Be Bike Savvy
Cycling is increasingly a tool used around the world to improve and augment both transportation networks and the livability of cities. Here in Toronto, decision-making with respect to cycling improvements has at times been influenced by mis-information and rhethoric. It's time to take cycling seriously and use evidence to inform decisions. We're happy to share with you our research on the most frequently asked questions about cycling.
There are many ways you can support more and better cycling in Toronto. The first step is to join Cycle Toronto. Cycle Toronto represents cyclists while advocating for safer cycling conditions to decision-makers in Toronto. The more people we represent, the more power we have in creating a safe cycling city. Annual memberships start at just $30 and we provide a lot of member benefits to make it worth it!
After you have joined Cycle Toronto, remember to contact your local Councillor regarding cycling issues in your neighbourhood and Toronto as a whole on an on-going basis. One way to do this is to get involved in our Ward Advocacy Program, which facilitates Cycle Toronto members to advocate for better cycling conditions in their neighbourhoods. Finally, do your best to stay connected with our news updates and action alerts. The best way to do this is to sign up for our newsletter, like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter!
Cyclists are subject to the same traffic laws as drivers in Toronto. When you ride your bike, it's your job to know the laws and to follow them, just like any other street user. All road users, cyclists, pedestrians and drivers need to follow the rules of the road to make our City safer. Cycle Toronto encourages all cyclists to ride responsibly and remember that they are riding a vehicle that has the potential to harm pedestrians. We think ensuring the safe passage of pedestrians should be a priority for cyclists. To help foster a safe and responsible cycling culture, we have created the Toronto Cyclists Handbook. You can find out more about the rules of the road as they apply to cyclists in this Handbook.
Protected bike lanes (also called cycle tracks or separated bike lanes) are physically separated from car traffic, and 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 separation (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 intersections and the space available. Protected bike lanes, designed properly and put in the right places, are key to building a safe cycling city.
Many of Toronto's streets are excellent candidates for protected bike lanes. A network of protected bike lanes through Toronto's busy downtown streets will make it accessible for cyclists ranging from experienced riders to those just starting out. One of the key recommendations from the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation's report "Building Better Cycling Arteries in Cities” is considering on-street, protected bike lanes on arterials. Protected lanes will help de-stress Toronto streets for everyone, increasing safety and ridership, while reducing conflicts between road users. Protected bike lanes are rising in popularity: they are being built and used across North America, in cities like Montréal, Vancouver, New York, Portland and Guelph. To learn more about protected bike lane, check out our resource page here.
In Toronto, a cyclist fatality occurs twice per year on an annual average. On average, 1,031 cyclists are injured per year. This means that on average, 3 cyclists are injured every day in Toronto. It’s important to remember that there is safety in numbers and as a result, since more people are riding bikes in Toronto than ever before, injury and fatality rates have remained relatively stable over the last 20 years.
There is increasing evidence to suggest that risks related to cycling is outweighed by the significant health benefits. The British Medical Association found that the health risks of inactivity are 20 times greater than the health risks posed by a potential cycling accident. The World Health Organisation (2004) has shown that a 30 minute bicycle ride provides all of the exercise needed to halve the chance of becoming obese or diabetic. While almost 50% of car trips are <5 km, bicycling accounted for an average of 1.2% of work trips in Canada in 2001. Using bikes more and cars less for short trips such as these is an incredibly effective way to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. (NHTS, 2003)
While improving conditions for cyclists and reducing vehicle speeds has the most potential to increase safety for cyclists, we encourage safe cycling behaviour. Wear a helmet, use lights, and educate yourself on the rules of the road.
There is no doubt that bikes mean business. Active transportation infrastructure creates a welcoming atmosphere for local businesses. The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation reports that patrons who drive to stores tend to visit stores less frequently and spend less. Those who cycle or walk through a business area are more likely to establish themselves as regular patrons of businesses, spending more money per visit and visiting more often than driving patrons. Therefore, replacing on‐street parking with bike lanes on traditional downtown shopping streets could actually increase commercial activity.
Yes! When comparing the costs of bicycle infrastructure to the costs of infrastructure for cars or public transit, cycling is the most cost-effective way to move people in the City of Toronto. For example, the cost of a typical car parking space in a parking structure can be $10,000+, compared to $125 for a bike parking stand which parks two bicycles or $1,000 for a high security bicycle locker. Similarly, bike lanes are much less expensive than car lanes. The addition of a through lane on an existing road costs between $350,000 and $500,000 per kilometre to design and construct in Toronto. This addition would provide an additional roadway capacity of 800 vehicles per hour. By comparison, the costs associated with the addition of a single bike lane range between $5,000 to $10,000 for a basic road re-stripping. This addition would provide an additional capacity of 2,000 cycling trips per hour. In cases were a road widening is required to install a bike lane, the cost can range between $35,000 to $150,000 per kilometre. Finally, bike lanes last longer than car lanes since bikes are not as heavy as cars, therefore there is significantly less wear and tear on the road leading to reduced maintenance costs.
For the past ten years, the Traffic Studies and Public Consultations conducted to develop the Bikeway Network in the Toronto Bike Plan has provided a baseline for bikeway planning. When considering a bike lane, City cycling staff study the traffic in the area and consider the needs of all road users, as well as work with other City staff from many departments, such as Transportation Infrastructure Management, Right-of-way Management, Traffic Operations, Parking and TTC on an ongoing basis. If it seems like a bike lane makes sense, and could be installed with minimal impacts on other vehicle types (eg. cars, transit vehicles, taxis), then a bike lane is recommended by the Cycling Infrastructure and Programs Group.
When there is staff support for the bike lane, staff will present their recommendations to the local Councillor(s) for the area. If the local Councillor supports the bike lane in principle, then staff can proceed to include the bike lane in a Staff Report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, and City Council. In most cases staff also collect the input from local residents, to ensure their local knowledge may be used to inform the decision-making and design process. Since many departments do construction work on Toronto streets, cycling infrastructure staff coordinate bike lane installations with other road work as often as possible to be cost-effective. These types of considerations effect which bike lanes are chosen for the annual Bikeway Report prepared for the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, and then voted on by City Council.
Yes, much safer! Most cyclists feel safer when there are other cyclists on the streets with them. In 2003, researcher Peter Jacobsen published a report confirming this feeling on scientific fact. Jacobsen identified the “safety in numbers” effect by concluding that the more cyclists on the street, the safer they are. Jacobsen claims this is likely attributed to drivers’ increased familiarity seeing cyclists on the street. His report stipulated that motorists adjust their behavior in the presence of people cycling.
The “safety in numbers” effect is happening in Toronto right now. We have never had so many cyclists on the streets, and yet collisions rates have remained the same over the last ten years. Bike lanes, which do a lot to encourage cycling, help to add to this important “safety in numbers” effects on our streets.
Yes! Bike lanes not only make people feel safer, but they reduce the likelihood of collisions. Numerous studies have shown that bike lanes improve safety and promote proper riding behaviour. For example, the League of American Bicyclist surveyed over 2,000 cyclists about collisions in which they had been involved. From the responses, the League calculated a relative danger index which shows that streets with bike lanes are the safest places to ride, having a significantly lower collision rate than either major or minor streets without any bike infrastructure. The addition of bicycle lanes have reduced collisions by 35 percent in Denmark, 31 percent in California and 50 percent in Oregon!
There is also evidence to suggest that bike lanes increase the safety of all road users. A study of bike lanes in New York showed that the implementation of a bike lane reduced crashes, resulting in a 63% reduction in injuries for all road users. This dramatic improvement in safety was completed without having an impact on travel times.
“Shifting Gears,” the Toronto Bike Plan, establishes a vision for cycling in Toronto. The goal of the plan is to “shift gears” towards a more bicycle friendly city. The Plan sets out integrated principles, objectives and recommendations regarding safety, education and promotional programs, as well as cycling related infrastructure, including a comprehensive bikeway network. The Plan was adopted in 2001 and set a goal to complete the bikeway in 10 years. This meant building 495kms of bike lanes, 260kms of shared roadways and 249kms of off-road paths by 2011 (the deadline was later extended to 2012). Unfortunately, the Plan has been significantly behind schedule since the beginning due to lack of political will and funding. Today, only 430kms of the 1,000km-goal has been built and only 117km of the 495km-goal of bike lanes has been built. Check out the bike plan here.
The City of Toronto required bicycles to be licensed in 1935. This by-law was repealed in 1956. Over the last 30 years, the City has investigated licensing cyclists and/or bicycles on at least three occasions. In all three occasions, City Council rejected a licensing program for cyclists/bicycles for several reasons:
- the high cost to develop and administer a licensing program;
- the difficulty in dealing with cyclists crossing the municipal boundary into the City;
- the challenge of licensing children as well as adults; and
- lack of support by the Toronto Police Service and the Ontario Ministry of Transportation.
There is a perception that licensing cyclists and/or bicycles would assist the public in reporting cyclists who have committed Highway Traffic Act or municipal by-law infractions. However, having a license plate on a bicycle (or any vehicle) identifies the vehicle, not the vehicle operator. Tickets are issued to the vehicle operator, not the vehicle. Moreover, a cyclist operating licence is not required for police officers to enforce the existing traffic rules. Cyclists are already regulated by the Highway Trafﬁc Act. The charges and subsequent ﬁnes for disobeying trafﬁc laws are for the most part the same for cyclists as they are for motorists. Developing a cyclist testing and licensing system would be expensive and divert attention from enforcing the existing traffic rules for cyclists. Providing more resources for cyclist eduction and training and increased police enforcement would be a more cost-effective approach for improving safety.
Many people assume that pedestrians and cyclists contribute less than their fair share toward roadway costs because they do not pay vehicle user fees (fuel taxes, vehicle registration fees, and road tolls), and so argue that pedestrians and cyclists deserve less right to use roadway facilities. However, this assumption is wrong.
Although vehicle user fees fund most highway expenses, local roads are mainly funded through general taxes that residents pay regardless of how they travel. The majority (over 90%) of walking and bicycling occurs on locally funded roads, since most highways are unsuited to walking and bicycling. In Toronto, Transportation Services is responsible for building and maintaining roads. This service is paid for entirely by property taxes. This means that cyclists are indeed paying for the roads they use, and have the same right to safe roads as do drivers and pedestrians.
Approximately one million people, out of Toronto’s 2.7 million population, ride bicycles regularly in the City. That’s over 30% of Toronto’s population! Yet, only 2% of the City’s roads have bike lanes. City streets are public spaces, and should be accessible to as many people as possible by as many means as possible. With an increasing number of cyclists in the city, it’s important that we begin to rethink our use of roads primarily for cars, and consider cycling as not simply a recreational activity but an integral part of the way we move around the City.
Also, many cyclists feel unsafe on City streets, and building bike lanes encourages more people to bike - the more cyclists there are, the safer the streets become as drivers get used to more bikes. Jarvis Street is a good example of bike lanes in action: once the lanes were built, the number of cyclists tripled! Finally, it's important to understand that the purpose of a bike lane is not to block cars. Rather, it is to allow the available road space to be used in the most effective way possible to maximize traffic flow.
You bet! A study conducted in 2010 estimates that there was a 6% increase in the number of cyclists in the city between 1999 and 2009 - over half of those interviewed in 2009 (54%) were cyclists. More and more people are cycling for utilitarian purposes (errands, commuting), in both the downtown core and the inner suburbs. Over 30,000 cyclists enter and exit the downtown core on an average weekday. The 2006 census indicates that 1 million people in Toronto ride bikes regularly!
No way! Bicycles have been on Toronto streets since the late 19th century. In fact, it was cyclists who lobbied that many of the streets became paved in the first place, for a smoother ride compared to the cobblestone or dirt roads of that time period. Cycling went into decline in the 20th century as cars became more popular and people could live farther from their work. Beginning in the 1970s, cycling began making a comeback, and has grown steadily ever since. You can read more about the history of cycling in Toronto in the City’s Bike Plan.