Daniel Ho

Amor Fati

A Toronto-based management consultant who spends too much time thinking about coffee, riding around on two wheels, photography, books, and fried chicken!

Dots mark the spot for bicyclists to trigger traffic light - thestar.com

Dots mark the spot for bicyclists to trigger traffic light - thestar.com. Bicycle by Julien Hery.

Paola Loriggio Staff Reporter

You may have seen them, without knowing what they were: three white dots, each about the size of a dinner plate, painted on the road at intersections throughout the city.

The mysterious markings, dubbed "bike dots," are one of the lesser-known and least-advertised components of the city's ambitious bike plan.

Bike dots ? or "bicycle detector pavement markings," as they're officially called ? are traffic sensors sensitive enough to detect cyclists stopped at a red light, just like they do for cars.

When used properly, they keep cyclists from waiting forever for the right-of-way, or from having to dismount and hit the pedestrian crossing button.

"It gives cyclists a chance to trigger the light change, instead of just waiting," said Yvonne Bambrick, spokesperson for the Toronto Cyclists Union.

The problem: Most cyclists don't know the dots exist, much less how to use them.

"It's the best-kept secret in the city," said Councillor Adrian Heaps, who chairs the cycling committee.

"The dots were there all this time, but unless you know, you wouldn't know they're there."

He said the bike dots are a sign of respect towards cyclists, a group whose needs are often eclipsed by those of drivers.

They're strategically placed on the sensors' "sweet spot," where bikes are more easily detected, according to city documents. Cyclists can wait a long time for the light to change if they don't stop at the right spot.

To make things easier, the city plans to paint a new symbol ? most likely a bike ? near the dots, Heaps said. That should start sometime next year, when work on the bike plan resumes after the winter, he said.

The city began installing the sensors in the mid-1990s, following a study by the former Metro Transportation Department. Now, about 20 per cent of the city's 1,880 signalized intersections have bike dots, according to city staff.

The sensors are integrated at all new intersections with side streets or left-turn traffic sensors.

Tammy Thorne wrote about the bike dots in the inaugural issue of Dandyhorse, the bicycle magazine she edits. She said cyclists who know about the dots are often skeptical about their efficacy.

"A lot of people think they don't work," she said, recalling her own long waits at a set of College St. dots.