John Street could be good for pedestrians and cyclists

Ian bikes down John Street regularly. He recently captured the chaos that is John because of the road space given over to patios and muskoka chairs.

John Street has become uncomfortable and less safe for cyclists. But instead of fighting against improvements for pedestrians, we need to focus on how we can reduce the motorized traffic by making it harder for cars to use John as a direct route.


My attempt at capturing the mess.

The problem is the cars NOT the people

Some people misunderstand the issue here. The issue at heart is not about making John Street more pedestrian-friendly. Myself and others who have a problem with the City's actions thus far is not to try to preserve the car-centric John Street of yore.

Nor do I believe that the City has rid itself of any responsibility to cyclists on John by moving the traffic light on Queen at Soho/Peter. It was the absolute minimum that the City could have done but still not enough to entice most cyclists from taking John.

The problem at heart is that the City is being half-assed about John Street. There is NO plan to reduce car traffic on John Street.

So the pilot project has installed some planters to create a hard barrier between people sitting in chairs and the cars and cyclists. For the short term this has created a squeeze of cars and cyclists who are now forced to fill in the little gaps left by the cars and trucks. There was no effort to try to divert cars and trucks away from John so the traffic is as heavy as ever. It's torture for cyclists and hardly friendly to pedestrians.

But even the final design which City staff are working on right now has no plans to deal with car traffic. With all the talk about "cultural corridor" and "pedestrian priority route" there is nothing about diverting car traffic. Instead it talks about fuzzy things like gently sloping curbs, new paving materials and new trees. But for anyone who ever visits Kensington Market you'll know that this is hardly enough to create a "pedestrian priority route" even though Kensington has a much greater pedestrian traffic than John. Kensington is as choked as ever with cars and trucks.

So instead I'm on the same page as Jared Kolb of Cycle Toronto who is calling for the City to create true Bicycle Boulevards and not the half-assed cycling routes. A key feature of bicycle boulevards that's relevant here is motorized traffic diversion.


An example of a traffic diversion with cycling bypass on Health St E and Inglewood Dr in Toronto.

From Wikipedia:

Bicycle boulevards discourage cut-through motor-vehicle traffic but allow local motor-vehicle traffic. They are designed to give priority to bicyclists as through-going traffic. They are intended to improve bicyclist comfort and/or safety.

On a "cultural corridor" and "pedestrian priority route" like John Street, wouldn't it be in the interests of people—whether they are pedestrians, merchants or cyclists—to discourage cut-through motorized traffic? I believe we can all win if the City just woke up to this option.

Better to block a cyclist than a car driver

Last week City staff removed the cycle track curb in front of 24 Wellesley. Yesterday we already started seeing this:

Twitter: liz goddard

I had raised suspicion about Councillor Wong-Tam's call for a review of cycle tracks and dealing with Wheel-Trans, emergency vehicles and that it would start poking holes into the protected bike lanes all over the network. It turned out that the review was completely unnecessary since Cycling staff are quite willing to remove a cycle track curb in front of 24 Wellesley without full public consultation.

It's clearly important that Wheel-Trans and EMS be able to access the building. EMS can always jump any curb but Wheel-Trans needs a place to load/offload wheelchairs so they needed someplace flat. Stopping in the car lane on Wellesley was an option—a typical Wheel-Trans stop lasts 7 minutes. Another option is one of the three laneways around 24 Wellesley, though staff seemed to only have considered one of the laneways and determined it was too narrow. Yet another option was to raise the cycle track bed much like is done at bus stops on Sherbourne, but staff stated there was a problem with drainage.

So it seems that given the choice between blocking the car lane versus blocking the protected bike lane, access for a car driver wins out over access and safety for a cyclist.

At least we know where the City's priorities lie

Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, the new Cycling Unit manager, states that the "adjacent vehicle lane will be narrowed so cyclists can ride around a Wheel-Trans vehicle without entering traffic."

It's a substandard solution since cyclists have still lost the curb separating them from motorized traffic. Gulati claims that “the site-specific access concern really impacted the people who lived in that building, while the impact on cyclists is very minor." We don't have any idea of what Gulati is comparing here: is it access for residents versus safety and comfort of cyclists? I would hope the City staff would try a bit harder so they don't have to trade these off.

Residents of 24 Wellesley were lobbying politicians and staff to remove the cycle track:

Councillor Wong-Tam claims she didn't know about the removal, but surely she must have received complaints from residents and have heard from staff. Perhaps she knew all about the issue but didn't know cycling staff were going to go ahead with the removal before public consultation in the summer.

Regardless, this is a bad precedence for safe cycling infrastructure in Toronto. I'm sure we'll hear about more calls by businesses, residents to remove cycle tracks. It takes years of public consultation to get safe cycling infrastructure but mere weeks of no public consultation to rip them out.