Toronto cyclist relies on hand signals as key safety measure

Meredith Johnson often cycles with a friend down Midland Avenue. At a certain intersection, they both stop to make a right turn, and in unison they lift their left arms out and up to signal before they make the turn.

“I first learned about signalling from a childhood friend’s parents who used to bring me along on their family bike rides,” she said.

Johnson, 26, is a Torontonian who cycles everywhere. She commutes via bike year round, so she’s quite used to signalling.

However, not all motorists and cyclists are familiar with signaling etiquette, especially on busy thoroughfares, such as Danforth Avenue. Despite this, Johnson considers the Danforth one of the safer routes on her daily commutes.

“I’ve never really had problems signalling on the Danforth,” she said. “I find it to be a safer route than its western counterpart, Bloor Street. There’s a lot more space and it’s not as busy the way Bloor can get.”

Johnson knows her hand signals by heart, but she’s only one cyclist. The Ontario Government has an online resource, demonstrating with graphics how to use hand signals. For a right turn a cyclist raises the left arm out and up in a right-angle. For a left turn, the left arm is extended out laterally. And for stopping, the cyclist hold the left arm out and down, with the palm facing back.

Yvonne Bambrick agrees that cyclists need to employ hand signals to communicate their intentions.

“Signalling your intentions as a bicyclist is as important as (signalling) when you’re driving a car,” she said.

Bambrick is the founder of CycleTO and the author of The Urban Survival Guide to Cycling, which was published last March. She said the lack of safety infrastructure is the basic problem facing cyclists in Toronto.

“Because we don’t have that network of bike infrastructure that we need to keep bicyclists safe while out on the road,” she said, “people are just focused on their own safety and getting where they need to go.”

Mayor John Tory addressed the lack of infrastructure for cyclists in a press release earlier in the fall.

“While Toronto has a growing number of cyclists, our cycling infrastructure has not kept pace and I intend to change that,” he said.

Cyclist Johnson is glad to hear that, but in the meantime she has a recommendation for everybody using Toronto streets.

“I think currently signalling standards are fine,” she said. “It’s just educating both cyclists and drivers alike that may be a problem.”