Making cycling easy: protected bike lanes

Destination Danforth project shows a bike lane on the right and parked cars on the left. Parked cars are separated from the bike lane with green paint, curbs, and bollards mounted on top of the curb.

Position Statement:

Riding on busy, crowded streets, mixed in with fast moving cars can be a stressful experience for anyone riding a bicycle. Ridership rises when biking is easy, safe and comfortable. Protected bike lanes and protected intersections help make that a reality. We believe protected bike lanes should be the default option for any new bike lanes added to streets with posted speed limits of 40 km/hr or above.


Ridership rises when biking is easy, safe and comfortable. A study from Portland, Oregon found that 60% of people are interested but concerned about the safety of cycling for transportation. Protected lanes can help that 60% cycle more often, helping us create a transportation system that is easier, safer, more sustainable and more fun.

Protected bike lanes (also called cycle tracks or physically separated bike lanes), designed properly and connected to other high quality cycling infrastructure, are key to de-stressing cycling and creating a Minimum Grid. All protected bike lanes are physically separated from car traffic by a barrier, but there are many different ways to create that separation. Protected lanes can be minimal and inexpensive, with bollards or on-street parking creating the barrier, or they can be more elaborate, using medians, planters and raised pathways. The most appropriate type of protection (or whether the lane should be separate at all) depends on a number of factors, like the speed and volume of traffic, the number of taxis and couriers using the street, the number of intersections, and the space available. Because taxis can legally load and discharge passengers in a painted bike lane, and since couriers often illegally park in them (which encourages other drivers to do the same), it makes sense to opt for protection on streets intensively used by taxis and couriers.

There is a huge amount of support for protected bike lanes in Toronto. A recent Angus Reid Forum poll found that 84% of people believe cyclists need better protection from motor vehicles.  and a 2009 city of Toronto survey [PDF] found that 77% of those surveyed felt that protecting bike lanes from car traffic would improve cycling a great deal. Another 18% felt that protection would improve cycling “somewhat.”

Many of Toronto's streets are excellent candidates for protected bike lanes. A network of protected bike lanes across Toronto -- incorporating protected intersections to the greatest extent possible -- will make it accessible for cyclists ranging from experienced riders to those just starting out. If intersections aren’t safe, a bike lane isn’t truly protected. A recent study suggests that protected bike lanes are not only the safest type of cycling infrastructure, but also the most preferred. Least safe and least preferred are major arterial roadways without bike lanes. Protected lanes will help de-stress Toronto streets for everyone, increasing safety for all road users, while reducing conflicts between road users. Even better, safer bike lanes encourage more people to ride, which further improves the “safety through numbers” effect.  Protected bike lanes are rising in popularity: they are being built and used in Toronto and across North America, in cities like Montréal, Vancouver, New York and Portland.