As Torontonians anxiously await the soothing spring sun, cyclists are assessing the bike lane breakdown wrought by the long frigid winter. Despite assurances from the city, bike lane conditions during the snows were actually worse than ever this year, causing even diehard cyclists to leave the wheels at home. One of them, veteran bike advocate Anne Hansen, says her decision had to do with "the fact that the College bike lanes (her commuter route) were basically non-existent."
Councillor Adam Giambrone, the new co-chair of the TCC, also avoids winter cycling, in part because "they don't plow the bike lanes."
Certainly, the city warns in its Winter Tips For Cyclists brochure that there are more hazards and problems during winter and that "not every winter day is a cycling day." But the bike plan also notes that "Sweden and Denmark both have similar, if not harsher, winters." In those countries, bike lanes are plowed.
Pedestrian and cycling infrastructure manager Dan Egan attempts to contextualize the city's failings: "It's not that we're saying, 'Let's forget about it because they're bike lanes.' It's an ongoing challenge."
Egan says that even if people and businesses didn't shovel snow off sidewalks into the lanes, and the various vehicles criss-crossing over them didn't "drag snow into them," they would still be spotty and hard to navigate because of how salt works.
"Unless you have people driving in the bike lane over that salt, it's not going to (melt the ice)," Egan says. "The cars perform a useful function. It's ironic, because you don't want cars in the bike lane, but if you had more cars (driving) in there you'd probably have less ice."
It's not just parking bays that snow crews completely and utterly failed to keep clear. Sometimes they seemed to have great problems removing snow even from straight-ahead pavement, so the bike lanes vanished under snowbanks and parked cars.
These conditions make cycling dangerous because cyclists must either do an unexpected forced merge into "cartillery" that might be bombing up behind, or try their luck on obviously perilous surfaces.
Bad road conditions are even more hazardous on curves like the one on the northbound side of St. George north of College, or on westbound Harbord past St. George. There's greater danger because motorists almost always cut the corner and squeeze the bike lane and cyclists.
Many main and direct carterials were narrowed by big snowbanks with nasty ice edges jutting into cyclists' path. Even after the snowbanks were removed, some ice patches and hazards were left.
The danger of winter cycling has been used as an argument for not adding more bike lanes, because they won't work in winter. This is "carism" at work. There's an army of equipment to assault any snow that might create a wee obstacle to (and liability from) the speeding cartillery that's well balanced on four wheels, but the conditions for bikes remain hazardous and impassable. Bikes don't rate in the "amanglemated motoropolis."
Giambrone is optimistic that it will be better next winter and sees current problems needing not more money, but a change in procedures. "You're already plowing the streets, and you just have to make sure you're plowing the bike lanes as well."
Maybe the city's winter cycling tips brochure should include phone numbers for reporting lousy cycling conditions.