When the Wrong Way is the Right Way – Montrose Avenue Bike Lane

Currently, amid the abundance of one-way streets in Toronto there are just two contra-flow bike lanes. Contra-flow bike lanes allow cyclists to go against the grain of car traffic, something I’m certain many people including myself would like to see more of in the downtown core.

One of these lanes is in Riverdale and runs along Strathcona Avenue helping to lead cyclists eastbound from Withrow Park before ending at Jones Avenue. The second lane, one I took a quick ride along on a quiet afternoon, runs north from Harbord Street up to Bloor Street West along Montrose Avenue just east of Bickford Park.

When you reach Harbord on Montrose, ready to head north, you’re greeted with the signs pictured below:

Looking North up Montrose Avenue from Harbord
Visible ahead of you are the bike lane, a sign alerting you to the bike lane (with handy arrow pointing it out), and the “Bicycles Excepted” notice below the “Do Not Enter” symbol.

After cycling north from College Street on either Crawford or Beatrice (or the wrong way along that stretch of Montrose) a bike lane here allows the converging traffic on Montrose to continue heading north towards Christie Pits Park. Without this bike lane you could turn left to get to Crawford or turn right where you’re faced with another southbound one-way at Grace Street.

The one-way streets here are to keep motorists from taking short cuts north through residential streets. Yet, as we all know, cyclists don’t pose near as many threats as rushing drivers and we don’t take up quite as much space. I’m not sure if Montrose once allowed north and southbound traffic although with Grace also running one-way southbound it’s easy to believe it did as one-way streets typically alternate off of major streets. And now motorists get to park and cyclists get to ride, that’s compromise in action.

However, should you be cycling west along Harbord (something that many, many cyclists do) then you encounter this group of signs at Montrose:

Do what now? No Left Turn signs on Harbord
Those two large “No Right Turn” symbols are certainly not welcoming. Now, you’d probably ride right on past Montrose unless you either already know that this bike lane exists or you’re following The Bikeway Network Route System signs (that’s the itty bitty blue 29 with an even smaller arrow pointing the way).

So, now that we know that we can legally act like “bike salmon” let’s take a spin up Montrose.

The street is rather quaint and tree-lined. Our bike lane has a good, thick, yellow line to keep cars out. In my experience there’s almost nothing better at keeping cars out than a yellow line. White lines, they seem to beg to be crossed over, but yellow, you don’t mess with yellow.

But wait, there’s more signs:

Who is this sign for? Bike lane sign faces cyclists, not motorists.
Isn’t this nice? Thank you, sign, for reminding me that I am in fact in a dedicated bike lane. Of course, I wouldn’t have forgotten so soon, but someone else might.

Looking over my shoulder I notice something missing from the west side of the street. Plenty of cars are over there, as to be expected. There’s a few signs displaying the parking rules but there isn’t a single sign saying, “Hey, if you see a cyclist coming towards you on the left, it’s OK, they are in a bike lane, carry on.” It is this problem that I notice more each day as I ride through Toronto. It seems as though there are signs for cyclists and there are signs for motorists. As a bike rider, I’m expected to obey both of these signs. Motorists, it seems, simply aren’t included in the full conversation.

All this worrying about signs and I’m already at the end of the road. I look down, and there’s this:

These faded dots will stop traffic for you.
Bicycle actuated signals are popping up left and right in Toronto, so I was pleasantly surprised to find one here. I come to a rest over the dots (or what is left of them) and within about 30 seconds the traffic light ahead changed to green and off I went, turning left on Bloor Street:

The end of the Montrose Avenue Bike Lane.
As Toronto continues to add bicycle lanes and other infrastructure, more contra-flow lanes can create a safe routes allowing cyclists to avoid the many hazards you will find on much busier arteries. Something I’d also like to see is that the added signs and lanes also work to get motorists in on the conversation. A few “Share the Road” signs here and there could help improve the safety of cyclists giving motorists constant reminders that we’re there, even if we’re not making near as much noise or taking up so much space.


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