Last week, we got the opportunity to attend a workshop by Cycle Toronto on the cyclist’s rights and responsibilities, and clarify some procedures under special, but common, scenarios. Cycle Toronto is a non for-profit and member-supported organization that has as its mission to create “a healthy, safe, cycling-friendly city for all”. You can join by paying an annual membership of $30 which includes benefits such as legal representation in case of collision. Very handy, right? Currently, they have about 3000 members and, together, they work in advocacy, education and encouragement to get you on your bike!
Sharing the road with cyclists is not always very intuitive. Whether you are a new or not so new cyclist, a driver or pedestrian, these lessons will be useful and may even surprise you!
In reality, cyclists act as a combination of vehicles and pedestrians in Toronto which can be confusing on how to act when sharing the road. The first thing to know is that cyclists are considered in the same category as vehicles under the Highway Act of Ontario, therefore, they have the same responsibilities and rights. For example, using the lane when there is not a bike lane marked and using the same hand signals when turning.
(The basics of safe cycling is to indicate what are you going to do before doing it!)
What most people don’t know is that bicycles should have 1 m space away from cars. This means that cyclists have the right to use a complete lane and as a driver if you want to pass you should pass leaving 1 m space from bikes. Respect that space, it’s safer for everyone! As a cyclist, it is also strongly recommended to be 1 m away from the curb. A lot of cyclists (me included) put their foot on the curb when waiting at a stop sign or traffic light. It is better if you stay in the middle of the bike lane.
One of the most common and dangerous situations is when a car wants to turn right when there is a bike lane. In this case, the best thing to do as a cyclist is to go around through the left. If you don’t feel confident or safe merging with the traffic, stop! Wait until the car has turned and continue your path. As a driver, beware of cyclists coming in the bike lane, double check your blind spots and proceed with precaution.
Negotiating space with large vehicles
It’s very important to remember that large vehicles have bigger blind spots and the best and safest procedure is to pass them through the left: shoulder check, signal, shoulder check, merge. Never try to pass them through the right, never!
Stopping in a bike lane
In my short time cycling in Toronto’s streets, the most frequent complaint I have heard is regarding taxis parking in the bike lanes to pick up or drop off passengers. Although not ideal for cyclist, this is legal! Taxis, public transportation vehicles, emergency vehicles, wheelchair vehicles and even delivery vehicles are allowed to park in bike lanes for short periods of time. Hopefully this will change in the future. As for now, let’s understand that they are allowed to do so. If you are a cyclist and encounter this case, you should do a safe lane change to pass on the left or wait to be safe. If you are a driver of any of these vehicles, be mindful and park when you are completely sure there are no cyclists right behind or beside you. Don’t forget you’re also responsible for your passengers!
However, Uber, Lyft and regular cars are not allowed to block the bike lane. Not even to grab a quick coffee! If you find this, let the owner of the car know that this is illegal. They may not know it. Or you can notify the police.
As a cyclist you can either do a vehicular left (check for a gap in traffic, give the turn-left hand signal, move to leftmost lane using the complete lane, and turn!), using a box turn left if you have issues merging into traffic (staying in the right while crossing the intersection, stop at the front of the rightmost lane of cross traffic and wait for the light and proceed straight to complete you left turn), or cross the crosswalk as a pedestrian. These three options are completely valid!
If you are a driver and see a green bike box (like the one in the figure below) you are in the obligation to stop behind them. These boxes are made to facilitate the flow and turns of cyclists.
Technically, bikes are obligated to follow the flow and direction of traffic. However, in Toronto it is getting more common to see contra-flow bike lanes, where a bike can travel the other way on a one-way street, especially in residential areas.
As Cycle Toronto remind us: “transportation choices do not define us”, most of us switch from pedestrian, driver or cyclist continuously, therefore be mindful other road users, investigate, follow the rules and act with precaution, so everyone can arrive to their destinations safely.