Wednesday 18 September 2013

Ten Ways to Make my Ride Safer

We hear a lot about bike lanes, the City puts them in occasionally, and takes them out, cycle advocates call for more of them, and the public is ambiguous, sometimes for, sometimes against. However, they have become the go-to solution for improving cyclist safety. I have expressed my reservations about bike lanes in earlier posts, so here are some alternatives that would also improve my safety on the road. Some significantly. None of them involve any new bike lanes, although all are compatible with them. Some are cheap, some expensive but necessary, and some with corollary benefits for other stakeholders (e.g. drivers). All are particular to Toronto as that’s where I ride, but many will have applicability elsewhere. The list is neither exhaustive nor superior, merely tuned to my experience on the road.

Dear City of Toronto
Here are ten ways you, or you through your partners in the province, can improve cyclist safety on the roads of Toronto. I think all of these solutions (save perhaps 5 and 10) are acceptable to all stakeholders so should prove uncontroversial, if not popular.

1. Develop existing park, railway right of way and power line right of way paths. There is a proposal on the table to develop a continuous bike trail alongside a rail line that bisects the city. This sort of thing should have been done yesterday. These areas already exclude car traffic for the most part, so are ideal for cyclists. The land is there, it has already been designated, the only real concern is making sure the existing facilities are not exposed to damage. There is ample green space in the city, much of it has been used, but more can be done. The city should maintain heavily used trails in the winter. Yes, that would be expensive, but once you commit to that many riders would ride in the winter on dedicated cleared trails. Power line trails are expanding and I think the city is doing well on this, but I’m sure there is more.

2. Clean the roads. Crap in the gutter, where most cyclists ride most of the time, is the #1 cause of me diverting from path while riding. Just cleaning on roads popular with cyclists would be fantastic.

3. Fix the roads. It benefits everyone, but it helps cyclists a lot. Bumpy roads with cracks, holes and “pavement waves” are dangerous to cyclists, they have to go over them and risk crash or around them and risk collision. They recently paved Keele and it has made my ride up significantly safer as I can ride closer to the curb and further from the cars. Some holes you can ride over, some you can’t, patch the worst of them faster even if you can’t do the main road often.  

4. Don’t rely so much on that road tar you use to fix cracks. When it’s hot the stuff becomes slimy and slippery, I have felt my tire slipping when riding on this stuff. Either patch the road or find a new crack filler.

5. Rotate our opposed grill sewer covers periodically. Sewer covers in Toronto have a series of nested “V”s, their top open to the road and their vertex at the curve, these cut across your tire’s path rather than running parallel to it and risking your tire getting caught. The problem is that they rotate as cars drive over them, and eventually are out of alignment, and can become parallel to the bike tire.

6. Provide more “bike boxes”, square reserved areas for cyclists at the front of the lane queue. By giving them traffic priority at the head of the lane motorists have to wait for them, so the cyclist controls the traffic maneuver. You could even put these in where there are no bike lanes, just to indicate that bikes can always take priority at the start of the traffic transition. When the light changes these cyclists generally move right anyway, the point is to keep motorists from right turn collisions with waiting cyclists at the intersection. That’s a bucket of paint and a brush in terms of equipment costs, not bad.

7. Increase the cycle component of driver education. Include specific training on how to avoid the most common bike collisions and areas of misconception about the law (e.g. who has right of way at an intersection between a bike and car in the same part of the intersection). Cyclist car collisions follow some well understood patterns, we know where the problem areas are, teaching this to motorists explicitly. Testing them on it in the written and driving portion of the test would be ideal. Also increase the non-cycle component of driver education. For example, improved signaling would substantively increase cyclists safety on the road. Knowing what cars are going to do lets me get out of their way and let them go by. I like using my mirror as I can see a car with a signal on and react to that information in a way that makes me safer. A car in an intersection with a signal on lets me know if I can go. Signalling too late is another problem. I have come to intersections and stopped at the light. There is a car in the opposing lane with no signal on, also at the light. So as far as I know he is going straight through, as I am in the other direction, so I can go when the light changes. When the light changes I go forward and the driver puts on his signal and turns in front of me. Drivers need to learn to signal more often and signal earlier, turn signals off, not signal too soon, etc. Even simple things like this would make my ride safer, when I know what a car is going to do I can make sure I’m not in the way.

8. Place cages on trucks to keep cyclists from going underneath when they collide.

9. Change the laws to reduce restrictions on cyclists in certain areas. For example, bikes should be able to ride on the sidewalk, for several reasons:

- There are many areas of Toronto where the sidewalks are empty for long stretches, many of these areas have excellent visibility to see cars that will cross the sidewalks coming from driveways and such. Visibility is good, foot traffic is non-existent for long stretches, you should be able to cycle there.

- Areas with moderate foot traffic it should be possible to either roll through on your bike or ride with one foot touching or walk your bike past pedestrians. As a cyclist you can slow down, move over, if the pedestrian does not move to the space you are providing you stop and allow them to pass, if they do, you proceed through slowly. If a cyclist is ceding right of way to pedestrians and riding at a reasonable speed, there should be no infraction.

- In areas with dense foot traffic a bike must ride on the road or be walked.
I would argue for a law that said that sidewalk riding was lawful in areas of low to moderate foot traffic (defined in any way that is agreed upon)  at slow to moderate speeds. Any fast riding and any riding in areas of dense foot traffic would be hazardous and thus a ticketable offence. There are other areas where the law can be changed, open these up to public discussion and revision.

10. Enforce the law on both cars and bikes. People need disincentives to breaking the law, on a small, maneuverable thing like a bike, it is enormously tempting to ignore road rules because you can, and sometimes you have to do so to avoid being run over. So there needs to be flexibility in the law, but obvious and flagrant stuff needs to be addressed. Perhaps phase this in slowly, a series of blitzes before aggressive targeting is adopted. And it has to apply to both cars and bikes. I have seen many motorists running red lights, jumping the intersection turning before the oncoming traffic with right of way comes through, cutting off, speeding, etc. without being caught, and only a few times been there when they were pulled over for doing it. Subjective impression, but there it is. If safety concerns aren’t going to make someone follow the rules of the road, then costs are a good motivator. We have to be on the lookout for unfairness, for example ticketing cyclists for trivial things - missing one pedal reflector, but the current approach is very hands off.


Ian J Slater


  1. just want to add - YES to no. 3!! I take Shuter every morning, which luckily is not that long a street (starts at the Eaton Centre, ends at River)- but CRAP it is like off-road biking! Due, I think, in large part to the construction taking place there the last few years and those bloody heavy trucks, it is FULL of potholes, uneven payment, cracks and is just a mess. It is bumpity bumpity bump!!

    I also am ok with ticketing as long as it is done fairly. I steam when I see cyclists breaking basic rules (especially riding on sidewalks in this crowded city- NOT fair to pedestrians!), blowing through red lights, weaving through heavy traffic - gives us all a bad name. However, having said that, MY experience has been there are FAR more infractions from cars than cyclists!

  2. I agree about cars, and I have always been of the opinion that cars should be aggressively ticketed for infractions, particularly at intersections, as these are the areas where most bike-car collisions occur.

    And yes, bad road conditions are such a pain in the ass, literally! I mentioned that Keele was recently redone, and I can't even express how much a difference it makes to my ride that it is now freshly paved blacktop. There were portions (just south of Maple Leaf going south - and thus downhill and very fast) where the road used to be so bad that I feared parts of the bike shaking off, it was madness. And the traffic on the way home was usually pretty thick, so I wouldn't want to swerve out. Since it has been paved again the ride is much more pleasant, and significantly safer.

    I don't want to diss bike lanes too much, but I'm really tired of the one stop solutions, we literally wait years for new bike lanes to be put in, but they could clean the streets more often right now, they could patch holes right now, etc.

    I want it all, LOL.

    Thanks for the comment.