A review of the new Shaw Street bike route

 

It has been a rather trying winter for cyclists in Toronto. Besides the unseasonably cold temperatures, the snow and ice has made cycling difficult. Bike lanes are left partly or completely snow-covered — only the occasional thaw manages to clear the lanes. But during one of those few days this winter where the snow had a chance to recede, I rode the entire length of Shaw Street, all the way from the railway tracks at Druro Street up to Davenport Road. Between Dundas and Dupont, a new contra-flow bike lane was recently added, permitting cyclists to legally ride north on what is otherwise a southbound one-way street. This is, by far, is the longest contraflow lane in the city, and the first to be installed in a decade.

The Shaw Street lane was the only major addition to Toronto’s bikeway network last year. With the completion of lane markings and the installation of traffic signals and signs, the lane opened, without fanfare, in December 2013. Plans were delayed for several years as the city waited on Ministry of Transportation clarification on the legality of such lanes, which was only recently resolved. A few contra-flow lanes have existed for several years  - on nearby Montrose Avenue for one block between Harbord and Bloor, on Logan south of Eastern Avenue, and on Strathcona Avenue between Carlaw Avenue and Blake Street, connecting Withrow Park with the bike lanes on Jones Avenue. These were installed before flags were raised on their legal status.

Shaw is one of several new cycling routes planned in the west end utilizing minor streets; the other two routes will connect the end of Harbord Street at Ossington to High Park and connect the West Toronto Railpath to Shaw, via Argyle Street. There are several other places where potential contra-flow lanes were identified in previous bike plans, such as on Dixon Avenue, which would cyclists to proceed straight from the bike lanes on Dundas Street East across Kingston Road towards the Beach.

Shaw Street connects several major east-west cycle corridors: Davenport, Barton, Harbord, and College Streets. A short jog via Duoro at the south end allows one to easily get to Strachan Avenue and the Martin Goodman Trail. The new contra-flow lane finally provides a proper link between Barton, a designated bike route between Shaw and the Annex, and Hallam Street, another signed bike route.

In the planning process, several corridors were examined for a new north-south bike route; Dovercourt Road, and Ossington and Montrose Avenues were considered, but rejected. Dovercourt and Ossington were deemed to be too busy (though I find Dovercourt to be quite reasonable), and Montrose  was not long enough to provide the network connections possible with Shaw, especially north of Bloor.

While Shaw starts at Douro, a short block south of King, the intersection of Strachan at Douro and Wellington is where I started my tour. Work on the railway underpass has progressed to the point that several tracks carrying GO and VIA trains to Milton, Kitchener and Barrie were moved into the trench and the level crossing removed. Work is still underway on a new permanent Strachan Avenue bridge, so the intersection is off-centre. Still, there are several improvements that could be made here that would make the new bike route more useful. Traffic signals would allow east-west traffic, especially cyclists, to cross Strachan. Cyclists could then follow Wellington Street, a safe route towards downtown. A left-turn lane — perhaps with bike boxes to allow cyclists to safely navigate to the left during a red signal — could allow the safe movement from the waterfront over to Shaw. 

Strachan and Wellington/Druro
The corner of Strachan and Douro/Wellington

There are bike lanes on Shaw between Douro and King Street, but none between King and Dundas. From King to Queen, there are streetcar tracks, used for short-turns and diversions of the King and Queen Cars. Streetcar tracks can be very dangerous to cyclists (speaking from experience) — the choice here is either to take the lane between the rails (and getting between them safely) or riding in the narrow “door zone” between the tracks and parked cars.

Shaw Street north of King, with streetcar tracks
Tight conditions between King and Queen Streets

Between Queen and Dundas, Shaw has a treed median. There are no bike lanes, but just sharrows reminding all users to share the road. At Dundas Street, there are a total of five traffic signals facing northbound traffic – three general yellow signals and two black signals, even though they all have the same directions. At this point, the contra-flow begins; cyclists may turn left, right or proceed straight ahead, but motorists may only turn left or right, as it was before the new contra-flow lane was installed. A sharrow awkwardly indicates that cyclists may/shall proceed straight from the left-turn lane. ‘Do not enter’ signage excepts bicycles and a “bike lane begins” sign make it quite clear.

Shaw looking north to Dundas
Shaw northbound to Dundas Street

The major trouble spot is at College. Unlike Shaw’s intersections with Dundas, Harbord, Bloor and Dupont, the corner of College and Shaw was not modified. Making it worse are curb cuts at the corners that restrict the northbound bike lane to a mere 50 centimetres on both sides of the intersection. A pedestrian crossover is on the west side of the street, but it is very difficult for cyclists to cross College without dismounting, walking across the street in the crosswalk and resuming on the north side. As there is already a pedestrian crossover at this intersection, a replacement with a full traffic signal would be logical.

Shaw at College
Shaw, looking north at College Street

Dangerous, narrow bike lane at College
Dangerous squeeze at College

One thing I noticed is that the yellow line that separates the narrow northbound bike lane with the general southbound lane was faded and almost non-existent in sections, while other paint on the street (southbound sharrows, the arrows on the speed humps, etc.) were still fresh. At times, it felt as if I was still riding up a one-way street. A major problem is cars stopped or parked illegally on the east side of the street, blocking both the bike lane and part of the southbound lane. I have encountered this each and every time I have walked or cycled on Shaw since the lane was opened. With only one narrow lane southbound, it forces cyclists to yield to southbound traffic. An illegally parked truck would be extremely difficult to pass safely, especially at night.

Shaw north of Bloor, where cars park on right of contra-flow lane
Shaw Street, north of Bloor

North of Bloor, the on-street parking is on the east side of the street, the same side as the contraflow lane, and to the first time user, a bit confusing. This configuration was designed to preserve parking spaces, as there are fewer driveways and intersecting streets on the east side of Shaw. However, I did not find this to be as disconcerting as I had expected; it is easier in fact for those getting in and out of their cars to see oncoming cyclists and for cyclists to see cars ready to pull out. It also avoids the problem of illegally stopped cars mentioned above. One block of  Strathcona in the east end has a similar configuration.

North of Dupont, Shaw becomes a two-lane street again, and ends at Davenport Road, a major east-west bike route. Nearby, Bracondale Hill Road continues up the hill on one of the easiest climbs of the former Lake Iroquois shoreline. As at College, there are just stop signs controlling traffic, but there is a pedestrian crossover across Davenport on the east side. Traffic signals here could help cyclists turn left to head west or north up the hill; though the crossover, more conveniently located for left-turning cyclists, could be used if necessary.

On the whole, I am pleased with Shaw Street bike route, including the contra-flow lane. Shaw has become an integral part of Toronto’s central bike network, connecting many routes together and legalizing what is a common practice – riding the wrong way on a one-way street. There are many more opportunities for contraflow lanes – such as Brunswick Avenue between College and Dupont (or at least Barton). Brunswick currently alternates between northbound and southbound one-way segments, but with traffic signals at Harbord and Bloor, it could and should be open to cyclists going in both directions. The Dixon Avenue contraflow lane mentioned earlier would finally provide a logical end to the Dundas East bike lanes; there are many other examples of where contra-flow lanes could provide these simple connections across the city.

There are a few little tweaks that need to be made to improve the safety and utility of the route — in particular the connection with Strachan Avenue and at College Street, and strict enforcement of the no-stopping zone in the bike lane — but on the whole, this is a great step towards the long-delayed completion of Toronto’s bicycle network.

18 comments

  1. Hi Sean, good article.

    Shaw isn’t perfect, but it’s a good start and the first northbound side street cycling route to cross the Dupont train tracks.

    I’d encourage everyone to write Transportation Services and ask for the College / Shaw intersection to be improved. The more complaints, the more staff can justify the change.

    The fading yellow paint was a temporary job, for reasons I don’t fully understand (too cold? supplier shortage?). Proper thick reflective road paint will be applied in the spring, I’m told.

  2. I’m digging the Google Maps link to Logan Avenue with a delivery truck parked in the bike lane!

  3. It’s good to get this topic out there – as with the bike lanes, better to have than not. But it is all soooo uneven in all aspects of things – planning, design, execution, maintenance….

    If we get guided by the crash stats, it’s east-west that’s direly needed, not north-south, though this does offer many linkages, but streetcar tracks??!! for a part of this? More bike farcility…
    while missing Ossington between Bloor and College and the big question of what to do when Harbord ends?

    And why rebuild Harbord to a dangerous bi-directional and think that’s progress! We are already more at risk at intersections; let’s make them more unsafe in the name of safety.

    I don’t really mind the tightness at College, at least on the south side. Why? We cyclists do NOT always stop for pedestrians, so it is OK to get us checked, or should be.

    I’m also glad that the yellow paint is fading as it feels it’s a bit too west and it makes the other side (southbound) too tight in some areas, with the snowbanks.

    Often the snow plowing is soo atrocious I’m glad there aren’t bike lanes sometimes so it is possible to be more out there than not. Often it’s a bike line, not a bike lane.

  4. I really dislike the shaw street contraflow. I still use my old route north until I’m well over Bloor. It just doesn’t feel safe due to the blind spots, and frankly, there’s too much traffic and too much parking. And that College intersection is a total slack job.

    If the city had maybe cut out some of the parking and put the contraflow on the opposite side of the street to cut out the blind spot, then maybe.

  5. It’s inane that we don’t just let cyclists ride contraflow on every quiet one-way residential street.

  6. Would it be correct to describe Shaw as a two-lane, two-way street, with the northbound lane reserved only for use by bicycles? It sounds like yes, except for the section north of Bloor where southbound travellers have to cross the northbound lane to reach the southbound-facing parking–that seems discordant with how a two-lane street should work.

    Anyway, this doesn’t seem like a scaleable solution for solving the problem of wrong-way cycling. I’d rather see a change to the Ontario Highway Traffic Act that specifically allows bicycles to drive either direction on any residential (not arterial) street, and requires municipalities to post appropriate signage. Feasible?

  7. So very lame compared to what New York has been doing for the past decade. Many of these changes involved bike lanes – check it out. And cry.

    http://blog.archpaper.com/wordpress/archives/67137

    Once Toronto is rid of Ford, will the next mayor dare to do the right thing and rebuild the streets to serve all users?

  8. Every little bit counts. This is especially significant north of Bloor since it is one of only a few good ways to get all the way from Bloor to Davenport.

    It is a shame that they didn’t reconfigure the street at all. College is one thing, but also having Sharrows between Queen and Dundas is a shame. They enormous island in the middle was no doubt added in order to narrow the street and calm traffic, which is great.

    But this is a great opportunity to add a separated bike lane – keep the automobile part of the street narrow, as it is, and put bike lanes, using the same permeable material used on Roncesvalles, on either side of the trees leaving a smaller island.

    And there should be a connection north of Davenport as well. There are two great routes north which are close enough to Shaw to count as connections: Winona, and Glenholme via Springmount. There is a huge hill north of Davenport, and few streets that cross the hill, most of which are extremely steep.

    The Shaw bike lane is progress, but more needs to be done.

  9. To start, It is Douro Street, not Druro.

    Secondly,

    As a resident of the Dupont and Ossington area, this new bike lane has been a great addition! I am a bike courier and spend most of my working day on busy downtown streets. It is great to have a calm and quiet route to take home from the core. The section of the bike lane north of Harbord is wonderful.

  10. To let cities designate neighborhood streets “one-way for cars, bicycles excepted” would mean getting the Province to change the HTA.

    It would be simple, totally optional, money-saving, and totally sensible.

    But no sign of any proposals right now. Too politicized?

  11. Antony: I have seen (and cycled) one work-around the HTA. Ferguson Avenue runs north-south in Downtown Hamilton. The block between King and King William Streets is technically a two-way street (there are no one-way signs); but turns and through-movements to southbound Ferguson at King William are prohibited except to cyclists. At the driveway entrances, similar no-left and no-right turns require cars to go northbound, but not bicycles. It’s one block of a minor mixed industrial/commercial/residential street (it used to be a railway corridor for trains headed up the Mountain to Caledonia), but it is an example of what could be done on Brunswick Ave, for example.

    http://goo.gl/maps/LUMYv

    Phil: Winona is my favourite route, though Bracondale Hill Road and Mount Royal Avenue (or, further east, cutting through Wychwood Park) are also good ways of getting up the hill.

    (BTW: I fixed the two mispellings of Douro, thanks.)

  12. I just checked the 2001 Bike Plan: Shaw was in it as a proposed signed route; so I guess the 12 years of wait was worth it to get something above mere signage. It is a travesty that we haven’t done far more for urban cyclists given how cheaply done painted infrastructure is, and how much time and re$ource has gone to the off-road/suburban area facilities. The true need is – and has been for decades – east-west routes like Bloor, like Queen/King etc.

    I think the City/TTC are happy to keep cycling dangerous to keep transit more profitable to subsidize suburban routes. The core is badly outvoted right? So we’ll study things like Bloor – again – though other places would be happy to expand the subway for price of paint.

  13. As a pedestrian crossing an intersection “contraflow” (e.g. heading east on the north side of the road), I don’t know how many times I have had to yell at a right-turning driver who is only looking for traffic approaching from the left. Sometimes I’ve had to whack their hood to keep from being run over. So I don’t hold out much hope for the safety of contraflow-riding bicycles. There shouldn’t be much problem with thraffic that’s already on the street driving towards the contra-flow cyclist, but intersections are going to be pretty dicey.

  14. To be clear, my previous post was about allowing bicycles to ride contraflow “on neighbourhood streets” in the absence of formal facilities like on SHaw.

  15. Yes – “intersections are going to be pretty dicey”…. When there was a push about four years ago for getting going on the Brunswick contraflow, some within the local RA rightly pointed out that the current illegal but tolerated set-up almost encouraged awareness and slowing of cyclists at intersections that weren’t signalized, and to have this legal traffic would mean a host of signage maybe, if not risk, given how some of us don’t really stop, myself at times for sure. So a petition of 18 mostly Brunswick Ave. residents in the area deflected the interest in this; and then we’ve gone downhill since. Yes, Brunswick makes some real sense given the many hazards of both Spadina and Bathurst, and it can jog onto Augusta and otherwise go south almost to Front St. as the former network sub-committee members had pointed out. We sorely lack a single smooth connected route to the lakefront too; and Mr. Vaughan ain’t providing it on John St.; the Peter St. jog makes that inferior/unsafe.

  16. Sean, re Winona etc. for traversing the hill above Davenport, I have selfish motives since I actually live near Rogers and Oakwood. The area from the edge of that hill north beyond Eglinton has too few bike lanes but has plenty of quiet side streets wide enough for lanes both directions. I wish the city was looking into adding long north/south lanes on streets like Winona, which could nearly connect with Marlee’s lanes, and Glenholme which also offers a connection north of Eglinton to the Belt Line.

    Springmount is hidden and requires a short, unpleasant, jog on Oakwood but is the best route up that hill I am aware of. It runs in the former bed of Garrison Creek and has a nice gentle slope and practically no traffic.

    In addition, Glenholme and Winona are among the best routes across the hilly part of the city between Saint Clair and Eglinton. Bathurst has a large valley in that stretch and you have to go west as far as Keele to find another north-south route that is passable by bike – there’s a huge valley centered around Caledonia and a bit north of Rogers.

  17. I fail to see this as a successful change to bicycle infrastructure in Toronto.
    Denison, Bellevue, Borden and Howland are far superior options in terms of route centrality, car traffic and street width. Counter flow is in my opinion more dangerous, despite whatever study you can link to.
    Also, just because I feel like ranting, I have ridden my bike in T.O. my whole life (20 years of riding), and I never let lanes protect me. I protect myself, by being as aggressive a rider as I need to be. I take space where it is necessary. Ride on the sidewalk where necessary, ride towards oncoming traffic where necessary. Being timid gets you in trouble with larger vehicles. Rock a whistle and bright lights and take back the road.

  18. Interesting article that covers most of the important aspect of Shaw Street. I would emphasize four points: (1) oncoming vehicles that drive in the middle of the road, blocking the northbound cycling lane (a daily occurrence) and making it a lot more dangerous to cycle, (2) southbound vehicles on Shaw blocking the entire lane while waiting at the red light on the Queen/Shaw intersection, (3) the shared stretch of road between King and Queen (should either have a narrower lane to completely disallow cars to overtake, or signs reminding cars that cyclists have the right to take the entire lane) and (4) the very shoddy paint job which doesn’t help with any of this. Needs more paint, more signs, and more police patrols ready to ticket.

    I have had some pretty nasty experiences with drivers on Shaw street. In theory, it is a great idea. In practice, it is a disappointment to say the least.

    The one road where you should have a full, clear lane, ends up being blocked by parked cars, stopped cars, and oncoming southbound vehicles overtaking “slower” cars or cyclists, and drivers who are very aggressive when you call them out on it.

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