New Liberty Street but the same old crappy car-centric traffic engineering

Ugh. Toronto is building new roads, but despite all the talk about making the city more pedestrian and cycling friendly, cyclists and pedestrians are still second-class citizens.

We usually focus on old streets and making them more bike friendly by slapping on some paint where expedient, or physical barriers if we really care. It's rare that an old city like Toronto builds new roads, but as it fills in its former industrial lands with condos, a handful of new roads are being designed and built. In the Cherry Street extension in the Don Lands. In each case—even though the City is serving tens of thousands of people who would prefer to travel by transit, foot or bike—it seems that the City refuses to get out of a car-centric frame of mind. In the Don Lands, for example, the City built an extension to Cherry Street that could have easily included proper physical separation, but they pretended that we still lived in the 90s and defaulted to paint. And in Liberty Village, it's even worse, there's no cycling infrastructure at all.

Over a decade ago as Liberty Village was first being filled in with condos, the City took a decidedly suburban, car-centric approach for such a population dense neighbourhood. This has resulted in a neighbourhood that is effectively trapped by railway lines and heavy car traffic. It's now quite uncomfortable to walk or bike into and out of Liberty Village. The main east-west street, East Liberty street has no bike lanes and is always jammed full of cars.

Toronto is undergoing an environmental assessment for New Liberty Street which will be just to the south of East Liberty. But even here, their old-school traffic engineering prioritized on-street parking over safe cycling. The City's proposed plan is to build a multi-use path that vanishes 300m from Strachan Ave. Multi-use paths are already a compromise, since they force two different travel modes that want to go at much different speeds to intermingle. And then to add insult to injury, the planners decided that at the intersection that it'll be all given over to cars.

Connectivity is crucial.

So states Antony Hilliard, ward captain of Cycle Toronto Ward group 19, who along with other Cycle Toronto ward groups and the Liberty Village Residents Association have been pressuring City staff and councillors to change an awful plan. Antony recently gave me a report they sent to the City detailing the problem and their suggested solutions:

Figure 1 shows how the New Liberty study area could connect to the:

  • Existing Strachan Ave. overpass painted bicycle lanes
  • Existing Martin Goodman waterfront trail, at bottom-right
  • Pilot Richmond-Adelaide cycle tracks
  • Planned phase II of the West Toronto Railpath to Wellington
  • Planned Fort York walking/cycling bridge

Cycling infrastructure in Liberty Village should provide safe, family-friendly links between:

  • Liberty Village Employment areas
  • Exhibition GO Station
  • Downtown employment / residential areas
  • Liberty Village Residential areas (including Garrison Point)
  • Nearby schools

It's not like this is just a cycling minority calling for proper cycling infrastructure here. The City's consultation in 2011, “New Street should have bike lanes”. And at the next consultation meeting, “Enhance pedestrian / bike access to GO station” was also strongly agreed, the 2nd highest after “heritage buildings”.

The groups have suggested changes to New Liberty Street so that cyclists can safely connect to Strachan and thus get out of the urban prison that is Liberty Village.

Instead of the proposed design for New Liberty St., shown as ALIGNMENT OPTION C(ia) drawing 8860WF23-13 as shown in Figure 2, the groups are presenting their alternative in Figure 3 below.

Some of the detailed problems with the City's plan, as detailed by the groups:

  1. Motor vehicle lanes widen to 4.1m and the multi-use path vanishes at the private road. Without connectivity, the multi-use path is useless to children / parents / seniors.
  2. New Liberty doesn't connect for northbound Strachan or eastbound Ordnance cycling traffic, and north-south parking garage access streets nor East Liberty St. have no bicycle accommodation.
  3. Two 5.5% grades are introduced at the private road. Such slopes are difficult for children / seniors to climb, especially without any safe right-of-way to balance in.
  4. The highway off ramp-like New Liberty / Strachan intersection introduces three bicycle-car turning conflicts, has poor sight lines.
  5. The turning radii for car lanes at the New Liberty / Strachan and East Liberty / Strachan intersection encourage fast car turns through conflicts. Normalizing at 11m radius is sufficient.

The bicycle mode share for Ward 19 is an incredible 12% considering the generally poor parking-door zone streets and the lack of bike lanes. Downtown is already completely car congested. An effort to eke out a fractional greater car capacity into and out of Liberty Village is myopic and a waste of time. A properly physically separated bicycle infrastructure would much more efficiently increase the transportation capacity.

Considering that the City is working on a Complete Streets plan, this makes this project seem like it's the last gasp of outdated, wrong-headed engineering. Or at least I hope it is.

The best separation for the job: making the cycle tracks safer and beautiful

First off, a belated happy new year! As my first post of 2015 I'd like to talk about turning over a new leaf. It seems like my former nemesis, ex-Councillor Adam Vaughan and I can finally agree on something. In this case on beautiful, sturdy dividers for protected bike lanes. Here's what Vaughan had to say about an example in Vancouver:

What separated bike lane should look like. Try parking a truck here! Beauty should drive planning.

Vaughan has now left municipal politics for federal, but I reminisce of the days he and I had a spat about putting in protected bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide. (Really I shouldn't be such a solipsist, the spat was with everyone who wanted protected bike lanes on those streets). Vaughan opposed the project claiming that it was building "bicycle highways" (those words must have sounded worse in his head than when I say them).

Vaughan had a romantic idea that if we just widened the sidewalks and put in some plants that we'd have a street for everyone and stop the speeding traffic. Funnily this was also former Mayor David Miller's approach as well.

So Vaughan even argued in my blog and cornered me at a public consultation meeting. Vaughan took the approach of talking about "complete streets", "two-way streets" and "beauty" on Richmond and Adelaide all of which seemed likely to preclude the possibility of protected bike lanes. But when Vaughan noticed that the project was going ahead, he shifted his focus on just making the "barriers" as beautiful as possible.

Vaughan now makes a good point about beauty though he does take it a bit far; it's not "beauty" itself that is stopping a truck from parking in the bike lane, it's the concrete. The beauty adds civility to the whole street and that's where I believe the cycling community and Vaughan can join forces on this one against those who think paint or flimsy flexiposts are enough.

When our Transportation chief, Stephen Buckley, former Philadelphia transpo chief of the city no one looks to for great examples of cycling infrastructure, pretends that "cycle track" actually means just more paint, it's good to have politicians like Vaughan supporting great infrastructure. The flexiposts have been a great success for the pilot, but didn't take long for them to look beaten up:

This might be fine for a pilot project but for the final cycle tracks we need something much more durable...and beautiful.

So MP Vaughan, I'm letting bygones be bygones and I hope you'll support cyclists in creating safe, beautiful protected bike lanes on our streets.

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