Crossing streetcar tracks: some tips on a tricky manoeuvre

Streetcar tracks are tricky and someone can get injured (or worse as in the case of yesterday's crash) if someone gets their wheels stuck in them. NOW Toronto covered the potential danger of streetcar tracks last week. But I'd like to just provide some basics of how you can deal with them better. It's making the best of a bad situation.

The key guideline is taking them as close to 90 degrees (at right angles) as possible so as to minimize the chance that your front wheel gets caught.

It's more difficult when you're riding alongside the streetcar tracks and need to cross them. Often it's because the right lane is blocked or the cyclist is trying to turn left. I will even turn a little away from the tracks first and then I can make a sharper turn across them. Make sure you slow down, signal and shoulder check first.

Or you can make an indirect left turn and avoid the stressful situations where you'd be trying to cross the tracks and watch out for fast cars behind you and coming towards you. It allows you to cross tracks at closer to 90.

Practice on a quieter street if you're uncomfortable. Toronto will have streetcars for a long time so it's best to focus both on education as well as on improvements to make them safer.

Comments

Include railway tracks in the descriptions. The flange would be wider on those rails.

In either case, both hands should be on the handlebars. Do not ride over any rails single-handed or no hands.

Wider tires help, but they're no panacea. I deal with tracks both out on Lake Shore Blvd, as well as Church/Richmond/Adelaide, on my commute, with 700-23C tires.

Tracks are a lot more dangerous when wet. Crossing angles and speeds that work fine in dry weather can send your wheel skidding along the track in wet weather.

As seen during the Olympics' triathlon, where Simon Whitfield fell when his bicycle went over a speed bump, there are other hazards all bicyclists have to be aware of.

It might also be useful to have a list of particularly dangerous streetcar track "hot spots" around the city, where riders should take extra caution. My own recommendations would include south on Dundas, where it splits of Roncy, the Dundas overpass where College splits off (mentioned in the Now article) and the intersection of Roncy and King/Queen.

I think you've pointed out some good ones, Mad Jack.

Any intersection where two streets with streetcar tracks intersect are difficult for some people. For example, Spadina/Queen, Spadina, Dundas, etc.

I will avoid making a left onto College from Dundas since it involves fast traffic behind me and approaching; can be slippery in bad weather and is hard for drivers to see me out in the middle.

The "slippery when wet" comment is worth noting, both for streetcar tracks and railroad grade crossings. The excellent tips above apply to both.

I would add King and Bathurst and Fleet and Bathurst to that list. Both have tracks going in all directions. Fleet and Bathurst has the added bonus of a dedicated TTC lane which means a traffic lane suddenly disappears. I have seen drivers swerve across lanes at the last second.

Somebody once gave me great advice about winter riding around street car tracks - look above to the power wires to determine where a snow covered track is, yet even with this knowledge, turning north from Dundas E to Parliament with fresh snow is asking for trouble.

I will add that the indirect turn is a pain if it's a minor cross-street and doesn't have signals. Lake Shore Boulevard through south Etobicoke is a challenge because it's a very wide street with relatively fast-moving traffic. Fortunately traffic isn't that heavy at most times. I certainly try to do the direct turn when I can, but "take the lane" implies some speed. It becomes a choice between crossing the tracks at speed, but at an unsafely narrow angle, versus slowing down and possibly getting hit from behind as you change lanes at a slow speed and sharp angle.

The Dundas/College intersection has this problem as well, if you are eastbound on Dundas and want to go east on College. The indirect turn would be to go downhill to Lansdowne and do a direct or indirect turn northbound there, and then right onto College.

@David Juliusson makes a great point. What are you supposed to do at an intersection like Spadina and College where two E/W tracks intersect two N/S tracks and each set has a curved link to the others, not to mention navigate this without hitting a pedestrian or getting clipped by a taxi or regular poor Ontario driver?
http://i.ytimg.com/vi/22jnoHOPkr0/0.jpg

My only solutions: changed to 32mm tires (still can get stuck, but have more traction on steel) and use a street like Wellesley instead, when I can. Of course, it defeats the point of a bike lane on College, which was a stupid choice anyway: Bloor and Wellesley make more sense.

That third image is bad, bad, bad, never do what is suggested in it. First anyoe behind you may think your making a right hand turn and when you veer back left you will get smoked. Second anyone from the top of that image may not see you when you veer that close to the crosswalk and proceed to make a right and smoke you. Third you are now crossing three lanes of traffic, the bike lane and the two lanes traveling in your direction, you could get hit by another cyclist. Where you should really be is right behind the blue car ready to turn with him. If you are scared of the tracks in that example then proceed across the intersection to the far corner, stop and wait for the light to change green this will eliminate the need to turn.

I work as a bike courier in the city and cross street car tracks hundreds of times a day, so far never wiped out, the reason is speed... If you hit the tracks with your tire at any point other than parallel without hesitation and some speed your over them no problem. When it's wet though even I put my foot down.

If anyone wants lessons we can go out on a Sunday and ill give some pointers.

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