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  • Writer's pictureDave Shellnutt

Dangers of Parking in a Bike Lane

Updated: Nov 21, 2023

For your average cyclist, being yelled at to “get in the bike lane” or “get off the road” by a cavalier car driver can be blood boiling. It’s no surprise when we see that familiar interaction boil over, a frustrated cyclist smashing his bike off some dangerous driver’s front hood.

Now as a survivor of violence and lawyer for people who’ve experienced violence, I urge extreme caution in these situations. We of course do not condone what happened here, but we get it. With bike lanes swallowed up by construction or parked cars, where are we supposed to go!?!

Parking in bike lanes is endemic. There’s even a slight bump in frequency and brazenness during the winter.

Now as a car driver you might say: "What’s the harm? I just popped in to get my Krispy Kreme donuts for 2 minutes, just go around me."

Well, you prioritizing your needs over the safety of others can have consequences. For one, it’s illegal, carrying a fine of up to $150.00 in Toronto.

Secondly, it’s dangerous. You could cause someone to get injured and get a lawsuit dropped off at your front door.

The danger created by bike lane parking is best characterized by asking yourself if you’d park in the middle of the road, in a through traffic lane to pick up your dry cleaning?

No, that’s absurd? Well that’s what’s happening when you park in a bike lane. You’ve parked your vehicle in the middle of traffic. This causes cyclists to either have to stop and wait for you to finish your errand (most vehicles I see in bike lanes are vacant), or go around.

That's where the danger lies. Parking in a bike lane forces a cyclist to merge with fast moving motor vehicle traffic. They must enter a traffic lane the blocked bike lane was meant to keep them out of. (Of course, in theory a cyclist entering this lane should be met by vehicles behind it yielding the right of way. However, we’re most often met with blaring horns, screaming motorists, and/or close passes.)

A client of ours was travelling east in the Adelaide Street Bike Lane in Toronto. A non-emergency vehicle was parked in the bike lane forcing her to safely merge with motor vehicle traffic. Just after she did so, as she was cycling a pickup truck towing a trailer attempted to pass her without changing lanes. Though the truck made it past our client, the trailer clipped her, and she went down, hard. She suffered several spinal fractures.

Another client of ours was cycling on Roncesvalles Ave. in Toronto, as she entered the Howard Park Ave intersection, she noticed a car parked in the bike lane. She could not maneuver around it safely and attempted to merge into the center traffic lane. In making leaving the bike lane to avoid the parked car she came across a web of streetcar tracks. The last-minute safety maneuver caused her to crash and seriously fracture her ankle.

These are just two examples in a long list of crashes and near misses caused by people parked in bike lanes.

Drivers, please ask yourself if your minor inconvenience in finding appropriate parking is worth someone fracturing their spine or breaking their ankle.

Cyclists, take care in these situations and know that one driver's negligence in bike lane parking could be met with another driver’s negligence in close passing you as you go around it.

Make sure the way is clear before proceeding.

If a car/truck or any other obstruction causes you to crash or is in any way part of the collision make sure you take down not only the information of the driver that hit you, but the one who parked in the bike lane too (take loads of pictures). Report your crash here.

It is incumbent on the City of Toronto and TPS to ensure that parking violations are enforced. However, I strongly encourage our municipal leaders to look further than police to address a problem they’ve had years to tackle. Consider an automated approach like in Brampton or here. Our speed cameras in school and other heightened safety zones were a huge success, let’s look at those options to keep our bike lanes safe and our traffic moving efficiently.

Now, we haven’t even begun to address FedEx, Purolator and Sysco Systems, who we have it on good authority authorize their drivers to get parking tickets because it’s cheaper than “delays” in their delivery schedules. But we will get em :)

Ride safe and ride often friends.

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