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Plowed bike lanes vital to winter biking

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Following the City’s Bike Winter promotion and the Coldest Day of the Year ride, the Toronto Star featured an article paraphrasing the cycling committee chair on winter cycling.

Plowed bike lanes and secure storage at transit stations are vital to persuading people to take their bikes to work in the winter, said Councillor Adrian Heaps, chair of the Toronto Cycling Committee. “It’s all part of our target of bike lanes this year and making sure transportation[department] looks at bike lanes as public thoroughfares, just like roads,” Heaps said.

Although I have been greatly inspired (and educated) by the winter cyclist profiles I’ve been posting here on Spacing, I feel it is time for full disclosure. I am still only a part-time winter cyclist. Although inspired (and I do ride my mini beater bike in winter) I’m still not up to the lengthy commute during rush hour in winter. I have done it, but it wasn’t pleasant. The main reason being lack of space on the road. I did not feel that I belonged. Sadly, it would appear that there are many motorists who share that feeling (and are willing to express it via honking horns or other methods.) As noted in many of the profiles, winter cyclists in Toronto must take the lane.

Winter cyclists need to ride in the middle of the road due to conditions. These deplorable conditions following this latest storm have been documented by Martin Reis, a sort of Peter Parker in the cycling community, if you will. See them by following the ‘continued reading’ link below.

I can feel my bikey senses tingling… oh wait, that’s probably just the numbness setting into my slush-covered extremities.

Without further adieu, here is the view from the gutter – aka the bike lane.
Editor’s Note: click on the links Day One, Day Two, etc. links to see the full photo set

Day One (You can see the full set just for this corner, in a sort of time-lapse format here.)

A little bit of the bike wheel stencil is peaking through. This is College Street Facing east at Spadina (bike route 12) on February 1st.

And, here again on Day Two

Notice how the roads are nice and clear in the middle…but oh so soupy on the sides.

Over on the other side of this intersection– the southwest corner of College and Spadina (pictured below) we get a very clear picture of what winter cyclists have to put up with — in one of our most well-used bike lanes no less.

Day Three below: Still does not offer safe passage.

Beverly Street below.

Fairly typical situation below with the truck, only compounded by snow and muck.

And, finally, Day Four (today) below.

Further down route 12 isn’t any better (facing east from Huron.)

You may also enjoy a recent Spacing post about snow clearing from a pedestrian perspective.

Photos courtesy of Martin Reis



  1. Firstly, I haven’t been biking the last two days due to an injury, but i had been riding everyday up until Saturday and plan to return to the roads tomorrow. I feel quite confident on the roads and as strange as it may sound I prefer riding on roads without bike lanes at this time of year. The reason I prefer riding without bike lanes is it gives me an excuse to ride in the middle of the right hand lane, this is a very good strategy in the winter because it makes it very clear to drivers that if they want to pass me they can do it in the lane to my left. With that said I bike very fast and am normally going the same speed as traffic or faster.

    Obviously, as you’ve stated, winter biking is not for everyone in fact it’s not for most people. I just don’t think having a clean bike lane is going to get more people out in the winter.

    Maybe we should just get rid of the subway and turn the tubes into a massive underground bike path with on ramps and off ramps to above ground tubes like these.

  2. this isn’t a new problem,
    but thanks for chasing it again.
    The City really does have an obligation to provide safe passage on their streets, and it is unfair to give clear, or clearer, conditions for cars, pedestrians and transit users, and plow the snow into the bike lanes. It’s sometimes not bad, and a truck or three can mess up the City’s work, but at other times it’s white line riding where there was a bike lane like on much of Bloor east of Sherbourne.
    Specific designs should not be repeated until the City is willing and able to plow out snow from indented parking bays as the College lanes and the southbound St. George St. are degraded to full-up uselessness as the car parkers park in the bike lane instead of the parking bays.
    And speaking of St. George, the UofT should be nudged to avoid simply dumping their corner snow into the bike lane, a classic example being at Harbord and St. George at Robarts.
    And don’t feel awkward about avoiding bike riding in rough weather and conditions – diehards can become die-easies, bike lane or carterial. I’ve been using the subway a lot, but I’ve finally got a wide-tired beater winter bike operational again, and while it’s slower, I feel more comfortable on it now.
    But the City deserves any lawsuit that’s launched.

  3. The city has a couple of numbers to call re, snowbound lanes; you leave your name and specific request:

    “Snow clearing problems”: 416-338-SNOW
    “road surface problems”: 416-338-9999

  4. Hey Jesse,

    Yeah, I know about that number. That easy, eh?
    There is also a number for cars parked in the bike lane.

    And that’s besides the point though, is it not?

    Bike lanes should be cleared of snow as a matter of policy and standard procedure. It’s the right thing to do and would go miles in terms of improving things for cyclists.

    It’s never been done.
    It can be done.

    From Cyclometer 1996

    6) Clearing Snow For Cyclists by Andrea Bowker
    Cyclists who try to keep their bicycles on the road throughout the winter know that in addition to salt, wind and frozen noses, the road conditions we face are a major obstacle to successful year-round riding. Last winter, the Department of Public Works and the Environment agreed, on a trial basis, to completely remove snow from the bicycle lanes. (i.e., to plough it and truck it away).

    Based on last year’s experiment, Public Works recommended to the Cycling Committee that it not continue to remove snow from the lanes. It was very difficult to keep the bike lanes clear of snow right to the curb and very expensive to truck the snow away. Even after the lane was cleared, they would still receive complaints about snow in the bicycle lanes because adjoining residents would shovel snow from their sidewalks into the lane.

    The TCCC had a lively discussion with Public Works regarding this recommendation, ranging from the observation of the inequity that public money was spent to clear snow for motorists but not for pedestrians to many suggestions of alternative means of getting the snow out of the lanes. In the end, Public Works’ representatives suggested that they attempt to keep at least a usable portion of the lane (e.g. one metre) clear of snow, and that crews with smaller ploughs be dispatched to ‘spot check’ the lanes. The TCCC suggested they ask adjoining residents to not clear their sidewalks into the bike lane. They are looking into this. We will continue to monitor snow clearing efforts.

    And for all you winter cyclists, remember to make yourself visible and to take as much space as you need to be prepared for unexpected snow or ice. Don’t compromise your safety for the convenience of others.

  5. A blast from the past! including a T-CAT. Plus ca change c’est la meme merde et neige du travail/snowjob. The snow removal budget is about $63,ooo,ooo – and I think most of us would be content with over half of a lane, a day later, so why not?!
    I was able to lay the liability trail a little deeper today, though using old pics. Apparently there’s a boost to bike budgets coming, though if it’s only $25,000 a km to put in a bike lane on a nice flat long street like Bloor, a half-million might do most of the length that’s now being studied, a couple of years after the last study.

  6. And then you have wonderful business owners like that of the Petro-Canada on Harbord St (just East of Ossington) who shovels all of the snow from his parking lot into the bike lane. yay!


    I just used the above phone number to determine that I need to call the city’s bylaw people to complain. It’s on my to-do list for tomorrow. I’m sure I’ll see him out there piling it into the street again.

  7. “Even after the lane was cleared, they would still receive complaints about snow in the bicycle lanes because adjoining residents would shovel snow from their sidewalks into the lane.”

    umm.. isn’t it illegal to shovel your snow into the street?

    “Sorry, we can’t keep the bike lanes clear because people keep filling them up again. IF ONLY WE HAD SOME WAY OF STOPPING THEM!!! … What? There’s a law? HOW WILL WE ENFORCE IT?!?!?”

  8. Update: I will be on CBC Metro morning tomorrow (Thursday) bright and early around 6 AM talking about the issue. AA Heaps will be on as well I hear.
    So, listen in if you’re up that early.
    Should be interesting.

  9. Good news! Councillor AA Heaps and Mr. Noehammer from Transportation Servces reluctantly promised to plow bike lanes this morning on Metro Morning. Finally!
    Hopefully the show will be online sometime today so you can listen to the segment.
    Andy Barrie was great.

    No more snow lanes? Let’s hope so.
    We’ll see.

  10. Some of our so called “bike lanes” are so poorly conceived, they are dangerous.

    Take College St as an example:
    The narrow bike lane is located BETWEEN traffic and parked cars, therefore cars must go THROUGH it to park. Car doors must open INTO the bike lane. In the winter, you can forget about the bike lane altogether, because the parking spaces and lane cannot be plowed. It is also practically impossible for delivery vehicles and cabs NOT to use the bike lane.

    We call this a bike lane?

    I got doorprized in the bike lane on College by a parked car. The officer threatened to charge me because for failing to stop. Not knowing the law, and facing a ticket and having to pay damages to the vehicle I left with a totalled bike and broken collarbone. (I know better now)…BUT the brings last point….enforcement.

    We know there is none.

  11. Goodbye bike. I only knew you for a half month, but it feels like an eternity! *sniffles*
    What are you waiting for! Go you stupid thing!