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Scene: Contra-Flow Bike Lanes on Shaw Street

Biking against traffic is now legal—at least, on this one street.

20131122 Contra flow bicycle lanes on Shaw Street 1865  Photo by Corbin Smith
20131122 Contra flow bicycle lanes on Shaw Street 1924  Photo by Corbin Smith

WHERE: Shaw Street, between Dupont Street and Dundas Street West

WHEN: Friday, November 22

WHAT: For Shaw Street, a contra-flow bike lane (that is, a bike lane that runs against motor-vehicle traffic, head-on) has been in the works for years. City council originally approved the project in 2008 and 2009, but questions about whether this particular type of lane is permissible under provincial traffic law prevented it from being installed at the time. Now that the Ministry of Transportation has said, definitively, that it doesn’t care, the City has finally gone ahead and painted the line. Installation began in October, and now cyclists are starting to discover this brand-new, slightly scary (the cars drive right at you!) north/south thoroughfare.


  • CD

    You do know there are other contra-flow lanes in Toronto, right? Montrose and Knox have been in place for years.

  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Welcome to Toronto, where it takes four years to paint a line on the ground.

  • Dogma

    Not a bad idea but it feels like there should be raised divider between the bike lane and the car lane. Not a full curb, but enough of a bump to keep cars from straying into the bike lane.

  • Alex Flint

    They have this (mind you, only for a short distance) at Lower Sherborne and Queens Quay too.

  • nyet

    No big change as cyclists frequently ride against traffic on one way streets throughout the city already.

    • wklis

      As a kid during the 1950′s, I’ve ridden my bike against traffic on one way streets. There was no problem back then, should be none today.

      • Suicide Boi

        It’s my crazy view that all streets ought to allow contra-flow riding for cyclists by default. There should be a good reason to ban contra-flow riding on a particular street.

        If desired, simply install a “Do Not Enter Except Bicycles” sign like this one as appropriate:

      • Buck Bokai

        Should be none, but there is. It’s still illegal, not to mention stupid and dangerous. I suppose someone will blab incoherently about the “nanny state” or something ideological to that effect, but the fact is that traffic laws exist to make road behaviour predictable.

        • Sean_Marshall

          I agree – this is a big reason why I don’t do this. It’s not only illegal, but it dangerous – especially at night and without lights (as I see a lot). Motorists aren’t looking for a cyclist going the wrong way, or blowing across an intersection in the wrong direction. If you take a course like CAN-BIKE II, you’ll learn that to cycle safe, one must be predictable and visible.

          The answer is making it easier to cycle though counterflow lanes, more bike lanes and relaxing some traffic laws for cyclists where they make sense (like Idaho stops) and even converting one-way residential streets back to two-way with modern traffic calming techniques.

          • backlyt

            ” Motorists aren’t looking for a cyclist going the wrong way, or blowing across an intersection in the wrong direction” Ummm, so I guess it’s ok for the motorist to run down a pedestrian because they never walk across from the opposite way? That’s dumb. As a driver you look both ways because you never know where a pedestrian could be coming from. And FYI I’ve been a bike messenger for 5 years. The ONLY times that I’ve been hit was doing “predictable and visible” things.

        • backlyt

          That’s insane. How is it any more dangerous to go the opposite way on a 1 way street? If you’re going the correct direction then the car gives you the room, if you’re going the opposite direction it’s the same. It’s not like you’re suddenly taking up more room…

  • WN

    Agreed. Been like this on Knox (east of Leslie St., between Queen and Eastern) for a few years. I use Knox to get from Queen to the Lakeshore bike path. However, it’s not connected to any other bike lanes, so I always suspected that the City was just bragging about how many km of bike lanes by just inserting them randomly wherever there was space, rather than having a coherent plan.

    The contra-direction doesn’t make sense, though. Bikes are supposed to go with the normal flow of traffic (my understanding is that biking the wrong way on an one-way street is illegal under the HTA). So if the contra bike lane exempts bikes from this rule (or the province “doesn’t care” as per the article), can you bike in the direction of traffic but against the contra direction in the bike lane or do you have to be on the non-bike lane part of the pavement to go in the direction of traffic? More than once on Knox, I’m using the bike lane and going one way, and someone else is approaching me, going the other direction. Thankfully, there’s usually not much traffic, so one of us goes onto the main pavement, but who’s right? One of us is following the contra bike lane signage, another is the following the general “one way” signage.

    • Paul Kishimoto

      I share the car lane when going in the direction of traffic (on bikes, we ARE traffic).

  • mw

    No problem with contra-flow lanes. The problem is that Shaw is a major southbound throughfare for cyclists heading downtown, and this lane runs north. There’s going to be bikes on both sides of the street for cars to deal with.

    • backlyt

      there is plenty of room. It’s stupid to ride up shaw from queen only to have to go on busy ossington once you reach college. Not like I do that, I just continue my merry way up shaw, but not everyone feels comfortable. They like to have the magic line to protect them. Kind of like how your blanket protects you from all manner of supernatural threats when you’re a child.

  • Dylan

    Is it just me or have they painted the lines incorrectly north of Bloor on Shaw (not shown in this photo)? Wish I took a photo when I saw it, but the width of the lanes is backwards and the bike lane is on the wrong side? Or am I just not understanding how the traffic is supposed to flow?

  • Sean_Marshall

    I’m quite happy with the new Shaw Street contraflow bike lane. It finally makes it possible to get to Hallam Street from the east by bike without a lengthy detour or going illegally up Shaw, and provides a really great continuous north-south route from King to Davenport, which no other street provides (though Dovercourt isn’t a bad route for an experienced city rider.)

    Contraflow lanes should be added to Brunswick Street between College and Dupont and other through residential streets to allow cyclists to legally and quickly navigate the maze set up to discourage through motor traffic.

    My only concerns are at College Street – not only should there be full traffic signals (right now there is simply a crosswalk on the west side), but the contraflow lane narrows to 50 centimetres at this point.

  • backlyt

    I just don’t understand why we need all this hand holding. Pay attention to your surroundings, use common sense and don’t be an asshole. Cycling in this city is easy and we shouldn’t need a million rules and signs to know what to do. If you’re hit riding the opposite way on a one way street, it’s because the driver wasn’t paying attention or they’re a sociopath. A “magic” yellow line WILL NOT SAVE YOU. Laws are nice but they won’t regrow your broken body. You are responsible for your own safety so that means; take a full lane if you have to, don’t put up with bullies, someone honking their horn will not hurt you, move over a lane when you arrive at an intersection. IF you ride timid and small, you will be treated that way.

    • thinkplease99

      So you don’t think that being able to do this legally now is a significant benefit? Yes, we did it before, and yes a yellow line won’t save you, but the yellow line does let everyone know that we have the right to be there. Caution is always needed, even when driving on Bloor in a vehicle with a yellow line separating you from ongoing vehicular traffic.

      • backlyt

        I’m not saying that it isn’t a win or a good thing. It should be legal to do it on any street. It’s just insane that it’s even an issue.