Whether you are a rider or a driver, bike lanes can get you into trouble
The shrill sound of the bicycle bells made me slam on the brake. I was in my car, turning right from Yonge Street onto King Street, in downtown Toronto.
The light had just turned green.
The two cyclists appeared to come out of nowhere. Not slowing down, they zipped straight through the intersection. Bells still clanking, one of them gave me a one-finger salute as he rode on, blending into the traffic.
It was a close encounter of the bike kind!
I was shaken, it could have ended badly.
In my mind, I had the right of way over the cyclists coming up behind. Frankly, I had enough on my plate trying to time the pedestrians crossing the road to worry about bicycles approaching from the rear at 20 km/hour. Yet, from the bicycle bell feedback I was receiving, it was clear that these roadway interlopers did not agree with my understanding of the auto/bike détente treaty etched into my brain.
I drive a car and ride a bike; so I decided that I owed it to myself to figure out the rules around bike lanes. After all, bike lanes are a means to keep the peace between competing interests of motorists and cyclists. They need to be regulated; the rules should be both well understood and practical to observe.
Personally speaking, my bike riding is an activity of pleasure and exercise. Driving, on the other hand, is to get me somewhere that I need to get to. I accept that some folks use two wheels to get to places that they must be at – such as work, the beer store etc. You can also argue that exercise and pleasure are “must do’s”.
Naturally, I am more invested and protective of things that govern my “must do’s” rather than those things that are “nice to do”.
Before I get into the confusing rules that govern “on-street” bike lanes in Canada, let me lay out some facts.
When it comes to “on-street” bike lanes, Toronto with 128 km is second only to Montreal’s 230 km, followed by Vancouver (60 km), Ottawa (50 km), and Calgary (30 km). The other interesting factoid is that roughly two-thirds of those that use bicycles to get to work are men.
The “on-street” bike lanes, at intersections, are the epicenter of confrontation between automobiles and bicycles. My recent encounter with the two cyclists is a prime example of the confusion and the potential danger that these intersections create.
So, what exactly are the rules for a right-hand turn in Toronto where bicyclists are also in play?
Below are several opinions gleaned from a recent Globe and Mail article which in my view appear to be both contradictory and prone to misjudgment:
“When turning right across a cycle track, drivers need to yield to cyclists who are proceeding straight – there is signage along cycle tracks to inform road users of this yield condition,” said Steve Johnston, City of Toronto spokesman. “Drivers must signal and check their mirrors and the blind spot to their right to make sure they do not cut off a cyclist.”
Not an easy feat when considering the bicycle speeds and the fact that not all cyclists have functioning headlamps or reflective gear to make them visible via a rear-view mirror or by turning one’s head.
“Where a bike lane is marked with a skipped, not solid, white line, drivers may enter or cross the bike lane to turn right,” Johnston said.
The skipped or solid distinction is rather difficult to see when the length of such a distinction may be barely one car length and sitting alongside the right side of your vehicle.
“If a motor vehicle is within the intersection waiting to turn right – blocking the cyclist’s path from the bicycle lane to the other side of the intersection – the cyclist should wait until the way is clear before proceeding through the intersection,” said Ontario Ministry of Transportation (MTO) spokesman Bob Nichols.
Clearly, the two speeding cyclists that I nearly ran over, had not read this rule.
“Getting into that bike lane – when there’s not a barrier or solid painted line – is something drivers should do – as long as it’s clear”. “Normally, when turning right you should be close to the curb before the intersection,” “This means that where there is a bike lane, you should move into the bike lane before the turn – obviously as far as is reasonable,” says Angelo DiCicco, Young Drivers of Canada general manager.
If the above does not make sense to you, check out this image titled “Right turn and bike lanes.”
“If a vehicle is making a right turn where there is a bike lane, any cyclist coming through is considered to have the right-of-way and the driver must yield. If there is no bike lane, the motorist is always required to ensure that the way is clear before turning, Hayward Gulati said. “Sometimes cyclists will go left around the vehicle to avoid a right-turning vehicle, but she said it is not required.”
What? Hayward Gulati seems to be contradicting Angelo DiCicco, or maybe he is just erring on the side of caution!
The presence of a dotted bike lane at any intersection appears relevant. Its presence should indicate that a vehicle can enter the bike lane and ready themselves for a right turn. I’ve observed mostly the opposite. Most vehicles do not enter the bike lane, with their drivers relying on their falcon-vision and exceptional timing to make their right turn.
It has been reported that there are roughly 1,200 collisions per year that involve bicycles.
My guess is that 1,199 occur at the intersection of Yonge and King.
So, as you enjoy the summer, drive and ride safely!