Contra-Flow Lanes on Shaw St.

By Sergeant Catherine White,
Toronto Police Service
Published: 4:12 p.m. January 30, 2014

"Contra-flow" bicycle lanes allow bicycles to travel in two directions on a street, which is one-way for all other vehicles.

A bird's eye diagram of pedestrians on sidewalk, a car in the middle of a road and cyclists on each side of the road, one using a bike lane
A diagram showing pedestrians, cyclists and a driver using a contra-flow street
  • A bird's eye diagram of pedestrians on sidewalk, a car in the middle of a road and cyclists on each side of the road, one using a bike lane
  • A diagram depicting a parking area of a street adjacent to a bike lane

The City of Toronto has a number of "contra-flow" bicycle lanes installed on streets such as Montrose Ave., Strathcona Ave., Logan Ave. Knox Ave. and Chester Hill Rd. These links act as valuable neighbourhood connections for cyclists who wish to avoid having to cycle on busy arterial roadways.

"Contra-flow " bicycle lanes may be installed on streets which are one-way, if there is insufficient width to carry motor vehicle traffic in two directions. In some cases local residents do not want motor vehicle traffic to be able to travel in two directions through their neighbourhoods for traffic-calming reasons.

When a "contra flow" bicycle lane is installed, the street becomes a two-way for bicycles. City bylaws are used to legislate two restrictions on the "contra-flow" bicycle lane. The first restriction is that only bicycles may use the bicycle lane. The second restriction dictates the direction that cyclists may cycle in using the "contra-flow" bicycle lane.

The regular traffic lane does not have a restriction on what vehicle type may use the lane. This means that bicycles but also cars, vans, trucks and other motorized vehicles may all share the road when using this travel lane. City bylaws are used to legislate the direction traffic may travel in when using this travel lane. Because motor vehicles may only use this lane in one direction, the street will carry motor vehicle traffic only in one direction.

The use of City bylaws, and the installation of the "contra flow" lane markings and signage makes the roadway two ways for bicycles, but one-way for other vehicles.


Persons who fail to cycle, or drive their vehicle in the correct direction in the correct lane may be charged according to 154(1)(c) of Ontario's Traffic Act for failing to comply with the lane restrictions as they are by-lawed by the Municipality.

The set fine for this offence is $85 on regular streets, and $120.00 in a community safety zone.


When a "contra-flow" bicycle lane installed, the "one-way street sign" is not removed.

This sign is important to communicate to road users that the general traffic lane is by-lawed for the restricted use of traffic in one direction.

A "bicycle excepted" sign may be installed, to communicate that only bicycles may travel in two directions on the street.

Roadway Markings

On the roadway, a yellow line is used to mark the "contra-flow" bicycle lane. Yellow lines are known as "centre lines" – it warns road users that traffic moves in opposing directions on either side of this line.

Inside the "contra flow" bicycle lane, bicycle symbols and diamonds are used to mark the lane. The diamond symbol is the symbol for a "reserved" lane. The diamond symbol means that there are lane restrictions on that travel lane. The diamond symbol next to the bicycle symbol means that the restriction on the lane is that the lane can be used by bicycles only. The "contra flow" bicycle lane will also have arrows painted in the lane, communicating that the bicycle lane is to be used in only one direction.

To reinforce the directions that road users should travel in each lane, arrows may also optionally be painted on the roadway to indicate the legislated travel direction for road users travelling in the general purpose traffic lane.


Depending on the circumstances on the section of roadway where the "contra flow" bicycle lane is installed, parking may be located next to the general purpose travel lane, or next to the contra flow bicycle lane.

Placing parking next to the general purpose traffic lane allows motorists to parallel park without having to merge across the contra-flow lane.

On some streets, however, parking may be installed next to the "contra-flow" bicycle lane, if it is necessary to maintain the on-street parking required by the neighbourhood. On some streets, one side of the street will have more on-street parking spaces than the other as a result of laneways, driveways or similar junctions. Strathcona Ave. is an example of this kind of "contra flow" bicycle lane in Toronto.

The installation of the Shaw Street Bikeway, approved by Council July 16, 2013 has since opened.

On Shaw, between Bloor St. W. and Dundas St. W.: A solid white line has been installed on the west side of the street, to designate the area where parking will be permanently located.

With the facility only partly installed, some residents have confused this white line for the bicycle lane. It is not a bicycle lane, it is the area which will be the designated on-street parking area.

The "contra-flow" bicycle lane will be a solid yellow line creating an east curb lane for cycling. This dedicated lane will allow cyclists to lawfully travel northbound. This lane line will be painted once our stop signs are installed, and signals for this new northbound bicycle traffic are activated.

The parking signage for this street will be changed over shortly, to indicate that south of Bloor parking will no longer be allowed on the east side of the roadway, and should instead permanently park on the west side of the street.

On Shaw, between Bloor St. W. and Dupont St.: There will be no changes to the location of the on-street parking. It will remain on the east side of the street.

Various locations on Shaw St: Shared lane pavement markings "sharrows " for short are being installed. Some road users may confuse sharrows with bicycle lanes, however unlike bicycle lanes there are no bylaws which prohibit a motorist from standing, stopping or parking on a sharrow marking.

Planning Cycling Routes with "contra flow" Bicycle Lanes

City Council has approved a number of contra-flow bicycle lane routes, to help improve conditions for cycling in Toronto's downtown west end. Learn more about the "West End Bikeways" planning project .

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