Two Abreast Cycling Prohibition Rescinded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
Regional Municipality of Ottawa-Carleton
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
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
RCAG Comments on Draft Report
"SINGLE FILE VS TWO ABREAST CYCLING"
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
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
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
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.
7.1 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
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
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.