Richmond and Niagara needs a four way stop. This little intersection is currently on one end of our new major cycling route and an excellent alternative way to get downtown from Queen or King. It's also the point where Richmond does a jog and then continues west a little south of there. But there's no easy way to navigate that, and little Niagara has a lot of car traffic.

I went into this thinking, This is a no brainer. The City wants continuous cycling routes and people connect Richmond to Strachan and then to Adelaide and then through CAMH and on to Sudbury. This would mean that we would have a continuous cycling route all the way from Parliament to Gladstone! Turns out that it's been work to convince the City of this obvious choice and even then it can easily get shut down by blind processes that ignore any overarching ambitions of the City.

Connecting Richmond to the rest of Richmond
Richmond and Niagara are on the top right and on the bottom left you can see where Adelaide crosses Shaw and then you can go through CAMH. It's all marked as a cycling route but you're left to your own devices.

Top of mind should have been "How can we make this cycling route continuous, more inviting and get more people wanting to bike?" but instead I was passed off to Traffic Operations who figures that creating good cycling routes is none of their business. Instead they've got their procedure: look at traffic speeds, look at number of historical collissions and then make a ruling on that: thumbs up or thumbs down. Turns out Richmond and Niagara doesn't meet the test. It matters not one whit that it's a brand new cycling route nor that we should be making cycling easier.

On August 2014 I made the request with support from the Ward 19 Cycle Toronto group to Councillor Mike Layton's office for a four way stop at Richmond and Adelaide. Layton's office said they had actually already looked into it but they couldn't recall the outcome. So they requested Cycling staff to come back with a response. Lukasz Pawlowski, a planner in the Cycling Unit, passed the buck to Traffic Operations. When I asked Lukasz directly for his opinion, he said:

A four-way stop may not be feasible given the extent of the off set. We could look into putting up some signage on Niagara, to warn drivers to look for bikes.

I would have to take a look in the field to provide any more comments. Also, I would need to see if this intersection meets the warrant criteria for such an installation.

So there's the key phrase: warrrant criteria. Will this request meet the test that was created in complete ignorance of other concerns or goals? The warrant lets us completely ignore any City goals to reduce our car dependency and make cycling routes more attractive. We can look at every intersection as an isolated microcosm where we can just look up the stats and give our stamp of disapproval.

I waited for a more complete response. I waited 8 months, no response. I emailed Lukasz and no response. I emailed Layton's office and they told me that a request had been made to Transportation Services for a four way stop and they were waiting for a response the following week.

Eight months even later, I emailed Layton's office again and they emailed back quickly with the Traffic Operations response. Denied!

It is reported that there are safety issues at these intersections, resulting from the recent installation of the contra-flow bike lane on Richmond Street West, east of Niagara Street. Accordingly, reviews were undertaken for the installation of all-way "Stop" sign control at the intersection of Richmond Street West and Niagara Street, The following summarizes the results of our review.

Existing Conditions
Richmond Street West is a local roadway that operates one-way in the westbound direction between Niagara Street and Strachan Avenue. It generally has a width of 7.3 metres, between Niagara Street and Walnut Avenue, and 6.4 metres, between Walnut Avenue (north leg) and Strachan Avenue, with a regulatory speed limit of 50 km/h.

The west leg of Richmond Street West is uncontrolled with its intersection at Niagara Street. Niagara Street is a collector roadway that operates two-way in the northbound and southbound directions between Queen Street West and King Street West. It generally has a width of 8.5 metres north of, and 7.3 metres south of, Richmond Street West (west leg) and a posted speed limit is 40 km/h. There is no TTC service provided at this intersection. The land use in the vicinity of this intersection is generally residential.

Richmond Street West intersects the east side of Strachan Avenue in a "Stop" controlled, 'T'-type intersection. Strachan Avenue is a collector roadway that operates two-way in the northbound and southbound directions between Queen Street West and King Street West. It generally has a width of 8.5 metres and a posted speed limit is 40 km/h. There is no TTC service provided at this intersection. The land use in the vicinity of this intersection is generally residential.

Collision Review
Collision statistics provided by the Toronto Police Service for the three-year period ending October 31, 2013 disclosed that no collisions had occurred at the intersection of Richmond Street West and Niagara Street and one collision had occurred at the intersection of Richmond Street West and Strachan Avenue. This collision involved a westbound left turning motorist that struck a northbound cyclist. The westbound motorist proceeded from a stop before it was safe and struck the northbound cyclist. The cyclist sustained major injuries and the motorist was charged.

All-way "Stop" Sign Control

Richmond Street West and Niagara Street

The intersection of Richmond Street West and Niagara Street was evaluated against the warrants for the implementation of all-way "Stop" sign control adopted by City Council. The warrants governing the installation of "Stop" signs encompass such factors as right-of-way conflicts, vehicular and pedestrian usage of the intersection, physical and geometric configuration, surrounding traffic control and collision experience. Information obtained through a September 24, 2014 traffic count at the subject intersection coupled with the collision data was evaluated against the installation warrants for all-way "Stop" sign control. Based on our evaluation, this intersection does not meet the warrants for the installation of all-way "Stop" sign control.

Specifically, the warrant requires the following criteria be met (actual study results provided in brackets):

Warrant 'A' Collision History
There must be an average of two potentially preventable collisions per year, averaged over a three-year period (0.0 collisions/year - warrant not met)

Warrant 'B' Traffic Volume
1. a) The total vehicle volume on all approaches, averaged over the four peak hours, must exceed 375 (493 vehicles/hour - warrant met)
b) The combined vehicle and pedestrian volume on the side-street, averaged over the four peak hours, must exceed 150 (80 vehicles & pedestrians/hour - warrant not met)
2. The main street/side-street volume split does not exceed 70/30 (86/14 - warrant not met)

Based on our review, the installation of all-way "Stop" sign control is not warranted at the intersection of Richmond Street West and Niagara Street. Therefore, we do not support the installation at either of these intersections.

So basically they used data from before the installation of the bike lane when bike traffic was much lower to determine whether or not anything should be done now that the bike lane is installed. That is inappropriate and shoddy. (Note in our bizarro world: Richmond, a very residential street at this point has a posted speed of 50 but Niagara which is mixed is 40. What the hell.)

Now that I got a no from Traffic Operations, doesn't mean it's all over. Layton's office has now asked cycling staff to look at it again in terms of the visions for the cycling corridor. I have to give Layton's office credit for keeping on top of this despite the general lack of interest by Transportation Services.

I'm going to give the Cycling Unit some benefit of the doubt. They were quite busy and they do have a new Bike Plan in the works. But still, it's been a couple years and all we got was a response that it didn't meet a warrant. It's not about the bloody warrant! It's a cycling route and the Cycling Unit should be picking the easy fruit which can make a big impact. We've had a number of situations where we brought to the attention of planners some obvious problem areas where small changes could improve the quality and continuity of the cycling route.

I fear that the warrant is a minimum threshold and that the City tied its own hands are tied depsite all the other benefits. Transportation Services likes warrants because they don't have to think about any other goals. It's a great way to get residents to shut up about installing speed humps or stop signs to help slow down car traffic on their streets. Transportation Services is in the business of making cars go. There's been some movement from the chief Buckley with initiatives like narrowing the recommended lane widths, which should help with installing new bike lanes. But given my experience we've still got a long way to go.

I've been disappointed with how disjointed the Cycling Unit has treated this corridor. We (as in Ward 19) pressed them on the key gaps in their cycling route, each of them relatively easy to fix: Bathurst and Adelaide, Richmond and Niagara, Richmond and Strachan, and the southwest entrance of CAMH where it connects to Sudbury. Here's what we've been producing for the City to get them to recognize the problems and the opportunities:

Adelaide Bathurst fixes
Ward 19 proposal for improving this crazy intersection
CAMH gate
This was my take on little things they could do to improve the entrance at the southwest end of CAMH. I took the photo from Sudbury looking north. It's a good route, people just don't know about it. Luckily CAMH is willing to play ball to some extent so we're hopeful.

We have very few options on this end of town. If we can't get bike lanes on Queen nor King then we've got to fight for the scraps. And even then it'll be hard to give people good, protected cycling routes further west into Parkdale.

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Repair classes


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I've never seen someone misinterpret a hand pointing in the direction a person wants to go. It's about as basic as you get. Even dogs understand. But my wife and friends started noticing people who have issues with the L-shaped right-turn signal. They know they have to use some kind of kink in their arm and raise it up but just can't seem to get it right. And they use it despite there being a perfectly good alternative.

We can blame this all on our obsession with automobiles. I'll explain.

A right turn signal is supposed to look like Option A, according to many governments:

or Option B, the "alternative" right:

(Source: MTO)

Even the Ontario government recognizes that Option A is ridiculous so they let the sorry folks who can't figure out Option A use Option B. But only to be used in emergencies. Or if you're a child in which case the government tells them to use Option B as the first choice (and Option A if they're missing a right arm?). But when you're an adult you put childish ways behind you and get behind the self-evidently superiour L-shaped signal. For some unrevealed reason.

But we've even seen some really interesting in-the-wild examples where the L-shaped signal has morphed into new forms. (I drew them for you with my expert hand, since we've yet to catch them in the act with a camera):

Signals in the wild
Just stop trying to signal, you're making it worse. On the left: L-shaped right hand. On the right: Over the head left-hand

So why do we tell people to use the left hand for signalling right?

Using the left hand to turn right came about because of cars. Drivers needed hand signals that could be clearly seen from behind, which meant that only the left hand could be used.

Automotive hand signals
Source: NYT

Yet when signal lights took over the hand signals were relegated to very rare occasions when the lights were broken. In my years of driving I've yet to see a driver having to resort to these hand signals. Yet ironically, this ill-suited custom, is foisted upon fresh, inexperienced cyclists as the "proper" way. CAN-Bike and other courses even make claims that the L-signal is even more visible in some situations. As a former CAN-Bike instructor, I confess to filling students heads with such baseless claims. I've yet to see any proof or study. Without such, it seems to me to be a justification after the fact. If cars hadn't been invented would we have independently invented the L-shaped left hand right turn signal? Who knows, but I think it's highly unlikely.

The automobile-derived signal is just so counter-intuitive for anyone on a bike, that unless people get specific training and remember it correctly they will invariably get it confused. They want to correct it; it seems wrong. But they just make it worse. Some even know that pointing in the direction they want to go works so they try to adapt a substandard signal into something that works. The funny collision of meaning happens when they attempt to stick to what they learned was "proper".

What is so important about the automotive right signal that we need to force it upon everyone biking despite the confusion? I can't think of one good reason.

Folks: just point in the direction you want to go. We'll all understand you.