Last week, there was an ugly incident in Toronto involving a motorist stopping and threatening a cyclist. It happens a lot.
“It felt scary, but also normal. This sort of violence & aggression is something that you face as a cyclist in Toronto, not consistently not every day, but certainly enough to have it always in your mind.” #biketo @dafydd61 @KateDeClerq https://t.co/Xv8iRP2W3W via @cp24
— The Biking Lawyer (Dave Shellnutt) (@TheBikingLawyer) June 8, 2023
Some suggest it is happening more now that a number of mayoral candidates are not only threatening to rip up existing protected bike lanes that keep cyclists safe, but also adding oxygen to anti-bike arguments and sentiments that are not accurate and create “bike lash” situations that put cyclists in further jeopardy from angry motorists. So, we decided to check in with Alison Stewart, the director of advocacy and public policy at Cycle Toronto to get the facts about protected bike lanes and the impact on the city.
Do protected bike lanes cause more traffic congestion?
No. Traffic congestion is caused by vehicular traffic. Moving cars take up 14 times the amount of space of moving bicycles.
Reducing the number of single car occupancy trips is integral to reducing vehicular traffic, which will free up roadways for public transit, emergency services, and business activities. The City of Toronto’s climate plan, TransformTO Net Zero, aims for 75% of all trips five km or fewer to be made by active modes of transportation such as transit, walking, or biking. The lack of safe infrastructure is the biggest barrier for people to change their commute mode to biking.
Protected bike lanes are one part of a “Complete Street,” which is a street that is designed for use by all road users. Implementing Complete Streets supports this mode change by making our streets and roads safer for all by providing dedicated space for all road users. In addition to improving the safety of people travelling outside of cars, the dedicated spaces for all road users improves the predictability of people travelling in different modes and speeds. As we have seen in Toronto on Bloor Street West and the Danforth Avenue, the implementation of complete streets leads to increased foot and bicycle traffic, resulting in more money spent, as opposed to car drivers who are seeking a thoroughfare to drive through an area.
Travelling by bike for distances of five km or fewer is the more efficient and faster way to get around. The growth in ridership of Bike Share Toronto demonstrates the latent demand for biking. They have found that when someone tries Bike Share, they continue to come back.
Do cyclists break more traffic laws and rules of the road than automobile drivers?
No. Where there are people, there are problems. Most road users don’t obey the rules of the road all of the time.
That said, the traffic laws that govern our streets were designed for cars. The dangerous and distracted behaviour of drivers is the predominant cause of collisions that impact pedestrians and cyclists most. Between 2006 and 2022, 3,059 pedestrians were hit by motor vehicles versus 18 hit by bicycles. 512 pedestrians were killed by vehicles in these incidents.
Do cyclists have the right to claim more road space than the immediate one-metre portion to the right?
Yes. If the conditions require it, cyclists can take the lane completely.
According to the Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act:
“Any vehicle travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at any time and place shall, where practicable, be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand curb or edge of the roadway.”
Does the city of Toronto have more protected bike lanes than necessary?
No. Just 4% of Toronto’s streets and roads have some form of cycling infrastructure, and the bulk of which is in the core. Expanding the city’s connected cycling network across the city is integral to the city achieving both TransformTO and the Vision Zero Road Safety plan, as well as addressing transportation inequalities.
Does the city of Toronto have more protected bike lanes than comparable cities?
The city has done a good job over the past several years playing catch up to comparable North American cities like Montreal, Vancouver, and New York. Toronto has increasingly embraced policies that support active modes of transportation like walking, cycling and taking public transit. The continuing expansion of the city’s cycling network, alongside programs like ActiveTO, CafeTO, and RapidTO, has been successful at making the city’s streets more enjoyable and accessible for all.
There remains much work to do for Toronto to become the safe and equitable city its residents deserve.
Would more people take up cycling for transportation if protected bike lanes were moved off major streets and onto side streets?
No. Like car drivers, cyclists want direct and convenient routes to travel to where they live, work, shop, and socialize.
Where are protected bike lanes needed most in Toronto?
The vast areas outside of Toronto’s downtown core are desperately in need of complete streets and protected bike lanes. The residents of Etobicoke, North York, and Scarborough deserve safe infrastructure and better, more accessible transportation options. Providing a connected cycling network will help bridge the long distances that many face while travelling to transit hubs. Bike Share Toronto’s four-year expansion plan, which includes an increase in stations in the inner suburbs, supports this need.
According to Toronto Public Health, the city’s 7 of the top 10 causes of death – heart disease, lung cancer, cerebrovascular diseases, diabetes, colon cancer, respiratory disease, and breast cancer – could be curbed by physical activity. Active transportation such as walking, walking to transit, or commuting by bike is the most effective way to incorporate physical activity into one’s daily routine.