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Insane in the Bike Lane

Bike lanes and rough pavement are extremely dangerous
It’s hardly a newsflash to report that Toronto’s bike lanes consistently need a lot of work. Putting aside the City’s abysmal recent history implementing the official Bike Plan and ignoring the imbecilic comments from Councillors Ford and Ootes, bicycle lanes are often more dangerous than they should be, and much of the fault lies with how these dedicated lanes are maintained.
Bicycle lanes require particular care because of where they’re designated. The curbside location brings hazards like sewer grates, tipped newspaper boxes, delivery trucks, accumulated detritus and crumbling potholes. Heavy trucks weaken the asphalt, creating dips and cracks, especially around utility holes and grates. Contractors laying fibre cable or watermain pipes scar the pavement with hastily-patched strips, and bike lanes won’t be properly repaired if further road construction is slated. Unlike sealing and patching the blacktop to prevent axle damage or merely a bumpy car ride, bike lanes pose very specific challenges that the City must strictly enforce, yet too often doesn’t.

For as long as soft humans share the road with fast metal beasts, safety will always be the primary concern. Bicycles belong on the road and are not something to be merely tolerated by drivers. It is absolutely illegal for courier trucks, taxis, delivery vans or anyone else to stop or park in a bike lane, but any avid cyclist can tell you how selectively this law is enforced, and how useless reporting it is. Has anyone ever witnessed a FedEx truck being ticketed for parking in a bicycle lane? Why aren’t bicycle lanes tow-away zones? The problem, aside from accelerating the decay of the pavement, is that it forces bicycles back into traffic, which is also unfair to drivers who aren’t likely expecting a bicycle to leave its dedicated lane. Right-turning cars are also prohibited from entering the bike lane except in the final, short dashed section, yet cars “riding the lane” in anticipation of a turn are also common complaints among cyclists.
The City is also responsible for enforcing proper road repair by its contractors. Most filling of existing roadway is done with a dry, ready-to-use form of asphalt called Cold Patch, which is actually harder than the surrounding road top and compacts almost immediately when applied correctly. The weak points are at the seams, where the Cold Patch must be applied flush to the existing pavement. Road crews don’t necessarily seem to consider the additional importance this carries when repairing a bike lane. What may be a little dip for a car might mean serious injury or death for a cyclist. Toronto is supposed to repair significant and dangerous damage within two days, but treats bike lane repair like regular road repair, which it shouldn’t.
Utility cuts are a hazard if not repaired correctly
Probably the most staggeringly stupid allowance is how contractors tearing-up the road surface aren’t required to return it to its original state, but only to an alleged “good condition”—read: for cars. This is presumably on account of the significant cost—to resurface a road costs about $1 million per kilometer ($3 million per kilometer for total reconstruction)—but as a result, we are left with ugly, bumpy, zig-zagging scars because Bell needed to lay some new cable or City contractors needed to make a utility cut. This is unacceptable when it occurs on a bicycle route. If trench cutting or digging has to happen in a bike lane, the City should demand that the lane surface be completely restored and lane markings immediately reapplied. If an entire blacktop is scheduled for resurfacing, the temporary Cold Patch still needs to be meticulously-laid if bikes are to ride on it.
This is not to say that the City isn’t working to keep the roads in some semblance of good repair, albeit slowly. Last year, 53,000 potholes were filled, but there is a thousand-street backlog for repairs with only a pittance allocated in the budget. General road repairs, like the implementation of new bike lanes, are hopelessly behind schedule—underfunded, understaffed, and underprioritized. Toronto is mostly concerned with quickly sealing holes and cracks in consideration for cars and trucks rather than ensuring a smooth, safe surface in our bike lanes.
The 2001 City of Toronto Bike Plan was an exciting step, but how seriously is Council taking it? While the mayor and councillors like Glenn De Baeremaeker and Paula Fletcher seem to understand the importance of pedal transportation, there are those like the excruciatingly ignorant Rob Ford claiming that cyclists are at fault for accidents that befall them because they choose to ride on the same surface as cars. Community councils finally now have the power to approve bike lanes, but City Hall still has to implement and maintain them. Provisions for bicycle-friendly road repairs and the ticketing of vehicles are already in place but barely enforced. What cyclists have been promised hasn’t entirely materialized and the Bike Plan is woefully behind schedule.
What may be a little bump for a car can be death for a cyclistThere does seem to be some positive change in yesterday’s 2007 Proposed Operating Budget announcement, which suggests accelerating implementation of the Bike Plan with four permanent staff instead of the single temporary position held today, with an enhanced service cost of $286,000. Of course, the Bike Plan is not only about bike lanes; it includes education and safety programs for both drivers and cyclists, but part of encouraging citizens to use bicycles includes ensuring that they feel as safe as possible riding in dedicated lanes.
As for Toronto’s cycling community, there is both a responsibility to pedal lawfully and courteously, but also to keep on top of the City to enforce its own policies. We suggest that even casual cyclists program 416-599-9090 (Transportation Services) into their mobile phones for immediately reporting potholes, uneven pavement or damage in bike lanes. Call 416-808-6600 (Toronto Police Parking Enforcement) to report illegal parking or unloading. Contact your councillor and demand that they aggressively support a safe, convenient progressive cycling infrastructure, even if you aren’t a cyclist yourself.
Photos and illustration by Marc Lostracco. Top: Gerrard and Jarvis; middle: Yonge and Bloor.
bike_lane_againstthelaw.gifUPDATE: We created this PDF for cyclists to print and store in their bike bags for benevolently placing under offenders’ windshield wipers, but we remind riders not to be dicks about it. Cyclists can feel free to email it to others or post it to their own sites: [PDF]
Related on Torontoist:
Wouldn’t It Be Nice?
We’ve Got A Thing ‘Bout The Post-And-Ring
BikeShare R.I.P. (2000-2006)


  • Darren Stehr

    “While the mayor and councillors like Glenn De Baeremaeker and Paula Fletcher seem to understand the importance of pedal transportation…”
    Please spare us. Those three only know about cycling when it serves them. Did you see cycling mentioned in any significant way in Miller’s Green Plan? Fletcher is hell bent on using cyclists for speed bumps on Eastern Ave. Lets start using a more accurate yardstick to judge these politicians.

  • tino

    Awesome article! Really.
    I just wish the response when calling 416-808-6600 (Toronto Police Parking Enforcement) were equally awesome. Try it some time. It’s good for a laugh or fist through a wall. Your call.
    That aside, you article is spot on.
    Ride on!

  • Marc Lostracco

    By no means am I canonizing them for sainthood; I’m merely stating that they seem to understand the importance of bicycles to the city. At least De Baeremaeker actually cycles to work and uses the network, and despite the recent ineffectiveness of the Bike Plan, Miller has always said that the City needs to have a large, stable system of bike lanes. Bikes are barely on the radar of most councillors, so anyone who is open to increasing awareness is encouraging—whether they deliver is another story.
    And then there are peripheral effects from the implementation of other projects, like Denzil Minnan-Wong’s complaints about the state of good road repair, despite his idiotic views on some other things. Minnan-Wong may have shown he’s against bike lanes, but if he’s effective in accelerating road repairs, we need to ensure that it also benefits bike lanes.
    None of Toronto’s councillors are going to be entirely enlightened about everything cycling, but those who at least grasp that it’s an issue that is crucial to our city need to be highlighted just as those like Case Ootes and Rob Ford need to be mercilessly ridiculed. It helps ensure accountability.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Tino: here’s something else you can do—I just created this PDF that you can print multiple copies of and keep in your bike bag for placing under offenders’ windshield wipers. I think I’m going to start using it, and any other cyclists can feel free to pass it on or post it on their sites: [PDF]

  • Darren J

    Hey, that bottom picture is of me on Bay Street last year!
    Well said, Marc. We need to make ourselves heard. Apparently even Rob Ford was responding to cyclists who contacted him. Politicians care about getting re-elected.

  • Vic

    “Right-turning cars are also prohibited from entering the bike lane to make the turn (or wait for the light), yet this dangerous practice is also a common complaint among cyclists.”
    Actually, right-turning cars are required to enter the rightmost (bike) lane to complete their turns (HTA 141.2).
    The city’s “Bicycle Lanes” pamphlet also says, “Motor vehicles are not allowed to drive, park or stand in the bike lane, but right-turning cars and trucks can enter the lane at intersections to complete their turn.” This is why the bike lane markers become dashed before an intersection.
    This makes sense to me. I would rather have the motorists properly merge into the bike lane to make their right turn, than have them do a right-hook across the bike lane.
    When motorists are turning right, cyclists should pass them on the left. Doing otherwise complicates the whole situation and makes it more dangerous.
    Educating motorists and cyclists on this issue would help make these bike lane intersections far less complicated.
    But overall the bike lanes in Toronto are a mess. Potholed, full of debris, automobiles double-parked, etc…. The lanes need to be maintained, cleaned, and ENFORCED if they are to be safe and effective.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Vic: I’ll modify the article to correct the right-turning rule, though the following points about that need to be underscored:
    • Entering the lane can only be done in a dashed portion, and drivers can’t “ride the lane” in anticipation of turning.
    • A vehicle (including a bicycle) may not pass or attempt to pass another vehicle in the same lane going the same direction. When bike lanes aren’t present, I believe a bicycle technically has the right to the entire lane unless the road (a highway, for instance) contains provisions against slow-moving vehicles.
    • There is ambiguity in the Highway Traffic Act about what constitutes the “rightmost lane” as it pertains to bicycles and cars, which are both considered vehicles. That is partially why the white line is solid.
    My complaint was mainly about drivers using bike lanes like turn lanes, so I’ll clarify. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • Darren Stehr

    De Baeremaeker and Ootes co-conspired to provide free parking for motorcycles on sidewalks. They pushed this environment initiative so people driving mopeds, the vast majority of which are two-strokes which pollute more than cars, would use them more. Miller says a lot and that is it.
    De Baeremaeker promised me he would work on ensuring that City vehicles on pleasure breaks would no longer park in the bike lane. His promise was broken as soon as he rode out of site. Talk to parking enforcement officers, they are not ticketing bike lane infractions at the direction of councillors. The councillors simply do not want to put up with all of the complaints from motorists. I like your reference to calling parking enforcement. The best excuse I ever got was that they were too busy dealing with “rapes and murders”.
    God help us all if there was no Case Ootes, who would rally cyclists? Ootes is a perfect boogeyman.
    Compare Mayor Daly of Chicago against Miller, it is pitting action against words. For that matter Lastman makes Miller look pretty pale too.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Parking Enforcement officers are dealing with rapes and murders? They sure seem to be busy every night giving tickets on my street…presumably to the vehicles of murderers? ;-)
    Most of our bike lanes happened under Lastman’s tenure, no? Ain’t that a kick in the pants.

  • james

    Ooh, timely discussion, considering I started biking to work today. I guess a lot of people probably did..
    I too have been grossly dissapointed in the past at the response I got from contacting parking enforcement. I’ve always wondered if it would be worth trying to get organized, ie. have a large group of cyclists call in every infraction they see for a few weeks. Maybe if our collective voice was a bit louder we’d get noticed more.
    Great PDF by the way..

  • jeeff

    kudos! i think the lack of enforcement of existing bicycle lanes is an under-appreciated point. i ride the college bike lane on a daily basis, and i can testify that the lane is blocked by double-parked cars & trucks near bathurst street (in bother directions) on a *constant* basis. why is this not dealt with? we are talking about a reliable revenue source for the city, at least in the short- to medium-term. i used to work next-door to toronto’s headquarters for parking enforcement, so i have a fairly good idea of the logistics that go into the enforcement of these types of bylaws. you can’t tell me that, if the political will existed, enforcement of clear bicycle lanes wouldn’t pay for themselves. this is an opportunity waiting to be taken advantage of. DO IT!

  • Marc Lostracco

    I was on a streetcar tonight along College at about 7:00 p.m., and in a three block section near Spadina, there were five vehicles parked in the bike lane. Selfish.

  • Alain Deschamps

    Honestly, a firm tap on the hood as you ride past these assholes parked in the bike lane does wonders. It causes no damage but shocks them out of their complacent attitude that ‘oh noone cares’. We care very much thank you!
    Society functions on etiquette, if public officials are not going to enforce it then perhaps we cyclists should remind these people that we do not appreciate being disrespected. (In no way am I advocating actual damage or shenanigans) I’m absolutely going to be printing up some of those flyers for use on cars where the person isn’t even inside!

  • John Spragge

    Yesterday (March 27), a beautiful day for cycling, I went out to pick up a pair of shoes from the Humbertown mall. Riding back under the Dundas underpass, a set of construction cones abruptly narrowed the road from three lanes to one. I waited for most of the traffic to pass, took the lane and rode as fast as I could. But I should not have had to do that. I saw no reason the road workers could not have left enough space for cyclists to use the road, and no reason the city should not require road workers and contractors to do so whenever possible.
    We supposedly have a progressive mayor. We supposedly have a progressive majority on city council. I remember not too long ago, when it seemed the conservative opposition on city council could accomplish nothing but temper tantrums over the council photo. And now it seems our progressives can’t deliver on the cheapest, simplest, most efficient alternatives to the car.
    As an aside: rather than ridicule Rob Ford, maybe we could try to figure out what drives the opposition to cycling he expresses (I can tell you a non-trivial number of Toronto drivers appear to agree with him.

  • Darren Stehr

    “Honestly, a firm tap on the hood as you ride past these assholes parked in the bike lane does wonders. ”
    Will buy you a criminal charge, usually public mischief. Several cyclists every year are arrested for “taps”. At the very least it gives a cop carte blanche to hold you while he investigates you.
    I used to set up “block parties” where we would counter-block the cars in the bike lane. Canada Post would just have to see me near one of their trucks and they would be whining to the police that we are disturbing them in the bike lane.

  • Ben

    I am pretty lucky on my ride to work in terms or bike lanes, I can easily incorporate st. george / beverley, college, and bedford into my route.
    I would not go a block out of the way to use a bike lane though.

  • andy

    “I am pretty lucky on my ride to work in terms or bike lanes, I can easily incorporate st. george / beverley, college, and bedford into my route. ”
    Personally, I now avoid Beverly. It was ruined by last year’s “repairs”.

  • Marc Lostracco

    One of the main problems is that people simply aren’t familiar with what it’s like to be a cyclist. I only started cycling last year (I’ve been an avid rollerblader for years), but as soon as I started — holy shit, I had no idea. It totally changed what I thought about the cycling paths, bike lanes, and even changed how I drive in the city. Until they’re actually sitting on a bicycle saddle on the road with with cars, our councillors won’t likely won’t fully understand. Though I’ve seen my fair share of cyclists acting like total assholes, I understand much of the rage so much better now.
    It’s also an entirely different experience than my years of in-line skating on the sidewalks (yes, it’s illegal to be on the road, people). The stakes are so much higher on a bike, and now I feel more than ever that bikes really do belong on the road.
    One of the unexpected things I discovered when I started was how significant a crappy bike lane can be, how invisible we really are, and how quickly a cyclist has to think at all times. Cycling downtown is a constant stream of WTF moments, whether it be the bike lane that suddenly just ends or pedestrians standing in the bike lane talking on the phone. The acts of aggression from drivers is also mind-boggling if a cyclist happens to be slowing them down or otherwise irritating them.
    I make a concerted effort to try and be nice to people who put me in danger on the road, because for the most part it’s totally due to ignorance or absentmindedness. Still, when someone opens a car door without looking or pulls into the bike lane without warning, there is that overwhelming rush of holy shit, that person wasn’t paying attention and I could have died and I’m so-o-o angry right now.

  • andrew

    What’s worse? The car driver’s road rage at you the cyclist, or the car driver’s inability to recognize what they’ve done, or the car driver’s vague guilt but lack of real empathy and desire to change their driving habits? I’ve encountered all three whenever I’ve yelled at a car driver when cycling legally and safely and they pull a genius maneuver that endangers my life and theirs.

  • John Spragge

    Personally, I worry about drivers who seem to view their car lease as a contract with the universe allowing them to go as fast as they want, behave as aggressively as they want, and who view humans (in cars, on bikes, on foot) who get in “their” way as intolerable violators of that contract. Distracted drivers bother me too, but a timely yell will almost always wake those people up. How do you “wake up” a driver who thinks him (or her) self entitled to drive right through anything or anyone slowing them down? On the flip side, I have to say that riding in Toronto has made me very aware of how many courteous, friendly, and helpful people I share the road with.
    However, politicians cannot change attitudes (though they can choose to enforce laws, or not). They can, on the other hand, get the roads fixed. They can insist on space for cyclists in the majority of construction zones. They can apply a cogent cost-benefit analysis, rather than the rantings of a few resentful drivers, to the issue of providing safe bicycle routes.

  • tedsyp

    Parking in the bike lanes? Have an advertised (hell, try for sponsorship) competition to see who can park a car the longest in a bike lane without being approached by a copper (be ready to dash out and drive off before he gets his pad out). Video for proof. Go for publicity – youtube, etc. Could be fun.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Distracted drivers, I can deal with, but the car jockeys who know the rules and just don’t care are the infuriating ones. I have had cars pull out into the lane from a parking space without signaling, which is quite a surprise to someone on a bike. Then there are the idiots on my one-way street who feel that just because the car is facing backwards and they are driving in reverse, it’s perfectly OK to speed down the street in the opposite direction. Plus, cyclists are aware of that buffeting, sucking air blast when a car whips by way too close and way too fast.
    Plus, honking at cyclists because they’re too slow for you, etc. is dangerous because it breaks concentration and diverts attention from the cyclist. I’ve had people drive up behind me really close and lay on the horn, which freaks me out and really causes a bit of a panicked feeling, not knowing what that driver is going to do (if anything).
    There’s a reason why you have to be licensed to drive a car and not a bicycle. Driving often sucks and I totally understand the road rage impulse, but when it comes to a small, poorly-protected human vs. a safe, large steel car, there isn’t any excuse for using your vehicle as an intimidation tool.

  • Tanya

    Definitely the city needs to pay more attention to fixing potholes – drivers complain about it but they can really injure cyclists!
    Installing bike lanes can often make things worse for cyclists when as you say they become more neglected than the regular roadway in terms of maintenance. And not all of them are cleared properly in winter!

  • xoro

    Cheers Xoro

  • Bri

    My favourite no stopping bike lane section which is consistently occupied by sometimes two or three vehicles is the southeast corner of Dundas St. E. at Coxwell, right in front of the fish and chips shop…and directly across from a police station. In two years I’ve seen someone get ticketed there exactly once. Now head on down to the nearby Beaches, and watch the hornets busy in their ticketing orgies, mostly vehicles with expired parking slips on their dash, or folks on sidestreets nipping into Starbucks for what becomes a $31.90 grande coffee.
    These are situations where there is zero safety hazard.
    Toronto Police: “To Serve, Protect, and Collect Revenue…not in that order.”

  • chephy

    While I agree with most of the sentiments expressed in this article (there are some monster potholes in bike lanes on my semi-regular routes – e.g. east side of River St. north of Queen or north side of Shuter somewhere around Sherbourne), it is a bit inaccurate to say that “driving, stopping or parking in a bike lane is against the law”. Parking – illegal. Driving – legal under limited circumstances (example: right-turning vehicles, vehicles entering/exiting driveways etc.). Stopping – I am actually not sure about it. Does it mean that you can’t catch a taxi on a street with a bike lane? Or are taxi drivers supposed to stop in their lane, so that the passenger door flings open into a biker’s path?

  • Bradford Hovinen

    On the question of how bike lanes may be *legally* used by motorists, there are, in general, three cases. A motor vehicle may enter the bike lane to

    • Make a right turn at an intersection
    • Enter or exit a parking space or driveway
    • Pick up or drop off a disabled person as defined by the Ontario human rights code

    Any other use (not counting emergency vehicles and public transit) is *illegal*. This includes taxis picking up and dropping off people who are not disabled — taxis simply have to use a different location to pick up or drop off patrons. Bike lanes are no stopping zones. This includes taxis, delivery trucks, and private motor vehicles.
    Aside from the items already mentioned here (with which I agree wholeheartedly!), I also all too often find police and bylaw enforcement vehicles parked in a bike lane. I could understand their doing so if they were handling an emergency, but they were certainly not doing so in the cases that I have seen. This sets a terrible example as it shows ordinary people that even the law enforcers don’t see it as a big deal to break the law.

  • Marc Lostracco

    I take the Sherbourne bike lanes to get down to Cherry Beache and the Spit, and considering it passes through some sketchy areas around Dundas, there are always police cruisers parked in the bike lanes there.
    As for taxis, they’re a constant issue for cyclists. I can not stress this enough: it is very dangerous to a cyclist to pull one’s vehicle into the lane. It doesn’t seem like it in the car, but it forces the cyclist into traffic, usually at a moment’s notice, and usually to the surprise of other motorists. Those split-second decisions are scary as hell.
    Plus, people who park in the lanes just so they can run in and get takeout, rent a DVD or buy lottery tickets are total douchebags. That happens more than one might think.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Well, I had a staggeringly idiotic bike lane experience today that I’ve never seen before…bootin’ down Sherbourne just past Gerrard and two men are standing in the bike lane (back to me) spreading BIRD FEED in the lane and surrounded by about forty or fifty pigeons eating the feed. I couldn’t move into traffic safely so I shouted ahead of me for them to move and, of course, as I’m right upon them, fifty pigeons all scatter everywhere and I almost wipe out as they fly at me.
    Honestly, who does stuff like that and why?!
    I should also note that I saw a bicycle cop today giving a parking ticket to an illegally parked car, but he then just rode on by two cars idling in the bike lane as if it wasn’t no thang.