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Clearing bike lanes of snow isn’t just about convenience: It can be life-saving

Slushy and obstructed paths and lanes can lead to very risky conditions

Snow-covered bike lanes in Toronto Photo by: David Shellnutt

Winter is here in many parts of Canada, so the plows are back out plowing roads–and hopefully, bike lanes. Many Canadians commute to school or work all-year round. It’s perfectly possible if you hae proper winter gear that can keep you warm. Add a sturdy commuter with fenders and it can make riding in the cold months completely doable. Throw on some studded tires and you’re even better set to take on the white stuff.

Many have noticed that some roads can get plowed before bike paths. Not always, but sometimes. If you’re riding to your destination on a bike path that isn’t cleared, you’re left with two options: navigate through the ice and slush, or if it’s impassable, put yourself in danger’s way on the road.

Riding in cities can be dangerous enough, but throw in some nervous drivers in snowy conditions and obstructed bike lanes, and it can be a very scary situation.

Toronto got its first snowfall and the bike paths are absolutely brutal

David Shellnutt, also known as The Biking Lawyer, summed up the importance of plowing lanes. In Toronto, after a recent snowfall, crews were slow to plow some popular bike lanes riders use to get across town. It wasn’t particularly cold–right above freezing–so many cyclists were still relying on their bikes to get them to where they needed to go.

“Bike lanes not being plowed forces you back into car traffic with impatient or negligent drivers. This Chevy Avalanche driver passed me and rolled a stop sign on his phone,” Shellnutt tweeted. “Remind your municipal officials that people bike all year in Ontario, keeping bike lanes clear is critical.”

Making cities safer for everyone

He went to on explain just why this is more relevant than ever. “In 2021, the Supreme Court of Canada confirmed liability against a municipality for negligent snow removal resulting in a pedestrian being seriously injured. We hope that municipalities across Ontario have learned from that case and will make a concerted effort to keep plow bike lanes, making them safe and navigable for people who ride bikes. If you clear them, we will ride,” he said. “We represent people injured because they have been forced out of bike lanes that have been blocked and then hit by motorists who try and negligently pass them. It’s imperative that municipalities maintain bike lanes in a safe state throughout the winter to avoid people getting injured. The small cost of plowing and salting bike lanes is certainly dwarfed by the cost of injured people on our hospitals, communities, employers and families.”

Many Toronto cyclists echoed his frustration. “I haven’t encountered a single properly cleared bike lane, and at this point, it kind of looks like that’s the way it will remain. The new service standard is that it will be Spring, eventually,” Jeepers H. Crackers added.

Toronto cyclists are fed up with a frozen ‘pond’ on a bike path

Even when the city does plow the lanes–which they certainly do, even if it’s sometimes not fast enough, the danger can happen afterwards.

“It’s s not like the city doesn’t plow. Big issue is what happens in painted bike lanes next to parking. These two pics are from the same bike lane on Dundas East about one block apart. Snow gets pushed back into the painted lane and then freezes. Unusable. Separated lane is clear,” Dave Edwards explained.