The city is set to embark on a pilot project to keep cyclists safe from a ever-present menace: streetcar tracks.
A report going before the public works committee next week recommends testing safety measures at trouble spots where riders frequently get their wheels caught in the tracks.
If approved, the pilot project will go ahead in the summer of 2013, and will test out measures to prevent wipeouts on the rails including signage, two-stage left-turn boxes, and pavement markings that direct cyclists over the tracks at safe angles.
The on-street markings would be similar to those used on Portland and Seattle's light rail system. Two-stage bike boxes, also used in the West Coast cities, would allow riders to cross tracks at a safe a right angle by providing them with designated place to wait for a green light at the far side of intersections.
The locations for the trial would be identified through consultations with cycling groups and an online survey that would be launched early next year.
"We all have stories of streetcar track collisions," says Daniel Egan, manager for bike infrastructure at the city's transportation department, and himself an avid rider. "We want to find out from cyclists what the nature of the collisions are, and whether there are any hotspots that jump out."
Egan says it's too early to say how many locations will be targeted, but they are likely to be downtown intersections where several sets of tracks cross one another.
One recent study conducted by the University of British Columbia found that up to 30 per cent of all bike injuries
in Toronto reported to three downtown Toronto emergency rooms were caused by streetcar tracks.
Egan hopes the pilot project will help reduce that statistic, but he warns that while the city can implement safety measures at confusing rail crossings at intersections, there's little to be done on most of the 300 km of rail running down the middle of Toronto's roads.
"I would be cautious about reading too much into the pilot project because we can probably only deal with intersections," he says. "I don't think there's cure-all that's going to magically change the potential hazard of streetcar tracks for cyclists."
Many riders have raised the possibility of using rubber "flange fillers" to plug the gap between tracks, but the city has determined they wouldn't help because they are liable to deteriorate under frequent TTC service and could even derail streetcars.
Egan says the most effective strategy could be stepping up education campaigns to raise awareness about track safety among riders.
While Toronto cyclists have been grappling with streetcar tracks ever since the first trolley lines were laid down here a century ago, the death of Joseph Mavec this past July refocused attention on the hazards they pose. The 47-year-old was killed when his bike wheel snagged on a piece of decommissioned track on Wychwood Ave.
In September councillors Mike Layton and Joe Mihevc asked the public works committee to look into strategies to make tracks safer for riders. The request led to the pilot project proposal.
"With the unfortunate tragedy and the death that occurred, I think that just brought it to everyone's attention that this is a major problem and we need to do something about it," says Layton.
There are 3.5 km of decommissioned track still on Toronto streets, and all but 270 m of it is scheduled to be removed by 2019 in conjunction with planned road work. Depending on the technique used, covering over the tracks independent of scheduled resurfacing would cost between $500,000 and $1.85 million per km.