War on the wheels

Weekend brunch and dinner party talking points about bike lanes in the winter

Dec 17, 2016

If you’re a downtown driver in the winter and want to do just one quick drop-off, and wonder, “Is it okay to park in a bike lane on a snowy day?” Short answer: Not allowed.

If you have an accessibility issue, you definitely want to get dropped off as close to where you’re going as possible. But unless you’re riding Wheel-Trans, a drop-off in a bike lane isn’t allowed either.

If you’re a winter cyclist in the city, you’re very happy to have protected bike lanes. It’s risky enough to manage cycling in cold and often slippery conditions, let alone reduced visibility from snow. You’re probably willing to forgive the odd Wheel-Trans bus, but wheelchairs and scooters riding in your lane? It’s happening.

An unlikely use of bikes lanes

As it turns out, cyclists are not the only ones using the lanes this winter. Deputy Mayor Pam McConnell told the Thursday evening city council that people in wheelchairs and on scooters in her ward (Ward 28), particularly near Sherbourne and Wellesley, are also using the bike lanes. “They are not concerned about being dropped off, they’re concerned about being able to move through this corridor. … Should they be using the bike tracks? They are the safest way,” McConnell said, reminding council that it is a legal use of the track.

Interim measure for drop-off

Chair of Public Works and Infrastructure Jaye Robinson asked council to amend the bylaw to allow vehicles with accessible parking permits to stop in the lanes. “This is as an interim measure to address site specific accessibility concerns,” Robinson said. She also brought another motion that would include broad consultation, including work with the TTC. Her motion followed recommendations from staff that are currently working on new on-street bikeway design guidelines that have yet to come to the Public Works Infrastructure Committee.

Better street design

Members from the Accessibility Coalition held a press conference at City Hall on Monday, asking that council not endorse the recommendations, saying workable solutions include lay-bys where the bike lane and accessible drop-off space have been designed to accommodate of each other. Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam released a statement the same day asking for renewed stakeholder consultation and further study of how to achieve safer travel conditions for all users.

What’s next

The motion to allow cars to park in the lanes did not pass. Instead the item was referred back to the general manager of Transportation Services for further public consultation and possible alternatives.

Until then, “war on the car” and “war on the bike” aren’t the only fights in town. Sounds like “war on the wheels” is getting louder. Accessibility wheels, that is.