An example of protected bike lanes. Image by The Star
When automotive transport was popularized in the early 1900s, cities slowly started to push out everything other than cars, which designers prioritized for their speed and convenience. Carbon-spewing and dangerous vehicles got rid of the public space and openness of it, and people not inside cars were pushed to the curb and narrowed. Cars aren’t the answer to everything. Transit and biking have become extremely popular in the last couple of years, especially for short trips. Still, the City of Toronto hasn’t expedited the process of passing bike lanes to work with our massive growth of cycling. It’s frustrating. Here’s why protected bike lanes improve cities.
It’s no question that bike lanes make cyclists feel safe, (even better if they’re protected lanes), but they also make everyone on the street safe as well. Usually, vehicle lanes are reduced by 10-15 centimetres per lane to accommodate bike lanes2. The narrower lanes force drivers to be cautious, and ultimately, drive slower. This keeps not only cyclists safe but also pedestrians and other drivers.
Cyclists also have a safer way to access businesses and services along the street. Pilot projects across Toronto, like the Bloor Street cycle tracks, showed a 20% increase in-store sales3. Parking can be installed as a buffer for bicyclists, so now everyone has safe access along the street to get to places.
Now there are many types of bike infrastructure, all varying in looks and effectiveness. Sharrows are just painted arrows reminding that bikers use the roads as well, mostly used for navigating. Bike lanes are lines separating vehicle and cycling traffic. Buffered bike lanes separate bikes from vehicles with a half-metre gap and some more peace of mind. It’s the most common in Toronto, and have been built in some neighbourhoods. Finally, the protected bike lane is the safest, and arguably the most effective type of infrastructure. It’s a bike lane but protected by a physical barrier. From bollards to barriers, plants, pottery and parking.4
You can see that there’s only one clear choice, but not all roads can get the full treatment. It’s just not realistic, and space can be quite tight. The city’s plan for infrastructure is quite disappointing to see for a city of around 3 million. The pattern is that downtown gets the safe bike lanes, and suburbs like Scarborough get next to nothing for roads that are very wide, encouraging almost highway-like vehicle speeds. It’s only in Toronto where our old planning strategies can’t work with today’s rapidly changing city.
- Image from Toronto Star’s article. https://www.thestar.com/opinion/contributors/2018/08/09/drivers-show-dramatic-support-for-separated-bike-lanes.html
- Specifications and guidelines for building bike infrastructure. https://nacto.org/publication/urban-bikeway-design-guide/bike-lanes/conventional-bike-lanes
- Study of business and efficiency along Bloor Street during the pilot project. https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/01944363.2019.1638816
- Toronto’s list of cycling infrastructure. https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/streets-parking-transportation/cycling-in-toronto/bike-lanes-contraflow-lanes-and-separated-cycle-tracks/