How Bike Lanes Get Installed in Toronto
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How Bike Lanes Get Installed in Toronto

It's more than a bucket of paint.

Photo of the Sherbourne cycle track courtesy of the City of Toronto.

Photo of the Sherbourne cycle track courtesy of the City of Toronto.

From a distance, installing bike lanes might seem as simple as bucket of paint and a ruler, but the reality is different.

“Some people don’t realize how much goes into it, you can’t just go out and paint it,” City cycling manager Jacquelyn Hayward-Gulati told Torontoist.

Sherbourne cycle track construction, photo courtesy of the City of Toronto.

In the research phase, the curb-to-curb distance on a street is measured in order to determine what kind of cycling infrastructure can be accommodated, whether it be a cycle track (separated from vehicle traffic), a designated lane, or sharrows. The traffic right of way and the connectivity to other bike lanes are also considered. Traffic volume counts are conducted mid-block and traffic turning patterns are also analyzed. Increasingly, the City counts the number of cyclists using a roadway before infrastructure is implemented and after it has been built in order to determine how a lane or cycle track affects bike traffic.

Field investigators also conduct parking observations where they analyze how much parking is being used during different times of the day on different days of the week. By understanding how much space car parking occupies, the City can plan the best way to have space allocated to both bike lanes and vehicle parking.

Hayward-Gulati says the City uses a design guidebook called the Ontario Traffic Manual when planning new roadways. The guide defines the dimensions, signage, and other factors required in order to accommodate a bike lane.

“When you have a lower daily traffic volume and a lower operating speed then a shared roadway, a local street is appropriate to have just signage and sharrow markings, as speed and volumes get higher then designated space should be provided,” Hayward-Gulati says.

Future bike lanes also have to go through internal City consultation, as divisions like traffic operations, solid waste, the TTC, and any other of the corridor’s road users are consulted in order to make sure they can still carry out their normal operations.

Once the initial research has been conducted and a particular roadway has made it to the program list (a list of projects to be carried out through the year), a preliminary design is created and is made ready for public consultation. Every bike lane project that affects parking and traffic lanes has to be presented to the public. At that point, the design and its cost is presented to residents of the particular neighbourhood and feedback is given to the local councillor. From there, a report is given to the Public Works Committee, which outlines the project and the public feedback. The bike lane project then has to await the Public Works approval before City Council gives it the go-ahead. Toronto City Council has to not only approve the new lane, but also has to approve the by-law changes to the municipal code that are required to implement the project. Designated bicycle lanes often require their own by-laws as well as changes to traffic and parking regulations.

“Generally where we want bike lanes tends to be where there are competing uses along that particular roadway,” Hayward-Gulati says.

Once the planning stages are completed, the cycling infrastructure itself is installed, usually by City-hired contractors. In most cases, thermoplastic markings, made by Ennis Paints in Pickering, are torched onto the pavement to indicate designated riding and driving space. These markings last seven to 10 years on average; traditional road paint only lasts between one and two years. The bollards or flexi-posts that are used to create separated bike lanes are manufactured in Texas before they are shipped to Toronto and installed on the city’s roadways. Most of this roadwork is completed in the early hours of the morning, when traffic and road usage is at its lightest.

This article was made possible by Urbane Cyclist.