New rules in Toronto should stop construction work or filming from ignoring, or closing down bike lanes. The new guidelines tell private companies what they should do if they have to temporarily close a street to traffic, giving cyclists similar rights to those enjoyed by motorists.
If you’re a cyclist, you’re familiar with the problem. Whenever normal street service is interrupted, the bike lane is co-opted. It may become a loading bay for deliveries, it might become a storage area for building supplies, or a temporary parking lot for catering trucks while a TV show is being filmed. This is as frustrating as it is common, and cyclists are forced out into regular traffic. Worse, that regular traffic is often dense and fast, because many cities add bike lanes to the worst roads first.
Toronto’s new guidelines won’t help when some idiot uses the bike lane to park their removal van, but anyone applying for a permit to close all or part of a road will have to obey them. The new rules tell applicants how to identify bike lanes, and how to re-route them if necessary. This includes the minimum width for a lane, rules to include enough space to avoid dooring (parked cars opening their doors into the lane), and gives the minimum distance allowed from streetcar tracks. The guidelines are “intended to minimize disruption and improve safety for cyclists,” wrote Toronto’s acting director of transportation infrastructure Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati.
The problem is that these are only guidelines. Anyone applying for a street occupancy permit (there are around 55,000 issued each year, says the Toronto Metro) has to consider them, but the guidelines aren’t really enforceable. Just take a look at the PDF to see how wooly the language is.
What the guidelines do provide is a framework to do things right. For instance, the guidelines now require applicants to include bike-lane changes in public notification of works, just like regular road closures. This means that bike advocate groups, or neighborhood organizations, can examine and protest any provisions made for cyclists. If Toronto is serious about treating cyclist as full road users (and the existence of these guidelines suggests that it is), then these guidelines could end up being pretty effective.