Paul's Internet Landfill/ 2019/ Separated Bike Lane Experiments

Separated Bike Lane Experiments

Just in time for winter, both the City of Kitchener and the Region of Waterloo have put in separated bike lanes. Queens Boulevard and Water Street have been infected in Kitchener. Waterloo has been hit harder: both University and Columbia are infected. University Avenue has it worse -- the planners have put concrete curbs separating the bike lanes from the car lanes, in addition to the highly-reflective flexible bollards on Columbia. Unlike the other streets this affects me directly because I take University when cycling to UW.

I have also seen that Erb Street is getting two way traffic for bicycles, which also upsets me, but which should not affect me that much (other than I will get honked at for riding on the road and not in my segregated Jim Crow transportation infrastructure).

If you have not figured it out yet, I am not a fan. I have two objections: the bike lanes do not make us safer, and they make us less safe. There are some things that the planners might have taken into consideration, and some things they either haven't considered or don't care about.

Separated Bike Lanes are Not Helpful

The following quotation from a UW Imprint article is indicative of the sentiment that motivates separated bike lanes:

Matthew Rafuse, from the UW Bike Centre, believes that installing the barriers even in the winter will be useful in the future. 

“It will be better for pedestrians, it will be better for drivers, it will be better for cyclists,” he said. “A lot of people want to ride their bikes, but they are not comfortable on the streets even if there is a painted bike lane because it is just not safe.”

There is so much nonsense in this sentiment that I do not know where to start:

I am willing to have my mind changed about this, but as far as I can see the answer is "no": separated bike lanes do not actually MAKE cyclists safer, although they might make cyclists FEEL safer.

To understand why, you have to understand how these separated bike lanes are set up. The bollards and curbs run alongside the lane, but they only do so where they are needed least. All intersections remain bollard-free, as do all driveways along the path. At best, these separations protect cyclists from cars sideswiping them on the road. The problem is that this rarely happens. I do not have exact statistics, but the Riding into the Future series by the Record claims that two thirds of accidents happen at intersections. Surprise! None of the intersections are protected. Cars are still free to T-bone cyclists at intersections, or to turn right into them as they turn into the street.

There are times when I have been startled because cars were passing me close by. This happens when (a) the road is busy and (b) the cars do not have enough space to give me my room as a cyclist. Otherwise, cars are pretty good about giving me my space.

Furthermore, we should stop worrying about painted lines. Car drivers are great at respecting painted lines! They know how to drive in their lanes. I do not fear cars swerving into my lane, painted line or no painted line.

The two exceptions to this are dooring (when a car opens its door into the painted lane, and I get hit), and UPS/Fedex trucks, which adore using bike lanes as parking spaces. Dooring is a big problem on some bike lanes, such as the awful lanes in Uptown Waterloo, but it is not much of a threat on University. I openly admit that the number of UPS trucks parking in the bike lane might go down because of the separated lanes, but if that is all the benefit we are getting then that is not good enough.

Separated Bike Lanes are Harmful

It would be one thing if these bike lanes were irritating but otherwise did no harm. However, this is decidedly not the case. These separated bike lanes make me much LESS safe, and I am really grumpy about that.

There are two key issues here: maneuverability and visibility. Of these I am much more worried about maneuverability. You see, these separated bike lanes don't just keep cars out; they keep cyclists in, and they are too narrow for the cyclists to swerve out of the way when there are hazards. Here are some real life examples of problems I have ALREADY encountered since these bike lanes were put into place:

Those are just the problems I have encountered thus far. I barely go to UW these days, and these lanes have been up for only a few weeks. To reiterate: each of these situations have left me LESS safe than they would have before the separated bike lanes.

The concrete curbing on University is the scariest, but the bollards on Columbia are not much better. In principle I can get in and out of those lanes, but there is not much space.

I do not expect that these will be all the problems cyclists will encounter. Here are some others that I suspect will come up:

I am not a fan of the new separated bike lanes on Erb St either (and I will not use them) but at least the bike lanes going in either direction are side by side. That gives cyclists more room to swerve if necessary. In contrast, the lanes on University and Columbia are a single lane (actually, less than a single lane, since they SHRUNK the existing bike lane to put in the bollards) and thus leave few options for cyclists who cannot proceed down the lanes safely. It is really this reduction in options that makes the separated bike lanes unsafe.


This deserves its own section. We all know that it will snow this winter. Are we expecting that cyclists just stop cycling in the snow? Do we expect they will use the sidewalks? The City of Kitchener claims that it will clear the separated bike lanes, so at least they are aware of the issue, but I have my doubts:

I have cycled up University all winter in the past -- namely, in the Winter term of 2018. The road was cleared on a regular basis, but the snow was pushed off to the side. I think the bike lane was half-cleared, but half of it remained buried under snow and ice all winter. So my cycling space was reduced. I stuck within the bike lane to the extent I could, but this was not always possible, and sometimes I cycled in the car lane.

This is the same complaint I made in my GTA Infrastructure post: if the Region wants to put in separated bike lanes then they have to take care of them, or they are worse than nothing. This is a LOT of money to be spending on potentially little benefit.

I have some belief that the City and Region will try to be diligent about clearing these lanes of snow (the garbage is another matter). But we shall see how good a job they do, and how much it costs property taxpayers for them to do it.


The bollards on these bike lanes are super-reflective. Cars will see them easily. Hooray! Too bad lots of cyclists (including me when my bike lights fail) are not as visible as they ought to be. Too many cyclists in this region don't use lights at all. When it is dark outside, you can hardly see them. But at least in a painted lane you have a chance of your car's headlamps catching their reflectors. Now all you will see are bollards. Will you see the cyclist in the lane beside you?

Does this matter? Oh yes. It matters a lot, because when you take your car and make a right turn across the bike lane you had better be sure that there is no cyclist heading down the lane alongside you. Are you certain every single car will see every single cyclist?

In some ways these bollards are even worse for pedestrians. Lots of student pedestrians cross University Avenue willy-nilly, and some of them get hit and killed. I can barely see unexpected pedestrians in the dark, because they are very rarely well-lit. Will cars notice pedestrians crossing the middle of the street when there are super-reflective bollards distracting them?


Maybe I am completely wrong and these separated bike lanes will be a huge success. Maybe all those people who are afraid to ride bikes now will start riding because of reflective bollards. Maybe. In the mean time I have had lots of negative experiences using these lanes on University, to the extent where I am searching for different/safer ways to get to UW. Sometimes I am riding up Westmount instead of Weber, which is insane.

The best thing I could do is to avoid these lanes, because surveillance is at play and I am being counted every time I use them. Boycotting the lanes might help convince the planners (and the bike zealot advocates who push for this idiocy) that maybe they are mistaken in their assumptions. Or more likely the planners and the bike zealots do not care about cyclists like me.

The second best thing I could do is to get into a bad accident on these lanes, because they are so unsafe. I would rather avoid this if I could, but depending on how often I go to UW during the pilot, getting into some kind of scary situation may be inevitable.