Taking the lane: when simplistic advice can make things worse

Taking the lane in theory

Take the Lane!

You may have been advised that the best way to be safe is to take the lane. Everyone from public space advocates to CAN-BIKE instructors to the League of American Bicyclists and CyclingSavvy promote taking the lane when a cyclist can't safely share the lane with a car. While taking the lane can be an effective strategy as a cyclist, it should not be taken as helpful in all situations. In fact, in many cases it may cause more problems than it supposedly solves.

Lane Position on a Wide Road

All the main North American cycling courses discuss lane position and largely agree that when lanes are wide enough the cyclist can easily share the lane with a motorist, so long as the cyclist rides far enough from the curb (about 1 metre out). The League of American Bicyclists states that a cyclist should:

  • Ride in the right third of the right-most lane that goes in the direction you are going
  • Take the entire lane if traveling the same speed as traffic or in a narrow lane

According to my CAN-BIKE handbook, the general rule is to "maintain one metre from the curb or from parked cars". But that rule only applies when there is enough room for the car and bike side by side. "If the lane is too narrow or there is an obstruction that narrows the lane then take the whole lane."

CyclingSavvy is more dogmatic in insisting that the lane be at least 14 feet wide in order to safely share. Very few lanes in Toronto meet this criteria. By any of the courses criteria, a cyclist would find themselves on a road that the courses would advise them to take the lane. But there's a problem with that simplistic prescription.

When taking the lane won't work

In the top diagram (I used the icons from the Toronto Cycling Map) we see how taking the lane is supposed to work. The lane is too narrow to share so the cyclist takes the lane. This, according to the courses, sends a message to the traffic behind that they should safely pass in the next lane instead of squeezing the cyclist into the curb. When practised in a large city like Toronto, results will be mixed. There will be drivers who willingly wait behind until it is safe to pass. In my experience, however, it is just as likely that the driver is impatient or annoyed. And, once in a while, we will even encounter an enraged driver.

The cyclist, particularly if they are young or elderly, will feel intimidated or be threatened by drivers behind them. Most of the drivers will keep calm and even if they are annoyed are willing to wait. But it's a crap shoot if we'll meet a driver who openly threatens by driving closely, swearing at the cyclist, revving their engine or honking, or even passing as closely as possible to "teach the cyclist a lesson". It's those situations that can leave even seasoned cyclists shaking, stressed or even injured if the driver manages to sideswipe. In those cases, any safety benefit of taking the lane is lost.

These drivers are not evil people out to get cyclists. Rather, annoyance builds up to such an extent from frustrating downtown traffic that they are more likely to get road rage and take it out on someone on a bike. Particularly if they've been conditioned to see cyclists as not having a "right" to the road and see them as blocking their path. Road rage can cause people to take risks that they wouldn't normally take when they are calm. It's not a medical condition per se, but Wikipedia mentions there is a link to "Intermittent explosive disorder", which is listed as a medical condition under impulse control disorder.

You can create your own experiment on the stretch of Shaw Street from Dundas to Queen. The lane is too narrow between the parked cars and the central meridian to share. According to the theory the best thing the cyclist can do is take the lane. Having ridden this stretch many times I have come to dread the sound of an approaching car behind me. Mostly the driver will wait, but a high number of them will start honking or even find any gap in the parking to try to make a quick pass.

Very few people would never get stressed or have some fear building up. Can we read the mind of the motorist? The only evidence of their intentions is by their actions. If they start honking or revving their engines they might be trying to just intimidate but who knows. It's a crap shoot.

In this situation we would best deal with it by pulling over and quickly getting out of the way of the driver, hoping that they'll just move on instead of also stopping to harass us.

Toronto's not exceptional in having frustrated drivers. As Easy as Riding a Bike notes that "[n]o-one seems to have told U.K. drivers about it. Putting yourself out in the middle [of the] road can, in my experience, appear to some drivers as an act of deliberate provocation. They don’t have a clue what you are doing." And Volespeed goes even further, stating that Taking the Lane, or "primary position", embodies a dishonesty.

The phrase, I believe, originally came from motorcycle training. But as applied to cycling, it doesn't make the same sense as it does in motorcycling. The "primary position" cannot be the primary position for cyclists on roads where the speeds are almost always far in excess of most people's top cycling speed. Some fit, young cyclists can cycle at 20 mph on the flat, but few of our roads have a 20mph limit, and in the more normal 30-limit urban areas, typical speeds are up to 45, in reality, where the roads can take it. So even fast cyclists stand little chance of maintaining the primary position most of the time. A more normal cycling speed, even with the current cadre of cyclists, would be 10–15mph. For them, in being sold this "primary position" theory, they are clearly being sold a lie. And this is to say nothing of the currently largely-excluded groups that we want to get on bikes: children, the unfit and the elderly, who are not going to do more than about 8 mph.

Fast suburban but narrow lanes
In Toronto's suburbs most arterial streets have high average speeds of greater than 60 km/h. Many of these suburban arterial lanes are narrow. It rarely make sense to take the lane on these streets. The high speeds and the fact that no driver is expecting to see a slow cyclist means that taking the lane can be inviting danger. In fact, CAN-BIKE teaches that on fast arterial streets that cyclists should actually ride close to the curb - 1/3 metre instead of the typical 1 metre.

Crowded downtown streets
In downtown Toronto the situation is different. We have arterial roads with on-street parking, narrow lanes, lots of traffic and often streetcar tracks. Streets like King, Queen, Dundas, Ossington, Dovercourt, College and Bloor. It would be quite hard for the typical Toronto cyclist to avoid these streets completely. What cycling courses don't teach is how the average cyclist can best deal with these streets. In theory, it would seem that taking the lane is the best and only option. The sanest approach to riding such streets is often to ride somewhere between the parked cars and the middle travel lane.

The above diagram is a typical streetcar street outside of rush hour: parking on both sides of the street and the middle travel lane is busy. Using the Take the Lane principle the best and only correct position would be A. This would be the best way to both avoid opening car doors and overtaking cars. In theory. In reality very few cyclists can ride fast enough to keep up with the peak speeds of cars. Cyclists may be able to easily keep up with motorists because cars often get stuck behind other cars, but when there is open road in front, all too often a cyclist who is taking the lane is seen by motorists as trying to deliberately anger them by blocking their path. These drivers will soon be itching to pass and will often pass quickly and unsafely. Riding out in the middle in front of a line of frustrated drivers is emotionally stressful. The average person can only handle so much intimidation from drivers.

Even if you're one of the very rare persons with an exceptionally thick skin that can take all matter of verbal abuse and threatening behaviour, you'll soon feel like a schmuck as you get stuck behind backed up car traffic while the rest of the cyclists filter up in the right lane.

99% (give or take) of all downtown cyclists ride in position B most of the time. It is a position that makes the best of a bad situation. I find that the best position is on the left edge of the right lane, as far as possible from opening car doors with enough room on the left for cars to pass in the left lane. It's not ideal but such is life living in a car-centric town.

Which position is safer?

Some educators claim that taking the lane is safer than staying to the side. The claim is that a cyclist is more likely to be side swiped than struck from behind. There are two issues with this conclusion: one, the statistics don't back this up, and two, even if there was evidence of this, the studies don't report what position the cyclist had taken on the roadway prior to their crash. From the available evidence we can't conclude that cyclists out in the middle of the lane are less likely to be struck than those on the side.

One of the best-known and comprehensive cycling safety studies was done in 1994 by Alan Wachtel and Diana Lewiston. They noted that being struck from behind accounted for only 5 of the 314 (1.6%) bicycle-motor vehicle collisions they studied. But side swipes were also only at 8 out of 314 (2.5%). It's not clear if either number is statistically significant., though given that most cyclists I've observed tend to stick to the curb, it doesn't seem to be a high number at all.

There is a further problem with trying to using Wachtel-Lewiston study to support taking the lane. The study doesn't report the position in the lane of the cyclist before they struck, only if they were on the roadway or sidewalk. Thus it's unclear if taking the lane will make any difference in either being struck from behind or in being side swiped.

I have had close calls being close to the curb as well as while trying to take the lane, for different reasons. The cyclist does not have complete control over the reaction of the driver. By being close to the curb a driver may see it as an opening and squeeze the cyclist to the edge. But by taking the lane a frustrated/enraged driver may find the first opportunity to pass and then pass as closely as possible so as to teach the cyclist a lesson. I've experienced both.

Two other studies are not much help either. The Toronto car-bike collision study 2003 and the major 1977 Kenneth Cross study (clearly getting a bit dated) only reported on collisions where the motorists were overtaking, and did not differentiating between "side swipes" and struck from behind. We can't draw a conclusion from either study that we're better off taking the lane. In the Toronto study the top three collisions downtown in terms of severity of injury were 'Motorists Overtaking', ‘Dooring,’ and 'Motorist Left-Turn Facing Cyclist'. Being more visible can likely decrease the risk of any of these, though it's unclear how far out a cyclist should ride. In the case of dooring, riding far enough out to be able to quickly avoid opening car doors is a good idea.

Holding to the dogma

Cycling education in North America still doggedly sticks to the take the lane philosophy with varying degrees of exceptions. These courses are mostly based on a cookie-cutter "vehicular cycling" philosophy that was developed in the 1970s by mostly fit, young people (the "father" of this movement was John Forester). Courses like CAN-BIKE or Cycling Savvy owe their roots to this movement, and continue to mostly stick to a worldview that is not always based on the best evidence. Instead there is a lot of the anecdotal evidence of a sub-group of people who were at the top of their faculties and fitness (obviously they're all elderly now). That these courses continue to hold whole-heartedly to this worldview does a large disservice to all the people who don't fit into that sub-group, particularly to those who are not in the prime of their life or fitness, or are too young.

There aren't hard and fast rules to cycling safely; there are many Toronto streets downtown and in the suburbs that defy the simple lessons taught in the cycling courses. Cycling educators have also tended to ignore or dismiss cycling infrastructure that makes it easier for different traffic modes to coexist. I have found a course like CAN-BIKE useful, and in fact, I had taught CAN-BIKE for a number of years. But I think it's time for CAN-BIKE to be rebuilt taking into account the wealth of knowledge coming out of Europe and increasingly in North America as young and old, able and disabled start cycling in our cities.

Cycling education shouldn't be about going fast, and safety should be available to the slow and fast, young and old. Education is also an alternative to improved cycling infrastructure. Really, we want both.

I hope to be looking at other cycling education themes in future posts and look at how we can think beyond a pure "vehicular cycling", one that acknowledges the inadequate infrastructure and that cyclists need to find a way to make good of a bad situation until things improve in our cities.

Comments

what a wonderfully detailed and researched article... thank you!

Very good read. It think it should be added to the CAN-BIKE 2 course. It could also be used as additional read for John Forester's Effective Cycling.

The behavour of some car drivers described by Herb in this article constitutes serious crimes of violence.

If someone threatens or intimates me with a lethal weapon, such as a car, they are committing the criminal offence of Assault With a Weapon. The Criminal Code of Canada makes it clear that Assault With a Weapon includes theats with a weapon such as a car.

See:

http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-46/page-126.html

Anyone who is the victim of threats by being threatened by a car or any other lethal weapon should IMMEDIATELY call 911, describe the situation as an EMERGENCY and request that criminal charges be laid against the criminal doing the threatening.

I profoundly reject Herb`s thesis that I should let violent, dangerous criminals control my behaviour. I am not a big fan of "Slutwalk" and similar events, but I do support their belief that criminals should not control how we dress or behave.

Kevin Love

Interesting observations, Herb! And I agree that the courses should be revisited - e.g. the distinction between the slow moving downtown and the aggressive culture of the 6-lane suburban arteries must be sorted out in the lectures.
It's interesting that you pair these issues with the need for infrastructure changes. E.g. all such arteries should (by law) receive bike lanes that clearly delineate the cyclist's turf and thus will not be disputed when the traffic gets dense and the tempers flare. Since we have no political clout - and infrastructure dollars are handed out according to politics - we cyclist must work with allies that can make these changes happen.

Ironically, a major beneficiary of cycling improvements is the horde of four-wheeled commuters that will get some breathing space and thus are a natural ally. I wonder when that miracle will happen: them supporting better bike facilities..... But it will happen, eventually.

Riding through the city daily, I try to use good judgment at all times, especially when taking the lane. I agree that no set of guidelines is going to supersede the cyclist’s ability to interpret road conditions; this needs to be the prevailing approach (which also demonstrates respect for other road users, honking drivers included).

The concept of taking the lane needs to be balanced with both elements of safety & reason; riding next to car doors is inevitable, as is passing stopped traffic. I wouldn’t want to drive behind a cyclist riding unobstructed in the Street Car lane along King, and I'm pretty sure that the Police would be more likely to write that cyclist a ticket for 'Impeding Traffic' rather than writing a honking driver one for 'Assault with a Weapon'. The vast majority of drivers don’t fuss much about bikes on the road, and those that go to the extent of threatening and aggressive driving can be dealt with accordingly.

PS - If you are reasonably certain your life is NOT in danger, there is a traffic complaint form on the Toronto Police website at: http://www.torontopolice.on.ca/recordsmanagement/crimerepo...

The pivotal statement of this article is "Particularly if they've been conditioned to see cyclists as not having a "right" to the road ..."

The Highway Traffic Act is quite clear that it is the cyclist's responsibility to take the lane whenever the lane is too narrow to allow a car to safely share the cyclist's lane. What is missing here is the continuous reinforcement of the MVA's "take the lane" mandate.

Continuous reinforcement includes delivering the message to drivers via advertisingandnews media, education, enforcement and demonstration. It is up to our Department of Motor Vehicles to inform and remind drivers of this by way of including the topic in driver exams, the Driver's Handbook and promotional materials. It is up to our Police to enforce the law at a convincing level. And it is the responsibility of all cyclists to demonstrate the proper method of 'taking the lane' wherever and whenever road conditions dictate.

The cycling community is not well served by articles that discourage proper cycling behaviour.

It is up to our Department of Motor Vehicles to inform and remind drivers of this by way of including the topic in driver exams, the Driver's Handbook and promotional materials.

The Driver's Handbook has the update - page 38. So, new drivers should be aware. But most drivers have taken the tests years ago and thus would never have seen that message.

The MTO is kinda negligent in their role concerning highway safety when they do not actively spread the knowledge of the changes, with TV ads etc. In my opinion, they bear part of the blame for the lack of driving skill in this province....

Amusingly, when biking on my road-bike, I tend to mostly keep up with traffic, move over on hills, or squeeze by on the right, if there's a line of cars. If I'm getting passed by cars & bikes, I should be pedaling harder! However, after a (still being fixed) gear-related mess-up which resulted in an obscure derailleur hanger being broken, I bought an around-the-neighbourhood cruiser.

I quickly found myself appreciating the "Sunday rider" speed, and opportunity to wave at folks, stop for people crossing the street, etc. etc. In fact, I find I am far more of a jerk about it than I was on my road-bike: every street without a bike lane will see me going at a comfy 8ish MPH in the middle of the right lanes, almost regardless of width.

My general attitude trends towards the notion that bike-lanes exist to make drivers' lives better, not bikers', and if I'm going slow, and that's slowing you down, that's your problem, not mine. That said, I probably wouldn't feel this way if I were a less confident rider, or had children with me, etc. But, I do feel I'm forcing drivers to acknowledge bikes, which might make them marginally more likely to look for them in the future.

@Chris. Actually the HTA is not clear at all about "taking the lane" for cyclists. If anything, it suggests the opposite, that cyclists and slow vehicles should stick to the right and facilitate faster vehicles to pass. There are two relevant sections in the HTA. 147.1 reads

Any vehicle travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at that time and place shall, where practicable, be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway.

and 148.6 reads:

Every person on a bicycle or motor assisted bicycle who is overtaken by a vehicle or equestrian travelling at a greater speed shall turn out to the right and allow the vehicle or equestrian to pass and the vehicle or equestrian overtaking shall turn out to the left so far as may be necessary to avoid a collision. R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (6).

I think you are confusing the HTA with the interpretation by cycling courses. CAN-BIKE, for instance, interprets the word "practicable" and says that cyclists should take it to mean that cyclists should ride to the right except where there are situations where taking the lane is the most practical option. The MTO (Ministry of Transportation) also interprets it this way. It's unclear if that would stand under legal rigour.

There are two problems with your line of thinking. Currently we don't have that idyllic world where everyone takes "responsibility", and drivers wait patiently behind cyclists. We don't live in a world where there no enraged because someone slower than them is "blocking" their path, and we don't live in a world where all cyclists are of equal ability. We can't expect to impose this so-called "responsibility" of taking the lane to any cyclists. That's some twisted moralistic bullshit. Just imagine getting angry at a grandma for not sticking to her guns and pulling to the right to let an angry SUV driver pass. Is she failing her "responsibility", Chris? Why don't you go try tell her that?

Two, if you're looking towards a future, it seems ridiculous that you'd exclude any infrastructure changes and only imagine that somehow stronger enforcement and education will create your idyllic world. You've got blinders on. Let's look at the Netherlands, one of the few countries where drivers and cyclists "get along". You'll notice that there is systematic infrastructure throughout the entire country to make cycling more comfortable for all abilities and ages. The Netherlands also has education and enforcement, but it's not used in a way to refuse any other benefits to cyclists.

A honk, even an exceptionally nasty one, is not a life-ending event. Dooring can be. For me, that simplifies the choice between A and B in your bottom illustration. Even if a policeman in a motorcar thinks otherwise.

Under 60km/h traffic - Clearly take a possessive stance in lane if there is a chock point ahead. Assert the dominant energy as pack leader. Men are generally better at this or enjoy it more. Points ahead can include parked cars, glass, pedestrians, street car tracks or a sudden change in lane width, like say, on the opposite side of an intersection... Do anything to avoid swerving.

Over 60km/h traffic - Basically run for your life, that is don't take the lane because people are fucking lemmings who haven't evolved the capacity to react under such short notice. Trust me most driver are only looking 20meters ahead of their bumpers... which leaves about .0001ms for them to not hit you when they're going 80km/h.

P.S. Don't listen to the bike-squad weenies about not wearing helmets and hanging out in the middle of a lane with semi trucks barreling down on you at 80km/h.

Be smart and think, stay alive. Don't be a dogmatic cyclist. Always wear a shirt in public.

Steve A, that presumes you have perfect knowledge of what that driver will do. I'm pretty sure you do not.

Myself and my GF have had separate but similar experiences where a driver has gotten angry enough to pass as closely as possible so as to scare the sh*t out of us and as a retaliation. In the heat of the moment, the driver may have even wanted to hit us or throw us off-balance. That is violence, and as Kevin mentions, a criminal act.

I don't doubt that the driver might even be normally quite a mild-mannered person, but behind the wheel is vulnerable to fits of rage.

Even very experienced city cyclists like myself and my GF would prefer to avoid such situations and will instead ride that position somewhere between the two "bads".

Well said, Herb. What do I do when I'm cycling along McCowan Road in Scarborough, for instance? I don't want the stress and danger of taking the lane, nor the stress and danger of riding to the right. So I take the sidewalk at least half the way. Illegal! But it's safer for me, and I would recommend it to anyone. With the caveat that one must respect the pedestrians. Although it's pretty rare that I encounter a pedestrian.

I am familiar with your plight - I live near McCowan and Finch and cycle every morning to Starbucks at McCowan and the 401. There's no ideal solution, and the best I have come up with is to use Brimley instead.
If traffic is dense (i.e. peak rush hours), I even stay off Brimley and use back roads and parks where possible. The left-turn at Sheppard can be made easy if I push the pedestrian light button 200m north of Sheppard (the Heather intersection) to force a red light, and then cycle south waiting for a gap in the flow of passing cars. By the time I need to cross two lanes of traffic to reach the left turn lane, that light at Heather has switched to red and I can move to the left safely.

But most days I travel early, before 7am, and traffic respects my safety. When needed, I try not to take the middle of the lane, but just enough distance from the curb so cars need to move partially to the passing lane to get around me. There's no need to be in the driver's "face" and give them an emotional excuse to get back at you. If I did that, you might just as well call me a "donor"...

Herb,

Let's unpack the provisions of the HTA that you cited:

Section 147(1) provides:

Slow vehicles to travel on right side

147 (1) Any vehicle travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at that time and place shall, where practicable, be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic OR as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway.

I've emphasised the "or" because it means that there are two ways to comply with section 147.

First, if there is more than one lane, you comply with 147(1) by being in the right hand most lane, where it is practicable to do so. So, on a two lane road, like, say, Dufferin, you could ride down the middle of the right hand lane and you would be in compliance with s.147. It's only when you are on a single lane road that the second half of the provision that refers to being "as close to practicable" to the curb arises.

If there is only a single lane, you need to be as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway. That's where the CAN-BIKE interpretation comes in, which I would suggest is a reasonable interpretation, particularly if the feds are funding it and other levels of government are supporting it. I believe there is material published by the Toronto Police (and likely other police services) that supports this interpretation as well.

Next, let's move on to section 148 with a little emphasis added:

Overtaking and passing rules

Passing meeting vehicles
...
Bicycles overtaken

(6) Every person on a bicycle or motor assisted bicycle who is overtaken by a vehicle or equestrian travelling at a greater speed shall turn out to the right and allow the vehicle or equestrian to pass and the vehicle or equestrian overtaking shall turn out to the left so far as may be necessary to avoid a collision

A couple of observations here:

1) It refers to a person on a bicycle who is overtaken, not a person who is about to be overtaken. I see this as governing what happens once someone starts to pass and not requiring cyclists to get out of the way when it isn't safe for a motorist to pass.

2) It creates an equal obligation on the person who is passing to give space to the cyclist that they are passing. If there isn't enough room for the motorist to pass safely, they aren't allowed to pass, period - so there's nothing wrong with taking the lane in those circumstances.

I also don't think that this applies when you're on a two lane road - if you're in the right lane, a motorist approaching you from behind may pass by changing into the left lane - the cyclist has already turned out to the right to permit the motorist to pass.

Guest –

I don't think the laws that dictate how cars & bikes should accommodate one another is really being contested. The point is, that a cyclist should use good judgment over strict interpretations of traffic laws or recommended "best practices".

Excellent article, Herb. I like that you talk about the stress levels that we cyclists can experience and try to manage. This is a real thing and is important to bear in mind, stress is a killer.

I've been taking the lane more of late, and I'm working on presuming good will on the part of drivers out there. If they honk, so be it, but I never want to assume drivers see me as "being in their way". If they honk, they honk. I don't know what they are thinking, they just used their horn, I try to remain calm. If they do other weird shit, I'll pull right over. Life is too short to be stressed. Let them have it. I'm not going to fight out there.

I reject cycling dogmas. That includes the dogma of the vehicular cyclists who insist that everyone can take the lane just as they do, and those who can't probably don't deserve to cycle. It also includes the dogma that insists we cannot really have a good cycling city if we don't duplicate Amsterdam or Copenhagen. Different cyclists have different needs, and one size most emphatically does not fit all cyclists. We will never get all the people who could benefit from cycling comfortable with taking the lane. We need to work for better cycling infrastructure. That means bicycle routes in parks and through hydro corridors; it means separated bicycle lanes on the street. It means striped bike lanes, and it means sharrows where we can't yet get bike lanes. And it means education for cyclists on the best way to ride on roads without specific cycling infrastructure, and for motorists on cyclists' right to take the lane. Above all, it means respecting the priorities of other cyclists.

I have just one real disagreement with your argument: motorists can control their anger. In fact, motorists do control their anger. Road rage, both in general and particularly when directed at cyclists, has a highly rational goal: obtain for the most space-hogging form of transportation (the private motor vehicle) the greatest possible amount of public space. We the cycling, pedestrian and motoring public (and most cyclists drive and walk as well as ride) may accept the excuse of uncontrolled, dangerous rage on the part of motorists, but I don't buy it. In my opinion, most cases of what w call road rage, and particularly most instances where motorists attempt to intimidate cyclists with violence, have very rational roots. Make the use of a car to commit violence as legally and socially unacceptable as the use of an uzi or a glock, and most people would stop doing it.

John G. Spragge
Mariner, cyclist, pilot

The article is reasoned and though provoking. Bicycles though are vehicles just as are mounted police, horse drawn wagons and motercycles (none of which receive the same level of aggressive response from automobile drivers when they 'take the lane'). Under the HTA, a bicycle operator is in fact, obliged to take the lane until they feel that they can safely relinquish it.

I believe vehicle operator education is key:

From the Highway Traffic Act:

Section 1. (1)
“vehicle” includes a motor vehicle, trailer, traction engine, farm tractor, road-building machine, bicycle and any vehicle drawn, propelled or driven by any kind of power, including muscular power, but does not include a motorized snow vehicle or a street car;

Section 154. (1)
Where a highway has been divided into clearly marked lanes for traffic,
(a) a vehicle shall be driven as nearly as may be practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety;

Hi Herb:

I was confused by that section of the Act as well.

The Act in the section you've cited is referring to single lane roadways and/or what are often called 'dirt' roads where there are no distinguishable directional lanes.

Section 154 is clear. It refers to roadways (highways the Act calls them) which have 'been divided into clearly marked lanes for traffic'. This means virtually all roads in the GTA.

While I agree that cyclists take risks when they 'take the lane', a growing (hopefully) majority of drivers recognize the cyclists rationale, if not their legal obligation to take the lane if they deem it unsafe to do otherwise.

The Act is clear. Driver knowledge is not.

Sorry, I'm not sure that I made it plain that Section 154 of the HTA is what stipulates where cyclists are expected to ride on most Toronto streets.

Here is Section 154:

Where highway divided into lanes

  1. (1) Where a highway has been divided into clearly marked lanes for traffic,
    (a) a vehicle shall be driven as nearly as may be practicable entirely within a single lane and shall not be moved from the lane until the driver has first ascertained that the movement can be made with safety;

And the Act clears defines a bicycle as being a 'vehicle'.

Hi Mark and Guest,

If we have to get into all this detail in order to explain the supposed "intent" of the Act, then it's not clear.

Yes, I think it is likely that the Act does intend that cyclists can sometimes take the lane, perhaps when there are two lanes in the same direction. It doesn't actually say "place yourself in the middle of the lane". But even then it's not really clear, very few people understand it, and in many circumstances is not really practical or necessarily safe.

I've enumerated above the situations where I feel it is impractical and simplistic to tell people to take the lane. Very few of us are masochistic enough to do so.

Here in Toronto, things are not at all good cycling wise. For starters many of the roads simply aren't built for it. While it's great to think about things in a technically legal way, sometimes reality just doesn't allow the theoretical to take precedence over the practical.

Ask anyone who drives and they will tell you they would never want to injure a cyclist or anyone else for that matter, while driving their car. The reality of driving in Toronto is that there is a great amount of pressure put on the driver by others who want to share the road.

Pedestrians and cyclists are the most fragile aspects of driving on roads that are in terrible shape. From street cars that stop and hold up all the traffic in that direction through green lights, to construction and cars illegally parked during rush hour. Not to mention those who are less than considerate of others using the road. Pedestrians who fail to obey traffic signals or stand a meter or so out into the road waiting for the light to change. Cyclists, especially bike couriers, who drive through the streets like they were some sort of obstacle course.

Two tons of steel isn't always the easiest of things to control once someone take the idea into their head that they can sue the pants off you if you hit them. Sadly they are often either dead or so mangled that they aren't going to be able to make an appearance in any courtroom for months or even years. You may be in the right, but once you're crushed being right doesn't matter so much to you any more.

The approach Toronto city planners have taken is all wrong.
It's crazy to simply jam cars and bikes and people together expecting nothing to go wrong.

Some roads should be off limits to cyclists during rush hour. Some roads should be off limits to cars during rush hour. All cycle paths throughout the city should be joined and getting that done should be a priority. Making commuting by bike safer and more enjoyable without all the exhaust.

Granted there are some times when bikes and cars are going to have to share the road, but in these cases, the road should be modified to accommodate this.

Thinking that people can be discouraged from using their car is faulty thinking. Traffic will only become slower and more dangerous for everyone.

Some roads should be off limits to cyclists during rush hour. Some roads should be off limits to cars during rush hour. All cycle paths throughout the city should be joined and getting that done should be a priority. Making commuting by bike safer and more enjoyable without all the exhaust.

Okay, so:

  • Cars can use Yonge, University, and Jarvis. Bicycles prohibited.
  • Bicycles can use Bay, Church, and Parliament. Cars prohibited.
  • Cars only: Lake Shore Blvd, King, Dundas.
  • Bicycles only: Front, Queen, College/Carlton

Works for me.

pennyfarthing ok frye