Bill 173: Amending the Highway Traffic Act for Cycling

Ottawa has already some cross rides, such as this one at Walkley Road. The yellow dots trigger the light, in the future perhaps even a bike light.
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Ottawa has already some cross rides, such as this one at Walkley Road. The yellow dots trigger the light, in the future perhaps even a bike light.
Ottawa has already some cross rides, such as this one at Walkley Road. The yellow dots trigger the light, in the future perhaps even a bike light.

Did you ever read Ontario’s Highway Traffic Act? I have to admit I have never gone through it with a dust comb, but I do flip through it once in a while. One of the oddities I found is that you don’t have to have a rear light (as I read it). Currently, you need to have a reflector or a red light. Indeed, you don’t need to have a rear light. Bill 173 is repairing a number of issues that society had already more or less accepted.

Flashing Rear Lights

Bill 173 is going to change that light issue. Or so I thought. No, Bill 173 proposes you can now also wear a flashing red light on your rear. That is right, just a reflector is still OK, a light is not necessary. I had no idea I broke the law by using a flashing light. I should have had a reflector all along and forget about a flashing light. Also make sure you have reflective tape in several places on your bike. (section 62)

Bicycle Traffic Control Signals

Ontario’s law makers are proposing bike traffic control signals with bike symbols. That sounds like a minor thing, but for North America, it is a bíg thing. In intersections though, they can only work when the traffic light cycles are changed, else ‘right through red’ interferes with cyclists, which defeats the purpose. With bike traffic lights, I foresee that ‘right through red’ might become a little less common; all traffic should stop and wait for bikes (and pedestrians).  (section 144)

Cycling Along Crosswalks (Crossrides)

Another change that moves bike infrastructure forward is cross rides. Around for at least 50 years in the Netherlands, they could be introduced soon. We all know those silly situations when you arrive from a bike path, have to get off your bike, walk the bike on the crosswalk and get on your bike again. No more if the amendments make it through. I believe that rule had to do with vehicles not being alowed on a crosswalk and crossrides (bike crossings)  not being allowed next to cross walks without grade separation. Why this change? We do allow cars and pedestrians to share the road in older neighbourhoods afterall, like in my own neighbourhood, that has no side walks. With Multi Use Pathways common place, you can no longer uphold the fact that bikes next to pedestrians is dangerous. If you want to see how that looks like: there is a cross ride next to a crosswalk across Bronson in front of Carleton U. (Likely an exemption for a ‘pilot’; that is how municipalities get around some of the outdated legislation) (Section 144 (29). I am not sure if cycling next to crosswalks is only allowed when there is a marked crossride or that you can cycle next to every cross walk, marked or not for bikes.

It is a bit odd anyway, as one cycles next to pedestrians anyway when all traffic goes straight ahead along a cross walk.

Counterflow Lanes on One Way Streets

This is very helpful in areas with many one way roads. For cyclists, who provide their own power,  one way streets are a bit of a pain. They always say in the Netherlands that cyclists are like water. They will take the easiest route to their destination. One way streets require you to cycle around an entire city block so some cyclists sneak on side walks or cycle against traffic. This leads to irritation with other road users. The law makers recognise that often sometimes rules don’t make sense, so rather than battling the effects, one should take a closer look to solutions. A 100 mtr line of paint all of a sudden makes already logical behaviour legal. I think there is a situation in the Byward Market that can connect the Market easier with the East West Bikeway under the amended Act.

One Meter Rule enforcable?

Texas has a one meter law (three feet in their case). I know that because Alex the Puffin just came back from Texas, where he cycled 1300 kilometers along the Mexican Border, nearly dying from dehydration, until a pick up truck driver offered him a gallon of water, which he drank in one gulp. Nova Scotia has the law too. Dozens of other US states have it. An Ottawa Citizen columnist who’s name I forgot wrote something not funny (think This Hour Has 22 Minutes humour) about the one meter rule, about measuring tapes on the backseat etc. The idea is that if a cyclist is hit, the car was likely too close. Now the driver has to prove (s)he wasn’t that close and that the cyclist just veered towards her/his car unexpectedly. Witnesses will be the deciding factor I suspect. The one meter law is more targeted to behaviour as I don’t think it has much leg to stand on as it is difficult to prove for the cyclists that the driver was too close. But we will see. I ain’t no lawyer. It is good to have it in there. (Section 148)

Dooring Fines a Bit Up

A pet peeve of mine is dooring. With the cutesy Main Streets come narrower lanes, as we still want all that parking in there (even though shoppers want to see less cars in main streets) and wider side walks. The bike lane is sacrified. Nothing is scarier than cycling past parked cars, I find, and therefore I stay away from cutesy Main Streets with cutesy shops and cutesy bulb outs. Next up is Queen Street in Ottawa, that will be narrowed but doesn’t get bike facilities. There is no space apparently. Parking bays yes, bike lanes no. So you will cycle along cars with drivers that open their doors. Think of that one meter rule, but it is you who should stay away a meter in this case. Take the lane. Danielle Naçu died in Queen Street because of dooring. Now what does the Bill propose? Raising the fine from a range between $60 and $500 to a range of $300 to $1000. (Section 165). I think $50,000 would be more appropriate in case of death. Safe bike infrastructure even more, as fines punish, but don’t change the cause of the accidents. The exception of cutesy main streets is Ottawa’s Main Street, that will get bike lanes separated from speedier traffic. As does Churchill Ave.

Paved Shoulders on Divided Highways

I don’t think I fully understand this one: “Section 156 of the Act is amended to permit bicycles to be ridden or operated on the paved shoulder of a highway that is divided into two separate roadways“. You won’t be allowed to cycle on the 401 (a King’s Highway) though. It will be OK to cycle on shoulders of many highways, but from what I understand is there needs to be proper signage to allow you to do so. Fisher Ave for example, as Alayne pointed out to me last year, has a shoulder, but it is not a bike lane, so if something happens you would have been cycling illegally on that shoulder, and insurance won’t pay you. Have fun on Highway 7.

What’s next?

A Bill has to go through no less than three readings before it is voted on to become law. The first one (a formality) was yesterday. It can take a few years when the opposition doesn’t like what they see. And sometimes they don’t like it, because they are in the opposition. But since this is not the material that upsets the House, there shouldn’t be too much resistance. It is kind of ‘If you are not with us, you are against us’. The bike stuff is folded into an omnibus bill wi
th stiffer fines for drunk and distracted drivers: if you are against the bill you are in favour of drunk and distracted driving, so goes the logic. NDP support should be enough. Write Andrea Horwath to support the bill: Her father is ethnic Hungarian (from Slovakia) and Budapest had a Critical Mass with 80,000 participants (in 2008).

The largest ride so far was the April 22, 2008 Critical Mass / Earth Day demonstration, which attracted an estimated 80,000 cyclists, and was officially launched by the Dutch ambassador to Hungary, Ronald A. Mollinger, symbolising the popularity of cycling in the Netherlands now spreading to Hungary. Source:

But don’t hold your breath. Share the Road Ontario, that spent years pushing for those changes, predicts a provincial election:

This year’s (Bike) Summit comes at a critical time in our province with both a municipal and provincial election on the horizon. Source:

which means the Bill could die if the Ontario Government folds. I am not an expert, so if someone can shine a light on this, do react in the comments.

Read about Acts and Readings:

Read the amendment:


  1. As far as riding on paved shoulders is concerned I think you have taken the bait hook, line and sinker. Norm Miller’s Bill 137 if it becomes law amends Subsection 151 (5) by the addition of 151 (5.1) “Despite Subsection (5) a person may ride a bicycle on the paved shoulder of any part of the King’s Highway, except as otherwise prohibited by law.” This makes no differentiation between divided or two lane highways.

    Bill 173 will repeal Subsection 151 (5) and replace it with different wording. Presumably this will also repeal Subsection 151 (5.1) if it becomes law in the meantime. Subsection 156 will be amended by the addition of Subsection (3) “Despite Clause (1)(a) a bicycle may be ridden or operated on the paved shoulder of the highway if the bicycle remains on its side of the separation.” Now how many sections of divided King’s Highway with paved shoulders are left where cyclists have not already been prohibited by Regulation 630 ? The answer is one only, i.e. Hwy 11 between Crown Hill north of Barrie and Memorial Drive in Orillia. This part of Bill 173 appears to be about sabotaging Norm Miller’s efforts on behalf of cyclists.

    You may also want to take note of the change to Section 109 (7.1) “Section 109 (7.1) of the act is amended by striking out “25 metres” and substituting “27.5 metres”. No hint of what this is about. No mention under the heading “Explanations”. Of course reference to the Highway Traffic Act will clue you in that this is about increasing the length of highway tractor trailer combinations for the benefit of the trucking industry.

  2. I don’t think Bronson counts as a crossride since there is road traffic coming from Brewer Park. The city just turned it into a full 4 way intersection, and prohibited cars from going straight through.

  3. Re: Paved Shoulders on Divided Highways

    I think this is in here to deal with the Hwy 17 widening in Northern Ontario. There was a real danger that if the MoTO (err, MTO) proceeded with freewayifying Hwy 17 in the usual manner that the only viable Trans-Canada cycling route would be lost (we already have a version of this problem where Hwy 69 is being turned into Hwy 400 south of Sudbury).

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