A cycling advocacy group wants the City of Saskatoon to clarify and revise the city's biking bylaw so that riding on sidewalks is allowed on busy streets and under other special circumstances.

It's one of nine recommendations from Saskatoon Cycles partly meant to remove "potentially dangerous, outdated and confusing" parts from the bylaw, which was last updated in 2011.

Other recommendations, which will be presented to city councillors on Tuesday, include:

  • That the city consider a legal rule requiring car drivers to pass cyclists at a distance of at least one metre.
  • No longer making bike bells mandatory, given the lack of evidence to suggest they help prevent collisions.
  • Not forcing cyclists to ride in a bike lane (especially "where these are often poorly maintained.")

The review was completed by University of Saskatchewan law student Scott Silver and associate professor Benjamin Ralston, a former Saskatoon Cycles board member, through an organization called Pro Bono Students Canada.

badly maintained bike lane

Saskatoon Cycles says the city shouldn't require cyclists to use bike lanes if they're poorly maintained. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Painted signs currently direct cyclists to walk their bikes on pedestrian-heavy sidewalks.

Lee Smith, a member of Saskatoon Cycles's board of directors, doesn't quibble with those.

"I understand the problem that cycling on busy sidewalks like downtown and Broadway, 20th Street, where there's lots of pedestrians, is maybe inappropriate," he said.

But Saskatoon Cycles says the section of the bylaw requiring that "every person operating a bicycle shall utilize only that portion of the street as is intended for the passage of motor vehicles" reads as an unwieldy, "blanket" ban on sidewalk cycling everywhere in the city.

"Is it inappropriate for a young child biking to school to not be able to bike on the sidewalks in the suburbs along, say, a busy arterial road where there isn't a lot of foot traffic but there is a lot of heavy car traffic?" said Smith.

"Are you expecting a young kid to bike to school in traffic along the road? No. I think the sidewalk is the most appropriate place for them.   

"There's many other examples like that."

Ellen's Law

A New Brunswick cyclists uses a pool noodle to demonstrate the legally-mandated one-metre buffer required when motorists pass cyclists in that province. (Twitter/Harold Jarche)

'It feels very dangerous'

Smith says that, like allowing riding on certain sidewalks, requiring drivers to keep a certain measured distance from cyclists — which is the law in several provinces, 24 American states and in countries like France — will encourage more people to cycle.

"When you get passed by a vehicle that's within one metre, it's really quite unnerving and it feels very dangerous," he said.    

"It doesn't make it so that cycling is an attractive option for families or for novice cyclists or people who are interested in trying cycling but are too scared because cars pass too close to them."

Saskatoon Cycles' review acknowledges that it would be ideal for the one-metre rule to be in place throughout the province but says it may be possible for the city to take the lead.

Cyclists in other Canadian cities have affixed one-metre-long pool noodles to their bikes to help drivers visualize the distance.

"That might be a good demonstration by the police to do something like that once these changes come through," said Smith.

Smith added that he does expect some pushback about the proposed distance rule from motorists.

"It'll be a little bit controversial, but call it a growing pain," he said. 

But Ralston said, "I'm sure the city administration will be listening to many perspectives before any changes are made."