An accidental protected bike lane on John Street

Max snapped this photo one morning a few weeks ago at John and Queen, looking north. I was completely flabbergasted at first. As many of my readers might now, there was a long extended fight with Councillor Vaughan and a bunch of planners who were trying to plan cyclists out of the picture and create a pedestrian arcade (but with cars) out of John Street. This seemed like a complete 180 where cyclists were actually given their own space instead of treated like pariahs.

But, no, it was not to be. Instead this is a pilot project until October to carve out a much larger pedestrian zone with a row of planters. Instead of being a protected bike lane much like I've seen in Vancouver, it's a "pedestrian" zone that seems most of the time to have few pedestrians (perhaps a bit heavier next to the restaurants which had overtaken much of the public space for their patios).

Cyclists don't know what to do with the space. Some people are still using it as a bike lane while other cyclists choose to squeeze next to a multi-block long line of cars (photo by Michal). This is what I saw:

While the whole John Street Cultural Corridor project is currently unfunded, the EA was completed and left out cyclists. Or, to be more accurate, they assumed cyclists would just nicely mix in with car traffic like we're forced to everywhere else.

But compared to the EA, this row of planters is even worse for cyclists. At least in the EA the plan was to have a "flexible boulevard" and a "non-barrier" curb to blur the line between the pedestrian space and the road. People on bikes would have more options in going around traffic jams of cars. In the EA they said:

A continuous non-barrier curb on both sides of the street to enable a seamless transition into a pedestrian-only space for events; for vehicles to mount the flexible boulevard for deliveries or drop-offs; and, to accommodate additional vehicular and cycling maneuvering on either side of the road in emergencies.

Or like this real-world example at the Prince's Gate at the Ex:

But instead, this design seems to have imposed purgatory for anyone on a bike.

What are the lessons here?

One, we can't just expect bikes to disappear, no matter how much we're in love with "pedestrianizing" the John Street Corridor. Did you expect the cyclists to nicely wait behind the truck? Good luck with trying to re-engineer human nature.

Two, by doing things half-ass, by trying to increase the pedestrian space while letting cars still rule the streets, we are making the space worse. Planners should have made it much more inconvenient for drivers to choose John Street as a through-street. John could be made for local vehicles only, much like a bicycle boulevard, which would greatly reduce the traffic while still allowing cars to exist there.


The John Street Pedestrian Plaza was initiated by, and the study for it funded by, the local Business Improvement Area and unsurprisingly that is what it is about business. The biggest beneficiaries are City TV, Jack Astors etc.

A street with one of the highest volumes of cyclists and the City is planning to intentionally displace them to an unsafe and inconvenient crossing at Peter , Soho and Queen.

A sloppy environmental assessment process using wildly inaccurate data of cycling modal split.

The good news is the planters are an unintentional bicycle lane pilot project showing the merit of, and need for, separated bicycle lanes on John Street.
John Street north of Richmond, or perhaps Nelson Street, to Queen Street could be one lane one way northbound for vehicles with bicycle lanes on either side behind planters and widened sidewalks.

With any luck the new incoming Councillor for Ward 20 will see what former Councillor Vaughan couldn't.

I have been using that space behind the planters to go northbound and southbound and it feels completely safe. Better than fighting traffic for every square inch of the roadway. Alas, the patio tables are already popping up by Jack Astor's so it won't last long.

On the positive side, the Vaughan campaign was handing out buttons to cyclists on St. George on Friday morning. He needs our support and that's our opportunity to come up with a solution that works for everyone (and that includes the BIA)

How about restricting all non-local traffic from John? York street is now one of the safest in the core (that is without any bike lanes). That's because it's fully blocked at the Union station so it is only used by vehicles accessing nearby parking lots.

Same can be done for John. Planters can block the street for cars just south of Richmond while allowing the bikes through. All motorists that use John as a shortcut to the core (something it was never designed for) will be gone. The street will be so quiet it won't need any bike lanes. Perhaps sharrows for wayfinding can be added later.

The BIA is just as interested to keep traffic away from the tables. Patrons won't find fries with road dust and honking at the background very appetizing and will stay away from the patios. Unless the street is made as quiet as a laneway.

If we team up with the business and reach out to Vaughan's office we can get the barrier installed within weeks (the byelection is upon us and our votes are precious as gold) we can solve this matter once and for all.

pennyfarthing ok frye