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Community & Culture

Cycling in Heels - Safe Cycling

Bonny shows that safely navigating city intersections as a cyclist isn't always easy, or clear.

by Bonny van Rest

Hi, Bonny here!

Thanks for coming back to read cycling in heels. In this episode I’m exploring the topic of how to safely navigate intersections as a cyclist (trust me, it isn’t all that easy).

Being from the Netherlands originally, I have found cycling in Toronto to be a very different experience from back home. Intersections are crowded, distracted drivers are common, and I now have a new, very real fear of being “doored”, i.e. getting hit by someone opening their car door while you cycle by. It’s happened to me once already, and it’s terrifying!

All this makes it difficult to navigate the city safely, especially when it comes to intersections. Example: every day I pass through King and Spadina on my way to work. It’s a busy four-way stop with cars, buses, streetcars, cyclist lanes, and pedestrian crosswalks. Toronto chaos at its finest.

There are two ways I can go through this intersection, each with its own challenges:

  1. Left turn from King Street W onto Spadina Avenue. Making a left is hard enough, but here it’s not clear where I can safely stop and wait for the light to change (do I move into the right lane, or left lane?). Picking the left side of the right lane results in me almost getting run over by a streetcar, and almost plowing into pedestrians. Not good for anyone.
  2. Straight on King Street W, crossing Spadina. No left turn should make this option easier, but no. Waiting behind a streetcar makes me want to move over to the right lane, close to the curb. Once I’m there, I realize I’m in the way of a bunch of cars trying to turn right onto Spadina. Not safe. Many pissed off drivers. Not to mention the fact that it feels like a race to beat the streetcar through the intersection.

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This intersection makes me feel particularly unsafe, but it’s definitely not the only one in Toronto that can put cyclists — not to mention drivers and pedestrians — on edge! My experience got me thinking about what changes could be made to make this intersection safer, and how I could be a safer cyclist when crossing through this intersection.

In the Netherlands, intersections are designed differently. Cyclists have their own dedicated “stopping bar” ahead of vehicle traffic, so they can be seen more clearly in the intersection. There are also dedicated traffic lights for cyclists (Toronto has a few of these, but they’re rare). The Dutch also tend to utilize raised curbs on bike lanes, which add physical protection from vehicle traffic. Combined, these elements help cars and cyclists exist in beautiful commuter harmony.

Of course, I’m not the first to point this kind of stuff out. Safety advocates in the City of Toronto are exploring ways to make roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, including building “protected intersections” — which incorporate the ideas above. Infrastructure can’t be overhauled overnight, but hopefully we’ll start seeing progress soon.

In the meantime, there are ways cyclists can empower themselves to stay safer on the road. More on that later :)

Till then, learn more about The Amsterdam Model for safe intersections, and tell us how you’d safely cross your most treacherous intersection @OnliaCA #CyclinginHeels.

Bike safe.


Aka. Cycling in heels

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