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cityscape

Early Reviews of Separated Bike Lanes on Sherbourne Raise Doubts

New cycling infrastructure, new problems.

A UPS truck parked in a new separated bike lane on the west side of Sherbourne Street. Photo by {a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/martinreis/8057334986/"}Martin Reis{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/"}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

The City is in the process of adding curb-separated bike lanes to Sherbourne Street, but early analysis is showing that these long-awaited cyclist havens may end up causing almost as many problems as they solve.

City council voted the Sherbourne lanes into existence in 2011 along with a package of other bikeway improvements, including separated lanes on other streets. “The Mayor’s Bike Plan,” as the package was known, was endorsed by Mayor Rob Ford. Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), a key Ford ally, spent months promoting the separated lanes as a way of reducing conflicts between cyclists and drivers.

Now, with curb-separated lanes finally installed on the west side of Sherbourne Street between Bloor and Carlton Streets (the plan [PDF] is to have both sides of Sherbourne completed south to Queens Quay East by 2014), some new forms of conflict between different modes of travel are starting to emerge.

In the Globe last month, John Lorinc pointed out that the new separated lanes are bound to become a battleground between bikes and e-bikes. That’s because the concrete curb that prevents cars from veering into the bike lanes also prevents e-bikes from veering out in order to pass bikes safely.

Since the bulky electric scooters are faster than bikes and slower than cars, this puts their riders in an awkward position: do they ride in the bike lanes, where they might accidentally jostle a cyclist, or do they ride in the car lanes, where they could interfere with auto traffic?

City bylaws are clear on which of the two options e-bike riders should choose: only muscle-powered bikes are permitted in bike lanes at the moment. But that policy is seldom enforced, and it’s under review.

Over at the Star, Jack Lakey points out another problem with the lanes: the rounded concrete separator curbs are only effective against cars and trucks while they’re still moving.

Lakey writes that he has already seen photos of a UPS truck parked in the new separated lanes. (A similar photo is at the top of this post.) It’s a sure bet that other delivery vehicles are taking the same liberties. Last week, council created a new $150 fine for parking in separated lanes, but similar fines for parking in normal bike lanes haven’t been much of a deterrent in the past.

It seems safe to say that these separated lanes won’t be a panacea for all friction between cyclists and motorists on Sherbourne. If you notice any bad behaviour in or around them, be sure to tell us about it.

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