Two Abreast Cycling Prohibition Rescinded

      The following is a submission made by Ottawa-Carleton Regional Cycling Advisory Group (RCAG) to Ottawa-Carleton Regional Council requesting the deletion of a local prohibition against two abreast cycling. Despite opposition by staff from both the Region and the Province of Ontario, the application was successful. Regional Council voted against staff's recommendation to leave the prohibition in place.

      Mr. Wilf Olscher
      Director of Mobility Services
      Transportation Department
      Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton
      Lisgar Street
      Ottawa, Ontario

      February 2, 1994

      Regional Side by Side Cycling By-Laws

      RCAG's comments regarding Transportation staff's draft report concerning the above are attached. RCAG wishes to point out that the original recommendation was to rescind by-laws related to side by side cycling so that the Region's by-laws are consistent with the Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA). In this case, there is a requirement to ensure the safest cycling techniques are permitted within Regional jurisdiction. RCAG's letter to the Chairman of the Transportation (copy attached) states "It (the recommendation) should not be construed as an endorsement of two abreast cycling for all situations. The guiding principle is the practice of safe and sensible cycling in accordance with the prevailing conditions". RCAG is recommending the revision of by-laws which inherently increase the danger to cyclists. RCAG is responding to cyclists and cycling clubs, who have a genuine concern about the existing Regional by-laws as they apply to cyclists riding in groups. Two abreast cycling is practiced safely and legally outside of the Region and in most of the rest of the world including the United States.

      RCAG has not suggested that two abreast is safer than single file cycling in all situations. However, the transcripts of the telephone conversations in your report indicate individuals were asked "which method of cycling is safer - single file or two abreast cycling?". The heading on the Department's report also gives the impression that this is the issue. Both the question and the heading reflect a misunderstanding of the intent of RCAG's recommendation.


      RCAG Comments on Draft Report


      1. Side by Side Cycling

      Side by side cycling, also known as "two abreast cycling", has been practiced by cyclists the world over ever since the bicycle was invented some 160 years ago. It remains a common method of cycling in all European countries. It is also a common method among club cyclists in North America, including local bike clubs who "double up" once outside the regional borders of Ottawa-Carleton. All this apparently without issue.

      2. Not Permitted in Canada

      Eight Provinces and two territories explicitly forbid two abreast cycling. Ontario and Saskatchewan have no specific rule.

      Provincial traffic laws are generally based on the Draft Model Rules of the Road (February 1985) published by the Canadian Conference of Motor Transport Administrators. It states

      "a person riding a bicycle shall not ride abreast of any other person who is riding a bicycle on a roadway".

      3. Permitted in the US

      Although it was not possible in carrying out our research to obtain information on every US state law, we found that most states permit side by side cycling. Virginia is the only state known to forbid the practice.

      State laws are generally based on the Uniform Vehicle Code & Model Traffic Ordinance (revised 1987) published by the US National Committee on Uniform Traffic Laws and Ordinances. It states

      "persons riding two abreast shall not impede the normal and reasonable movement of traffic, and on a laned roadway, shall ride within a single lane".

      4. Permitted in Europe & Elsewhere

      European countries and Australia permit two abreast cycling. The UK Highway Code states "when cycling, do not ride more than two abreast".

      5. The Ontario Highway Traffic Act (HTA)

      5.1 The Ontario Highway Traffic Act does not explicitly forbid side by side cycling. However, two sections of the Act could reasonably be interpreted as forbidding the practice (but not entirely).

      5.2 Section 148(2) & 148(6) both require vehicles to "turn out to the right to allow the vehicle to pass" when being passed by faster moving vehicles. This can be interpreted as forbidding two abreast cycling when a cyclist is being passed by another vehicle. This interpretation is valid, but only for specific situations.

      For example, when cyclists are riding side by side in a group with motor traffic travelling in both directions on a two lane road, and where the lane is wide enough for a passing vehicle to safely share the lane with a cyclist. In order to comply with the law in this situation, cyclists must move to a single file and allow the faster vehicle to pass.

      The previous example can be contrasted with another case which is common on weekends in Ontario. Cyclists riding side by side are passed by a single vehicle on a rural road with no vehicles approaching in the opposite direction. In this situation, the cyclists merely have to position their bicycles in a way as to "allow the vehicle to pass". As long as the passing vehicle is not impeded, no violation occurs.

      Clearly the wording of the HTA only requires that cyclists move to the right, but this is only when being passed, not when not being passed. Even then, the move to the right is only to the degree necessary to allow a faster vehicle to pass. Nothing in the wording of this section of the HTA suggests that single file is the sole way to comply with law.

      5.3 Section 147(1) states that

      "any vehicle travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at that time and place shall, where practicable, be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway"

      In order for there to be a contravention of section 147(1) by cyclists riding side by side, two conditions would have to be met:

      (1) the cyclists must be travelling slower than the speed of other vehicles which are in greater number so as to constitute traffic "travelling at the normal speed", and (2) the cyclists are riding neither in the right hand lane nor at the edge of the roadway.

      For example, where there are two cyclists travelling together and a motor vehicle approaches from behind, then the "normal speed of traffic" is the speed of the bicycles not the other vehicle, therefore condition (1) would not be met, and thus no contravention occurs.

      Where condition (1) is met but the cyclists ride in the right hand lane, then condition (2) is not met, and also no contravention occurs.

      5.4 Transportation Department's report contends that "sections 147(1), 148(2) and 148(6) .... make it very clear that vehicles must stay to the right to allow faster moving vehicles to overtake" and concludes "therefore the only instance that cycling abreast is permissable is the time it takes a cyclist to overtake a slower moving vehicle"!

      The examples above illustrate that such a conclusion is not only a major leap in logic, but also erroneous.

      5.5 The report on page 3 states "before bicycles can be made the exception, they must either be excluded from the definition of a vehicle or the provisions of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act must be changed to award special status ........".

      RCAG is recommending that reasonable changes be made to Regional by-laws, not that an exclusion for bicycles be made under the HTA, or to award special status in the HTA. There is no such requirement. The HTA already has laws specific to bicycles, and thus has already created a "special status" for bicycles. Section 148(6) is an example of this. Motor bikes and other vehicles have "special status" too. And although, so as to avoid misinterpretation, it would be better if the HTA were explicit on this practice, cyclists can already legally practice this method of cycling elsewhere in Ontario.

      6. RMOC By-Laws

      Staff indicates that RMOC by-law 73(1)(a) requires cyclists to

      "drive as near the right-hand side of the roadway as practicable ....."

      and that RMOC by-law section 73(3) stipulates:

      "....persons driving bicycles upon a roadway shall do so in single file".

      Unlike the HTA, both by-laws are explicit in outlawing side by side cycling in the Ottawa-Carleton Region.

      7. Safety

      7.1 It can be demonstrated that both Regional by-laws conflict with well-established safe cycling practices.

      7.2 By-law 73(1)(a) requires cyclists to keep as near to the right hand side of the roadway "as practicable". "Practicable" means "can be done - possible in practice". Examples where cycling near the right hand side "can be done or is possible in practice" but are unsafe for cyclists are:

      a) cycling in a right turn only lane when the cyclist intends to proceed straight through an intersection

      b) cyclist turning left

      c) cycling in a narrow lane, i.e. less than 3.25 metres (the safe practice is for the cyclist to occupy the centre of the lane)

      d) cycling past car parking bays which are intermittently occupied by cars (the safe practice is to ride a straight line)

      In the case of c) and d), the recommended safe practices are consistent with those described in the Ministry of Transportation's Cycling Skills manual (see illustration attached), and as taught in Canadian Cycling Association's CANBIKE courses.

      7.3 By-law 73(3) requires cyclists to ride in a single file (at all times). However, single file riding can be dangerous:

      For example, a group of 12 cyclists are riding on a narrow two lane rural road. A motor vehicle approaches from the rear of the cyclists at the same time as one approaches in the opposite direction. In such a situation, it is likely that a motor vehicle might be tempted to pass in the same lane as the cyclists who are strung out in a single file. This puts everyone at risk. The safe group practice is to "double up" (and thus occupy about the same space as a truck). Motorists then are forced to slow down and wait until the adjacent lane is clear, and until it is safe to pass. This is the safest group riding practice and is performed by cycling clubs all over the world (except of course in Ottawa-Carleton). The Ottawa Bike Club's Group Riding Skills, developed by nationally certified bicycle instructors, also teach this method.


      The Region's by-laws have no basis in safety, and were likely introduced for the convenience of motorists. They make cyclists an inferior class of road user, effectively requiring them to yield the road to motor vehicles. As has been demonstrated with evidence from credible sources, both by-laws actually increase the danger to cyclists. This cannot be said about the Provincial HTA which, in essence, only forbids side by side cycling when it impedes the normal flow of traffic.

      It should be noted that in 160 years of cycling there has been absolutely no data showing side by side cycling increases risks to road users. Therefore, RCAG proposes that the following Regional side by side by-law replace existing by-laws 73(1)(a) and 73(3):

          "Cyclists shall not ride more than two abreast. Cyclists riding two abreast shall not impede the normal flow of traffic, and shall ride in a single lane".

      The proposed by-law is compatible with the HTA, and it addresses both the safety interests of cyclists, and staff concerns that the Region might be sanctioning inappropriate practices.

      The Canadian Cycling Association, the Ontario Cycling Association, the Ottawa Bike Club, and Citizens for Safe Cycling (Ottawa- Carleton) were contacted. All expressed support for laws which permit side by side cycling.