November 24, 2019

We Need Bike Paths, Not Bike Lanes

By admin


63% of Canadians believe there is a need for further investment in cycling infrastructure in their community.

(I just don’t think the ‘sharrow’ concept will work to anyone’s benefit … see my thoughts below …)

I got into a brief chat with a relative this weekend about cycling in urban areas and was greatfully relieved to find that we agreed nearly 100% on our ideas about how things should be done when it comes to cycling in urban areas.

The thought process about how to make things happen from a cycling standpoint is pretty much … wrong.

Right now, cyclists get maybe a metre of lane, or about 10% of a VERY busy set of roads, packed with vehicles that are substantially heavier, faster and prone to blind spots than us measly cyclists.

Planners and builders everywhere say ‘look … here’s a small tract of land … make goods things grow from it … us it … and maybe you won’t lose it …’. Or something to that respect.

It’s a little like throwing lambs in with the lion’s cages. As cyclists, we really don’t stand a chance.

Despite best efforts, pedestrian and cyclist-related accidents and deaths continue to rise. ‘Serious’ cycling-related accidents are estimated to be roughly 7,500 per year, resulting in about 1% of these accidents (roughly 75) causing death. Unfortunately, these are likely to be substantial underestimates because cities like Toronto don’t even track cycling-related accidents.

Add in the number of pedestrian accidents and deaths (in Montreal, for example, the number of injuries has been pretty constant over the last 8 years, at about 1,000-1,200 per year).

The only good news is that fatalities per 1,000,000 people seems to be on the decline, although it’s not clear if this is because people are giving up on their bikes or because they’re choosing other modes of transportation.

This compilation of stats also pointed out a number of important truths about cyclists:

  • 1-in-3 deaths: rules of the road were not followed by the cyclist
  • 56% of deaths were in an urban setting
  • 6 out of 7 deaths were male
  • Only 13% of fatalities were with cyclists that were actually wearing a helmet

Clearly, there’s an opportunity for cyclists to improve their attitude about cycling and about the potential death that literally lurks at every corner of any given road they might travel on.

The Cyclist Perspective

I am an avid cyclist.

I do my best to respect the rules of the road. I wear highly visible and reflective clothing. I’ve stopped trying to battle and engage drivers. I let them pass. I step aside. I stop at red lights and stop signs. I try to avoid ‘gutter runs’ (the act of speeding down the right-hand column between cars and curbs – it’s stupid and begging for issues).

That said, I fear one day I will be hit by a car or a door. I just hope it won’t cause any long-term damage or death.

I think there are other cyclists out there and then there are those that are chronically pissed about cars and, per the point of this article, bike ‘lanes’ because they are typically clogged with delivery trucks, parked cars, emergency vehicles, people out for a walk or, in the winter, snow and ice.

Bike lanes sometimes seem to create rather than mitigate animosity and tension between cyclists and drivers.

So what do we do?

We need 100% commitment.

We need a NATIONAL directive that basically says ‘we’ll support your public transit and your new roads, but you (as city planners and builders) have to commit to eliminating road traffic with 5% of your routes and committing those roads to non-car traffic ONLY’.

Let’s give an example: College Street in Toronto is jam-packed with people trying to avoid parking spots, street cars, delivery trucks and other vehicles all the while trying to commit to cyclists and pedestrians as well.

What would happen if the entire length of College Street, say from almost High Park all the way through to Riverdale Farm and the Don Valley Parkway (essentially the entire length of east-west Toronto) were converted to only cyclists, pedestrians and street cars / public transit?

Mayhem would likely be the immediate response, but what if, as part of this process, we REMOVED bike lanes that were created on other busy streets, effectively freeing up space for car-related traffic on those streets?

Another example might be Earl Street in Kingston. Just get rid of ALL public traffic. Because there are a number of residences there, of course, you’d have to allow some parking and some through traffic, but you could get away with shutting this street down to mostly bikes and pedestrians.

OK … another example: Ottawa, Ontario has already been very well planned in that there are bike-only paths along the Rideau Canal, the Ottawa River and other naturalized areas. The network is quite extensive. Expanding on these networks and keeping them better maintained through the year might result in more usage, again opening the argument that the city could remove the small lane allocations on busier streets.

Let me know if you’ve got an example (from anywhere, not just Canada).

In summary, everyone is trying to please everyone, but it is NOT going to work. 44% of Canadians say they would cycle more if they felt safer when riding. Dedicated bike paths and NOT lanes would make a substantial difference.

The paths will have to cross at certain points, but if cities start planning with at least two specific groups in mind needing separate functionality and services, we might actually be able to chip away at the number of fatalities and casualities we see each year.