Last month, Walkable City author Jeff Speck posted a widely read piece in CityLab:

Why 12-Foot Traffic Lanes Are Disastrous for Safety and Must Be Replaced Now

… the single best thing we can do for the health, wealth, and integrity of this great nation is to forbid the construction, ever again, of any traffic lane wider than 10 feet.

Well, guess what?

From The Globe and Mail:

Toronto to narrow traffic lanes in hopes of increasing safety

The city has just finished a new policy for lane widths, guidelines that will be rolled out gradually across Toronto.

It will mean that, over a period of years, the lanes on streets across the city will be redrawn. A city official said current widths can encourage drivers to go faster than necessary. The new lanes will generally range from 3 to 4.3 metres, (9 feet, 10 inches to 14 feet, 1.3 inches, depending on location. …

The change comes amid a drumbeat of concern about congestion, and after an election in which traffic problems were at the front of voters’ minds. Asked about possible outrage from drivers over a city policy designed to slow them down, Mr. Buckley said adjusting the timing of traffic signal schedules can mitigate the effects.

“Our goal here is to continue to try to maintain [traffic flow] at safe and context-sensitive speeds,” he said. “And in the downtown core, do you need to be going 50 [kilometres an hour]? Probably not. If we can keep people moving at 30 K or 40 K, smoothly, they’ll be ecstatic [about] that.” …

Factors that might prompt a divergence from the target include parking, cyclist or truck volumes and the character of the neighbourhood. The guidelines stress, though, that the target should be “pursued wherever feasible” and that going to the maximum or minimum allowable widths would require “strong and valid justification.”

Anyone know what the policy is in Vancouver?


  1. Before moving onto Vancouver, let’s focus on Toronto for a second longer. My introduction to this story was from The Star

    Clearly, Mayor Tory is not a leader on this subject and is cautiously going along with some of his engineers on lane width reductions so long as it doesn’t “add to gridlock”. So he’ll go where the winds blow until the rancor pulls him back.

    Read the comments for a small taste of some of that rancor. A lot of angry motorists whose feelings are very hurt contribute to these comments sections. These are the loud, entitled minority who will pull the mayor away from his early and tepid support of reduced priority for cars.

    1. That’s what I find bizarre about when they accuse cyclists of having “entitlement” because they happen to exist when it’s really (some) motorists who have the entitlement issues. One of the most highly subsidized modes of transportation is private motor vehicle use and still they can’t be happy with just most of the street width, they want it all or they feel oppressed.
      Crazy. I’m glad I live in a city where there’s some sanity.

  2. I’m pretty sure Vancouver has no real policy for lane widths. Small lane widths already dominate here.

    Streets like 12th or Prior are probably down near 2.7m lane width and even new pieces of infrastructure like the Powell St. overpass probably aren’t much wider. Vancouver doesn’t have much fat to cut in the areas.

    Burnaby and New West on the other hand…

  3. COV engineers seem to be okay with 3.0m/9.8ft lanes in general, and have done this on, say, Cambie Street in Cambie Village. It is an ad hoc and situational process, which is fine with me.

    In other Metro municipalities it is difficult to get agreement on less than 3.3m/10.8ft and sometimes a higher figure. I think I remember 3.75m/12.3ft being employed on No. 3 Road in Richmond.

    This reluctance to narrow lanes makes bike infrastructure, wider sidewalks and landscaped boulevards a challenge to deliver, not to mention a move toward greater … safety.

    I am so happy to see that the fundamental concern of traffic engineers (safety) is finally being widely trumpeted.

    1. @Frank Ducote, That is untrue for RIchmond. No. 3 road settled with 3-3.25 widths + raised bike lane after the Canada Line street re-build although there seems to be no official policy to apply that elsewhere.

      The real dinosaurs is the BC ministry of transportation and infrastructure. Almost all their roads have 3.75 m or wider lanes, even the ones in urbanized areas.

      As for Toronto, they seemed to have adopted this from the NACTO urban street design guide after being the first non-US city to join the organization. I’m hopeful that one day, the NACTO design specs will become the standard throughout North America.

  4. Aren’t lane widths on Granville from Marpole to the bridge less than 3.0 metres for most of that length? Seems around 2.9 or so when measured on Vanmap. The trolley buses seem to do ok….

    To me it looks like Toronto engineers are toeing the line that ITE set a few years ago with their context sensitive streets manual, which in my opinion sets the bar pretty low in creating streets for people. The problem is that this manual still views the vehicle as the primary road user and just provides a little more space around them to fit other modes in.

    As long as the focus is on streets that make car travel easy, we’re a long way from where we need to be. As Jeff Speck recently said on twitter (to paraphrase), 3.0.m is where narrow lanes start, not where they end.

    The safest two-way local street with vehicle traffic I have ever been on was about 5 metres curb to curb, with buildings set back less than 1m (in Japan). Unfortunately when streets are built in this way, traffic is slow enough that you kind of don’t need traffic engineers anymore, for the same reason traffic engineers aren’t needed when you build a sidewalk. I think that’s essentially what ITE’s push into context sensitive streets is all about; how the engineering community can stay relevant in a world that is moving away from the services they provide, by keeping the conversation about streets in a context they can control.

  5. Surrey is using 3.3 m for the centre lane and 3.0 m for the right lane on newly rebuilt streets. Unfortunately often adjacent to the right lane is a 1.3 m or 1.5 m bike lane. This results in a passing distance of large vehicles past cyclists of less than 1 m. The reason the centre lane is 3.3 m is due to the presence of the centre median, or a future one. Drivers tend to “shy” away from the median. Apparently the roads in Surrey are designed to allow error space for drivers in the left lane at the sacrifice of those in the right lane passing cyclists, who don’t really want to be in a skinny bike lane in the first place so they don’t come.

  6. The narrowest are on Oak Street, at 9 ft. You can easily measure the widths on google maps.
    For some streets with very wide lanes (eg Kingsway), narrowing the lanes by 2 ft you can put in a bike lane.

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