Re:Cycling • This is how bike lanes save lives

Two weeks ago, I found myself standing on Sterling Road looking at Jenna Morrison’s twisted bicycle.  Just a couple of hours earlier, she had been crushed under the wheels of a large cargo truck, at a tight intersection with no markings for cyclists.

Yesterday, I went back to the site with my buddy James Schwartz (local advocate and blogger).  We wanted to measure the street and see if there was enough room at the intersection for a proper bike lane.  The answer is YES.  There is actually ample room for proper bike lanes – in both directions (9.6 metres is required).

But we went a step further.  We also wanted to see how traffic would behave, with a bike lane.  So we picked up pieces of trash that were lying around and created our own bike lane (also taking advantage of the bike symbols that have been painted by community members since Jenna’s death).
Would cars and trucks respect the lines?  Is there enough room for a large truck to make a wide turn without impeding on the bike lane?  Can all vehicles – bikes, cars and trucks – share this intersection safely with proper markings?  Sadly, the answer is yes – on all counts.  Too late for Jenna. But not too late for this to be a wake-up call. Bike lanes save lives.  They create a safe space, they keep motor vehicles away from bikes, and most importantly, they raise awareness of all road users – that they are sharing space with others.

Check out James’ blog post from today for more details about our experiment.

And here are some of my own pics showing how a well-designed intersection can work. The spot on the right, is where Jenna died.

26 responses to “Re:Cycling • This is how bike lanes save lives

  1. Speaking as one who has been biking in this city for 20+ years, and risking my life to do so: Thanks, brother, you’re doing good work. Keep it up.

  2. if only you were mayor!!!

  3. Gordon Chamberlain

    Your litter indicators made me thing that there are thin 3 foot high reflectors cones that can be screwed into the pavement until winter comes that would be an economically way to give cyclists a separated path from drivers. I would also like to point out the negligent cyclist in the photo above. Wearing black yes it is a functional colour in a dirty word make cycalists and pedestrians and cars less visible. I regularly see cyclist with out reflectors on their wheels or lights, they are endangering not only their own life but the lives of other who have to take evasive action to avoid being hit by them or to avoid hitting them. One suggestion is to put reflective tape available at Mountain equipment Co op on our helmets it is as high up as possible and makes us viable to the drivers in 360 degrees who are not paying attention

  4. My understanding is that a vehicle is meant to enter and block a bike lane if they are making a right turn, and a bike should either pass the other vehicle to the left if they are going straight through the intersection, or wait behind the other vehicle if they are also turning right. This conforms with the HTA rule about no passing on the right, designed to protect one vehicle (in this case bike) from being lost in the other vehicle’s (in this case car) blind spot.

    This is why all bike lanes are dotted when they approach intersections.

    Is my understanding wrong about this? If someone could clarify I’d appreciate it.

    • Mike – You are correct, this is generally the case in current implementations of many Toronto bike lanes (at least where they actually reach the intersection as many end prior to). There is now an exception in the case of Bike Boxes. These have solid lines and drivers are expected to wait for cyclists to clear the intersection (same as they would wait for pedestrians in a cross walk). Overall though, the understanding of the rules as well as the installation of bike lanes at intersections is very poor here. I believe it would be safer if drivers were not able to enter the bike lane at intersections and bike lanes were treated similar to sidewalks and crosswalks where drivers can only enter the space once they are certain it is clear.

  5. Mike,
    I normally agree with exactly what you’re saying here. Except this situation is slightly different. The only reason why a cyclist would be in this (fake) bike lane would be to make a right turn, as the road does not continue straight through, and a left turn would be done from the left side of the lane. The right turning cyclist turns directly into another bike lane (a real, official one this time) on Dundas St. So in this case, motor vehicles would have no need to enter the bike lane while making their turn.

    You can almost think of it as two right turn lanes.

    But either way, even with a bike lane here (trashy, or official), I would still never ride up next to a truck making a turn, and would hope that any truck driver would give even more consideration when they see me there.

  6. Hey Mike,

    Yes, you are right. But this intersection is very unique in that it is more like a curved road, rather than a 90 degree intersection. It’s almost an “on-ramp” to Dundas. The wide curve allows motor vehicles and bikes to each have a separate lane. And since no one is going straight through (it’s a ‘T’), there is no issue around a right-turning vehicle cutting in front of a forward-traveling bike.

    ~ dave

  7. This design still encourages cyclists to ride up the side of right turning trucks, and while it looks like there is room for both to turn, I wonder if this would be the case for a larger semi transport truck.

    I would also like to see a right-turn arrow in this fake bike lane, as I have seen novice cyclists think they are supposed to stay in the bike lane and turn right OR left from the lane, and obviously left turns from here would be disastrous.

    But kudos for the creative bike lane construction!

  8. Thanks, gentlemen, for your clarification. I’m familiar with this intersection as I live and cycle in the neighbourhood (and, I might add, quite disturbed by Morrison’s death; this is not about her).

    My problem is that even though this solution might be feasible for this particular intersection due to its specific geometry, that’s not what your article concludes. “tight intersection” “ample room for proper bike lanes” “proper markings” all appear above. I find this quite disingenuous because you were not testing how a lane is designed to function – you are assuming it would function differently than any other bike lane (leaving boxes out of it) and then suggesting that the finding is generally applicable.

    Paint, signs and colours do not save lives – the shared understanding among all road users aided by those cues about how to use the road is what saves lives. I think the most dangerous thing that cyclists do on the road, even more dangerous than running red lights, is passing vehicles trying to turn right. Frankly, your article and its conclusion does more harm than good to cyclists’ safety.

  9. In my experience, painted lines do not prevent cars or trucks from entering the space of a bike lane. Just ride along any street and see examples.

    • Sorry Grant, I respectfully disagree. While there are sometimes a few cars that park in the bike lane (very annoying) and the occasional car that veers into the lane, the difference between a bike lane or no bike lane is like night and day. I feel a hundred times safer when I’m riding on a road with a bike lane. The experiences are incomparable.

      “Just ride along any street and see examples.”…. or look at all the photos on this page…..

  10. Hey Mike,

    I appreciate your feedback – and I completely agree that education is the number one thing we can do make our roads safer. Getting on the right side of a turning truck is a bad idea. That said, “paint, signs and colours” DO save lives. That’s why we have never, ever, had a cyclist fatality in Toronto on a street with a bike lane. Every death has been on a non-bike lane street.

    Good markings keep vehicles away from each other, and even ALLOW people to occasionally make mistakes (we are human, after all) without having to die for your mistake. And they raise everyone’s awareness.

    It’s quite likely that Jenna made a mistake. But I am 100% convinced that if that truck had a side-guard, or that street had a bike lane – she would be alive today. I don’t see how anything else could matter more than that.

    As for the conflicting adjectives – “tight intersection” and “ample room for proper bike lanes”, there is a simply explanation: The intersection is very wide, more than wide enough for a bike lane on each side. BUT, currently they have a painted a zebra-striped ‘bulb out’ that it taking up a tonne of space on the east side, and unnecessarily squeezes the southbound lane. The yellow ‘middle’ line, is nowhere near the middle of the street. In fact, it veers on a sudden angle – to the right – just before the intersection. This is what forces trucks to hug the corner and potentially run people over. If the yellow line was a few feet over ( I would suggest 1.5 meters) there would be more than enough room on both sides for separate lanes.

    Yes, we need better eduction – and we also need better-designed streets. But why do we put curbs on sidewalks? Couldn’t we just rely on good “education”? Because curbs make sidewalk safer. Well, cyclists deserve the same attention to infrastructure. There is no need to create an “education vs infrastructure” contest where advocating for one does “more harm than good”. Let’s advocate for both. For me, I’m personally interested in what we can do politically, from a design perspective. That doesn’t in any way mean that I don’t support good education.

    And to answer Tanya’s question – yes: even a huge 16 wheel transport truck (larger than the one that killed Jenna) can easily make this turn without veering into the bike lane. We watched for two hours to see how traffic would behave. There are good pictures of this on James’ blog:
    (pics at bottom).

  11. Mez – I think you miss my point. Nowhere do you mention the geometry of this street that would make a uniquely designed lane work. You don’t even mention it’s a T without a straight-through option. The title and lack of explanation, implies that bike lanes at all intersections would protect cyclists from other vehicles turning right (that’s what all of your photos show).

    Nor am I suggesting that education is more important than infrastructure. My point is that infrastructure only works when everyone understands it. Sidewalks wouldn’t work if they were conventional on most streets, but on a few streets people walked on the asphalt and vehicles drove on the raised concrete.

    My hope is that you’ll adjust your article to explain why your suggestion works for this particular intersection, but also points out that at a normal intersection, cyclists should never pass another vehicle making a right.

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  13. I totally agree with the notion that painted bike lanes make biking much safer, but I think that cities can do much better job to make them even safer. Fake lanes like this one only confuse them. I know that it’s not possible everywhere, but they should at least try to separate bike lanes from the traffic physically. I am talking about separated bike lanes, like those they’ve introduced in Vancouver. I think it made biking in Vancouver incomparably safer. I wouldn’t be afraid to let even my child bike in the city under such conditions.

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  19. I’m a cyclist and like the older Bike Lanes that have the solid line, opposed to the floating bike (no solid line)….I believe as a cyclist and occasional driver that drivers need the solid line to be more aware that they are sharing the road. All to often I see drivers driving over the floating bike unaware that they are in the Bike lane….
    Solid Lanes I think will save more lives and allow all drivers and cyclists to share the road more safely.

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  22. It’s wonderful that you are getting ideas from this paragraph as well as from our argument made at this time.

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