buckley-buffered bike lanes are blocked

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is calling for a "review" of the recently installed—and extensively consulted—cycle tracks of Wards 27 and 28. She is asking Transportation Services to investigate two contradictory concerns: "the improper parking of delivery and passenger vehicles in bike lanes; and access concerns raised by persons with medical issues, disabilities and the elderly who can no longer directly access their homes or medical services and facilities". (Photo by Ian Flett)

I'm suspicious of Councillor Wong-Tam's intentions given her previous interactions with cycling infrastructure. So what'll it be? Shall we make holes in the cycle tracks for legitimate concern X? And how shall we prevent everyone else from also stopping there?

It's telling that Wong-Tam is the only signatory on this letter. A constituent has told me that office of Ward 28 Councillor Pam McConnell provided feedback on the letter but for some unknown (to us) reason, she didn't sign it. This is interesting given that at least half of the cycle tracks are in McConnell's ward.

This isn't the first time Wong-Tam has written Transportation staff asking them to review cycle tracks. She wrote staff asking them to make the Sherbourne cycle tracks a "pilot" rather than permanent. McConnell didn't sign the letter that time either.

The timing of the letter is odd. Her letter is dated February, 2015 and requested a report back from staff for May. But she won't get a report for September of this year, which will likely be after the road work is completed on the lower half of Sherbourne. Too late to make any changes there.

The community, including the disabled, was extensively consulted prior to the installation. I recall staff telling me how they went building by building alerting residents, businesses and requested their feedback. They met extensively with BIAs and RAs. So why now?


I heard something interesting from a city planner soon after I was alerted to Wong-Tam's letter. I don't have any proof that this is related to her letter but it might be a clue.

The planner mentioned that 24 Wellesley, a condo tower, has requested curb cuts into the cycle track curbs so that their residents can be dropped off at the front door. Planner said they wanted it for Wheel-Trans, but really, there's no way of stopping anyone from using it.

The funny thing is is that 24 Wellesley has minor streets on all three sides with plenty of places to stop! So it seems a bit greedy that they also want holes in the cycle track as well. And you'll notice that there are a number of businesses also in that building that presumably aren't happy with losing the stopping space in front of their stores.

And this isn't the only condo tower. Apparently there are others who also want to poke holes into the cycle track. Is Wong-Tam helping to push these requests?

Here's what Wong-Tam wants reviewed:

  1. Locations of frequent parking in bike lanes and separation conditions (bollards and their spacing or curb type)
  2. Locations where Wheel-Trans and accessibility taxis cannot serve persons living with disabilities and where the City may not be meeting the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
  3. Locations where parking obstructions force cyclists to merge unsafely with automotive traffic
  4. Locations where residents feel they are forced to park or be dropped off that are unsafe, due to traffic conditions or poor visibility
  5. Solutions and recommendations to remedy the conflicts to ensure safer street conditions for all bike lane and road users.

I hope Wong-Tam realizes that nothing is ever going to satisfy everyone. Her concerns contradict each other: if she identifies a problem with car drivers parking in the bike lanes, that is, there isn't enough physical separation, then why also call for a solution to residents and Wheel-Trans? If we increase the physical separation (which is what most cyclists want) then it's going to inevitably put some noses out of joint. That can't be fixed. And if they instead allow for gaps in the separation, we can't pretend that only Wheel-Trans or residents will use them. That gap is available to everyone.

So before we know it, the entire cycle track will be riddled with gaps where people can stop to pick up their coffee or wait with their engines idling because "it'll just be a minute". A route that is so easily blocked is no longer a safe or effective cycling route.

In whose interests is Councillor Wong-Tam fighting for? She also fought for off-hours on-street parking on Yonge and Bay, which increases the chances of injuries due to dooring for cyclists (and cancels out the benefit of bike lanes!) and makes public transit less efficient (by removing the priority lane for buses).

It makes me wary that Wong-Tam really has the best interests of cyclists at heart. If nothing else, we need to hear from her that she actually does support physically separated bike lanes. And that she will push for improvements to accessibility for the disabled that won't create gaps in the cycle tracks that will be used to make cycling more dangerous. That's the least she could do.

NOW magazine published an issue on cycling. In addition to some well thought out proposals from Cycle Toronto, they included the usual set of shop-worn "myths" motorists and cyclists supposedly have about each other.

I have read most of these supposed "myths" before, in fact many times and in many articles. I consider many of the supposed "facts" provided by Now as flat out wrong as the so-called "myths". To try and make a positive contribution to the discussion, I propose a series of "myth-fact" pairs that I haven't read quite so often before.

Myths motorists believe:

1) If you get in front of a cyclist at an intersection, you will save time.

For motorists, trying to dart ahead of us and cut in to get one car length ahead in the queue at a red light or stop sign risks a collision and makes no sense. Queuing behind a bicycle doesn't cost you any time; in fact, a cyclist can get off the mark more quickly than any (non-electric) car, because a human can exert maximum torque at zero revs, which no gas engine can do.

2) An intersection is a safe place to pass a cyclist.

No. Intersections are inherently complex, with pedestrians and wheeled vehicles going, literally, four directions at the same time. Streets have an illusion of width through an intersection, which means that cyclists who turn out to let cars go by can find ourselves in conflict with pedestrians, or outside the stream of traffic and out of road on the other side of the intersection. Just stay in the lane, in order, and wait to pass.

3) It's OK to make a turn in front of a cyclist

Nope. Cyclists should not pass right turning cars on the right, and motor vehicles should not make turns across the path of cyclists.. If you come up behind a cyclist signalling right at a stop sign or traffic light, the safe thing is to queue behind the cyclist and make the turn in order, as you would with a car. If the cyclist is going straight, then pull up behind them and signal, and if they can do it safely, the cyclist may pull out to the left to give you room to turn. Likewise, never pull up on the right side of a cyclist signalling left in order to make a left turn; that creates an extremely dangerous situation.

4) Getting "stuck" behind a cyclist will always slow a motorist down.

Wrong. Except in relatively rare cases, the cyclist you pass will come up to you at the next light.

5) If you hit a cyclist, only cyclist will suffer.

For the sake of argument, let's assume a psychopathic motorist who really doesn't care about killing someone. Our psychopath still has to worry that hitting a cyclist who has life and/or disability insurance will leave one or more large and powerful financial institutions significantly out of pocket. One way or another, somebody will pay for the cost of a crash, and insurers will naturally want to make sure that as much of the cost as possible falls on the driver who caused it. Hitting a cyclist can certainly ruin your entire day.

Myths cyclists believe

1) Motorists have a built-in mad skills detector.

Look, you know yourself as a super-cool experienced cyclist, but when you push off in the dark with no lights and salmon up the wrong side of the road, motorists only see an unpredictable road user, and (good) motorists will react by behaving cautiously. If you find that insulting, don't blame them; motorists can only gauge a cyclist's abilities and intentions by what they can see. And it's hard to see an unlit cyclist in the dark.

2) It matters what motorists think of us.

Wrong. The reason not to behave unpredictably, annoyingly, or in a manner dangerous to pedestrians and other cyclists as nothing to do with the opinions of motorists, individually or collectively. We should behave safely because it's the right thing to do. Most motorists will operate safely whatever they think of us, and sociopaths and emotionally unstable drivers won't behave any less dangerously if cyclists all began riding safely.

3) Political rhetoric matters

We got more protected bike lanes while Rob Ford was Mayor than we did in the eight years of David Miller. The amount of cycling infrastructure that gets built depends on how much we use, and how much benefit the larger public obtains from our use of it.

4) The handful of blatantly anti-cyclist posters on web sites represent motorists.

I doubt it.

5) Bad driving is deliberate.

As someone who has made my full share of driving errors, I don't think so. Relatively few motor vehicle operators intentionally use their vehicles as weapons, and in my experience ignorance and misjudgement cause much more bad driving incidents than malice.

Did you know that Canadian provinces are falling behind many of our American cousins who have been creating Vulnerable Road User Laws, that is laws that provide additional legal protection for those who are more likely to be injured on the road?

(Aren't we all vulnerable road users at some point every day? Everyone takes crosswalks and sidewalks. Many people cycle at least some time of year. This applies to us all.)

Patrick Brown, a lawyer for Mcleish Orlando, a law firm that specializes in litigating on behalf of people with critical injuries, including injured cyclists, has been arguing that Ontario should have such a Vulnerable Road User Law here. Fellow lawyer and cycling activist Albert Koehl and Brown were both involved in the Coroner's Report on cyclist deaths.

They approached the coroner in 2011 about holding an inquest into cycling fatalities — one of the hottest political buttons in Toronto — and a rash of 14 pedestrian deaths in 14 dark days of January 2010. That run of fatalities wasn’t so different from the spate of deaths in recent months in Toronto.

Since then Brown has been motivated to help address the plight of vulnerable road users through provincial legislation:

Vulnerable Road Users [VRU] account for a quarter of traffic fatalities in Canada. While the rate of emergency department visits in 2012 for road traffic injury in Ontario has decreased overall, this is not the case for pedestrians and bicyclists based on a report released by Public Health Ontario.

Since we know that pedestrians and cyclists injuries are not dropping at the same rate as overall road traffic injuries, Brown asks that the government consider a law to protect vulnerable road users.

On behalf of Cycle Toronto, Brown investigated the typical punishments dealt out by the police and courts to drivers "who hit, maimed and killed pedestrians and cyclists".

When I reviewed just what was in my cabinet, I was alarmed to find that many go unpunished or only get a slap on the wrist. For those who are punished, most of the fines being paid are less than $100.00. The Coroners Review also showed a very low percentage of charges being laid after a pedestrian or cyclist is killed due to driver behaviour.

Even worse Brown says that when victims go to court to read their Victim's Impact Statement, drivers are typically not even present to hear it. Victims have the alternative of a civil case to claim monetary compensation. But civil cases are just not enough deterrent and don't hold drivers accountable. This is how the proposed law would work (similar to eight US states where similar laws exist):

When a Vulnerable User is struck by a reckless driver, the legislation would require the court to impose greater penalties against the driver which reflect the fact that the driver struck a vulnerable road. This legislation would provide general deterrence and require the driving public to take greater care when travelling near pedestrians, cyclists and other at risk road users. The legislation would also make it mandatory for the careless driver to attend personally in court at the time of sentencing. The penalties when a driver has seriously injured or killed a VRU would require the court to consider increased monetary fines, suspension of licences, and jail if necessary.

The current Liberal government seems to be more open to new legislation for improving road safety. Let's see if we can get the ball rolling.