Saskatoon·Video

Riding the wrong way in a bike lane: Why it's illegal – and why people still do it

"It's a little annoying," says one Saskatoon cyclist. "It isn't best practice," says another. But here's what you should know, legally, about biking the wrong way in a protected bike lane.

Convenience is the top reason cited, but some cyclists don't know it could net them a ticket

Saskatoon cyclists on people who bike the wrong way in protected, single-lane bikeways 2:03

You might have seen someone do it, or done it yourself:

You're riding in downtown Saskatoon in one of the city's protected one-way bike lanes when you spot another cyclist approaching you from the opposite direction — in the same lane.

"It's a little annoying," said Sasha Kisin while riding in the 4th Avenue and 23rd Street protected lanes — in the right direction — Saturday.

"It isn't best practice," added Cathy Watts, the co-chair of biking advocacy group Saskatoon Cycles. "They're not wide enough to be doing any passing much."

It's also illegal.

According to Saskatchewan Government Insurance, which administers the Traffic Safety Act, bikes are considered vehicles — just like cars — and so must go with the flow of traffic.

A directional sign on the right-side protected bike lane on 4th Avenue. (Guy Quenneville/CBC News)

"Even though they're in a bike lane, they should be travelling in the same direction as traffic would be," said Marie Schultz, an SGI spokesperson.

The Saskatoon Police Service says a person doing it could be charged under the (somewhat hazily worded) 17th section of Saskatoon's Bicycle Bylaw 6884:

(City of Saskatoon)

"Our officers agree that it is a violation to travel against the flow of traffic in a bike lane," said police spokesperson Alyson Ewards.

But Watts of Saskatoon Cycles raises a more important question.

"We have to look at the behaviour and try to question why they're doing that," she said.

'There's no one coming, I'll go'

Cyclists CBC News spoke to said they do it out of convenience.

"Well, if I'm just going a block or so in a certain direction and there's no one in the thing, in the lane there, and I can see, I just go down there because it's open, right?" said an unrepentant Diarmid McLauchlan.

Diarmid McLauchlan says he bikes the wrong way as long as the lane is clear. (Guy Quenneville/CBC News)

"I'm very aware that it's going the wrong way," he continued. "It's not for long. It's just because I know I'm going a certain way through town and instead of waiting for the light or stuff like that, I go, hold on, there's no one coming, I'll go."

Chandra Groves, who admitted to doing it too — though "I didn't feel great about it" — also cited convenience.

Chandra Groves said she has done it out of convenience. (Guy Quenneville/CBC News)

"It was just circumstantially to kind of kitty-corner cut across and get on the road as quick as possible," she said. "But yeah I wouldn't prefer it."

Kisin has his own theory.

"It's a little annoying," says rider Sasha Kisin. (Guy Quenneville/CBC News)

"I think it's just so they can see the traffic coming toward them instead of them coming behind," he said. "I know when I'm on a grid road sometimes I will do that just because it's hard to hear [cars] coming from right behind you."

Directions are clear-cut: city

Watts wonders whether the design of the protected lanes on 4th Avenue and 23rd Street — which are pilot projects at this point — might need some design tweaking.

She did not offer any specific suggestions, however, though she did admiringly cite the two-way, side-by-side lanes seen in larger cities like Vancouver.

"The place that works the best is when you absolutely know where you're supposed to be," she said.

But according to Mark Rogstad, Saskatoon's director of media relations, the information put out by the city is pretty unambiguous on that subject.

A diagram from the City of Saskatoon. (City of Saskatoon)

"I would note though [that] diagrams and the video we have… suggest moving in the same direction as motor vehicle traffic," he said.

Few of the cyclists CBC News spoke to knew biking the wrong way was illegal and could net them a ticket.

But Edwards, the police spokesperson, said, "Anecdotally I am told the charge is not laid often."

McLauchlan didn't seem too worried.

"Oh I'm sure it's totally illegal," he said. "But I'm an old biker who used to go all over the place all of the time. So let's be real.

"It's the spirit of the law, shall we say, as opposed to the letter."

Corrections

  • A previous version of this story incorrectly spelled Cathy Watts as Cathy Walsh.
    Jul 24, 2017 11:08 AM CT

About the Author

Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

Story tips, ideas, complaints, just want to say 'Hi'? Write me at guy.quenneville@cbc.ca

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