Posted by: safedriver | August 17, 2012

Do one way streets confuse you too?

Things we’ve grown up with; playing with our friends in the park, riding a bike, going to school and… looking both ways before crossing the street. Remember how your parents always taught you to do that as pedestrians and now as parents we teach our own kids to do the same thing? Should we continue to do that as a driver? What about if you’re crossing across a one way street? Do you need to check both directions?

I was recently crossing across a one way street which was going from my left to my right when a cyclist came from my right to the left. If I was only going by the signs and trusting that everyone would do what they were supposed to do, I wouldn’t need to check to my right. But that would have caused injury, or worse to the cyclist. Have you ever found yourself trusting that other road users will do what they are supposed to do? Should you?

Over the almost 25 years as a driving instructor with Young Drivers of Canada, I’ve often had students ask me why they need to look to the right when it’s a one way street going to the right. I usually point out that pedestrians or cyclists could come from the other side of the street, or even drivers who could be driving the wrong way on a one way street. How many times have you seen that happen?

Looking out for the unexpected is always a good rule of thumb when driving. Never assume the other road users will do what they are supposed to do. If everyone did what they were supposed to do, there wouldn’t be crashes and insurance rates would be so small we wouldn’t even think about them. But that’s not the case.

Look for all road users too, not just cars, trucks, mini vans and SUV’s. Look for pedestrians, cyclists and motorcycles. Look for those who may have been confused about the local road system within your community. Some road users are quite unfamiliar with a one way street system (please see for reference) and will make mistakes. It’s up to us as drivers to help everyone on the road survive.

The other thing to remember is not all pedestrians and cyclists are drivers of motor vehicles. They don’t think like drivers and won’t respond like drivers. We need to respect their knowledge base, or lack thereof, and help them stay safe. Perhaps even help to educated them about what the safest paths to take while traveling on those roads would be. Communication about road safety is always a two way street.



  1. That’s a good topic that we pay little attention to and I agree that people coming from wrong direction is a real possibility. In fact only last week I was waiting on dual carriageway and a driver came about 200m before he realised he was going in wrong direction. He then stopped and did turn in a road to turn back. Fortunately no damage was done but it certainly could have lead to serious accident and even injury/death.

  2. First, people will always make mistakes. So it’s always in one’s best interest to always look both ways.

    Second, some people just don’t care, or else they know that they will “get away with it” – perhaps because they live on the street, and/or they can’t be bothered to drive the long way ’round.

    In Ontario, one way streets are designated so by the province. But Municipalities can create bicycle-only “contra-flow lanes,” which allow cyclists to use the street in the opposite way. While Ottawa is installing these, Toronto’s city’s lawyers are questioning the legality of these. The Minister/Ministry of Transportation is expected to issue a letter of clarification by the end of January 2013 (formerly by the end of December 2012, and before that during Q3 2012, so who really knows).

    The “blame” for one way streets lies with Motor-vehicles, specifically by the former Department of Motor Vehicle (now: Ministry of Transportation). Streets were never one-way before then. Some became one-way to prevent widening the street. Some became one-way to deter motor-vehicle traffic (think traffic mazes). A few major routes became one-way to better handle the high volumes of motor-vehicle traffic.

    You will most often see cyclists riding the wrong way on the quieter, residential streets which are either too narrow for two-way motor-vehicle traffic, but can otherwise handle the narrow profile of a person on a bike — or on these streets which have become traffic mazes because their communities wanted to control (read, keep out) excessive motor vehicle traffic.

    Ontario’s laws regarding one-way streets also apply to bicycles, but that’s not true everywhere. Other places allow people riding bicycles to ride the wrong way on most one-way streets (specifically, residential streets). Because bicycles don’t bring the bad things that motor-vehicle traffic bring (that is, noise, dangers & risks, speeds, pollution/smells) so there’s no good reasons to restrict bicycles in the same manner. In addition, even on most “narrow” streets, because of a bicycle’s narrow profile, there is almost always enough room to share the street with a bicycle.

    Ontario’s one-way streets laws aren’t always fair to bike riders, especially when they pulling cargo (think: a trailer with kids, or other heavy cargo like groceries) because it can make that person — who’s using their own power to move themselves and their stuff — go quite a bit out of their way to keep within the letter of the law. In some cases, using a one-way street the wrong way can save the bike rider a trip up a steeper hill somewhere else, something difficult to do when pulling cargo.

    Because I know that other places don’t share the exact laws around way streets, because I know that people will make mistakes, because I know that Ontario’s laws can be a (pain in the) ass to bike riders, for all these reasons and more — I know that I should always look both ways and always expect two-way traffic — even on a one way street – regardless of what I mode I am using to get my self around at that moment (ie walking, bike riding, and driving)

    And, I’ve made a point of teaching my (wife and) kids the same thing!

    Easiest thing to do – treat EVERY street as a potential two-way street and look both ways, regardless of how it’s signed.

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