Review: Shaw Street Bicycle Lanes – Toronto

Toronto Bicycle Route 29 runs north-south from the Waterfront Trail to Davenport Road, along Shaw Street and Strachan Avenue. With a length of 5 km, it is the longest north-south bicycle route in the city centre.


Shaw street was one-way southbound until 2013, when the city installed a northbound “contra-flow” bicycle lane.  Cycling is now permitted in both directions, with northbound cyclists in a reserved lane, and southbound cyclists sharing the lane with motor traffic.

I have used the street many times in the northbound direction, and have found it to be a convenient and pleasant route.  But riding southbound is a drastically different experience.

Starting southbound at Davenport there is no cycling infrastructure, simply “sharrows” in the centre of the lanes.  In my experience, there is relatively little traffic here and it wasn’t that stressful for me, though it still seems short of the standard needed for parents to feel comfortable letting their children cycle to school.

Looking south toward Dupont St

Shaw St north of Dupont St

South of Dupont, the street narrows and the northbound lane becomes bicycles-only.  Until Bloor Street, parking is on the east side of the street, placing the bike lane in the door zone.  It is not as bad as most other door zone bike lanes since cars all face the wrong way, placing cyclists in clear view of anyone about to open a car door.

The main issue that begins here is the volume of motor traffic.  The street is too narrow for there to be safe overtaking, so cyclists are encouraged by the sharrows to ride in the centre of the lane to discourage motorists from trying to overtake.

Cycling southbound on Shaw is the opposite of fun.

Cycling southbound on Shaw is the opposite of fun.

This seems to absolutely enrage people driving along Shaw who seem to think that it is an arterial road, despite its residential nature and 30 km/h speed limit.  I experienced relentless tailgating and unsafe passing along the entire route.

Overtaking on solid yellow line

Overtaking on solid yellow line

South of Dundas, the street widens to become a tree-lined boulevard, with motor traffic permitted in both directions again.  The combination of the median and on-street parking means that overtaking continues to be impossible, much to the distress of motorists and cyclists alike.

The view behind while cycling.  This photo is not cropped or zoomed in, she really was only a metre behind.

The view behind while cycling. This photo is not cropped or zoomed in, she really was driving only a couple metres away.

The fundamental issue with the route is simply that the southbound lane has too much aggressive motor traffic to be a comfortable cycling environment.  The aggression and number of drivers can both be attributed to the fact that the street forms a continuous southbound driving route for its entire length.

This can very simply be remedied by downgrading the street’s classification from Collector to Local.  Unlike a collector road, a local street does not serve any traffic movement function, it exists only to provide access to properties.  To ensure the street is not useable as a continuous driving route, we can alternate the direction of motor traffic along the street.  Some sections would be southbound with a contraflow northbound bicycle lane, while others would be the reverse.

One segment which would particularly benefit from becoming northbound is between Bloor and Dupont Streets where car parking is on the east side of the street.  Making the northbound lane a shared lane would widen it, moving cyclists out of the door zone.

Looking northbound at Bloor: parking switches sides

Looking northbound at Bloor: A great place to alternate the one-way motor traffic restriction

With alternating one-way restrictions for motor traffic, Shaw Street could become the quiet residential street and safe cycling route that it really ought to be.

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