Winter gives cyclists the middle finger. Show it who is boss

After a few milder winters, this winter has been particularly tough. A hardy few bike throughout the winter but even they have limits. As I write this the snow is thickly falling and only a few brave souls can be seen biking or walking.

The cold is actually manageable; bundle up and you'll do well. But the thick snow turning into ice on the sidewalks and roads makes it dangerous. This winter has been especially tricky with a freeze-thaw-freeze cycle that has turned much snow into hidden ice. Avoiding this ice buildup, I believe, is possible. If only the City cared enough.

When it snows the City usually lets people continue to park their cars at the curb on most of our major arterials. The result is a whole stretch of snow that isn't being plowed now does it have a chance to melt from the sun.

I took the picture on a day after a snow event. The snow fall was manageable and much of it melted with an application of salt and sun. Yet stubborn bits hung on for existence under parked cars and soon turned to ice.

During rush hour the lane is clear but the ice forced all cyclists into a lose-lose situation; either ride over the ice and risk life and limb or ride far to the left where the drivers get confused and angry. Dealing with the latter is probably safer but it still forces cyclists to deal with some drivers trying to make a "point" by cutting in as closely as possible. One friend got clipped by a mirror by such a driver. I try my best to just listen to a podcast and try to ignore them.

What can the City do about it? Banning winter would be great (climate change?) but unworkable. City Council has directed staff to "report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on the creation of a network of snow routes for Toronto's bikeway that receives priority clearing and that this report recommend what changes, if any, should be made to route signage."

That's a start, but many streets, such as Queen, King, Dundas, aren't officially part of Toronto's bikeway but still have many people biking.

What might help those people is a recently passed change in the City's by-laws. In December City Council passed a snow clearance plan, which grants the General Manager of Transportation Services—currently Stephen Buckley—the right to prohibit parking on designated "Snow Routes" (map) throughout the City during "major snow storm conditions". Most major downtown streets are designated "Snow Routes", some have bike lanes, many have streetcar tracks. The ability to prohibit parking on snow routes previously only rested in the Mayor.

The by-law Municipal Code Chapter 950, Traffic and Parking specifies that when 5cm of snow falls the General Manager or the Mayor may declare a major snow storm condition and prohibit on-street parking for up to 72 hours.

The City of Ottawa already had a bans overnight on-street parking when the forecast predicts 7cm+ of snow. I think they ban it overnight to give snowplows a chance to clear the roads. Even better is Toronto's approach of prohibiting parking day and night. In practice, I imagine the staff are quite reluctant to enforce this rule, which explains why we've still got problems like the photo above.

Maybe today is a great day to test this new power, Mr. Buckley.


The city plows the pedestrian walkway along Eglinton Avenue West in Etobicoke, but not the bicycle path. Bicyclists have to use either the pedestrian walkway or the roadway itself in winter, despite the signs to the otherwise.

I don't expect to see any action on clearing that bicycle path until maybe after we get a new mayor.

I usually enjoy my commute because I can de-stress, but these days it's the opposite. My whole route is covered with snow and ice. You're given the choice between facing off with traffic or riding or an unsafe surface. It feels like the only winning move is not to play.

I'm eagerly awaiting a serious melt.

I live in Etobicoke along a designated "snow route" It is not plowed until after a 311 calll has been made. Not once has it been done without prompting. The road is done right up to the line where the bike lane begins, but not the lane itself.

Moreover because the lane is doen so much later it is now black ice and very dangerous.

The city may have passed a plan. My councillor may say the city will follow it. I see no difference from any other year.

When it snows the City usually lets people continue to park their cars at the curb on most of our major arterials. The result is a whole stretch of snow that isn't being plowed now does it have a chance to melt from the sun.

Not only does the city let people park at the curb, they let people park a metre away from the curb and right into the bike lane because drivers are either too timid to park their cars too close to the curb when there's a touch of snow on the road, or (more usually) because the city has plowed a 1-2 foot high snowbank into the right hand of the parking lane, so drivers are forced to park illegally if they park at all... which they all do.

the other day after a dumping of snow, I entered the bike lane on Wellesley and headed west. As soon as I did I heard the loud scraping sound of a snowblade on pavement. Checking my mirror, there was a small plow right behind me, and not wanting to mount the pile of snow at the curb I went up to Bleeker Street to pull over. It was a pickup with a plow but no city markings. I waved thanks as he passed and he gave me the thumbs up. I rode in a snow free bike lane all the way to Jarvis where he turned around to go back and plow the eastbound lane/

there are other options to banning parking outright. Montreal, which has thousands of narrow, curvy and hard to plows streets (more than Toronto I might add) manages very well - the snow removal there is awesome. Basically, cars in the city have to move their cars at certain times to the other side of the street! When I lived there years ago, it was just what you did EVERY night. Ran out at 11 or 12 at night and moved your car - It causes a little bit of extra effort on the part of drivers but in the end benefits them as well - they have more than adequate decent parking. Because when you moved your car, you had a snow free, ice free curb against which to park... none of the struggling to get out of the bank of snow you're sitting in. I'm not a winter biker - it is too scary for me - but where I now drive along Shuter it is clear that there are cars parked along there that have not been moved in WEEKS.. the laws are there in terms of a lot of vehicles - just not the will to use the law.

I suspect City Staff have the know-how & ability to fix these problems, especially the snow removal/parked car issue. In Montreal, a tow truck accompanies city crews during snow removal. If the car is not moved after temporary signs are posted, your car gets towed a block away.

Hey Selkie,

I'm curious how Montreal deals with its cycle tracks in the winter. Do they keep them cleared as well? A cleared cycle track would be super-fantastic in the winter. If they don’t clear them, do cyclists just ride them snow and all?

I find that winter (particularly winters like this) turn you into a “vehicular” cyclist by default. If you want to ride you have to ride in the road, not off to the side, as the “gutter” is filled with snow and crap. Snow can become a hard bumpy surface when mixed with dirt, salt and the various other elements of the cocktail stew that is winter. This forces me out into the road at a time when motorists are already uneasy due to the weather, and the fact (I suspect) that they aren’t expecting us on the road.

It makes the ride a lot more challenging.

I was up to an average of about 4 days a week on the road last winter, it was very dry, if a bit cold at times. I’ll ride in the cold, but not on snowy, icy roads, I have a 1 hour commute, pushing through snow for an hour is just miserable.

This winter I’ve managed about 1 day a week average, and there have been weeks where I haven’t ridden at all.




Ian - just emailed a friend in Montreal to find out- as they are super amazing at the roads, my guess is they probably clear the paths as well - Montreal is generally so incredibly more cycle-friendly than Toronto overall. I'm a Toronto cyclist as well - but have am in Montreal most months - and love to bring my bike when time permits as it so awesome to get all around the Island.

I too am forced into the car during these snowy, icy days - was just whining with a fellow cyclist in work that we WANT OUR BIKES BACK!! I am ok with the cold as well - but no way am I taking a chance on these roads - they are treacherous for everyone - and I am in awe of the winter cyclists I see. This winter seems to be going on forever....

will let you know what I hear from my Montreal buddy about their bike paths in winter...

pennyfarthing ok frye