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Could 'Rail Bikes' Work in Toronto?
German artists combine bikes with streetcar tracks to create a new transportation solution

‘Bahnradbahnrad’ in action. Screenshot from WAV video.

Of all the obstacles Toronto cyclists face when they hit the road, streetcar tracks can be one of the scariest. Drift too close or cross at the wrong angle, your tires get caught in the metal gullies and you’re going ass over tea kettle. When showing off scars and bruises, you need only whisper “streetcar tracks” to elicit a knowing wince from fellow pedal pushers.

But could Toronto’s streetcar tracks be a blessing in disguise for cyclists? German artists .WAV (We Are Visual) have designed a simple transportation solution for bicycle commuters that harnesses public transit infrastructure for cyclists: the ‘Bahnradbahnrad’ or ‘Rail Bike.’ It’s a road bike with training wheels that fits perfectly into Kassel, Germany’s tram tracks. The training wheels keep the rider from falling over while the cyclist powers along the lane seperated from vehicular traffic.

Image courtesy of .WAV

As The Pop-Up City reports, it’s a great idea for cities without a network of dedicated bike lanes. That’s Toronto! Could this novel concept actually work as a legitimate transportation option?

There would be some challenges, of course. Toronto’s legacy streetcar network runs their CLRVs largely in mixed traffic, meaning the benefit of being seperated from cars and trucks wouldn’t come into play on Queen, Dundas, College, etc. In those cases, being stuck in a fixed route would probably be more of a safety hazard. Downtown cyclists can attest that maneuverability is one of a bike’s greatest assets, especially when another road user does something unexpected.

But on seperated routes like Spadina, St. Clair and stretches of Queen’s Quay, Rail Bikes could safely fit into the mix. Theoretically.

Knee-jerk reaction suggests that ‘Bahnradbahnrad’ is unrealistic for mass transportation. Rail Bikes would probably unacceptably impede streetcar traffic. On a busy route like Spadina, a single rail cylclist riding at leisure speed could hold up a whole fleet of crushloaded streetcars. And if “bike-riding-pinkos” were found to be holding up traffic on St. Clair, where an expensive right-of-way was installed with the express purpose of speeding up commute times, then we’d really have a disaster on our hands.

Plus, I doubt style-conscious riders of pimped out bikes will be rushing out to install training wheels. (Although I wouldn’t rule out brilliant designers turning this proto-type into a slick transformer.)

Where ‘Bahnradbahnrad’ fails in practicality for Toronto, it succeeds in drawing attention to the discussion about how we share our road space and the need to explore some creative alternatives. And if the mayor and some members of city council are so intent on un-painting lines, cyclists will need to think outside the lane.


Michael Kolberg is The Sprawl Editor at Toronto Standard. Follow him on Twitter for jokes @mikeykolberg

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