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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

Bike Infrastructure: Let’s sweat the small stuff

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This past weekend I went with a few friends on a long bike ride down the trails along the Humber River, east along the waterfront, and up Strachan Ave. to Trinity Bellwoods Park. We waited patiently at the intersection of Strachan Ave and Lakeshore Blvd with about ten or twelve other cyclists who were all waiting to travel northbound up Strachan Ave. However, in order to do this we had to wait on the wrong side of the road, cross north, then wait again to cross east to access the northbound bike lane.

So, I was happy to see the City’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee approve a small item (number 10) under the larger Bike Trails Implementation Plan on Tuesday, that directs Transportation Services to report on the installation of a northbound bicycle crossing to allow cyclists to cross from the Martin Goodman Trail onto the bike lane at Strachan without having to do that annoying jog around the intersection.

It’s small, sure, but these small improvements to the bicycle network in Toronto make riding around the city more intuitive. Of course, we should always be pushing for more bike lanes and better cycling infrastructure over-all, but I think sometimes in the noise over high-profile cases like the Jarvis St bike lanes, we miss opportunities to work on the smaller, more local improvements that fly under the radar, but would make cycling just that much better in this city.

While we have seen smaller improvements to the bicycle network that have made riding safer and easier—like the inclusion of bike boxes—where the city is really lacking is in those areas where a bike lane ends with only a sign that tells you soon you’ll be on your own. Take the spot where the Harbord Ave. bike lane ends when it hits Ossington Ave. Few might know that a designated east-west ‘bike route’ continues just a little south on Ossington on residential Dewson St.

Cycling signage in Toronto is poor at the best of times and non-existent the other times, which, at this particular intersection, leads many cyclists to fend for themselves even though connections do exist for those wanting to ride through a designated residential ‘bike route’. Imagine an arrow painted on the road to tell cyclists which way to turn to connect to Dewson, a bike box to help them make that left turn safely, and sharrows on Ossington to lead them to Dewson. Now imagine this kind of cycling connective tissue all over the city.

It’s these moments at intersections, when you don’t know where to turn, how to do it properly, or where to go next, that make cycling in the city a daunting, or at least head-scratching, task for those not accustomed to it. Taking away some of the confusion through small improvements such as painted arrows on the ground, bike boxes for turning, and sharrows that show you where to merge with traffic (like the ones on the eastern edge of the Prince Edward Viaduct) makes what cycling network we have work better, whether you’re comfortable riding on arterials or you’re looking to connect through residential streets for a quieter ride.

Even something that may seem as inconsequential as signage is crucial. We should be painting bike route symbols on the street rather than hiding them in tiny blue signs half covered by trees and electrical wires. The easier, safer, and less confusing cycling is in the city, the more people we will have out riding. I think the city would benefit greatly from a comprehensive bike signage overhaul, but small interventions to improve connections is something we can each work on.

Those looking to connect with other cyclists in their neighbourhood to discuss these smaller, more local improvements could benefit from connecting with their ward group organized underneath the umbrella of Cycle Toronto (formerly Toronto Cyclists Union). While some ward groups seem more active than others—the group for Ward 44-Scarborough East has two people while Ward 14-Parkdale/High Park has 54 people—it’s a starting place to make those connections with other cyclists in your area.

We should always push for the big things like more bike lanes on arterials, but it’s good to remember that when it comes to cycling it’s important to sweat the small stuff, too.


photo by Editor B, map from Google Maps





  1. That first item really makes me happy. For years I’ve thought that the intersection of Lakeshore and Strachan was so unfriendly for cyclists. I also have observed several near collisions between cyclists as they cross Lakeshore and then either opt to continue on the sidewalk while some wait at the northwest corner to cross to the northbound Strachan bike lane. Thank you whoever initiated this effort!

    It would also be great if sharrows could appear on designated bike routes on side streets.

    And what about the idea of counter-flow sharrows on one-way streets. I see cyclists going the wrong way on these all the time, so why not enable this to at least happen in a safer, legal way? Presumably the maze of one way streets downtown is to deter excess car traffic in residential neighbourhoods. By making cycling in both directions on these legal, cycle traffic would be removed from main streets (something that would warm Mayor Ford’s heart, no doubt), with no negative effect on the neighbourhood.

  2. To which I would add two things:

    1) A big help would be contraflow bike lanes. Out in the east end, there are at least two short sections of street I can think of where contraflow bike lanes could be provided very easily (a little paint and a few signs, along with a few minutes at community council) to improve connections:

    – Dixon Road east of Kingston Road (currently one-way westbound) — provide another outlet for the eastbound Dundas bike lane, and another connection to the lake

    – Corley Ave. east of Woodbine (currently one-way westbound) — provide access to the local neighbourhood as well as a through route to the Beach / Kew Gardens via Waverley, Lee etc.

    2) Don’t limit this to bike infrastructure. Apply it to TTC service too. There are lots of places on the bus/streetcar network where a relatively straightforward and inexpensive change could result in faster and/or more reliable service. The current practice seems to be to limit initiatives to longer corridors (e.g., the Finch West report), but this means the bulk of the network gets ignored. Why not set up a suggestion box with bus/streetcar operators (who best know the system, how it works, and its major delay points) for quick, effective and easily implemented fixes, with prizes/compensation for the best examples (or anything that ends up implementable)?

    For example, the 12 Kingston Road bus routinely gets stopped at two southbound traffic lights in close succession on Vic Park (at Musgrave and then at Gerrard), because of a bus stop in between. Move the bus stop (or adjust the traffic light timings), and maybe that means you only have to stop at one light and can sail through the other.

  3. Painting the bike lanes (and sharrow streets) in a different color would be a nice, inexpensive small detail. Many cities do this.

  4. It’s true. Sometimes the “small stuff” matters and makes a real difference.  Congratulations to the Cycle Toronto Ward 19 Group and Mike Layton for pushing this issue and making some positive change!

    As a member of Cycle Toronto and the Ward 19 Group, I encourage others who are passionate about making Toronto a better cycling city to become a member of CT and connect up with your local Ward Advocacy Group. 

  5. A small thing that would make a big difference is for the City and the Province to work out legislative issues that prevent the installation of more contra-flow bicycle lanes. As Brent said above, there are many opportunities to connect great bike routes through quiet neighbourhoods, but we need to make it legal for bicycles to travel both ways on a few one-way streets. For example, 32 Spokes is pushing for a signed route from the end of the Dundas bike lane through the Beaches, connecting to the Martin Goodman Trail and to the signed route on Lee Ave/Main Street which avoids busy Queen Street and Kingston Road entirely. It requires less than 100m of contra-flow bike lanes to make it happen,but the City won’t consider it until the Province updates their laws. 

    The few contra-flows we have work great, but we need more. 

  6. It’s great that this is finally being fixed. For years the only legal option was to dismount and walk your bike.

    They should look at where Fort York Blvd meets Lakshore as well. It’s a T intersection, so a bike travelling south can use the left turn lane without worrying about oncoming traffic. This is also a safe and easy way to get to the park.

    Bizarrely, there’s a sign instructing cyslists to dismount and wait two phases to cross as a pedestrian.

  7. I wonder if this isn’t the sort of thing that is too small yet too important to be left to the city and stuck in endless consultation and evaluation. If the Urban Repair Squad wants to put up more prominent versions of the blue bike signs – in the above example, indicating that westbound cyclists on Harbord can continue on Dewson and that eastbound cyclists on Dewson can take a shortcut on Dewson and Roxton to get to Harbord – I don’t see a problem.

  8. How timely! Just the other night, my boyfriend and I had a long discussion on these little things that could greatly improve the west end of the Lakeshore Trail. Better signage and sharrow marks through Mimico and New Toronto would help recreational riders. Some of the jogs along Lakeshore Dr at fifth(ish?) street could also do with arrows showing the direction for riders to go on.

  9. Greg: what has the City said are the legislative issues? Broadly speaking, it is illegal for cyclists to travel the wrong way down a one-way street, just like any other vehicle. But the City has gotten around this by painting and signing contra-flow lanes (as I am sure you are aware). There should be no legislative issues at all — it’s already happening. Knox, Logan, Strathcona. (Markland in Hamilton.)

    Dixon and Corley would be easier than other examples, because no special traffic signals required anywhere (compare to, say, Logan, where a new traffic light for bikes was needed at Eastern).

    The only major issue is street parking. Parking on Dixon would need to switch from the south to the north side. Parking on Corley would need to switch from alternating sides semimonthly, to remaining permanently on the north side. That’s an issue under City jurisdiction.