Cyclist’s death exposes hazards of “pinch points” in bike network

There's not much hope for Toronto’s Vision Zero road safety program when council's collective head is so far up the tailpipe of motorists 

Miguel Joshua Escanan’s life was taken by a cement truck in a too-narrow lane on Avenue Road last month. The 18-year-old was struck while travelling north of Bloor just a few metres from where the newly installed bike lane on University and Queen’s Park Crescent ends.

The curb lane north of Bloor wasn’t wide enough to share. A safe bike facility ended, and so did a young life.

Pinch points are very common hazards for cyclists. They’re where we get to share the lane with whatever is roaring up behind us.

We hope that the vehicle isn’t too wide, or there’s a good caring driver behind the wheel when we’re coming up in one, which can happen. But it’s probably more honest to describe these moments as near-death experiences more often than not.

Sometimes these pinch points are just built in to the roadway, like “sharrows,” which are designed to be shared by bikes and cars. Spending a few thousand on sharrow markings where a bike lane ends to assist drivers in seeing bikes somehow isn’t done.

But other times, cyclists encounter pinch points at construction projects that take up all the curb lane, and take it all, regardless if there are streetcar tracks – another persistent hazard – nearby. The list of gaps and hazards from pinch points now often includes the on-street patios necessitated by COVID.

Car door openings are another pinch point, except it’s an acute hazard. Cars stopped in bike lanes “just for a minute” are also a constant and random source of these pinch points.

The TTC marks off the zones of turning streetcars on many roads. But there is no such demarcation for turning trucks and motor vehicles, which can result in another kind of pinch when motor vehicles squeeze into your path. 

This lack of protection from turning vehicles, which has led to a number of tragedies, is a daily occurrence for cyclists. But it’s not an obvious problem to City Hall.

As with all bike deaths, we aren’t able to hear from the side of the victims. 

But like many others, Escanan’s death seems totally preventable. It all comes down to design choices.

In fact, discussions to reduce the threat of traffic go as far back as 2004 with the section of Avenue north of Bloor where Escanan was killed. But the car lane was given over entirely to a sidewalk with no room for bikes.

Escanan’s death has renewed calls for more separated bike lanes. But gaps and problems in the city’s bike network abound, and there tends to be little official response, despite some bolder initiatives during the pandemic. 

On Avenue Road, simple sharrows or signage to urge sharing of the lane would have helped.

But what’s a sign, anyway? Like speed-limit signs and yellow and red lights, they can be ignored.

A set of motions passed by city council has set bike infrastructure improvements in motion, but there’s a backlog, and council is dominated by suburban car-servatives, often including Mayor John Tory.

There’s not much hope for Toronto’s Vision Zero road safety program when the collective head is so far up the tailpipe that there’s no light.  

Hamish Wilson is a long-time cycling activist.


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