Skip to content

Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Where do we need bike lanes most?

Read more articles by

HALIFAX – Whether you’re looking to get to work, have some fun or get some exercise, there’s really nothing better than a good old fashioned bike ride. Unfortunately for the cyclists of Halifax, the biking infrastructure in this town is a little bit short on ‘good,’ with a much greater emphasis on the ‘old fashioned’ part.

In fact, biking on the peninsula can be down right dangerous. In most places cyclists have to share the road with cars, trucks,  and even the occasional rickshaw in the touristy areas.

As if the the moving vehicles weren’t enough, bikers also have to worry about smashing face first into a car door as somebody gets out of their Honda Civic.

The worst part of it all is that there’s a pretty easy fix for most of these concerns; more bike lanes!

A quick look around Halifax and you’ll realize that the city is really lacking in adequate space to keep cyclists safe on the road.

I think it would be tough to find a cyclist in this city that didn’t agree that Halifax needs more bike lanes, but where do we need them the most?

“Considering we have a great deal of riders coming in from Bedford… a definite need for these cyclists would be a bike lane that runs from the Fairview overpass, through the north-end, running straight through the peninsula and finishing in the south-end of Halifax,” says Steve Beddard, Co-Chair of the Halifax Cycling Coalition. [ see HRM pdf plan ]

Beddard thinks that the creation of a comprehensive Halifax bike lane such as this would create “a transportation corridor that is comfortable for cyclists to use when they are commuting in from Bedford, but we’ll be creating a comfortable route for people in the North and South ends as well.”

The need for bike lanes in the North and South ends is difficult to argue.

Just take a look at this map. It provides a visual record of every accident involving a cyclist that has been reported to HRM police since June 8th, 2000.

The vast majority of these accidents have occurred in the North and South ends, with considerably fewer happening in less densely populated areas.  This seems to point to two things: first, there are certain streets outside of downtown where smaller numbers of cyclists need bike lanes to protect themselves against heavy volumes of fast-moving traffic and; second, despite slower traffic downtown, bike lanes are also needed  simply due to the large number of cyclists on the road.

Even if you aren’t the cycling type, bike lanes might be good for you. Beddard argues that bike lanes can benefit motorists as well: “Studies show that the presence of bike lanes (has) a traffic calming effect, regardless of whether a biker is using it or not. The result: communities that are calmer, quieter and happier, and more time for a motorist to react to surprises.”

photo by Matthew Blackett



  1. Very informative and nicely written, bike lanes are a must! Being a cyclist is very stressful since a lot of drivers are unaware of your existence. Hope someone takes notice and they give us (cyclists) a safer way to get around. Good article.

  2. This article sums up the issue of the urgent need for more bike lanes. The imbedded mapshows that Thom Bator has done his research. Well written!

  3. cycling represents perhaps the most environmentally friendly mode of transportation in medium-large scale cities. Montreal has developed significant biker-friendly infrastructure and the success of this is evident in the number of cyclists on the roads (bike lanes) and bike paths. In order to keep cyclists safe there needs to be a strong emphasis on instituting bike lanes in Canada’s metro-areas.
    -Power to the Pedals!

  4. This is a great article. I think that the province could also be doing their part in new driver training. I feel that drivers should be made to understand the hand signals of bikers as a requiesite part of their training (I was recently horrified by a driver with whom I was driving who mistook a “stop” hand signal for a “right”). And education.
    Just a thought. That map is also a very provocative piece that I am sure will get quite a bit of use by others. Well done!

  5. It is important to remember that bike lanes do not inherently protect cyclists, or make cyclists safer in any way (as the author implies). They do, however, make cycling more comfortable for many people who are otherwise nervous on the roads, and provide a way for cyclists to bypass rush hour traffic by cycling to the right of vehicles.

    Most importantly, bike lanes have been shown to increase cycling levels, which is the greatest determinant of cycling safety. This has been the experience in Portland, where cycling accident rates have stayed constant while ridership tripled in the past 15 years. More cyclists=more safety. So in a roundabout way bike lanes DO increase safety, but only if they succeed in increasing bicycle traffic.

    Good article otherwise, and thanks for that bike accident map link.

  6. A little scary to think of how many of those high accident intersections i’ve had similarly close calls. I’m thinking especially when I head north on Robie just past Cunard and the street narrows, forcing cyclists right into traffic. The map says three accidents so far…

  7. A strongly written argument for a strongly urgent issue! It’s plain to see the benefits of a bike friendly community.

  8. The article raises a great point about the need to make cycling more attractive and safer in HRM. Yes, we need more cycling! However, bike lanes are not a panacea — instead the evidence that bike lanes make cycling safer is very ambiguous, and in some cases rather damning for bike lanes. As pointed out above by Peter Rogers, the main benefit seems to be that bike lanes encourage more people to cycle because, right or wrong, the lanes are perceived as safe — and the more cyclists present, the more attentive that car drivers become to cyclists.

    The map is super cool, but the details of the accidents are revealing. If you exclude the cases where the cyclist is at fault (running a red light etc), the remaining events largely happen at intersections — an oncoming car turns left into a cyclist who has the right of way, or the car does a classic ‘right hook’ manuever (turning right while the cyclist is beside the car). Unfortunately, most accident modes at intersections are not prevented by bike lanes (unless the bike lane system is completely separate system from ‘car’ roads). In fact, bike lanes can tend to make accidents at intersections more likely because car drivers often ONLY look where they expect to see another car. A cyclist in a bike lane is a cyclist that just isn’t seen )-:. Similarly, drivers that turn onto main roads from side roads and driveways tend to scan the road (the ‘car lanes’) but not the edge where the bike lane lies. These are the reasons why, in several studies, cyclists in bike lanes tend to have MORE accidents per km than cyclists who aren’t in bike lanes. Another factor is that drivers tend to become _more_ hostile to cyclists when bike lanes are present. They then expect you to be in it and are miffed, or worse, when you are not — even if, like at many left turns, the cyclist has no choice. In some places where I’ve done a lot of long distance bike commuting (So Cal for example) bike lane development seemed to justify vehicular apartheid in some drivers’ minds. I realize it doesn’ t have to be that way, but it can. And it isn’t good. As cyclists, we want to have access to all road networks.

    There certainly are places where cycling would be made safer by a bike lane, or simply a wide enough right-hand lane (hellloo Quinpool above the rotary!). Even more important in my mind is to 1) eliminate free right turns (offramps) from all urban and suburban streets; 2) employ traffic calming measures in order to make cars slow down; 3) invest in more and better public transit, so there are fewer cars; 4) make _every_ bus have a bike rack; 4) rewrite law so that cyclists are clearly allowed to ‘take the lane’ rather than that ‘as far to the right as possible’ BS, because taking the lane is often safest; 5) more driver education; 6) most cyclist education, encouraging cyclists to ride confidently and as vehicles rather than clinging to road edges and the deadly ‘dooring’ zone; 7) proper maintenance of the outside 2 metres of HRM roads, rather than the current pothole- and manhole-ridden war zone. 8) Make Halifax winters less slick and slushy 🙂