External Policies

Bike Ottawa’s policies are developed after reviewing similar policies, where they exist, and other studies related to the issue. Each draft is approved by the Bike Ottawa Board of Directors, then circulated to Bike Ottawa members and cyclists for review and comment. After a review period, the Bike Ottawa Board incorporates any required changes and approves the policy in final form. Each final policy directs Bike Ottawa’s actions related to the issue, and our representation to government and other agencies.

Our policies are focused on cycling aspects of the underlying issues. For example, our policy on inline skating only deals with how inline skaters affect cyclists. Whether or not an inline skater wears a helmet is up to inline skaters to decide – unless that affects cyclists.

Bike Ottawa policies may be revised by the Board of Directors as the need arises.

We would like to thank all those volunteers and cyclists who have helped us draft our existing policies, and who commented on them and made them better.

Headings and overarching text was updated in 2017 with the new name “Bike Ottawa”. Where a policy was approved before CfSC changed our name to Bike Ottawa, this text was not altered.

Bike Ottawa policy: Sharrows

While some experienced and confident cyclists find sharrows help emphasize their right to use the road, sharrows do not generally improve the safety or comfort of the average person. They are not a suitable substitute for cycling infrastructure for people of all ages and abilities. Bike Ottawa therefore supports the use of sharrows only as a temporary measure, or for alternative purposes such as bike-route wayfinding.

Link to Sharrows Position Statement PDF

Approved by the Bike Ottawa Board of Directors 20 June 2016.

Bike Ottawa policy: Bike lanes

Bike Ottawa recognizes that many cyclists are more comfortable riding where bicycle lanes or markers indicate a well-defined area for bicycle travel. These lanes can be helpful to both cyclists and motorists by delineating space on the road for bicycle use. We support the implementation of bike lanes as part of a cycling network. Certain factors must be taken into consideration when creating bike lanes in order to maximize their utility and safety and achieve the ultimate goal of encouraging more people to ride bikes. 

This policy is not intended to provide technical specifications for bike lanes but should be used in conjunction with current best engineering practices for design of bicycle infrastructure. In this policy the term bicycle lane refers to all segregated, bidirectional, or on-street lanes.

The following factors should be taken into account when bicycle lanes are proposed:

1. Bicycle lanes should be designed to improve the comfort and safety of cyclists;

 2. Bicycle lanes should be properly signed and marked so that it is clear to all road users where the lane begins, flows and ends. The end of bicycle lanes should be clearly indicated to all road users and not lead users into awkward or dangerous situations; 

3. Care should be to taken where bicycle lanes meet intersections. This may require changing other aspects of the intersection, such as adding bike boxes. It should be made clear to all users how and where bicycles should travel to leave the bike lane to continue on an alternate route;

4. Bicycle lanes should be installed where there is sufficient width for bicycle trailers and adult tricycles to be safely passed; 

5. Bicycle lanes should be maintained, kept unobstructed, swept and repaired regularly;

6. The creation of a bicycle lane should not preclude the choice of a cyclist to ride with other traffic on an alternate or adjacent route.

Approved by the Bike Ottawa Board of Directors 14 June 2012.

Bike Ottawa policy: Bicycle access to light rail

Combining cycling with public transportation can be the most efficient way to make a trip, using cycling’s flexibility and public transportation’s speed over longer distances. This synergy has already been demonstrated with the success of OC Transpo’s Rack & Roll program (cycling racks on buses) and similar programs in other cities. 

Bike Ottawa believes that the Light Rail system should similarly allow bicycle access.

In order that this work, the following conditions should be met:

a) Bicycle parking must be available at all light rail stations, within view of the rail platform. Racks should be provided in the same numbers as for similar Transitway stations, and should be visible, lighted, and easily accessible and allow bicycles to be securely locked. 

b) Cyclists must be able to access the platforms of all Light Rail stations easily with their bicycles.

c) Passengers should be able to bring bicycles with them in Light Rail cars at all times, subject to space availability.

d) OC Transpo should establish written and well-advertised criteria for how and where bicycles are carried on trains to minimize conflicts and ensure safety. These criteria should specify safe places for bikes to be placed  in each car, and the maximum number of bicycles per car.

Approved by the CfSC Board of Directors 13 March 2001.

Bike Ottawa policy: Mixed-use pathways

Citizens for Safe Cycling (CfSC) notes that the pathway network in the National Capital Region continues to be extended, and that more links are being established between adjacent municipalities. CfSC also notes that the pathways are heavily used by both tourists and area residents, and therefore supports the continued presence and upgrading of the pathways. Notwithstanding the heavy use of the pathway network, the majority of cycle journeys will be made on the ordinary road network. For this reason the safety and suitability of the road network for cyclists must continue to be of paramount importance.

CfSC considers that the title “Recreational Path” is inappropriate because the pathway network is also heavily used, as an alternative to the road network, by commuting cyclists and by other cyclists undertaking non-recreational journeys. The title “Mixed-Use Pathway” more accurately represents the typical usage of the paths by all classes of cyclists and pedestrians.

The current pathway network, however, has a number of hazardous conditions and design faults which create unnecessary danger and inconvenience for pathway users. There are several causes for these deficiencies:

  1. Most of the pathways are too narrow to be safe for even moderate traffic levels, particularly because the different classes of users travel at significantly different speeds.
  2. There are numerous intersections and blind or tight corners where the sight distances and braking distances are inadequate.
  3. At many pathway/road intersections there are curbs that are as much as 200 mm high. These curbs are unnecessary, and are both dangerous and inconvenient.
  4. Design details, such as intersections, signs and pathway markings, are treated differently by the various jurisdictions responsible for the pathways. This leads to confusion for pathway users.
  5. The standard of maintenance is inadequate; subsidence/heaving, tree-root damage and cracks are not properly repaired, and consequently a safe riding surface is not maintained.
  6. Many of the pathway users do not obey traffic rules, and hence put themselves and others at risk by their unpredictable actions.

The following action is required:

  1. Recognize the needs of both recreational and non-recreational pathway users.
  2. Review the existing network to eliminate hazards such as blind spots, sharp turns and curbs at intersections.
  3. Establish on-going maintenance programs.
  4. Formulate a consistent design approach, based on recognized standards, that will be followed by all jurisdictions responsible for the pathways.
  5. Increase the capacity of busy pathways by widening and/or by separating different traffic flows.
  6. Apply proper and consistent design methods to pathway/road intersections so that the right of way is clearly allocated.
  7. Install cycle-activated traffic lights at busy or dangerous intersections that can be operated safely without dismounting.
  8. Install adequate warning and directional signs throughout the network.
  9. Implement educational programs for pathway users.
  10. Introduce pathway regulations that are applicable to all users, and then provide the necessary enforcement.

Approved by the CfSC Board of Directors 1989.

Bike Ottawa policy: Child cycling education

Citizens for Safe Cycling believes that effective cycling education and training should be available to every child. This should be undertaken when children are at a suitable age of development and are beginning to ride on their own, around the age of nine.

A bicycle is a child’s first vehicle. They have no experience, yet children are given very little cycling instruction. Effective educational programs are ones that happen over time and on the road. Effectiveness is measured by positive behavioural changes and a reduction in crash rates. These programs involve bike handling skills, how to ride on the road and the proper use of helmets. The KIDS CAN-BIKE and other CAN-BIKE programs incorporate all of these elements.

Educational programs would involve extensive follow-up over time as to their effectiveness. Follow-up will lead to course improvements.

Availability means courses should be offered in the child’s community, thus enabling more children to reach a course and to enforce positive behaviours in their own communities. School based community cycling programs (community use of schools) and local community centres would allow for the greatest amount of availability.

Availability also means the continued need for instructor development. This includes instructor identification and comprehensive training. Without adequate instructors, there is no availability.

Parents/guardians are currently a child’s first cycling instructor. Most children learn to ride a bicycle between the ages of five to eight. Children of this age are very amenable to training. Young children are at various stages of developing strategic thinking skills and are far less efficient at switching attention; therefore adult supervision is necessary.

Depending on location, level of traffic and the child’s development, older children also require knowledgeable adult supervision.

In order to provide safe cycling, cycling education programs for younger children are aimed at providing parents/guardians and their children greater practical knowledge.

Elements include bicycle handling skills, rules of the road for cyclists, safe riding practices and understanding children’s ability to comprehend road danger and apply that knowledge at different ages, and proper use of helmets.

Investment and promotion of child cycling education is essential.

Approved by the CfSC Board of Directors 18 October 2001.

Bike Ottawa policy: Bicycle licensing

Citizens for Safe Cycling (CfSC) does not believe that a bicycle licensing scheme will benefit either cyclists or non-cyclists. Bicycles provide direct benefit to their users (inexpensive transportation, improved health and fitness) and indirect benefits to society as a whole (lower highway costs, less pollution), and therefore the use of bicycles should be encouraged.

CfSC does not consider that a licensing scheme will provide any encouragement to the use of bicycles. In particular, it is the opinion of CfSC that: 

  1. The additional bureaucracy required to license a bicycle will discourage the use of bicycles, particularly by casual or new users. It is illogical that an individual’s decision to change to a lower-cost and lower-impact mode of transportation should cause increased cost and inconvenience to that individual.
  2. Cyclists already pay a significant share of highway costs through general taxation. Each person that uses a bicycle causes a reduction in demand for road space, and a reduction in road maintenance costs. Cyclists must not be singled out to pay an increased share of these costs by what is, in effect, discriminatory taxation.
  3. Unless the license fee is set at an unrealistically high level, it is unlikely that the revenue will be significantly greater than the administrative costs (it is for this reason that the majority of bicycle licensing schemes have been abandoned). The scheme will therefore not produce any tangible benefits, and will operate only as a disincentive to cycling.
  4. The practical aspects of implementation and enforcement do not appear to have been addressed. It will be difficult, if not impossible, to license out-of-town riders or bicycles. Police manpower will be diverted from apprehending traffic law offenders to the task of checking bicycle licenses.

CfSC does not support the implementation of a bicycle licensing scheme. CfSC believes that the planning and construction of cycling facilities should be funded from general taxation in the same manner as almost all other municipal and provincial facilities.

Approved by the CfSC Board of Directors April 1991.

Bike Ottawa policy: Bicycle helmets

CfSC does not support mandatory helmet use because this would serve to reinforce the misconception that wearing a helmet is the best way of preventing cycling injuries, and would divert effort from the more important factors of infrastructure, education, and on-road behaviour. Furthermore, mandatory helmet use can be a barrier to cycling.

The use of helmets will not reduce either the incidence of cycling collisions or injuries to other parts of the body. The best way to reduce all types of injuries is to reduce collisions. This can most effectively be achieved by proper infrastructure, education, and enforcement.

Approved by the CfSC Board July 1991.

Updates to reflect emphasis on infrastructure approved by the CfSC Board of Directors July 2016.

Bike Ottawa policy: Bicycle helmet legislation


It is the opinion of Citizens for Safe Cycling (CfSC) that Bill 124, the Bill to make the wearing of bicycle helmets compulsory in Ontario, should not be enacted because:

  1. It would serve to reinforce the current public misconception that wearing a helmet is the only way of preventing cycling injuries, and
  2. It would divert effort from the more important factors of education and on-road behaviour.


CfSC recommends that all factors relating to the compulsory wearing of helmets should be fully reviewed before any legislation is enacted. This task should be undertaken by a committee or task force that has members with specific experience in this field. The review should receive input from parties that represent both pro and anti opinions, and should include a study of the opinions and experience of parties from other jurisdictions where similar legislation has been proposed or enacted. The results from this review should then be integrated into the Ontario Bicycle Policy review.

Until this review is complete, the wearing of helmets should be encouraged through a public awareness program. Any such program must, however, stress that accidents can be avoided by education and a proper understanding of traffic cycling principles. For example, a cyclist riding safely (with the traffic, using lights at night), and therefore not encountering potential accidents, could be contrasted with a cyclist riding against the traffic, or without lights, who experiences a series of near-misses. This would readily convey the message that riding in a predictable manner is the safest way to ride, and the best way to avoid personal injury.

Approved by the CfSC Board of Directors October 1991.

Bike Ottawa policy: Benefits of neighbourhood schools

Since Citizens for Safe Cycling strongly encourages cycling and walking to school, we support school locations that allow as many children as possible to walk or cycle to school. We oppose policies that direct urban children to schools that are located so far from their homes as to make walking or cycling too dangerous or completely impractical (other than to permit certain specialized programs).

We support the concept of neighbourhood schools, located in the middle of residential areas in all parts of the city, which can be reached easily by foot or by bike (with special routes set up as necessary for younger children). When new subdivisions are being approved, the proximity and capacity of the neighbourhood schools should be considered. If the schools aren’t within walking/cycling distance, the school boards must have plans and schedules to build new schools that meet these needs.

In addition, to the extent that these schools remain open for after-school and evening activities, they allow children to walk or cycle to reach their recreational destinations, again eliminating unnecessary car trips.

CfSC opposes closing neighbourhood schools if these closures will force many children to take the bus or be driven to school, rather than being able to cycle or walk. We believe that the health and other disadvantages to the students, as well as the blow to the neighbourhoods which will no longer be anchored by a school, will more than outweigh any cost savings.

When a school is opened or closed, the zone boundaries should be re-examined so as to maximise the number of students within walking/cycling distance of their school. This may increase number of students disrupted by the school closure, but it is our belief that the long term benefits to the students and the environment outweigh the short term costs.

Approved by the CfSC Board of Directors 5 October 2000.

Bike Ottawa policy: Restricted turns

There are numerous locations throughout the Region where specific manoeuvres (often left turns, but sometimes right turns and straight ahead travel) are restricted. Some of these restrictions apply all day, others only apply at certain times or on certain days of the week.

These restrictions have been implemented for several reasons, for example:

  1. To prevent turning vehicles from causing disproportionate delay to following or oncoming vehicles (for example the numerous “no left turns” and “no right turns” on Bank Street at intersections where a following vehicle could not overtake a stationary turning vehicle due to inadequate road width).
  2. To prevent potentially dangerous manoeuvres at locations where visibility is restricted (for example the “no right turn on red” from Bronson Avenue (northbound) onto Slater Street (eastbound) where vehicles ascending the hill from Scott Street are not easily visible from Bronson Avenue).
  3. To prevent “short-cutting” through residential neighbourhoods or other areas with inadequate through routes (for example the “no right turns” from Sunnymede Avenue and Clearview Avenue (westbound) onto Island Park Drive (northbound) to prevent traffic travelling from Scott Street to Island Park Drive from cutting through the Champlain Park neighbourhood).

Some of these restrictions are clearly pertinent to all classes of vehicles. The restriction at Bronson Avenue / Slater Street is an example of this class of restriction.

Some restrictions, however, are strictly only pertinent to larger vehicles, either because of their size or because of the generally unpleasant effects caused by numerous larger vehicles travelling through quiet residential neighbourhoods. The Bank Street restrictions provide several examples of locations where a bicycle waiting at the curb (to turn right), or at the yellow line (to turn left), would not impede following traffic. The Champlain Park neighbourhood provides an example of the intention to prevent large/noisy/smelly vehicles from idential neighbourhood, whereas bicycles, by contrast, have a significantly lower impact on the residential environment.

The effect of some of these restrictions is to cause journeys to take longer, or to be less convenient, both because of the delays and because of the longer routes that are sometimes required. For the cyclist, such a longer journey is a greater inconvenience than it is to the motorist.

It is CfSC’s opinion that some of the restrictions that are not strictly pertinent to bicycles should be relaxed to provide positive encouragement for the greater use of bicycles for urban travel. CfSC notes that the principle of discriminating against certain classes of vehicles already exists in the restriction of trucks to designated truck routes.

Approved by the CfSC Board of Directors May 1991.

Bike Ottawa policy: Sidewalk cycling


Pedestrian safety
Pedestrians travel at about 5 to 8 km/h, and do not expect to be overtaken, or to meet, traffic travelling at a much higher speed. Pedestrians tend to stop suddenly, or move sideways (either when travelling, or from a stationary position) without shoulder-checking. These circumstances can easily cause accidents, with risk of significant injury to both parties. Elderly or poor-sighted pedestrians can also be frightened by faster-moving bicycles. Child pedestrians are typically less controlled on sidewalks, and therefore also present a risk of injury to themselves or to cyclists.

Cyclist safety
The comments above regarding pedestrian safety apply equally to cyclist safety. In addition, at intersections, motorists (and cyclists) are also expecting the traffic on the sidewalk to be moving at about 5 to 8 km/h. They may not anticipate the arrival of a sidewalk cyclist at a much greater speed, and an accident may occur because the cyclist “came from nowhere”. Riding up and down sidewalk curbs, and dodging pedestrians, will also increase the risk of a “falling-type” accident.

Erratic behaviour
The traffic system works relatively well because the actions of each road-user are fairly predictable. This is only the case because the rules of the road are well-known, generally understood, and followed by most road-users. The actions of pedestrians, by contrast, are significantly less predictable. This is not a major problem if the other traffic sharing the same space is also pedestrian traffic, but it becomes a significant problem when cyclists use both the road and the sidewalk. It is not uncommon for sidewalk cyclists to shift from road to sidewalk, and back, as “necessary” to avoid an obstruction. This kind of behaviour makes it almost impossible for other road-users, and pedestrians, to predict the next manouevre by the cyclist. This will increase the risk of accidents, and will also increase the ill-feeling that both road-users and pedestrians often voice towards cyclists.

The big misconception
The big misconception is that a bicycle accident is an accident between a bicycle and a car. It is on this basis that cyclists are considered to be safer on sidewalks (because they can’t be hit by a car). Unfortunately there are many more types of bicycle accidents, and the risks associated with these types of accidents are generally increased if cyclists ride on the sidewalks.


Citizens for Safe Cycling (CfSC) believes that the bicycle is a vehicle and should be used on the road. CfSC does not support the designation of sidewalks for the use of cyclists as an alternative to the proper design of roads for use by all modes of transportation. CfSC believes that only in special circumstances should the use of bicycles on sidewalks be permitted, and that the decision to permit such use should take into account all the associated risks. All such facilities should be designed in accordance with the Community Cycling Manual (Canadian Institute of Planners).

Factors that must be assessed include:

  1. Increased risk of injury to pedestrians and sidewalk cyclists due to erratic or unpredictable behaviour on the part of either party.
  2. Increased risk of accidents between sidewalk cyclists and other vehicles at path-road intersections where the right of way is not stated or is unclear.
  3. Confusion as to whether cyclists are permitted to ride on particular sidewalks.
  4. Uncertain jurisdiction and lack of enforceable rules.
  5. The risk that accidents may occur because of carelessness resulting from the misconception that sidewalks are safer because there are no cars on sidewalks.

The use of bicycles on sidewalks might be appropriate under some of the following circumstances. In all cases, the minimum requirements must include enforceable rules, and (excepting the use of sidewalks by children) clear signage designating each particular sidewalk.

  1. Children below a certain age, or riding bicycles below a certain size (but possibly not on downtown sidewalks).
  2. Separate paths alongside existing major roads that have few intersections and a low level of pedestrian traffic.
  3. Elements of the existing shared pathway network.

With respect to the existing shared paths, many of these paths exist in a legal limbo-land. Responsibility and jurisdiction is uncertain, and enforceable traffic rules are almost non-existent. The responsible authorities should establish a practicable pathway code that can be applied to all paths, including sidewalks.

Approved by the CfSC Board of Directors May 1991.