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How does Toronto define separated bike lanes?

Posted by Derek Flack / August 6, 2014

bike lanes torontoThe pilot project that's brought bike lanes to a number of downtown streets like Adelaide and Richmond is surely a positive sign for those who believe that Toronto is behind the times when it comes to cycling infrastructure. But the matter of just how the city has installed these has been cause for discontent.

First there was confusion when the lanes were initially painted but no signage was installed. That's forgivable given the time that it takes to roll out such a project, but since the so-called completion of the pilot project, a bigger issue has emerged -- that of just how separated these bike lanes really are.

The term separated is, it would appear, somewhat murky. At present, Transportation Services has opted to "crack down" on vehicles parking or entering the bike lane, but has not installed bollards to prevent them from doing so. As Cycle Toronto rightly points out, that can lead to some dangerous situations on these high volume streets.

The addition of new bike lanes is a step in the right direction for a city looking to ease congestion, but there's a legitimate question to be asked about whether physical separation should be mandatory on busy streets such as those in question. What do you think? Is a painted line enough, or should there be a more significant barrier to stop vehicles from entering bike lanes?



Chester / August 6, 2014 at 02:35 pm
And here we go again. Bikers & drivers bitchfest in 3, 2, 1.......
steve / August 6, 2014 at 02:37 pm
Sharrow lanes are not bike lanes, bikes lanes that end several metres before the cporner are not bike lanes, dotted lines marking lanes are not bike lanes.
If a vehicle can easily cross into a bike lane they are not separated bike lanes.
Bubba / August 6, 2014 at 02:38 pm
I've witnessed how dangerous it is for cyclists downtown in these bike lanes, drivers driving into the bike lanes and knocking down cyclists or they just pull up and stop forcing people into the lane of traffic. Or as seen in the pic above their new parking spot. I have not seen any kind of enforcement from Police of the City. Also another strange thing I've seen is joggers and runners using the bike lanes to avoid people people on the sidewalks, that is going to get someone killed.
S / August 6, 2014 at 02:43 pm
There needs to be physical separation to protect bicyclists from drivers, and there needs to be enforcement of rules of the road to protect pedestrians and drivers from bicyclists.
iSkyscraper / August 6, 2014 at 02:48 pm
No need for a bitchfest, as this is a technical question easily answered by looking at other cities. For the third time, here is a list of links to images of what other cities call "separated" bike lanes. It is easy to see that the term requires some sort of physical separation, be it trees, bollards, concrete or more width than a car door.

Based on this definition, Toronto does not have separated lanes.

Chicago - bollards are not bendy, much tighter spacing

Indy - bollards are not bendy, much tighter spacing

DC - bollards are not bendy, much tighter spacing

Boston - trees and wide raised island

Atlanta - similar bollard spacing to Wellesley, but wide two-way bike lanes make it more obvious when a car pulls into them. More suburban setting may also help

Portland - parked cars

SF - parked cars

New York - trees, tightly spaced bollards, parked cars and islands

Seattle - physical wall

Vancouver - physical wall

Ottawa - high curb and bollards

Montreal - high curb and bollards

LA - high curb
Parker / August 6, 2014 at 02:49 pm
Paint is not infrastructure.
Lily / August 6, 2014 at 02:51 pm
Stencils are not infrastructure. What a joke
akswun / August 6, 2014 at 03:02 pm
I was just in Amsterdam last week. If there was a bicycle culture/infrastructure to emulate it would be theirs. Bike lanes we have in Toronto are laughable.
Reggie / August 6, 2014 at 03:08 pm
How does Toronto define separated bike lines? Ride on the sidewalk. Ba da da da da da.
B. Ross Ashley / August 6, 2014 at 03:35 pm
These were authorised as a pilot project for "bicycle tracks" ... which City Council has already defined as physically separated. Period, no ambiguity.

If Transportation Services take it upon themselves to defy the orders of City Council then we need new staff at that department. Fire the disobedient supervisors.
Rim Shot / August 6, 2014 at 03:37 pm
'separated bike' lanes = lanes that cause you to become separated from your bike
ginnee / August 6, 2014 at 03:43 pm
And on the other side, they need proper separation from the sidewalks too because that's where the nervous cyclists go, no matter what. Until Transportation Services commit to bike lanes properly separated from both car and pedestrian realms, no one is safe. Sadly, Transportation Services is into poorly compromised infrastructure combinations.
the lemur / August 6, 2014 at 03:50 pm
What iSkyscraper said. Basically, physically separated means there is something physical preventing vehicles from entering the bike lane along its length, whether it's posts, bollards, curbs or (less ideally) parked cars.
the lemur replying to a comment from akswun / August 6, 2014 at 03:51 pm
Although Amsterdam does have quite a few on-street bike lanes that are just lines of paint as well - it's just that there isn't room to physically separate them all the time, aside from a few curbs/traffic islands at corners.
Tommy / August 6, 2014 at 03:58 pm
I ride these Adelaide/Richmond non-separated separated bike lanes to work daily. Loving them. Although the repaving is the main benefit. If people come by a car parked in one and feel so strongly that it is impeding their 2 wheeled thoroughfare, why don't people call the police instead of putting photo's on twitter. Ride safe.
DL / August 6, 2014 at 04:01 pm
Bike lanes are always good for passing other cars.
Mike replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / August 6, 2014 at 04:08 pm
^ Great list of examples. This is what Toronto needs. Can anybody shed light on why a section of Queens Quay has the separated lanes built properly with a real curb? Is it just due to the fact that there's more space available? No uproar on that street.
Chester replying to a comment from akswun / August 6, 2014 at 04:12 pm
Also considering that Amsterdam is about the third off the size and completely different geography. Also to take into consideration that we may tons of cars while they have tons of canals.

You can't debate about bike culture while comparing us to different cities which we have nothing in common with. Only city thats semi-similar is Chicago, both by a lake, city centre in the middle, vast amounts of roadways and neighbourhoods.

European bike culture is great for two reasons: One, gas is expensive and no one can afford a car and two, the density. Stop comparing us to Europe.
Peter replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / August 6, 2014 at 04:46 pm
They first need to do something about all the parking spots. The problem is that the bike lane is between the car lane and parking spot. That right there shows you how ass-backwards everything is done in Toronto. They can't put a curb, or tree or anything like that because it will get in the way of parking on the side of the road.

It's almost as preposterous as having cars and streetcars share the road.
Dogma / August 6, 2014 at 04:48 pm
The problem Toronto faces is that city council just can't wrap its head around the idea of street space that can't be entered by vehicles. The concept is beyond them. So we get solutions such as Sherbourne where supposed separate bike lanes are doubling as parking space, are doubling as sidewalk, and are doubling as bus stops. And we wonder why there is conflict between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians? We've built our infrastructure in such a way that guarantees that conflict.

The city needs to stop painting lines (aka bike lanes) where the space seems convenient for them, take a step back and design a cycliing network that makes sense and dedicates space to separate cycling lanes. This might mean less lanes overall. It will actually impact the ability of drivers (looking at you cabbies!) to park in some areas but it would also cut down the degree that bikes, people and cars are tumbling into each other.
the lemur replying to a comment from Chester / August 6, 2014 at 04:51 pm
Amsterdam also has a ton of cars. Or it would have - there are many people who would love to be able to drive right into the centre but that kind of access is restricted and wisely so. It's easy to forget from our perspective that European cities like Amsterdam are often surrounded by highways (the Netherlands has the second-highest density of highways per square km in Europe) and car ownership is high on the national scale - it's just that you wouldn't know it from looking at highly urban areas.

So no, it's not that 'no one can afford a car'. If you travel from one area in Europe to another by car you will see huge numbers of cars on major roads, especially as you approach major cities such as Paris, Berlin, etc., many of which are definitely not known as cycling meccas.

We can sit here all day and make all kinds of excuses why Toronto can't be compared to this city or that - it's not about being exactly comparable. It's that we don't have the kind of infrastructure we could have, given the space and relatively low density that we have, because we spent a long time catering only to cars, and yet driving is not getting any easier or more convenient.
hamish / August 6, 2014 at 04:52 pm
I'm glad that there's discussion about our bike 'farcilities" as at times, that's what we have, though at other times, I'm OK with cheap painted bike lanes that will be encroached upon, as we need a longer linked network first, separations later - and let the City prove that they can maintain things first including winter maintenance vs. more easily plowed painted lanes.
But why the fuss about not doing what Council said? There were a lot of things approved at last Council for bikes that still are lacking I think, and sometimes this Clowncil doesn't know what it is doing eg. transit. At other times, the staff seem on the less-capable side for whatever sets of reasons. One eg. is on Richmond, when the newer sidewalks went in on the south side at 401 Richmond, no consideration of having bike lanes in at the same time because trees please, and the half-lane could have been a bike lane on the north side, with less pressure on the car space. While I don't like to commiserate with drivers, we haven't provided any improvement to the east-west transit beyond what GO has done, so shouldn't we fix up transit first?
Antony Niro P.Eng. / August 6, 2014 at 04:57 pm
It's clear we need both an improved bike culture for both riders and drivers and bike lanes that are safe. For safety if a car can enter the lane it has the opportunity to be unsafe. Separate by curb would be preferable and where parking is permitted allow cars to cross the lane to designated parking (cross, not block the bike lane to park).
iSkyscraper replying to a comment from Chester / August 6, 2014 at 05:00 pm
Very weak line of reasoning, since taken to its extreme no city should ever learn from any other city. Did you attend Rob Ford University or something? (Note - if this was real, Rob would still probably drop out of it. Or go for 60 days and then call himself Dr. Ford)

Still, let's play your game. Pretend the only other city in the world is Chicago. Let's see what their cyclists get:

- downtown bike parking station, with - gasp - showers. The horror!

- parking-protected bike lanes

- residential side-street contraflow lanes

- barrier-protected bike lanes

- 320 km lanes total right now

- a real plan to build a lot more

By any measure, Toronto is blowing it. It will take a new mayor and a lot of repairing of damage done to make things better.

Chester replying to a comment from the lemur / August 6, 2014 at 05:05 pm
I agree with a lot of your points but Amsterdam and many other European cities have been around for 500 + years. Their roads and lane ways are narrow and were built for horses and walking, while Toronto when it was being established was building for horse buggies and eventually cars. Our road ways are wider naturally fitting for cars.

Our infrastructure has been lacking for years around these issues, but we should be tackling this issue from our point of view not what others have done.
Andrew / August 6, 2014 at 05:13 pm

Separated bike lanes aren't really any less dangerous than regular bike lanes. Bikes can still be hit by cars turning right into the path of the separated bike lane who aren't paying attention. Also it looks that that bike lane in Vancouver is so wide that a car can mistakenly drive on it thinking that it is a regular car lane.

I think that riding a bike on busy roads, regardless of whether there are "separated" bike lanes, painted white line bike lanes, or no bike lanes, is unsafe. There is a reason that only 2% of Toronto's population rides a bike to work. I hope that this fad for a dangerous method of transportation will go away.
chester replying to a comment from iSkyscraper / August 6, 2014 at 05:15 pm
I was comparing us as similar demographics, geography and density, I never mentioned anything about our bike system to theirs you mope.

I too can throw up useless links...
Ralph / August 6, 2014 at 06:34 pm
Go move to Netherlands to ride bike seriously. In this country, bikes are toys for kids.
W. K. Lis / August 6, 2014 at 06:53 pm
I'll wait until winter to see the real results. Will any of the bike lanes be used to dump the snow windrows on? Will bike lanes be cleared of snow and ice? Will sewer grates be cleared so the melting snow will have somewhere to run to without creating puddles?
Garrison Creeker replying to a comment from chester / August 6, 2014 at 09:00 pm
Hey Chester, how about actually adding to the conversation instead of calling people "mopes" and linking to Facebook polls? Go ahead and tell us YOUR vision for a cycling network across Toronto.
Mike / August 6, 2014 at 09:05 pm
It's a step in the right direction. For now it's a "pilot project". Once it becomes permanent I'm sure additional steps will be added. Its a load of crap that the lanes are there to improve traffic flow. I drive and cycle regularly along Adelaide and half the cyclists don't stay in the lanes. Many will swerve between cars to pass or keep on moving. Until that is cracked down, safety will also be an issue. And yes, I do believe cyclists, pedestrians and cars can get along.
well said replying to a comment from Mike / August 6, 2014 at 11:10 pm
I think you've said it well.

it is a pilot and pending the success and public feedback changes will be made if things go forward - that's how a pilot works kids

i also bike and drive along these streets and haven't seen any real impact to my drive across the city, but i have been pleasantly suprised with the excellent respect many drivers offer, obey the rules, they will respect you too for teh most part

the black tarmac is beautiful on a road bike as well, i don't fancy the parts that are between the streetcar tracks (thank you condo construction)
well said replying to a comment from Dogma / August 6, 2014 at 11:12 pm
imo it isn't city council's role to wrap their head around street space, i also would argue that they should totally but out of transportation planning decisions

none of them are planners
they're all eager for reelection and convenient 4 year plans
they don't really speak for the people, they just have been given a pulpit to provide sound bites to the media

Stan / August 6, 2014 at 11:56 pm
Either way you want to dedicate a lane, HONK your horn that seems to get them over into their lane.
CW replying to a comment from well said / August 7, 2014 at 09:48 am
But who holds Transport Services accountable? The article says they are cracking down on people parking illegally. Their track record speaks for themselves.
Liam / August 7, 2014 at 10:21 am
My understanding is that the pilot project is not completed, and there may be testing of bollards or other true separation methods, other than paint
the lemur replying to a comment from Chester / August 7, 2014 at 12:43 pm
Our roadways are wider because we had the space to build them that way. It's because we focused on cars for a long time that it seems like there isn't room to include transit, bikes or even pedestrians in the picture. Before cars took over, they were used by horse-drawn vehicles, then bikes and street rail as well, and pedestrians weren't restricted to sidewalks. The same could also be said of wide avenues in cities such as Paris or Berlin, built well before the advent of the car.

Narrow urban streets in Europe tend to be given over to transit, bikes and pedestrians (in various combinations) because if they do become congested, it's a more manageable form of congestion than being jammed with cars.
Ken / August 7, 2014 at 06:24 pm
I have a question...what happens to the bike lane in the winter? will it be 'wasted' as noone is going to bike in the snow?
Moaz Ahmad / August 8, 2014 at 12:02 am
Here's a know those wheeled "monster bins" that people hate? Instead of wheeling them to the curb, wheel them onto the street to the other side of these bike lanes. The bins are big enough to discourage drivers from parking in the bike lane, and it's more convenient for the garbage & recycling trucks too. After a few weeks of a "pilot" project then mayne the city will wake up to permanent separation.

mortgoth / August 8, 2014 at 03:07 am
I was on the so-called Richmond bike lane the other day. If you're travelling West, your lane in by the curb. If travelling East, cars are parked to your right, and cars are also travelling in your alleged bike lane, impatiently behind you as they can't pass and you can't move to the side as you're blocked by the parked cars. How is this safer? You can still get doored or run down. Why put bike symbols on the lane if cars are also using it? This was between Tecumseth and Bathurst.
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