Canada has seen an increase in people turning to cycling and away from commuting via car or bus. In Toronto, some neighborhoods report that over 20% of their citizens using bicycles as their main form of transportation. With this increase in bike use, there has also been a surge in cycle and motor vehicle collisions. A recent study showed that cycle tracks, in particular, may keep bike riders safer in city centers.

Cycle Tracks in Toronto

Recently, the city of Toronto added cycle tracks to major parts of its downtown area to help better protect cyclists. A cycle track differs from conventional bike paths because it is separated from motor vehicles and expressly made to protect riders. It is exclusively used by cyclists but still allows them to ride parallel to traffic.

They can be open to one-way or two-way cycle traffic. They may also be elevated or at a sidewalk-height. They can also be at the same height as the road but separated by some sort of divider.

The purpose of a cycle track is to better protect cyclists by separating them from motor vehicles while still allowing them to share the road. They offer a higher level of security than regular bike paths and are becoming preferred methods in cities where cycling is becoming more popular. They are a somewhat new concept to the U.S. and Canada, however, they have been used for years in Europe, especially in the Netherlands.

Have Cycle Tracks Affected Bicyclist Safety?

The purpose of the study, based out of Toronto, was to look at the effects of newly added cycle tracks in the downtown area. In particular, researchers wanted to find out if the city had become safer for cyclists since the lanes were added a few years ago.

The study focused on two main factors concerning collisions between cyclists and motor vehicles. First, it looked at rates of collisions on streets with newly added cycle tracks. Secondly, it observed collision statistics on streets surrounding new cycle tracks but did not have a track added directly on it.

To collect information, researchers looked at police data given to them by the City of Toronto. They studied cyclist and motor vehicle collision reports from 2000 to 2016. Since the cyclist tracks were added recently, the study could only look at rates of collisions two years before and after the tracks were implemented.

The results were divided into zones that matched the studies two main focuses. Zone one was the streets that had new cycle tracks added. Zone 2 was the surrounding streets that were in the vicinity of the new tracks but had no direct tracks on them.

Research Shows Cycle Tracks Improve Road Safety

The results overwhelmingly showed that new cycle tracks made the roads safer for cyclists. There was a 38% reduction in cycle and motor vehicle collisions in Zone 1. In Zone 2, roads that were within 150m – 550m from the newly added tracks, there was also a significant drop in collisions: 35%. This shows that both the streets with the new tracks and the area surrounding those streets were safer because of the additions.

The study confirmed what many already know, cycle tracks are safe and can save lives and reduce collisions. One surprising additional finding was that when the city installed the tracks, it also saw an increase of bike users by 2.57%. This means that individuals that live in the city are more likely to cycle if they feel safe and protected.

Finally, the study also showed that around 75% of collisions that still occurred happened at traffic intersections. This means that while tracks are safe, they are still vulnerable to some accidents at certain spots like traffic intersections.

Criticisms of the Study

Regardless of the results, the city has still faced major criticism for not having enough bike lines or safety initiatives for cyclists. The study focused on two main areas where the tracks had been added. The study’s results were tremendously positive. However, they only represented a small section of the city. To truly save lives and make cycling safer, the city needs to implement the tracks to a broader area.

In June 2016, Toronto approved a Ten Year Cycling Network Plan. The purpose of the plan was to update safety measures for cyclists within ten years including installing new cycle tracks. In particular, the study promised to add over 525 km of new and safe bike routes around and in the city. However, in 2019, barely any progress had been made.

In July 2019, the city approved an updated cycling plan. This plan extended deadlines that were made in the initial plan, probably to account for the fact that little has been accomplished so far. The new plan also includes a three-year rolling implementation program that will help develop and identify new cycling projects for the city.