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31 Comments

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.

Comments

  • Gavin

    Honest question regarding E-bikes in bike lanes – are they in there today because it’s not safe to be in traffic, or because it’s faster/more convenient for them to be in traffic?

    Because I bet it’s the latter.

    • http://www.facebook.com/jpaterson1 James D Paterson

      I would say they’re in the bike lanes for the same reason as cyclists; size, speed and safety.

      If a car collides with an ebike, they’re susceptible just the same as cyclists.

    • mikeV

      You’ve presented a false dychotomy. It’s safe enough to be in traffic if you drive in the far left of the lane, as a moped should, but would you want to be stuck behind a vehicle that maxes out at 32 km/h. Is it at all possible in your world that people don’t always act in their own selfish interests. I drive in the bike lane when it’s safe to do so, pass when it’s safe to do so, and drive in traffic when it’s safe to do so. I drive an ebike because it’s faster and more convenient.

      • Anonymous

        Much of downtown traffic doesn’t really exceed 30 km/h anyway. I see a lot of e-bikers using the bike lane only because traffic in the main roadway is slow or stationary and they don’t want to pass any cars, but the fact remains that e-bikes are not allowed in the bike lanes unless powered by the pedals (haven’t seen much of that happening).

  • http://www.facebook.com/jpaterson1 James D Paterson

    Ah, cyclists, apparently you can never win.

  • Anonymous

    I sure hope that the plans to give Wellesley – Hoskin – Harbord are put on hold, considering how terrible the implementation was on Sherbourne.

    This is a case of far too many compromises ruining a potentially good idea. We couldn’t have both lanes on the same side of the street, because it complicated garbage collection, and we couldn’t have barriers too high for a car to ride over, because an emergency vehicle couldn’t either. These are both valid criticisms, but the solution that is being installed actually makes things much worse for cyclists overall. Now passing someone (illegally) parked in the bike lane involves hurdling that barrier (which I doubt most cyclists could do without dismounting), or hopping onto the sidewalk.

    Also it’s an excuse to remove the Jarvis bike lanes, which were far nicer anyways.

    • Anonymous

      The Sherbourne lanes are wide enough to allow bikes to overtake each other. There will also be bollards along part of the route to discourage motor vehicles from encroaching on the bike lane.

      • Anonymous

        You can advocate that, but it’s not really safe or legal.

        A bike lane is only one lane. You are not supposed to pass other bikes without first changing lanes. You should wait for a break in traffic, change lanes, pass, shoulder check, and merge back, just as if you were driving a car.

        And sure, you could pass someone in the Sherbourne separated lanes, but that doesn’t mean it’s safe. It leaves very little room for evading potholes, garbage, squirrels etc.

        • Anonymous

          That’s all true. It seems that there is a given proportion of cyclists who will militate on behalf of separated lanes and then invariably complain that those lanes are not wide enough to allow them to pass slower cyclists and generally show everyone how awesomely fast they are. Maybe more separated two-way bike lanes would allow for (safe) passing.

          • Anonymous

            We build most roads wide enough for at least two cars abreast, why wouldn’t we do the same with bike infrastructure?

          • Anonymous

            Well, good question. Mostly, we don’t do the same for bikes because bike infrastructure usually, unfortunately, an afterthough to the car-based design process. If we have the space to do it with an entirely new design, why not indeed provide more space? Like this: http://goo.gl/maps/P8cHo

        • Jalodge

          Please come to Copenhagen and watch six year olds navigate the bike lanes. People pass each other, life goes on.

  • La

    I regularly pass eBikes on my human-powered clunker. Separated bike lanes are silly. Just give me a curb lane that is a) wide enough for a cyclicst and a motorist, and b) well-paved and free of debris.

    • Anonymous

      The paradox of Toronto cycling is that on any given street you can have a) or b) but not both.

    • psyclebabe

      I agree. We need to look at the issue from a viewpoint of the cyclist GIVING UP the right to a FULL lane. Why on earth would we endanger/restrict ourselves to accommodate a city government that would happily see bikes replaced by cars? The city is NOT doing us any favors, we are being asked to do them a favor by restricting ourselves to the curb lane. I am absolutely against curbed bike lanes! How would you get out of bad situations involving cars and road rage? How would you pass timid/slow riders? Broken glass? Bicycles are about the environment yes but they are mostly about freedom. Say NO to curbed bike lanes.

  • Paul

    I’ve already been almost right-hooked on Sherbourne by a car that sped past me then did a hard turn before I ever saw any turn signals. By “separating” bikes and cars physically, we’re in the process of doing it mentally too. At least if I’d been passed on the street, there would most likely have been some recognition.

  • Anonymous

    Does this lane have any markings to indicate it’s not for parking, that vehicles will be fined, etc?

  • Anonymous

    That’s a curb? Surely you jest.

  • David

    I think we need to hold off in judging these lanes until they are finished and signage is installed. We also need to remember there are actually two kinds of lanes being installed. Ones with the low concrete curbs that are actually the same level as the road in the section north of Carleton and more separated and at sidewalk-level ones south of Carlton (where the whole road is being reconstructed.) Clearly the use of the lanes needs to be monitored – and Council has instructed staff to do so and report back in late 2013. Equally, enforcement is an essential componnt of them and I must admit that I am not so optimistic that we will see this handled properly but we must wait and see. The whole project is due to be completed by November 15 and is apparently on schedule.

  • Cyclist

    The e-bike talking point just distracts attention from the real problem with the lane – that the width of the lane makes it difficult for anyone on any type of bike to safely overtake and pass a slower moving rider. I guess “Fast riders vs slower riders” is less of an attention grabbing headline than “E-bike battleground”. Cheap way to generate page views.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kristine.morris.980 Kristine Morris

    I was there today, and an older woman crossing the street tripped and fell over the overly high bicycle curbs (they ARE higher than you think they are). She was okay, but she went down hard. I can tell you right now, these curbs are going to be a big problem for pedestrians, cyclists, buses and cars!

    • Anonymous

      That’s unfortunate that she tripped over the curb, but … there aren’t any of the new curbs right on the pedestrian crossings, are there?

  • ian

    also parked in a cross-walk…

  • Jamie Wilson

    As a nearby resident who’s passed by the new lanes a couple of times, it does all feel a bit half-arsed and designed-to-fail.

    The curbs are actually much bigger than the look. A cyclist would have trouble crossing them without slowing right down before gingerly crossing over, unless you wanted to bunny-hop over them. On the sections i’ve seen near Wellesley there are plenty of gaps in the curb to allow access to existing driveways, so there are lots of opportunities to merge in to the “car” lanes if you spot a slower rider up ahead.

    I saw and heard a cab crunch in to the start of the deceptively high curb while travelling at speed just south of Wellesley a few nights back. It sounded like it did damage, and the few pedestrians nearby all jumped and yelped various expletives. If they’re resurfacing the road it might effectively flatten out the curb, but it wouldn’t surprise me if motorists ask for the curbs to be smoothed out. Perhaps once they’re finished putting up signs, road markings and perhaps those collapsable/bendable posts, motorists won’t be so inclined to hit them.

    Overall though it just feels flawed, and with the current Fordian administration I suspect any lack of love for the new lanes will be used as justification for cancelling any future plans, rather than, say, doing decent two-way separated bike lanes.

  • Anonymous

    I feel enforcement alone isn’t going to cut it when it comes to keeping vehicles out of this lane.

    • Anonymous

      It depends on whether enforcement means leaving it up to the police to get the message across …

  • E.

    I rode the bike lanes this morning and saw a Fire Truck get stuck in traffic because none of the cars had room to pull over.

    • Anonymous

      But that’s what the mountable curbs are supposed to allow.

  • Anonymous

    Don’t think any fines will change the delivery trucker’s minds on parking on any sort of illegal parking… every time I see any delivery truck, UPS/FedEX/Canada Post, they’ve usually got a couple tickets slammed between their windshield and the wipers. Maybe they should also put one of those posts up, the ones that can bend down. But not sure if even that will help.

  • Fran

    My questions is how do you turn left if your in one of these lanes. You are unable to merge with traffic, and they do not open up at the intersections.

    • Anonymous

      They do open up at intersections – the separation doesn’t go right to the corners, and the raised part of the track goes down towards the level of the road again, in part because several corners along Sherbourne have bus stops. On a bike you could either get out of the lane at that point and cross Sherbourne, or stay in the lane and make an indirect left.