a year with the Woodbine bike lanes

The bike lanes on Woodbine Avenue in Toronto's "Beaches—East York" materialized in September of 2017. As a bike commuter, I've been using the Woodbine bike lanes since they opened. As a driver, I've been enjoying the fun new slalom course and learning the ropes. I believe I've learned how to interpret most of the features of the lanes and have put together an explanation. What follows is a bidirectional view of Woodbine Avenue's bike lanes using a series of pics courtesy of Google's Street View feature. I use narrow green arrows to show where bikes are meant to go, and thicker red lines to show where cars are meant to be.

The sharrow

The Woodbine bike lanes peter out at both the north and south ends without connecting to anything. In the south, they haven't completed the route, which is meant to take southbound cyclists to the park along the waterfront via a series of small side streets. This was deemed the only safe route to go, even though it requires the use of no fewer than five of those side streets and crossing Queen at a new traffic light. The photo below shows the early death, just meters from the end of the road, in the north. Here, according to the city's official plan, the Woodbine bike lane is meant to connect with a new one on O'Connor where it crosses the bridge bound for St. Clair Avenue East. When it came time to implement that stretch, however, the city later deemed to the bridge unsuitable for bike lanes and shelved the project. What I've drawn in blue here is the intended mixed use for cars and bikes. It's obviously less safe than a separate bike lane, but until the bridge is modified somehow, that's the only alternative.

Mixed intersections

The following photo shows the same type of intersection north-bound, where drivers have to yield to cyclists. Conversely, the south-bound motor traffic is invited to join the bike lane to turn left. How does one know? By the dashed line separating the south-bound lines.

Also note the green line I added showing a cyclists' turn that is suggested by the other type of dashed line in the intersection. My interpretation of that heavily dashed line is that bikes are expected/allowed to emerge from the lane, there. I say this because there's nowhere for motor vehicles to go in the bike lane at that point. One of the mysteries of the Woodbine bike lanes.

Intersections where motor vehicles don't share the bike lanes

The following photo shows the intersection of Woodbine Avenue and Heyworth Crescent. The red arrow I've shown here shows the expected route for drivers making the right turn. Note that I showed the arrow ending just outside the bike lane; this is meant to show that cars have to yield to any cyclists in the bike lane. How do I know this? Because this design is common across the Adelaide St and Richmond St bike lanes downtown, where they are clearly signed. The city didn't sign the Woodbine bike lanes (consistently) so it isn't clear.

where to yield to cyclists

Intersections where motorized vehicles share the bike lanes

This pic shows the intersection of Woodbine and Gerrard, looking north.

On the far right there's a dashed line separating the bike lane from the motor vehicle traffic. That is your cue as a driver that you may pull into the bike lane if you plan to turn right. When you do, it is important that you take a position on the far right side of the lane, or else cyclists will squeeze between you and the curb with the intention of either riding straight through, turning right, or who knows what. How do I know this? again, it's signed correctly in places on the downtown bike lanes. Not on the Woodbine lanes, but hey.

On the far left is the southbound bike lane, festively painted green even though it's neither a) a mixed-used spot such as a bus stop in a bike lane nor b) a spot where cyclists are meant to wait at an intersection nor c) where cyclists are guided across a lane of traffic (as we saw above in the approaches to the Woodbine/Kingston intersection). It's just green like that.

The intersection of Danforth and Woodbine

This is the intersection of Danforth and Woodbine, again looking north on Woodbine at the intersection. Again, it's fully legit as a motorist to use the bike lane to turn right onto Danforth from Woodbine. Note the lack of festive green on the southbound bike lane to contrast with the inexplicable green at the Gerrard intersection.

Bus stops

With the above said, I believe that drivers are not meant to enter the bike lane to make a right turn at certain intersections, like this one at Woodbine and Lumsden. The dashed line here is for the bus drivers to enter the bike lane. There are two clues: first is the green paint, this appears with the same usage on the downtown bike lanes; second, the lane is simply too narrow for anything larger than a motorbike to turn in.

Woodbine Avenue and Kingston Road

I'll end this discussion with the worst intersection in the neighborhood where the introduction of the bike lanes only served to make things worse. This intersection's hazards are such that someone wrote graffiti on the bike lane south of the intersection. It simply points to the intersection and says "danger".

Two of us from 32 Spokes joined a meeting at this intersection not long after the bike lanes were built. Yes, we met on the street in front of the house of a local resident. We met with city staff, the Councillor, and the residents to discuss what had been done there. The residents pointed out that collisions between two+ cars are a regular problem. One fellow said, "It happens all the time that we'll hear and accident and have to go running out to help people."

When approaching the gates of hell this intersection on a bike, the idea is to stay on the left side of the right lane. The city has laid down some green paint to show the position that bicycles are supposed to follow. Cars turning right are meant to use the right lane.

Cars turning left are meant to be in the left lane. Again, so far so good. However, cars going straight (south) on Woodbine are meant to be in the left lane with the left-turning cars. There are two bits of proof for this:

1. The black-and-white right-turn arrow in the photo below.

2. The fact that there's only one lane for traffic south of Kingston.

Bikes turning left should also be in the left lane, as incredible as that will sound to anyone familiar with the intersection. The evidence for this is that the city didn't paint a green turn box for cyclists to wait in on eastbound Kingston. These boxes appear in a number of bike lanes around the city; I use one every day at Wellesley and Sherbourne. Here's how they work:

Finally, it's worth noting that the city put a solid line of paint between the two lanes (south bound), meaning that you're not supposed to change lanes (regardless of your vehicle).

approaching Kingston Rd, southbound on Woodbine Avenue

Above, I drew both lanes of vehicle traffic passing directly through the intersection, because in reality the confusing intended usage is completely ignored. I'll use the following two photos to illustrate the problem.

passing through the intersection at Woodbine and Kingston

Here I've put a green arrow showing where bikes are meant to go, and red arrows indicating the various directions that cars are meant to follow. Note that two of the cars in the photo below are passing the southbound car in the left lane (which is waiting to turn left onto Kingston). This only makes sense, but it's against the signage and the paint on the street. I would also suggest that Google's driver also made the same logical but "mistaken" choice.

detail showing the expected behavior south of the Kingston/Woodbine intersection

Here we see some evidence of the city's intention for us drivers and cyclists. There is only one "car lane" south of the intersection, plus a bike lane. As you can see from this photo, the reality is that a lot of motor traffic uses the supposed turn lane, and drive through what is meant to be the bike lane.

The "illegal" lane changes from the left lane southbound into the right lane, through the green stripe where the cyclists are meant to be, is only natural. How we're meant, as drivers, to ignore the right lane to pass drivers who are turning left when this is effectively unprecedented driving in Toronto (if not the English-speaking world) I don't know. It makes the intersection extremely unsafe for southbound cyclists and my recommendation is to avoid it altogether if you're on a bike.

This is an image showing the situation north-bound. The red lines show the routes intended for cars in the right lanes. My two arrows show that traffic intending to turn right onto Kingston Road should do so only through the dashed part of the line separating the right lane from the center lane. A great deal of traffic follows this route because east-bound Lakeshore Road takes so many people to Woodbine Avenue who intend to carry on east-bound along Kingston Road. Note from the green arrow that cyclists are meant to cross that traffic and stay on the left side of the right lane. The yellow line shows that once you're passed the dashed line that separates the right lane from the middle lane, cars are not meant to change lanes. This (only?) matters because cyclists have been directed to the left side of the right lane.

This is my guide to using the Woodbine bike lanes. Thanks for reading.

–Michael Werneburg, 32 Spokes

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