Saskatoon·In Depth

'I've almost been hit': Council backs 1-metre buffer for cyclists passing pedestrians

Saskatoon city councillors have asked for the city's revised bike bylaw to include a new rule requiring cyclists to leave a one-metre buffer when passing pedestrians on sidewalks and trails.

Similar buffer proposed for cars passing bikes

Ward 9 councillor Bev Dubois says she's almost been hit by a cyclist when out on a trail. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Saskatoon city councillors have asked for the city's revised bike bylaw to include a new rule requiring cyclists to leave a one-metre buffer when passing pedestrians on sidewalks and trails.

Ward 5 councillor Randy Donauer suggested the buffer during a Monday debate on a series of proposed bike bylaw changes. Eight other councillors joined Donauer in recommending the buffer. 

Depending on the outcome of a later vote on the full bylaw, the pedestrian buffer could come in addition to a similar buffer proposed by the city requiring motorists to leave one metre of space when passing cyclists on the street.

"The more vulnerable user is the cyclist," Marina Melchiorre, a senior transportation engineer with the city, said Monday when asked why only one buffer was being proposed by the city. 

"I'm not disputing that," said Donauer. "I'm just asking if we can apply that same concern to pedestrians."

All city councillors except Mairin Loewen (Ward 7) and Sarina Gersher (Ward 8) voted in favour of Donauer's amendment. 

Loewen said even if cyclists pass people safely, pedestrians with headphones or earbuds who can't hear oncoming cyclists remain a "major challenge." 

"I think we have some work to do at a broader community level to ensure safe shared use of our facilities and pathways," Loewen said. 

'Sometimes a shouting match ensues' 

Donauer was one of several councillors who cited, either through anecdotal or direct experience, close run-ins between Saskatoon cyclists and pedestrians. 

"I have a number of seniors that walk along the Meewasin Trail on the north end of town and it's not uncommon for me to get a couple complaints a year where a cyclist basically blows by probably at 25 to 30 kilometres an hour and really scares these people," Donauer said. 

"Sometimes a shouting match ensues and some vulgarity is exchanged."

"I think we've all been in situations — I know I have — where I've almost been hit when I'm running on the Meewasin Trail," echoed Ward 9 councillor Bev Dubois. "I know people that have been hit and received lifetime injuries actually being hit by a bike going fast on the trails."

"Twenty-five to 30 kilometres [an hour] is definitely too fast," Melchiorre agreed. 

Ward 2 councillor Hilary Gough suggested that, because some trails are not much wider than a metre, the pedestrian buffer rule should be drafted to echo the language used in the proposed motorist buffer rule: "as nearly as may be practical, leave a distance of not less than one metre." 

Gough welcomed the motorist buffer.

"As a cyclist, thank you," she said. "It's very unnerving to be passed at less than one metre."

City council has yet to approve the fully amended bike bylaw. It's not clear when that will happen. Monday's meeting was about batting around the city's suggestions — including mandatory hand signalling for cyclists and no longer requiring cyclists to bike right by the curb. 

Cyclist and Ward 2 councillor Hilary Gough welcomed a buffer between motorists and cyclists, saying it was 'unnerving' to be passed by less than a metre by a car. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Sidewalk cycling: lesser of two evils?

One of city's other suggested amendments would allow kids aged 14 and under to ride on sidewalks. A complete prohibition on sidewalk riding exists now. 

Melchiorre said school boards strongly support getting rid of that prohibition as a way of keeping young cyclists off busy streets. 

But councillor Ann Iwanchuk (Ward 3) called on the city to report back on restricting sidewalk riding in business improvement districts (BIDs) and industrial areas. She and seven other councillors voted in favour of that.  

"I'm concerned about safety," Iwanchuk said. 

Loewen voted with Gough and Gersher against Iwanchuk's amendment. Loewen said she was worried about safety too but added, "To ask the youth under 14 to ride carefully on the sidewalk to me is a much more reasonable approach than asking youth under 14 to ride on the street in BID areas."

Randy Pshebylo, the executive director of the Riversdale Business Improvement District, submitted a photo of a senior he said suffered a broken hip after being struck by a cyclist riding on the sidewalk on the 100 block of 20th Street W. 

This photo of an alleged collision between a 20th Street W. pedestrian and a youth riding on the sidewalk was attached to a letter questioning the city on its plan to allow kids 14 and under to ride on the city's sidewalks. (Riversdale Business Improvement District )

Pshebylo said one thing that would help is if the faded "walk your bike" sidewalk signs were repainted early in the year. That way, he said, police officers and community support officers have something to point to when enforcing the current prohibition.

Should cyclists stick to bike lanes?

Led by Ward 4 councillor Troy Davies, councillors also tasked the city with reporting back on a current rule that requires cyclists to bike on portions of the road exclusively set aside for them, such as protected bike lanes. 

The city is proposing to remove that requirement from the bylaw.  

But Davies pointed to the future bike lanes that will be built on 3rd Avenue as a reason for keeping that rule in place. 

"So we're going to go out, we're going to clean these, we're going to remove snow into the street and pay that amount of money but then cyclists can either ride the street or ride the bike lane. It doesn't make sense to me," Davies said.  

Ward 4 councillor Troy Davies backed an amendment asking the city to study whether cyclists should be forced to use bike lanes. The city is paying for them after all, he said. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

Ward 1 councillor Darren Hill spoke in support of the current prohibition.  

"Shouldn't motorists have the ability to go downtown and go to one area where they know that there's not going to be bicycle in front of them slowing them down because they have to be in that separated bicycle lane?" Hill asked.

"Under the [provincial] Traffic Safety Act, cyclists are considered vehicles allowed on their on the roadway," Melchiorre replied. "So we wanted to default to that."

Loewen, Gersher, Gough and Mayor Charlie Clarke voted against getting that report. 

"There was some useful feedback I thought from stakeholders in our package today about having the flexibility, particularly in the winter months, to ride outside of cycle tracks or cycling lanes if snow clearing prohibits using those lanes," Loewen said. "I think we need to give people the flexibility to do that in those circumstances."

Melchiorre said bike lanes like the ones planned for 3rd Avenue are meant for people of all ages and cycling abilities. 

"If a cyclist is comfortable moving more quickly than those on the cycle track, then we believe they should have the choice to use it regularly. And that also helps helps cyclists move faster than making left turns," she said. 

Melchiorre added that the city knows of only one other municiplaity, Kelowna, that requires cyclists to stick inside bike lanes and other cycling tracks. 

Licensing bikes 'is a financial barrier'

One bike measure was brought up by Donauer but went nowhere.

Donauer said he's asked by constituents why bikes aren't licenced. He asked Melchiorre why that change isn't being proposed. 

"It's not a best practice among jurisdictions," Melchiorre said. "Really the administrative cost outweighs any benefit to doing that."

"It very well could be a benefit in terms of ensuring that there is adequate education," she added. "Testing could be a benefit. But on the other side it is a financial barrier and cycling is one of the most equitable modes that we have out there so we don't want to put that burden on people wishing to cycle."


  • A previous version of this story stated councillor Darren Hill was in favour of banning cyclists from sections of Saskatoon's downtown. In fact, Hill was speaking in favour of the current bylaw rule that restricts cyclists to bike lanes if they are on a street where lanes exist.
    Nov 19, 2019 2:04 PM CT

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Guy Quenneville

Reporter and web writer for CBC Saskatoon

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