cycling toronto

10 ways Toronto could make cycling safer if it gave a damn

Cycling in Toronto ain’t for the timid.

Given our shoddy bike lanes, suburban drivers who've never seen a cyclist before, and Uber or Lyft passengers absent-mindedly dooring riders, biking in this city is practically an act of radical political defiance.

As members of the Toronto Community Bikeways Coalition, we've seen it all. And we've been speaking with city councilors, the mayor's office, and various municipal bureaucrats for years about how cycling safety and infrastructure in the city could be improved.

The city, for its part, is always ostensibly "working on it", without ever getting much of anything done. And when city hall does get anything done, it's at a snail's pace after years of studies, pilots, and endless grassroots lobbying.

But if our municipal government actually cared about cyclists' safety, we wouldn't have to keep berating them year after year for simple improvements that could potentially save lives, avoid severe injuries, and ensure people feel safe riding a bike in Toronto.

Here are ten things the city could do to make cycling safer, if it gave a damn.

Build Protected Bike Lanes

In the last few years, Toronto has experienced some improvement in terms of the number of new protected bike lanes. Still, too many streets have no bike lanes, lanes that are unprotected, or lanes that are poorly protected.

Protected bike lanes keep cyclists safe, and make potential cyclists feel like they would be safe, by functioning as a comprehensive network. They don’t work as a disparate array of protected lanes connected by unsafe streets lacking protection from motorists. Which is what Toronto currently has.

Plug the Gaps

Even Toronto's major protected cycling arteries, like Richmond and Adelaide, have numerous extended and inexplicable barrier gaps that practically invite drivers to park in them. Egregious examples can be found by the Richmond and Peter intersection, and Adelaide’s Spadina intersection.

We keep asking the city to fix these simple gaps to make lanes safe with consistent protection. And they just don’t.

Concrete Barriers

The city has started using concrete barriers to protect some downtown bike lanes, but they should be used for all lanes. Plastic poles just get run down and end up as pathetic garbage in the lanes they’re meant to protect.

Routine Maintenance

Because Toronto drivers are not great at driving, even concrete bike lane barriers get knocked out of place on a regular basis. So, over time, these barriers meant to protect bike lanes end up as rider obstacles within them.

Accordingly, the city should be conducting regular, routine maintenance operations to reposition barriers and ensure they are where they’re supposed to be.

Protected Intersections

Intersections are often where cars and cyclists' interests intersect. But not in a good way. In like, a crash-y way.

Protected intersections - with corner islands forcing cars to slow down, and crosswalks that boost cyclists’ visibility to motorists - were recently suggested by “Biking Lawyer” Dave Shellnut as one means by which riders, like a 20-year old international student recently killed by a turning pickup truck, could be kept safe from harm.

Enforce Cyclist Safety at Construction Sites

With the astonishing amount of construction in Toronto, the city must establish enforceable bike lane safety requirements for construction sites, where cyclists' protection is often the first casualty of builders’ convenience.

We recently spoke with senior officials at Transportation Services about this issue and noted that although the Ontario Traffic Manual requires that "cyclist safety…be explicitly considered", it appears work sites "consider" our safety not worth a crap.

Buy Bike Cops Electric Bikes

While every Uber Eats and DoorDash delivery person rides a high-powered electric bicycle, Toronto bike cops like Erin Urquhart have to manually pedal around downtown for hours to catch cars illegally parked in bike lanes before they speed off at the sight of their fluorescent vest.

I can understand analog dedication when it comes to a vinyl collection, but here there’s no reason for it. Electric-assisted rides would help Toronto bike cops cover more ground in less time, and ticket more illegally parked cars.

And at $150 per ticket, electric bikes would pay for themselves in no time, making the non-investment penny dumb and pound dumber.

Nighttime, Weekend, and Winter Enforcement

The Toronto Police Service is dedicated to enforcing the law and keeping bike lanes free of illegal automobile encroachment.

Unless, of course, drivers are illegally parking in them when enforcement is most needed to keep cyclists safe. Like when it’s dark at night. Or when lanes are blocked by rideshares dropping people at bars on the weekend after 6 PM. Or during the winter.

This is ridiculous. Toronto police don’t stop enforcing the law at night, on weekends, or during the winter. There’s no reason that shouldn’t apply to the laws that protect cyclists.

Make Reporting Easier

Ever try reporting an illegally parked car in the bike lane to parking enforcement? By phone, you could probably fill out your tax return before you make it through the automated system to speak with anyone.

And online, the parking complaint form asks for 10,000 details, including the model of the car without which you cannot submit the complaint. Oh, you don’t know if it’s a 2018 Kia Sorento blocking the bike lane? Well then, how is parking enforcement supposed to respond?

(Don’t even get me started on the 311 app…)

We've asked the city to establish a direct phone line for bike lane parking complaints, or an online option to submit a picture with license plate and location information. This would make reporting quick, easy, and efficient. But those are concepts city hall has apparently no familiarity with.

Up The Fines

For many commercial drivers, bike lane parking tickets are just a negligible cost of doing business which may never even be paid.

Well, if it's just a cost of doing business, the city should at least be making good money. How about $1,000 for first infractions by large commercial operators (e.g., FedEx, UPS, Canada Post, Uber, Lyft, etc.), and $2,000 for each subsequent one?

And for individuals as well, let’s make it interesting: $150 for the first infraction, $300 for repeat offenses with the same personal vehicle.

Put the ticket revenue in a dedicated fund to pay for solutions 1 through 9, and in two years we’ll be the Amsterdam of North America.

Marc Z. Goldgrub is a lawyer at Green Economy Law Professional Corporation and a member of the Toronto Community Bikeways Coalition, a grassroots group advocating for safe cycling, healthy communities, and equitable climate action in Toronto.

Lead photo by

Gary Davidson

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