Toronto Cycling Safety

Posted by Stevenson Whelton MacDonald & Swan
May 21, 2019

In recent years, we’ve seen multiple news articles to remind us that increasingly high traffic volumes, speeding, a shortage of cycling infrastructure and oftentimes, a failure to properly monitor for cyclists are contributing to an increase in cycling accidents and fatalities. And, in response to the need for more cycling infrastructure including designated cycling paths, Oakville, Burlington and Mississauga are among 120 Ontario municipalities who received funding in 2017 under the Ontario Municipal Commuter Cycling Grant Program.

The City of Toronto announced that it would be using the new funding to expand Toronto’s Bike Share system by as many as 300 new locations, including 3,000 bikes and 6,000 docks.  And, Mayor John Tory expressed a hope that “cycling infrastructure and expansion of the bike share program will encourage people to cycle more often, improve safety and provide more travel options”.

Toronto has added significant cycling infrastructure in the past five years; however, the City made a late start compared to other Canadian cities, notably Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver, so we still have a long way to go.  It’s only in the past few years that Toronto created designated bike lanes.  Now, 5,000 cyclists use the bike lanes on Bloor Street alone; and Richmond and Adelaide see even more bike traffic.

In June 2018, a Toronto Star journalist decided to observe drivers and cyclists at a busy Toronto intersection during rush hour to see how the new cycling infrastructure is working.  The Star reported that during the two-hour period at Bay St and Richmond St, there were 609 driving infractions and the majority of drivers and cyclists did not navigate the intersection they way it was intended.

The protected bike lane along Richmond is the most-used protected bike route in Toronto and City accident statistics state that the bike lane has significantly lowered the number of accidents.  No cyclists or pedestrians have been seriously injured at the intersection during the past ten years. Nevertheless, many cyclists and others have stated that the intersection is confusing, and inconsistencies in infrastructure can add to the dangers of cycling in Toronto or any other city.

The Star presented their observations and findings to various City officials, cyclists and biking advocates.  The responses contrasted significantly between the Manager of Cycling Infrastructure and Programs for Toronto, Shawn Dillon, and a past Director of Urban Design and Architecture for Toronto, Ken Greenberg.  After visiting the intersection, Mr. Greenberg said he found it “absolutely terrifying” and not intuitive. He also stated that what’s happening at this intersection represents the confusion in cycling infrastructure seen throughout Toronto.  Mr. Dillon, in contrast, was pleased and encouraged by the number of cyclists and drivers who navigated the intersection correctly.

One man, who both cycles and drives in the City of Toronto, told the Star that it’s hard to keep track of the different rules at different intersections.  For example, there’s a lack of consistency in delineating lanes for bikes and cars – some are dashed lines, some a solid line, some use green paint and some have no paint.

Mr. Greenberg asserted that municipalities need to design cycling infrastructure that is consistent and intuitive, so that cyclists and drivers know what to expect and don’t have to change their behaviour at different intersections.

Beyond making our infrastructure safer for cyclists, here are Cycling Safety Tips that can also help prevent a cycling accident.

  • Don’t wear clothing that has dangling scarfs or parts which can get caught in your wheels or bike chain
  • Wear bright clothing to increase your visibility, and at night, wear light or reflective clothing.
  • Always use lights when biking at night.  At a minimum, use a white front light and rear red light or reflector within 30 mins before dusk and 30 mins after dawn.
  • Wear an approved helmet to protect yourself from head and brain injuries.  This is required by law for anyone under 18 years of age.
  • Cross streetcar and railway tracks at a right angle and slow down when doing so.
  • Reduce your speed and stopping distance when it’s raining or slippery.
  • To maintain balance, don’t carry unwieldly objects on your bike or handlebars
  • Be predictable in your actions. Signal your intentions and don’t make sudden turns.
  • Always shoulder check behind you before changing position on the road.
  • At intersections, monitor the vehicles beside you and who may be turning into your path.  And, try to stay out of a driver’s blind spot.
  • If you’re 14 or older, you cannot lawfully ride on the sidewalk.


Disclaimer: Our blog is intended to inform our existing and prospective clients about topics pertinent to their lives. While our goal is to provide accurate and factual information, this in no way should be taken as legal advice or applied to specific cases. It is in your best interest to contact a licenced and practising lawyer for legal representation, as matters of the law are often complicated and cannot be fully assessed without knowing all of the details of a case.