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Bike lanes needed on arterial roads

For many urban cyclists, roads with designated bicycle lanes offer safe passage along busy streets without worrying about conflicts with other road users such as motorists. However, there have been recent criticisms regarding the implementation of bike lanes on Toronto streets namely from not-so-bike-friendly mayoral candidates. Some cite that bike lanes impede vehicular traffic and that they should only be allocated on minor-arterial or local roads rather than major-arterial roads in efforts to increase traffic flow and better protect cyclists. This change, however, is counter-intuitive as it essentially renders the bike lane useless and may only make traffic flow on major arterial roads worse.

The purpose of a bike lane is simple: rather than have both automobile and bicycle traffic share a single lane on a road a separate lane is created specifically for cyclists (the width ranging from 1.2~1.5m in Toronto; wide enough to create a buffer, narrow enough to prevent cars from using it as a car lane) via a painted strip or other physical buffers. In separating cyclists from motorists it helps motorists pass cyclists without having to decrease speed or change lanes which is important in keeping the traffic flow moving efficiently in major arterial roads. That means bikes and cars can use the same street without impeding each other. What’s better is that almost every bike lane in Toronto was implemented without removing a car lane (with the exception of Jarvis street but that was part of the street revitalization so the middle lane was going to go regardless) since the lanes were wide enough to accommodate a bike lane and a normal vehicle lane.


The bike lane on St. George Street allows both the driver and cyclist to move along without hindering each others’ movement.

Another benefit to bike lanes on major arterial roads is that it deters vehicles from parking along the curb which slows down traffic (Well, not always). For example: most sections of Wellesley Street are wide enough for a car and a bike lane but not a normal road lane and side parking. Vehicles parked on the side do not give drivers enough space to continue moving so they must slow down and negotiate with the adjacent lane with oncoming traffic in order to pass the parked vehicle.

If bike lanes were to be removed from major arterial roads it would negatively affect traffic flow on major-arterials and would be a waste of tax-payers’ money to put on minor roads. Bike lanes are utterly useless in minor roads since the level of traffic and the speed of which vehicles travel at are very low. Local roads have speed limits posted anywhere from 20~30km/h so it is already very safe for cyclists on most of these roads. Many local roads are designed in cul-du-sacs or have lots of stop signs to deter drivers from using them as thoroughfares and that will affect cyclists as well.

Removing existing bike lanes on arterials will not have a positive effect on traffic flow for motorists as the number of lanes will not increase. Rather, it will work against them as they must now share the same lane with slower moving cyclists thus slowing down traffic flow and increases the risk of car-bicycle collisions. If the aim is to remove cyclists from major-arterial roads then it will not be very effective in Toronto. Major arterials such as College Street are fast and direct routes to navigate from one area to another. If a cyclist was forced to use minor-arterial or local roads it will only add time and distance to a commute as they attempt to navigate through a myriad of stop signs and cul-du-sacs. Chances are, many cyclists will still use major arterial roads regardless of whether or not a bike lane is there since it is efficient and sometimes the only direct means of getting where they need to go.


Riding from University of Toronto to Ryerson University via College Street. This route is fast and safe thanks to the bike lane and the rider encounters only a handful of controlled intersections.


Alternative route from University of Toronto to Ryerson University avoiding major arterial roads. Aside from the fact that it adds extra distance to the commute it also adds extra time due to the additional stop signs and lights a cyclist encounters.

In some cases, there is no alternative route; the bike lane on the Bloor viaduct is an important east/west connection as it is only one of two bridges in Toronto with a bike lane allowing safe passage into the downtown core or into the east end.

Preventing bike lanes from being put onto major-arterials is counter-intuitive and removing existing lanes is a complete waste of time and resources. Though not every major road is suitable for a bike lane it should still be something that planners and traffic engineers can consider on roads that would be appropriate, closing off  any plans or deliberation on implementing bike lanes on arterial roads would have a negative impact on both drivers and cyclists.



Posted: May 17th, 2010
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Filed under: Transportation Issues
Tags: , | 2 Comments »

2 Comments on “Bike lanes needed on arterial roads”

  1. 1 Joe T. said at 9:49 am on May 18th, 2010:

    Personally, sidestreets are annoying where you have to cross “arterials” without any traffic lights to make the cross-traffic stop.

    My time is important too. :)

  2. 2 Bikeroo said at 9:58 am on May 18th, 2010:

    Minor arterials and local roads are really annoying, both to cyclists and drivers. They wind and bend and loop around to intentionally get people lost, there are speed humps and stop signs everywhere to slow them down, and they lack adequate linkages to major arterials like you said. All these things are meant to deter continuous traffic flow through them so if it’s impractical for drivers it is just as impractical for cyclists.

    And yes, our time is important too :P


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