Handling Street Car Tracks and Difficult Intersections With “Indirect Left Turns”

Indirect Left Turn Sign on Bloor at Sherbourne

What is an indirect left turn and how can it help you navigate streetcar tracks and other awkward intersections?

Making a left turn through a busy intersection can be a very tense situation for many cyclists. You’re worried about getting hit from behind, you’re trying to watch for oncoming vehicles, you’re watching the sidewalk for pedestrians, you’re hoping to cross streetcar tracks at a 90 degree angle and you can’t be sure everyone around you actually sees you waiting in the middle of all this.

To help make left turns a less stressful experience, the indirect left turn allows cyclists to proceed through an intersection on a green light in the curb lane (or bike lane should one be there) and join the curb lane of the cross street to wait for the next green light. This eliminates the hazards of waiting in the left most lane and allows cyclists to remain in the right most lane completing a left turn in a two part process.

In Toronto, there are 2 intersections where indirect left turns are suggested through existing infrastructure.

Heading West on Bloor Street in the bike lane extending from the Prince Edward Viaduct, an indirect left turn allows cyclists to turn from Bloor and head south on Sherbourne. Here’s an explanation from a 1997 issue of Cyclometer:

As you cycle west on Bloor St. towards Sherbourne St. there are two blue signs with a pictogram describing an ‘indirect left turn’ for westbound cyclists wanting to turn left onto Sherbourne. Cyclists can ride straight through on the westbound green and stop at the far curb in the white painted ‘box’ to wait for the southbound green light. To ensure that waiting cyclists aren’t in conflict with right turning drivers, the southbound ‘right turn on green’ has been prohibited. Also the crosswalk was moved north just enough so that cyclists don’t have to block the crosswalk while waiting for the southbound green. The ‘box’ is large enough to accommodate 2 or 3 cyclists at a time.

The bike lane and sign still exist (although the sign is hung exceptionally high for cyclists):

Bloor Street Bike Lane Sherbourne indirect left turn

Unfortunately, the past 13 years have not been kind to the “box”:

Box location for indirect left turn Sherbourne

Early Bike Box location Sherbourne

The second location where an indirect left turn is suggested for cyclists is at the awkward intersection of Dupont, Dundas Street West and Annette.

In order to get to the bike lane on Annette from the bike lane on Dupont, simply follow the sharrows. While I did not notice a sign explaining the turn at this intersection, the sharrows quite clearly illustrate a path for cyclists:

Sharrows for indirect left turn at Dupont Dundas Street West

Sharrows connect Old Weston Road to Annette bike lane

The indirect left turn is also popular with motorists at this intersection as I witnessed 4 drivers make a similar move on the underused Old Weston Road to avoid waiting in the left turn lane.

Indirect left turns are a great way to help people on bikes build confidence on busier roads where turning left can be both nerve-wracking and dangerous. In fact, the Toronto Cyclists Handbook even recommends this strategy, calling it a “two-part left-turn from right of lane”:

I’ve used this turning method at intersections with streetcar tracks and multiple traffic lanes and you’re bound to witness it at many intersections along Spadina. However, is it legal to make this type of turn?

I contacted Sgt. Tim Burrows of Traffic Services and here’s what he had to offer on the subject:

Why I like the indirect left turn.

1.) Avoid potential conflict by trying to cut through traffic to move into
proper turn position. (safer)
2.) Most drivers expect to see bicycles on right side of road adding to the
‘predictability factor,’ (safer)
3.) Riders can always keep eyes forward, with glances to left/right for
safety instead of turning back to get a ‘big picture.’ (safer)
4.) Faster (better for cyclist)

Intersections are one of the most dangerous areas for all our road users
and especially so for our vulnerable groups such as cyclists.  Anytime we
can find safer means for them to travel…its better for all of us.

The Sherbourne site has one draw back. The sign shows a painted stop line,
but there isn’t one.  Maybe this is a given, but I wouldn’t want cyclists
to think they are supposed to drive into the pedestrian walk way, nor have
officers ticketing a cyclist for riding too close to the crosswalk.

As long as you stay out of the crosswalk indirect left turns are a perfectly acceptable and possibly even faster way to make a left turn on a bicycle at busier intersections.

While I’m uncertain if there are plans to add indirect left turn infrastructure in the current Bike Plan, Toronto may soon see something similar in the form of “Bike Boxes.”

Over at Giddy Up Toronto, a blogger has suggested that we use indirect left turn boxes instead of the proposed bike boxes. The planned bike boxes would allow cyclists to move to the head of the line at red lights and position themselves for a left turn from the centre-most lane. While this clearly marks a space where cyclists will be turning it doesn’t address the issue that you’re still in a position that makes it difficult to cross streetcar tracks at a 90 degree angle. Both our planned bike boxes and indirect left turn boxes work best when right turns are prohibited on red lights, but only the indirect left turn box positions cyclists to safely cross streetcar tracks.

The most important aspect when considering any piece of infrastructure, and this is something that Sgt. Burrows also mentions, is that we create an environment that promotes predictable behaviour. Intersections, especially busy ones with streetcar right-of-ways and multiple lanes (including bike lanes) provide the greatest opportunity for serious collisions. Clearly marking paths for all users helps to promote predictable behaviours and can keep all road users “on the same page” reducing the possibility of confusion and ultimately collisions.

Update November 12, 2010: A sign explaining indirect left turns has been posted at the Dupont/Dundas/Annette intersection. Although to make this sort of turn here as indicated means you’re now blocking the bike lane. Here’s the sign as photographed by Martinho:

P1010685

Anonymous Sign Maker Points to Benefits of Bike Lanes on Jarvis

Thank You Cyclists photo by HiMYSYeD

Thank-you Cyclists for paying more for these roads than you get in services. Roads are paid for by property tax (and rental fees) most cyclists live in Toronto and pay this tax. Many drivers do not and get a free ride.

Thank you cyclists 2 photo by HiMYSYeD

Thank you cyclists for choosing a life-enhancing, noise- and heat-free form of transportation.

2% photo by HiMYSYeD

Cyclist get bike lanes on only 2% of the roads they pay for. Roads are paid for by property tax (and rental fees) most cyclists live in Toronto and pay this tax. Many drivers do not and get a free ride.

Photos via HiMYSYeD

How Bike Lanes are Born – HiMYSYeD on Jarvis

Today, Sunday July 25, 2010, the old lane markings on Jarvis Street are being removed and new bike lanes are being painted. HiMYSYeD is documenting the process on Twitter:

Bike Lane Painting on Jarvis Street

Paint Truck on Jarvis

The above machine paints lines, the machine below removes them:

Bike Lane Painting by HiMYSYeD

Yellow Line Remover

Yellow Line Remover on Jarvis Street

All photos by HiMYSYeD, follow him on Twitter.

Setting a Fine Example on Jarvis

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Looks like our boys (and gals) in blue get their news from The Sun. And according to the photographer they weren’t approaching the citizen on a bike.

Photos via Sweet One on Flickr

Jarvis Rejigging Confuses Mainstream Media, Toronto Cyclists Union Sets the Record Straight

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Why are these people riding their bicycles down the middle of Jarvis?

Well, it’s quite possible that they’ve been following some mainstream media outlets, and these outlets have been giving them the wrong information. I’m looking at you Toronto Sun.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and bike lanes painted on city streets don’t appear overnight. In order to avoid delays and stave off a mainstream media feeding frenzy of “OMG, GRIDLOCK” stories, city crews are slowly changing over the lane configuration of Jarvis Street that will extend from Queen St. and run north to Bloor St..

Here’s the facts. 5 lanes will become 6 (2 bicycle lanes separated by 4 regular lanes) and street parking is being nixed.

For further elaboration, Yvonne Bambrick of the Toronto Cyclists Union shares more information on the street redesign with photos here: BikeUnion.to Jarvis St. – Need to Know Info!

Photo by Yvonne Bambrick via Flickr

Please note, BikingToronto is also following the progress of the bike lane installation on Jarvis Street with Neal Jennings providing photos and video.

Cycling; a 100-Year Tradition in Toronto

Opening of Bloor Viaduct

Check out the guy above, riding the “Devil’s Strip” on the former streetcar tracks that once ran across the Prince Edward Viaduct.

From the City of Toronto Archives, here’s a collection of photos from the early days of biking in Toronto:

Via 311 Toronto

TorontoVerve; Street Style and Cycle Chic

The BikingToronto Photo of the Day blog regularly features stylish Torontonian’s riding their bikes and it’s pretty clear that we’re no strangers to “cycle chic” in this city. So you just know that a street style photographer is going to find a lot of fashionable subjects on their bikes. Take for example these photos from TorontoVerve:

More photos at TorontoVerve

Rainy Day Slideshow from the BikingToronto Flickr Pool

See more photos of biking in Toronto in the BikingToronto Flickr Pool

Incorporating Bicycles into Exterior Home Design

Saw this bike rack as part of a very “put together” front yard in Little Italy. While driveways and garages are the zenith of ugly home design, the creation of dedicated bicycle parking spots like this is certainly something I’d like to see more of:

Bike Parking Front Yard Toronto

Custom Bicycle Rack at Front of House Toronto

Front Yard Bicycle Parking Toronto

What I really like about this setup is how prominent the bicycle becomes on this property. It’s an equivalent to a driveway, but you won’t see the bricks cracking, sinking and getting stained with motor oil. The placement of a bike rack out front allows for easy access to a bike, a quick way to take to the streets without having to go into the shed or through a gate. Of course, this access could make the bikes parked here more vulnerable to thieves as well as being exposed to the elements, but hey, I think it looks pretty good.

The Toronto Cyclists Handbook

The Partnership for Integration and Sustainable Transportation (a joint initiative of CultureLink Settlement Services and the Toronto Cyclists Union) has launched The Toronto Cyclists Handbook.

Available in 17 languages, the handbook provides an excellent introduction to the rules of the road and how to join the more than 400,000 Torontonians who use bicycles to get to work and play.

The Toronto Cyclists Handbook Cover

The information within the handbook is to the point and accompanied by helpful illustrations.

The Toronto Cyclists Handbook Page 8

The Toronto Cyclists Handbook Page 9

The Toronto Cyclists Handbook Excerpt Page 13

The handbook is currently available from the Toronto Cyclists Union and CultureLink Settlement Services. The handbook will soon be available online as a PDF and will see greater distribution as part of CultureLink’s Newcomer Settlement Program.

Please note that the text in the handbook is not faded as appears above, this is due to an error in my photo taking.