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Hook turns for bikes

26 May 2010

Diagram of a hook-turn bike box: When light A is green, the cyclist proceeds to the bike box and waits there. The cyclist completes their left turn when light B turns green. (Diagram by blog author.)

Introducing the Hook Turn

Recently I was in the city of Cairns in the state of Queensland, Australia, when I noticed an interesting piece of cycling infrastructure. It’s was a special kind of bike box (or “storage box”, as they say in Australia) for making hook turns. Hook turns have long been legal in Queensland, but the road markings are new.

Hook turns provide a convenient way to turn left at busy, multi-lane intersections without leaving the bike lane.

The need in Toronto

Hook turns are something we need in Toronto. They are especially important on roads with streetcar tracks, which are otherwise treacherous to cyclists.  Normal left turns place you close to the tracks, where you might slip (especially in rain or winter) or where your tire can get stuck (throwing you from your bike). Hook turns allow you to cross the tracks at the safest possible angle, and keep you at the safest possible distance.

In fact, I already see cyclists making hook turns at intersections like Queen & Spadina, because they know it’s the only safe thing to do.

Hook turns also have the benefit of not holding up motorized traffic behind you while you’re waiting to turn left.

The Law

Unfortunately, hook turns are illegal under Ontario law. That’s something that needs to be changed.

First, we have to get Ontario to legalize hook turns for bicycles. Then we have to get Toronto to put in explanatory road markings like the ones in Cairns, for the benefit of drivers and cyclists alike.

Advanced stop line bike boxes are not the answer

24 May 2010

Advanced stop line (ASL) bike box. (From Wikipedia.)

The Problem

Although I dislike Toronto’s focus on bike lanes for main streets, I do think our main streets need to safe for the more experienced cyclists who use them. And that brings us to a problem: left-turns.

If you’re on a bicycle in Toronto, making a legal left turn on a street like Dundas or College is difficult and dangerous. The law requires you to turn left from the left-most lane, which means you’re riding between streetcar tracks. Streetcar tracks are dangerous because your tire can become caught in them, throwing you from the bike, and they’re slippery in rain or in winter.

And first you have to get into the left-most lane, which means changing lanes into motorized traffic, while still trying to cross the streetcar tracks at a safe angle.

Advance stop line (ASL) bike boxes still have problems

One solution often proposed to help with left turns is the advanced stop line (ASL) bike box, based on the fact that they seem to work in Portland. (Indeed, Toronto is already trialing ASL bike boxes, and they generate a lot of excitement on the usual blogs.) But Portland doesn’t have as many streetcars as we have, and ASL bike boxes do nothing to help with the danger of streetcar tracks.

Another problem with ASL bike boxes is that they’re only of use during red lights. If you want to turn left on a green light, you have to wait for a red light (while holding up bicyclists behind you), get into a left-turn position, and then wait for a green light again.

Not to mention the fact that ASL bike boxes prevent motorists from making right turns on red lights, which is sure to be unpopular in Toronto.

The Solution

A better solution to this problem is the “hook turn”, which I’ll cover in my next blog post.

Going beyond bike lanes

22 May 2010

I’m tired of hearing about bike lanes.

“Let’s put bike lanes on Yonge!” “Let’s put bike lanes on Queen!” What a waste of time and energy.

It’s not that I don’t like bike lanes. But they have problems.

Firstly, bike lanes usually put cyclists between moving motor vehicles and the dreaded door zone of parked cars, which isn’t safe for an inexperienced cyclist. Secondly, some downtown roads simply don’t have space for a bike lane. And thirdly, there are other, more useful pieces of cycling infrastructure we can be spending our energy on.

And yet, arguments about putting non-physically separated bike lanes on arterial roads make up 90% of the debate in this town.

The worst part about all this talk is that it gives the impression that cycling is only for the experienced, the brave, and the physically fit. And that’s the exact opposite of the impression we need to give.

Toronto needs a bike network that is safe and welcoming for all cyclists, whether they be young teenagers or senior citizens. Inexperienced cyclists are especially important, because every cyclist starts as an inexperienced cyclist.

I’m in favour of bike lanes on busy roads where:

1) They can be easily accommodated without too much of a political fight, and alternate routes are available for less-experienced cyclists.

2) They are the only possible cycling route through a particular neighbourhood. But in this case, we also need to provide a physical separation from moving vehicular traffic and separate bike traffic lights at intersections.

Apart from these cases, bike lanes aren’t worth doing.