Motorcyclists may soon be allowed to drive between lanes of traffic in Toronto

Toronto city council has voted to look into making the roads safer by legalizing something called "lane filtering." The move would allow motorcyclists to drive between cars when they are stopped at a red light.

Toronto city council is considering a proposal to make the streets safer and friendlier to motorcyclists

A motorcyclist drives between two cars at a stoplight in downtown Toronto. (Greg Ross/CBC)

Motorcyclists have been lobbying for years to get a change in traffic laws that they say would make Toronto's roads safer — and now they may finally get their wish.

They want the city to legalize a manoeuvre called lane filtering, which allows motorcycle riders to drive between cars when they are stopped at a red light. And city council recently voted to have a committee look into the idea.

"The motorcycle can move between the cars up to the active stop line, and then once the light turns green, quickly get ahead of traffic," said Michel Mersereau, a senior instructor with The Rider Training Institute.

Mersereau says, first and foremost, this is about safety.

"What you're doing is minimizing the risk of front- or rear-end collisions," Mersereau said.

Coun. Anthony Perruzza, who represents Ward 8, York West, says he rides a motorcycle and knows firsthand how dangerous stopped traffic can be for riders.

"Stuck in traffic on a motorcycle, it's a pretty scary place," he said, "especially when you look in your mirror and the person behind you is on their phone or completely distracted."

Perruzza brought a motion before city council last month that proposes a pilot project for motorcycle lane filtering along Richmond and Adelaide streets in downtown Toronto.

"There would have to be a bit of an educational campaign connected to that, Perruzza said,"so that people in cars and people on bicycles and pedestrians understand what filtering is."

A motorcycle rides between lanes on a California freeway. (Eric Schmuttenmaer, Flikr)

Mersereau says it's important to make a distinction between lane-filtering and lane splitting.

"Lane splitting is more contentious practice," he said. "That's the action of a motorcycle moving between rows of traffic while traffic is at speed."

Lane splitting is allowed in many European countries and last year California became the first U.S. state to legalize it. It's still illegal in Canada, though, and is not something that is being considered for the proposed pilot project. 

City council voted overwhelmingly in June to allow a committee to explore what a lane filtering pilot project would look like and how it would be implemented.

The committee will bring their findings back to council later this year for another vote on whether or not to move forward.

Perruzza says they wouldn't be able to get the pilot project up and running until sometime next year at the earliest.

His motion also included a proposal to allow motorcycles to drive in designated lanes for buses and taxis and to create more exclusive motorcycle parking areas.