city hall and the traffic act.
Paul replying to a comment from Ken / December 11, 2012 at 07:41 am
Licensing is not a sourced of revenue. In order for the city to make any significant money from licensing cyclists, they would have to charge more than what most people pay for the bicycles.

Drivers of motor vehicles are licensed because cars are the number one killer on our city streets.
Brandon / December 11, 2012 at 09:23 am
What should be done?

Nothing. There shouldn't be bike lanes.

Roads are paved and paid for through taxes predominantly collected from fuel sales. Let's not forget vehicle registration and licensing fees. Cyclists pay none of these fees and as such, don't deserve a lane.

Furthermore, the amount of cyclist injuries have equal blame rider, and vehicle driver. First, the average cyclist works as a hybrid pedestrian/vehicle, or whatever will speed things up for them. They also squeeze into areas where they shouldn't be - blindspots, etc.

Second, the average driver has had zero training regarding the rights of a cyclist. Could you imagine a world where we turn 16, are given keys to a car and said, "have a good one, kid".

I also think cyclists should pay for parking as a source of revenue generating.
asdgasg replying to a comment from Ken / December 11, 2012 at 09:33 am
Sorry Ken, but many bikers, like myself, also have cars and therefore pay for road maintenance as well (even though cars have a much greater impact on the roads than bikes - in terms of wear or damage from heavy loads). For those bikers that don't have cars, give them a break. The fact that they are not driving means one less car on the road, which means Ken gets to his destination faster.
the lemur replying to a comment from Brandon / December 11, 2012 at 09:54 am
No, fuel taxes don't come anywhere near covering the cost of road paving, and aren't applied to roads directly. Property taxes do that, and everyone pays those, including cyclists who also own cars (not an insignificant demographic).

As for zero training, maybe not in practice during driving lessons, but drivers are supposed to know the stuff in the driver's handbook and the HTA.
Brandon replying to a comment from the lemur / December 11, 2012 at 10:35 am
Lemur, do you have a source for that information re: road maintenance?

I'm referring to unwritten rules. Cyclists, despite their continued lack of road awareness, are to be treated as another motorist. That includes driving far enough away from parked cars for the driver to be able to safely open their doors.
the lemur replying to a comment from Brandon / December 11, 2012 at 11:23 am
If you look at the figures for fuel tax collected in Ontario vs the amount spent on roads - there's a discrepancy that indicates fuel tax goes mostly into general revenue, whereas roads, like other infrastructure, are funded by property tax.

Those aren't unwritten rules - they are to be found in the city's annual cycling map and on its website. Okay, so they're more like suggestions, but just as with driving, there is a grey area not covered by laws but subject to customs and personal responsibility. Driving far enough from parked cars to avoid dooring should be common sense, but (a) it isn't always possible, (b) drivers behind cyclists who keep such a distance tend to get annoyed and (c) drivers don't necessarily think twice before opening their doors, even if they should.
metric / December 11, 2012 at 12:12 pm
The author asks: "or should we spend that money educating drivers and ticketing those that break the rules?"
This would require teaching cab drivers to respect the bike lanes, but we know cab drivers are lawless and only care about their next fare. Add to that the fact that cops let them get away with murder (actually) and one could be excused for thinking it's futile.
metric / December 11, 2012 at 12:16 pm
Bike lanes yes, but also take 30% of the cabs off the road, implement mandatory driver's retraining for cabdies and cultivate a more disciplined culture among cab drivers with strict fines and license suspensions. Cabs are the single most obstructive element on the roads - they stop wherever they please, pull u-turns in the midst of rush hour traffic regardless of how many people they hold up. They idle 4 feet away from the curb forcing bikes into tracks and traffic, they are unpredictable, and there are too many of them.
metric replying to a comment from jay / December 11, 2012 at 12:41 pm
Jay, (using back alleys as bike lanes) is an idealistic fantasy, and a very bad idea. Visibility is terrible, alleys are full of unpredictable hazards like T-intersections, cars backing out, blind entries etc. Unless you are biking 15km's per hr. the hazards would be just too great.
metric replying to a comment from Jerly / December 11, 2012 at 01:05 pm
Jerly, those are incredibly small-minded views. It makes me wonder how so many people in Toronto can be so backwards in their thinking.
metric replying to a comment from Jerly / December 11, 2012 at 01:07 pm
Jerly, those are incredibly small-minded views. It makes me wonder how so many people in Toronto can be so backwards in their thinking.
Me replying to a comment from metric / December 11, 2012 at 01:20 pm
4 feet from the curb? And yet a bicyclist can't get by? I'd think any bicyclist that can't fit through a four foot wide opening probably shouldn't be riding at all! First everyone complains cars are parked AT the curb and now you complain they are parked AWAY from the curb? I though bicyclists WANTED that space? I'd think parking four feet off the curb would be being pretty damn courteous towards the bicycles myself.
the lemur replying to a comment from metric / December 11, 2012 at 02:13 pm
Some laneways make for pretty good biking, though - virtually no traffic and if you keep to the middle of the lane you can react in time if someone is driving out of a garage. Laneways help avoid some of the less convenient one-way streets and they're sometimes quite long: Sussex Mews is a good alternative to Spadina from Bloor almost to College.
DavidC / December 11, 2012 at 03:01 pm
There are two quite different styles of bike lane on Sherbourne. From Bloor to Gerrard there are the (less elaborate) lanes which are the same level as the road and separated from it by the low concrete 'bumps", the street drains are in the cycle lane. From Gerrard to King the lanes are at the same level as the sidewalk and there is a sloped curb between cycle path and road, the street drains are in the road. The reason is that the road and sidewalks south of Gerrard needed to be reconstructed/repaved while the section north of Gerrard did not.
Now that they seem to have finished painting all the lines, pictures of bikes etc it is actually pretty clear who belongs where and I have seen far fewer trucks trying to park on the lanes. The new $110 (?) fines for doing so may help! Having two versions of the lanes should make it easier to evaluate how each works so that future lanes are even better. Are either perfect? No, but in my opinion they are both very much better than simple white lines
the lemur replying to a comment from DavidC / December 11, 2012 at 03:47 pm
There still needs to be more of an obstacle to cars driving over the bumps or up onto the raised parts of the lane. I thought there were going to be bollards.
Dan / December 11, 2012 at 08:39 pm
They shouldn't do anything. When the weather gets frightful and the snow hits the ground, I can count on one hand the amount of bikers I see.
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