Lanes, tracks and bikes – oh my!

As we reported in January of 2008, balancing cyclist safety with transit accessibility is becoming a key issue that will determine the likely success or failure of various design proposals for the 2009-10 reconstruction of Roncesvalles. A widened sidewalk bumpout would allow riders to board the streetcar directly from the curb, but such a design would leave little room for cyclists, who would certainly get caught in the rails (as Seattle cyclists have discovered). An alternative would be to leave more space between the sidewalk and the tracks, but then disabled riders would have to step off the sidewalk and then step back up into the streetcar.

At a public meeting on March 24, the City and TTC presented a preliminary design concept that combines these two approaches. The idea is this: at a TTC stop, a bike lane would gently rise up from the main road to meet the level of the widened sidewalk and run alongside. When the streetcar is boarding, cyclists would stop and allow riders on and off. The transit riders would board directly onto the streetcar from the raised roadway, and would only have to cross a bike lane as opposed to a full traffic lane.

Because the concept is merely preliminary, the TTC and City were unable to provide decent photos or drawings to illustrate what these raised bikes lanes might look like. This was unfortunate, since the prospect of a pathway rising up from the road was alarming to some people who imagined cars popping side-wheelies on a stunt ramp. And once such visions take hold, mere words are insufficient to dislodge them. As a result, a potential solution to two important transportation problems was not given a proper hearing.

Typical Roncesvalles sidewalk corner

Photo: Piotr Bazlerz

Raised pathways are not new: Sidewalks are raised pathways on the street that sometimes lie at the same level as the main road. Despite this, motorists do not drive into or over them, nor are people confused about which is which when crossing the street.

Toronto motorists actually have a lot of experience with raised pathways on the street. These pathways are called sidewalks, and motorists can drive right alongside them very nicely, without bumping against the raised edges or going airborne. And though the sidewalk sometimes lies at the same level as the road (at corner intersections for example – see photo, right), people can easily tell them apart. Even a small child knows where she must stop, and look both ways before crossing the street.

So why were so many folks alarmed at the mere idea of a separate raised pathway for cyclists? Along with the lack of illustrations, perhaps it was the poor choice of naming these pathways “transit platforms.” To most people, a transit platform is where people wait for a streetcar. And so it was understandable that people would wonder how cyclists were supposed to weave safety through a crowd of passengers waiting for the 504. And regrettably, it must be said that the City and TTC did a poor job at clarifying themselves.

But these are not transit platforms at all. They are not extensions of the sidewalk and they are not waiting areas. They are roadways. But unlike the car lanes that transit riders must currently cross to board, these roadways are used only by cyclists, and they are raised to improve accessibility for disabled passengers. The City and TTC must make this clear immediately.

Whether this concept will actually work remains to be seen. There are many questions to answer, such as how snow will be removed from these lanes, or how the City will blend the raised portion with the main road safely and coherently. The public will get these answers, and will have a chance to study the concept in detail during the formal design and consultation phase, expected to begin in the late summer.

How would you balance streetcar accessibility with cycling safety? Please leave a comment, or email us at,  and let us know!

7 thoughts on “Lanes, tracks and bikes – oh my!

  1. Ian

    A very nice assessment of the situation. This idea struck me as a great compromise that’s amenable to all street users. Here’s hoping the concept isn’t derailed by the small minority of residents unwilling to work at developing something smart and innovative on Roncesvalles.

  2. Mario

    Here’s another example of a few people in the community deciding what’s good for their area at the cost of all other citizens of this messed up city. This arterial roadway will simply be blocked to vehicular traffic. Anyone who drives will be forced to seek an alternate route or restaurant or business. You might as well close the street, and hand it to the TTC. Cyclists, streetcars and pedestrians just don’t mix well together and I don’t see this plan working at all. Basically the vocal locals are deciding that they are going to privatize their main street. So now we have privatization of sidestreets and main street. What next, tolls for non-residents? If you really want something innovative, bring back trolley buses and dump streetcars. Unfortunately trolley buses don’t create as many jobs for our wonderful public sector. They also don’t interfere with traffic, and they don’t rattle your house when they pass by and they are far safer for everyone.

  3. John Bowker, RVBIA

    Thanks for the comments, Mario.

    The BIA is particularly concerned with how the City/TTC proposal might affect traffic flow. The City’s transportation department and the TTC have both studied the proposals carefully and have concluded that traffic will not be significantly affected, if at all. This is not surprising, since Roncesvalles already operates as a two-lane street (except on weekday mornings), and the proposal preserves right-turn lanes. The City/TTC proposals presented on March 24 mainly affect parking, not traffic flow. If you have reasons to believe otherwise, I would urge you to please share these with the BIA.

    As for the “few people in the community,” you should be aware that this group happens to include all three neighboring residents’ associations, the BIA as well as other community members and organizations, local and nonlocal. We have all been working hard to find ways of ensuring that the final City/TTC plan will be what’s best for our neighbourhood and for Toronto.

    And just to be clear: there are no done deals here, nothing has been decided (and certainly not by any of us). The formal detailed design and consultation process has not even begun (the City says it will begin in the late summer or fall). In the meantime, I continue to urge folks to submit comments and criticism that will help improve the developing plans.

  4. Mario

    I realize that there are community groups working very hard to come up with a solution to satisfy all. This does not mean that these groups represent the majority of residents and they certainly don’t represent me, a non-local resident, just a visitor.

    The problem in short is the streetcars! They simply are not forgiving in any way! I would support burying them dead or alive. In addition to all the safety issues with them, surface streetcars, dedicated roadway or not, are simply the worst choice in our northern climate. The track beds have to be rebuilt every 10-15 years at a tremendous cost. The more surface track the TTC lays, the more in debt it will become.

    In response to the traffic flow issue. Yes, today it is basically a two-lane road, with gaps at the intersections. These gaps allow vehicles to pass the stationary and slow moving streetcars. These “passing” gaps will be eliminated entirely, thereby preventing any vehicles from passing streetcars. Every streetcar moving on this route will lead a parade of all traffic behind it.

    I don’t live in your community but my wife and I regularly visit the restaurants, and businesses in your area. I also cycle to work, use the TTC & drive as well, so I’m aware of the issues with all forms of transport. I already avoid other areas of the city because of traffic and parking issues, I may have to add Ronceesvalles village to the list in a few years.

    As far as done deals are concerned, you may be offered the opportunity to provide input, but just use changes made to St. Clair, Landsdowne Avenue, Annette Street as examples, local opposition to the city plans were present, but the city proceeded with their plans anyway. Our beloved city hall has it’s own agenda, and it’s great if you agree with them, but believe me they will railroad their plans right through your community, as Paul Martin would put it, “Come hell or high-water”.

  5. Kevin Love

    Reading this article has convinced me that the bumpout is a good idea. The proposal provides a protected bicycle route and keeps pedestrians off the bicycle route when they are not boarding a streetcar. Those were my concerns, and they have now been addressed.

    Now my concern is about the rest of Roncesvalles. Unlike at the bumpouts, there does not appear to be an adequate protected bicycle route. Also, the proposal fails to follow the recommendations of Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David McKeown, in his report of November 24, 2007. A copy of the report may be found at:

    Dr. McKeown reports that air pollution from cars and trucks kills 440 people in Toronto every year and injures 1,700 people so severely that they have to be hospitalized. Dr. McKeown therefore recommends that the volume of this polluting traffic be immediately reduced by one third.

    Unfortunately, the proposals for Roncesvalles do not appear to comply with or to support this recommendation from Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health for a one third reduction in air pollution. It is time to go back to the drawing board and come up with a design that will prevent at least one third of the existing car and truck traffic from using Roncesvalles.

  6. jason

    In response to to Mario’s concerns that his and other’s ability to use their car as primary transportation in the downtown core may be inconvenienced by urban changes – like the one above – in order to address the needs of local transit users and bike commuters: while your concern for your right of access has to be acknowledged you must in turn acknowledge that our city cannot support the needs of the local populace (clean air, safe road use etc.) while continuing to prioritize inter-urban car commuting. Toronto is becoming more congested by the minute and streetcars are not the problem.

    I submit that all car commuters be subject to inner-city tolls (similar to those in place in London England) which in turn could be used to fund more bike routes and improvements to TTC and GO transit thereby allowing car commuters efficient means to access the city’s core while parking in areas that suffer none of the congestion issues felt downtown.

  7. Will

    There’s another idea that is presented here by the extension of sidewalks. In Paris they have several areas where the bike lanes are in fact on the extended sidewalk, separate from the roadway but right beside it. The distinction between the pedestrian sidewalk and the bicycle lane is made simply by painted lanes (similar to those along the waterfront). Of course this presents a problem in terms of mixing pedestrian and bicycle traffic, but it requires only the increased attention of pedestrians to watch for oncoming bicycles and similarly the increased attention of cyclists to watch for pedestrians (which is already something that cyclists keep an eye out for, along with opening car doors).

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