2017 Bike Ottawa Masthead line

Sidewalk cycling is not allowed

by Avery Burdett

Cyclists must obey the rules of the road too.

Under the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) of Ontario, the definition of a vehicle includes a bicycle. A driver of a bicycle has the same rights and responsibilities as a motorist. Like motorists, a cyclist must follow the rules of the road as specified in the HTA. The HTA is consistent with John Forester's1 belief that cyclists fare better when they operate on the road in a vehicular manner. This is because cyclists are less likely to get into conflict with motor vehicles when their intentions are predictable and their movements are substantially the same as other vehicles. Unfortunately, far too many cyclists in Canada do not operate their bicycles as a vehicle but rather behave as though they have neither rights nor responsibilities on the road. This phenomenon can be traced to both misinterpretation and lack of understanding of the law as it affects cyclists.

In this article, I shall discuss some of the common mistakes made by cyclists in relation to Ontario's traffic laws and the risks they create. The first two are improper lane positioning at intersections, and riding in crosswalks from bike paths (strictly speaking these are not bike paths but rather recreation paths for use by different types of users).

Improper Lane Choice

Section 154 (1)(c) requires drivers to move in the direction designated for the lane they are in. This includes cyclists. Despite this, it is common at any multi-lane intersection to observe cyclists riding straight through from the "right turn only" lane, usually from the right hand side of the painted line separating the through and turn lane. A cyclist who practices this typically does it out of fear of being hit from behind by a motorized vehicle moving through the intersection. In reality, there is more to fear from being in the "right turn only" lane. The cyclist not only impedes right turning vehicles, but also risks being struck by vehicles crossing his path because vehicle drivers will assume that he is going to turn right from the turn lane. Should a collision occur, it is likely that the cyclist will be held liable.

Riding in Crosswalks from Bike Paths

Section 144 (29) forbids riding in crosswalks. The law makes no distinction between crosswalks at bike path/roadway intersections and crosswalks at regular intersections. Therefore cyclists using bike paths should be dismounting at intersections and walking their bicycles in the crosswalk. Few do. When a bike path intersects at the intersection of roadways (those on Riverside Drive along the Rideau River are examples), navigation for cyclists becomes more complex. Not only is there the normal traffic flow on the road, but there is the two-way bike path traffic heading in any one of three directions to contend with. Intersections are where the largest number of car/bike collisions occur. The addition of a bike path at an intersection explains why more car/bike collisions could occur on bike paths than on the adjacent roadways. (However, bike paths next to intersections bring out more cyclists on that particular road as is the case at theLaurier bike lanes, which saw a large increase in cyclists during the pilot between the summer of 2011 and 2013. Danish researched showed that although there might be more accidents in absolte numbers, the accident rate per 100,000 cyclists is lower. Ideally though -as in countries with high bike modal shares- cyclists on segregated bike lanes would have their own "bikes and pedestrians first" green lights before other traffic starts. And no right through red in those countries. - CfSC)

Vagaries of the HTA

Laws which have specific applicability to cyclists and some of their curious implications...


Section 62 (17) requires lighting equipment to be used one half hour before sunset and one half hour after sunrise. A white or amber lamp must be on the front of the bicycle. (The white reflector on chain store bicycles does not meet the requirement and should be removed.) A red lamp or a red reflector must be attached at the rear. White and red reflective materials are required front and rear respectively also, but contrary to common belief, reflective material is not required on bicycles ridden only during the hours of daylight.It should be noted that all equipment must be attached to the bicycle. Technically, equipment worn by the cyclist does not satisfy legal requirements. Did you spend $10 on a red flashing light? Bad news. It is expressly forbidden by Section 62 (14). Get rear-ended at night while using one of these and a smart lawyer will sue you for damage to his client's car. The origins of the requirement for reflective material is a mystery since reflective material provides no additional safety benefit. Even when retro-reflective material is used, it is taped to the front forks and rear stays sending much of any reflected light somewhere into outer space. Reflective material is not defined, so it seems any red and white coloured material will keep the bureaucrats who draft this stuff happy - who cares about safety?


Section 64 (3) requires a rear-wheel braking system on a bicycle which will enable the rider to make the braked wheel skid on dry level pavement. Can the average cyclist reach a high enough speed to enable knobbly tires skid? Could be that all those mountain bikes are illegal.

Bells, Gongs and Horns

Section 74 requires a bell, gong or a horn to be attached to any types of vehicle, including a bicycle. It doesn't say whether a hammer needed to strike the gong must be attached to the vehicle. (A blitz against cycling infractions in the summer of 2012 showed that not having a bell was by far the biggest traffic violation - CfSC)


Section 104 (2.1) requires cyclists 17 years of age or less to wear an approved helmet. Since a charge cannot be pressed against a person less than 16 years old, this section effectively applies to persons of 16 or 17 years of age only. Section 104 (2.2) states that no parent of a person under 16 years of age shall knowingly permit that person to ride on a highway without wearing a helmet. This requires police officers to first establish that a bareheaded cyclist is actually riding on the highway - a sidewalk is part of the highway but a bike path may not be. Then the officer must determine that the cyclist either (a) is under 16 years of age, in which case he sends the tracking dogs after the parents, (b) is over 17 years of age for which the officer says "oops sorry sir, you don't look old enough to be an ex-Premier of Ontario", or (c) is 16 or 17 years of age for which the young criminal gets a $78 ticket. (To put that in context, that's about 3 times the fine for riding without lights at night.)

Hand/Arm Signals and Waves of Endearment

Section 142 requires cyclists to use hand/arm signals if the operation of another vehicle is affected by a turning or stopping cyclist. There are two permitted signals for a right turn. There is the sensible right arm horizontal signal, which like the left turn signal, its mirror image, is easy for children to grasp. Children are taught simply to point in the direction of the intended turn. The other right turn signal is the left arm out horizontally, elbow bent and forearm and hand extended vertically. This can be confused with the "hey, there's my granny on the other side of the street" wave. Unless granny really is on the other side of the street, cyclists are well advised to discontinue its use as it is perplexing and ambiguous. (Riders in my groups who seem to have a granny standing on every other street corner, please take note).

Cycling on Shoulders

Although Section 150 prohibits motorists in most circumstances from driving on shoulders, cyclists are subject to no such restriction. Cyclists should be aware that by using the shoulder they have left the roadway, and must yield right of way to vehicles on the roadway before returning to it. Cyclists are probably better off staying on the roadway where they can be seen by those motorists whose peripheral vision seems to end at the solid white line delineating the edge of the road.

Cycling two abreast

Two police officers stopped my wife and I near the Airport and informed us we had been breaking the law by riding two abreast. Apparently a motorist had complained. He was likely the one who had blasted his horn at us earlier. We politely asked the officers which section of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA) we had violated. Quickly backpedalling, they said they didn't have a copy of the HTA with them, and anyway even if cycling that way wasn't illegal, it was dangerous and we should "ride as far to the right as possible". We responded that we were cycling neither illegally nor dangerously but there were motorists driving that way, and inquired as to why the police officers weren't doing something to protect us from such drivers. While it is general practice to ride to the right, the HTA is less than clear on the subject. There is no provision prohibiting side by side cycling.

Section 148(6) requires a person on a bicycle which is overtaken shall turn out to the right, and the overtaking vehicle shall turn out to the left. It is silent on how this applies to cyclists riding side by side. Provided cyclists in such a formation are positioned to the right-hand side of the roadway, there can be no violation.

Section 147 (1) deals with slow moving vehicles. Any vehicle, including a bicycle, travelling at less than the normal speed of traffic at that time and place shall be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right-hand edge of the roadway (the edge being the solid edge-line, or if none exists then the curb or edge of the pavement). This wording is somewhat confusing. If two or more cyclists are riding together and a motor vehicle approaches from the rear, who is travelling at the normal speed of traffic at that time and place? I would argue the cyclists are, since the bicycles, being the majority, constitute the traffic. Thus the section would not be relevant. Even when bicycles are travelling at less than the normal speed of traffic, cyclists are offered two places to ride when being passed - either in the right-hand lane or close to the edge of the roadway.

I speculate this was written to allow for all types of roads - those with no centre line, two lane roads, and roads with multiple lanes in the same direction. A road with no centre line by definition has no lanes. With no lanes available, a vehicle moving less than the speed of the traffic must be driven near the right- hand edge of the roadway. In this case, it could be interpreted that cyclists are required to ride in single file, but cyclists will rarely find themselves in such circumstances. Under similar conditions but with a right-hand lane available, cyclists may choose to ride single file close to the edge of the roadway but they are also given the alternative of using the lane.

Nothing in the latter implies that they cannot ride double. I wonder if the legal beagles who drafted this section realized they were giving cyclists the same choice as four wheeled vehicles. Regardless of legal niceties, I believe the practice of curb- hugging which results from the simplistic application by cyclists of "ride as far to the right as possible" rule just encourages aggressive motorists to carry out dangerous maneuvers when there really isn't sufficient room to pass. On discussing this with colleague Peter James, he reminded me that, as vulnerable road users, we cannot hand over decisions for our safety to those who would rather we not be on the road at all. I should add it also helps when we are able to explain how the rules of the road relate to good cycling practices whenever overzealous police officers try to intimidate us. There was a happy ending to our trip. The officers radioed to another cruiser a few kilometres down the road to get us free passage via Riverside Drive which otherwise would have been closed to us because of the Annual Air Show!

This article was written by Avery Burdett. The original article appeared in theOBC Spokesperson. Reproduced with permission.

1.John Forester is author of Effective Cycling and North America's leading bicycle transportation engineer.

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