Lanes and sharrows and trails, oh my!
Ask a Cyclist: Round 2
By Holly Reid
Holly is a long-time city cyclist, recreational road rider, Cycle Toronto member, and safe cycling advocate.
Each week, our resident safe cycling enthusiast Holly will break down common questions Torontonians have about riding their bikes in the city. Whether you are newer to cycling and want the rules of the road demystified, or are simply looking for tips on how to get your bike ready to ride this spring, follow along as Holly answers your questions.
Have a cycling question for Holly? Send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our second instalment is all about sharing the route using different types of infrastructure that you'll encounter in Toronto.
“With so many different types of cycling routes in the city, I’m never 100% sure of where I should be. Can you help?”
Confused about Toronto’s cycling infrastructure? You certainly aren’t alone. We have a real mixed bag of bike lanes, off-road trails and designated cycling routes in the city and it is not always clear where you want to be to ride safely and share space with other road users.
The good news is, our cycling infrastructure is light years ahead of where it was ten years ago. Still, there’s a way to go before we get to the type of connectivity that most Toronto cyclists dream of. In the meantime, here’s how you can use our existing cycling routes with confidence.
Separated bike lanes or “cycle tracks” are the bike lanes with a physical barrier separating you from motorized vehicle traffic. In Toronto, you can find them on Sherbourne, Bloor, Queen’s Park, Adelaide, and Richmond. These lanes separate you from traffic in a variety of ways, including raised concrete curbs, planters, on-street parking and flexible posts. Aim to ride in the middle of the lane, moving to the right when you hear a cyclist behind you indicating they want to pass.
Separated bike lanes on Bloor (Photo: City of Toronto)
Painted bike lanes
Painted bike lanes are indicated by white lines and a bike symbol painted on the road surface, delineating a space for you to ride between the curb and traffic. Position yourself in the middle of the bike lane unless passing a section of on-street parking when you’ll want to shift toward the left side to avoid being “doored” (when a driver opens their door without checking for passing cyclists and you ride right into it - ouch!). Like I mentioned last week, strive to ride at least one metre away from parked cars to keep enough space around you to manoeuvre and stay visible.
Although parking in the bike lane is prohibited, unfortunately it happens. Getting around a vehicle will force you out of the lane and into traffic, so shoulder check, signal, shoulder check again, and proceed when space allows.
Painted bike lanes (Photo: City of Toronto)
Contraflow bike lanes are painted bike lanes found on one-way streets to allow cyclists to legally travel in the opposite direction and provide a helpful connector to other cycling routes. They exist in a handful of locations in the city – Shaw Street, Stephanie Street, and Stanley Avenue are just a few examples. Contraflows are an example of infrastructure that helps cyclists get around the narrow streets in the city core, where one-way restrictions can make it difficult for people biking to travel through quiet streets. The lanes are only for cyclists going against one-way traffic and as with other bike lanes, aim to ride in the centre, moving to the right for passing cyclists. Those riding in the direction of car traffic are expected to cycle on the road.
Contraflow bike lanes (Photo: City of Toronto)
Sharrows are not a dedicated space for cyclists but indicate where you can share the road with other vehicles. You’ll generally find sharrows on quiet streets with speed limits of 30km/h or lower and low volumes of car traffic. Think of sharrows as pointing the way and ride in the centre of the arrow, which will place you at least one metre away from parked cars. The City is moving towards implementing sharrows to help cyclists with wayfinding and support a complete bikeway network.
Shared-lane or sharrows (Photo: City of Toronto)
Signed route/regular road
Toronto uses signed routes to connect bike lanes and off-road trails, or to suggest quieter streets for cyclists to travel. Ride these in the same way as you would ride on the road – position yourself at least one metre from the curb and maintain a straight pathway to stay visible to other road users.
Multi-use pathways and informal off-road trails
Our city is blessed with a wide array of off-road paved pathways and dirt trails for people walking, running, biking, and wheeling. As a cyclist you are probably moving more quickly than most other trail users so be courteous to people moving more slowly, and be ready to brake and yield as needed. Give an advance warning of your approach (ring your bell or call “on your left/right”) and pass when it’s safe to do so.
Depending on your style of bike, width of tires, and confidence with bike handling, you may not feel comfortable riding on an unpaved surface. With my road bike, I stick to routes that are paved or hard-packed gravel, but my city bike is like a tank and can ride through just about anything.
Up your safety factor
Try new routes outside of busy times so you can explore and build confidence at your own pace.
Choose a route that works for you. You’ll find all of Toronto’s cycling routes colour-coded by type on the Toronto Cycling Network interactive map.
Use hand signals and your bell to let others know what you’re up to.
Be predictable and, whenever possible, ride in a straight line. Weaving in and out of parked cars or traffic only confuses others.
When passing another cyclist, let them know you want to overtake them, shoulder check, then pass on the left when it’s safe to do so.