anthony's blog

Building on the good work already done: cycling policy in Ontario

The province of Ontario has finally acknowledged that we could use some cycling love. However, the current proposal put forth by the Minister of Transportation is slim and vague.

Two provincial groups have already prepared reports (STR 2010, COA 2008) outlining their own ideas of what they'd like to see the province doing. The ideas and policies in these reports are all very good ideas, and are also much more specific than what the Province is currently proposing.

However, the last of these reports was prepared in 2010. As we are currently approaching 2013 we need to look at what has changed in these past few years, and identify what other new ideas we need to bring forth that can be included in a Provincial Cycling Plan for Ontario.

I found three items which I think we should add as "priority items." These three are important enough that they should be included in any cycling plan adopted by our province.

In Sept 2011, the city of Los Angeles enacted a cyclist anti-harassment Ordinance (by-law) that was quite different than the similar laws which were passed before; This one is clear AND has teeth! It is important that the laws which we pass be reasonable, but laws are only effective when they are enforceable. Being clear helps the courts enforce what is meant to be enforced. And, by making the costs of suing payable by the driver, it makes it easier for cyclists to get a lawyer in order to sue those drivers whose behaviour is simply wrong. A law like this acts both as a deterrent, and also provides remedy to the afflicted. Other jurisdictions have followed LA's example and have passed their own, similar, anti-harassment legislation. Some jurisdictions have even extended this to include pedestrians and disabled people in their versions of this legislation.

I started with anti-harassment legislation for several reasons. First of all it reflects the first and fourth items of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. It also defines to everyone very clearly those behaviours which are unacceptable and are not tolerable on our streets and roads. It is also a very clear reminder to Law Enforcement, as well as to our entire Judicial System, that our streets and roads must safely include other users besides motorists and motor-vehicles.

For the second of the three, I propose that we get a safe passing law passed. More jurisdictions have enacted safe passing laws since we last looked at it here in Ontario back in 2010, often known as three-feet laws. Ontario's current law [HTA 148(4)] is vague and only states that "Every person in charge of a vehicle on a highway meeting a person travelling on a bicycle shall allow the cyclist sufficient room on the roadway to pass." Bicycles cannot stay upright in a perfectly straight line for very long, we need to use the steering to help keep us upright, which means we always weave a bit when riding (although better riders will weave less). In addition, road conditions are never perfect, so we need to avoid those (usually) small obstacles in our path, even when being passed. Lastly, winds can make it much more difficult for cyclist to hold a straight line, and cars and trucks can do strange things with the wind, especially at higher speeds. Trucks, in particular, can have have a strong pushing wind at their front while also having strong sucking wind at their sides. These winds have caused cyclists to be sucked under the back wheels of the truck. In addition, passing too closely can simply be viewed as another form of harassment. The current driver handbook already states that cyclists need about a metre on either side for their safety (pg 38) and suggests to driver to give cyclists the whole lane (pg 59), so enacting legislation like this is not a big change from the current best practices. Further, both the Toronto and Provincial Coroners cycling reports highlighted legislation like this as a specific need. Setting minimum standards makes it clearer, and simpler, for Law Enforcement and Courts to enforce this law. It's also easier for drivers and motorists to understand and, therefore, follow the law. And this law would mirror the second item in the Cyclists' Bill of Rights, specifically that cyclists should have sufficient space on our streets and roads.

The third, and last item which has changed, and that I think is a "must-have" to be a part of our provincial strategy: "Protected Bike Lanes."

I say "changed" for two good reasons. First is that we've had increasing clear research which shows that protected bike lanes, like those found in Montreal and Vancouver (but not in Toronto!), are at least an order of magnitude safer than ordinary bike lanes, and at least two orders of magnitude safer than streets without any cycling facilities. And, secondly, because 1012 saw as many new protected bike lanes being built in North America as were built in the decade before. In the past year the number of protected bike lanes has doubled - sadly this was not also true in Ontario.

Please understand that It's not like I expect the province to build protected bike lanes, that's usually the municipality's job. However, the province can adopt the appropriate plans, policies, legislation, and programs (incl funding formulas), as well as the sharing of the appropriate expertise, in order to force, encourage, coax, and cajole Ontario's municipalities to build these types of facilities for all of us.

I know that I'm not the only one with ideas like this. What are your ideas? Do you think that I'm overlooking something important? What have you told our province that you'd like them to be doing for cycling?

On Chiarelli's 2012 Ontario Bike Strategy

On Friday November 30th, Bob Chiarelli, The Minster of Transportation, released a Cycling Strategy. You’d be well excused for not hearing about it because other news has rightfully captured the headlines. As an announcement, this strategy document was only newsworthy for being drivel.

If someone were to ask me how I would describe Ontario’s new Cycling Strategy in a word I would have to choose one of these: “vague,” “wishy-washy,” or “same-old, same-old” depending on who asked.

We are all free to share what we think of this Strategy directly with the Ministry. I encourage you to do so.

For a Strategy that is to cover a province as large and as diverse as Ontario, or even an activity as diverse as cycling, this document is really slim. Once the introductions, the cover page, the table of contents, the glossary, and the appendixes are removed, the actual strategy is a mere four pages. That does not provide any space for detail, so absolutely none are given.

For me, just the fact that this criticism to the proposed strategy is longer than the strategy itself is proof enough that this strategy is nowhere near comprehensive or detailed enough.

The introduction does mention some of the benefits of cycling, such as better health, reducing emissions, reducing urban traffic congestion, and providing economic development opportunities. But not once does this plan mention any targets for Ontario in reaching towards these benefits.

What the introduction also outlines is how little Ontario has been doing for, and how slowly and diluted it’s been dishing out any benefits to, those of us who ride bikes in Ontario. The rest of the strategy is not so much “new” as more of the same. Without clear goals, without areas of priority, without clear funding commitments, this plan is just more of the same-old, same-old.

Let’s step back for a moment, and, — even before we decide that we need a bike plan or strategy — let’s get a vision of what we’d like for a future Ontario to look like. Only then we can better understand how cycling fits in to that future. Only then we can create a plan and a set of strategies that will get us there. And, then we can have a plan that outlines the path that will get us to achieve this vision. However, there is no vision driving this plan, nor does the plan itself provide one. Nor can one even get a vision of what the province will be like from reading this document, nor what will change in the lives of those of who ride our bicycles anywhere in the province. That is because a plan which is this slim simply cannot provide any of this.

One thing that the plan does mention is the desire to fund cycling projects which will “connect communities,” but only those cycling projects which would fulfill these criteria:

  • Could form part of a province wide cycling network.
  • Have no viable alternate route.
  • Would connect with other existing or planned cycling routes.
  • Are consistent with local tourism goals.
  • Connect population centres and/or places of interest.
  • Allow access to services and accommodation.
  • Have demonstrated demand for cycling.
  • Are or can reasonably be made safe.
  • Have strong local support.
  • Are cost effective.

Really? This list reads to me more like a list of excuses to EXCLUDE funding for projects, rather than as reasons to fund cycling projects.

  • What is that “province wide cycling network” which is being referred to in the list? Earlier, the plan states that “The Ministry will identify a province-wide cycling route network to connect cycling destinations to create recreational and tourism opportunities.” However, the plan does not identify that route.
  • What would make an alternative route “viable”? No details are to be found in the plan.
  • What would make a place or population centre worthy of “interest”? This plan does not does provide such detail.
  • What is meant by “demonstrated demand for cycling,” and how would that criteria apply on routes that have been difficult or impossible by bike before? No details.
  • What does “reasonably safe” look and feel like? No detail.
  • What constitutes “strong local support”? No detail.
  • What are the measures being used for deciding if a project is “cost effective”? No detail.

The plan goes on to state that the Ministry will support municipalities in the development of local cycling networks. However, it already does this, even if not with that direct intent. Traffic engineers, the people directly responsible for the design and the implementation of our cycling infrastructure, already create and update designs of cycling infrastructure and their associated signage. This is done nationally, and becomes a national standard that traffic engineers use. Provinces then “cherry pick” which of these it wishes to include as part of its provincial standard. Ontario has always been included in this process, and Ontario’s Municipalities have always been a part of adding to, as well as choosing, these standards. Traditionally, the Ministry of Transportation has only ever blocked the inclusion of integrated cycling infrastructure, so perhaps the big change here is not so much the leadership role that the province isn't taking, but the fact that it will “get out of the way” and stop blocking cycling projects. That’s really the big change here.

Both Education and Legislation becomes the next key item in this plan. That it should have been two items is a fact we’ll overlook for right now.

Canada has a national standard for educating cyclists with on-road cycling skills; it’s called CAN-BIKE, and it is a program which is 27 years old. Being a national standard means that it is recognized by both our Federal Government as well as by industry. Toronto created, and has previously handed off to the Ministry of Transportation, a CAN-BIKE component for inclusion with driver education. But there’s no mention of that. Instead we get the usual banter of on-going consultations with whomever, and that that the driver handbook has been getting better and will continue to get better. Uh-huh.

There is no mention of getting more people taking CAN-BIKE courses, nor of making any cycling programs available for those who ride, or would like to. Cyclists’ education will be taken care of by having a sheet of paper with the URL so that one can find the on-line copy of the “Cycling Skills” handbook; this slip of paper (with the URL) will be attached to every bicycle sold in Ontario. This idea was buried in the appendix. So instead of placing a full copy of the Cycling Skills booklet into a bag along with other useful information which would be attached to the bike being sold, one will get a URL with the bike. Really. You can read it for yourself; I don’t make this stuff up.

The key legislative changes proposed are the one-metre passing law, and, potentially, mandatory helmets — pending study, of course. But these are only mentioned as part of the review from Ontario’s Chief Coroner, again in the appendix. The strategy, proper, only promises vague on-going reviews of the current legislation.

The final page of the Strategy covers Co-ordination as well as Monitoring and Research. However, without clear goals or outcomes, one has to wonder what will be researched or monitored. And the section on co-ordination reads like the kind of incomprehensible jargon we usually try to avoid if we mean to be understood. However, the Co-ordination section does mention an “Active Transportation Working Group” but it fails to identify who is (or would be) working in such a group, nor what it’s aims are. It reads as if such a group already exists, but there’s no description of what this group has done so far, if anything.

My wife, whom I usually find quite reasonable, and who keeps me grounded, said that this plan sounded like something a high school student whipped together the night before in order to have something to hand in. I think my wife is being a little bit harsh.

To compare:
Toronto’s 2001 Bike Plan is 137 pages long, and is not short on detail. Toronto’s Bike Plan only two had clear goals: 1) to double ridership and 2) to build the proposed network by 2011. But it also did outline a large number of policies and ideas to help those of us who already ride bikes, and ideas and policies which would both enable and encourage more people to ride bikes.

In 2008, the group “Ontario Cycling Alliance” (OCA) released a 42 page Bike Plan for Ontario which was far more comprehensive than the Cycling Strategy released by Chiarelli. It articulated a vision of Cycling in Ontario as well as specific plans and programs to achieve this vision. OCA’s Bike Plan included also proposed routes to connect communities with Ontario, and it identified those whom it would encourage to ride, and what kinds of trips they would be making by bicycle. What OCA’s Bike Plan lacked was timelines and costs.

In 2010, Share The Road Coalition released a 49 page Green Paper describing what they would like to see by way of Cycling Policy. The ideas presented in it are, by far, better than what the Ministry of Transport is currently proposing.

The people of Ontario deserve a proper, and comprehensive, Bike Plan that covers the whole province , one which outlines the timelines, the costs, and the benefits of investing in cycling infrastructure and programs across the province. Ontario deserves a Bike Plan with clear aims and Goals, better identification of who would be cycling as well as where and when we'll be cycling. And the Bike Plan should identify the means of achieving these objectives. And it's not like our province doesn't have any other options; two groups in Ontario have worked on, and produced, full Bike Plans that Ontario could easily adopt as its own.

What we, in Ontario, don’t deserve is a slim document merely designed to answer a report from the Coroner being passed off as plan (or even a strategy) to fit all of cycling in all of Ontario.

Parking Exemptions vs Bike Lanes

After Councillor Howard Moscoe's prodding, City Council has released the previously confidential manual which explains who can get their parking tickets cancelled. I am glad that they did this, and it helps make things much more clear to everyone in this city. Many thanks to Councillor Moscoe, and the other councillors, who made this happen.

Before this manual was released, I had though that more enforcement would help to diminish the number of vehicles found parked in bike lanes. I had also thought that on-street separated bike lanes should be used sparingly and strategically.

I now realize how naive I was.

While I expect that some of the excuses to get one's parking ticket cancelled to be removed from the current manual, I have to expect that many, if not most, of them will remain. Because of this, I now find it necessary to add my voice to the many who are already calling for the conversion of existing bike lanes into on-street separated bike lanes.

The passive enforcement of barriers which would deter people from placing their vehicles in bike lanes seems to be the only remedy we have to keep those of us in this city who ride bikes safe from moving cars and trucks, and to keep bike lanes safe from becoming free parking or ad-hoc taxi stands.

And safer infrastructure will only encourage more people to ride.

Jarvis, transportation devices, three foot passing laws, trail speeds: recap Feb 22

Humans, it seems, all love to watch a fight. And our media is only too happy to oblige; this time it's a rematch for Jarvis Street.

In Virginia, R-Braddock District Transportation Supervisor John Cook says "I don't believe a bicycle is a transportation device. I think it's a recreation device. The big problem is people don't want to ride their bike in the rain or get sweaty before work." (Washington Examiner, Feb 21 2010) I think that it is good to know what kinds of attitudes we are up against.

Toronto, the city of "Bike Rage"

I find it rather interesting that after a summer of fuel provided by our media of the "war on the car" that it took so long for yet another case of Road Rage involving a motorist and a cyclist to occur. After all, this city is known for its Bike Rage, as evidenced here:

Toronto is at the top of the list for both "Drivers attacking cyclists" and "Cyclists attacking drivers." How's that for notoriety?

And now, the media's coverage of the Bryan/Sheppard incident is yet another example of Bike Rage that the world sees, like this:

Which leads to believe that the cyclists in the city aren't seeing the love that they've been promised by City Hall or from Queens Park, and that there are forces out there to keep cyclists "in their place." Meanwhile cyclists aren't content to put up with the awful excuse and behaviour that motorists call "driving" on our city's roads. I thought drivers are licensed, but not that you can tell. Motorists act like maniacs, and are constantly risking the lives of pedestrians, cyclists and each other. They have a deadly weapon under their control yet refuse to acknowledge it. No wonder when a motorist hits a cyclist (as Bryant is alleged to have to done to Sheppard) the cyclist "freaks on their hood" (as Sheppard is alleged to have done to Bryant's car).

Collapsible Bicycle Trailer

Here's a short (sales) video of a collapsible bike trailer. I think this is a good idea.
I've often wished for a smaller trailer that wouldn't get in the way when empty. What do you think?

Extra points to those who can tell where it's filmed!

Tell the province what you think of e-bikes

Love 'em or hate 'em, e-bikes have been a hot topic for discussion here.

The province has opened up the discussion of e-bikes, and where they fit into the regulatory framework in Ontario. This follows up on the Stakeholder meeting hosted by MTO on June 16th, and means that everyone can tell the province exactly how they feel the e-bikes pilot has been going, and what how the province should be handling these things going forward. You can through the website and also read the backgrounder.

Comments are due by July 9th. The pilot ends on October 3rd. The referenced document highlights some of the concerns that the province is aware of, and is looking for specific feedback on, such as:

Are motorists shirking their responsibility? Yes.

There’s a feeling “out there” that because motorists pay “user fees” for licences and registration as well gas taxes and insurance, that they somehow have more “rights” to the road than everybody else. And that because motorists pay for those things, somehow motorists are more “responsible” that the rest of society which includes lowly cyclists.

Let’s dispel a myth today. It is my assertion that motorists are, in fact, acting much less responsible than they claim, and further, that they are to blame for a lessened quality of our public spaces.

First off, there are plenty of articles about who pays for the roads, including articles on this very blog. I’ll refer the reader there to read these entries, and I won't bother repeating those arguments.

My copy of the driver’s handbook, copyright 2007, has written in the second paragraph of Chapter 1 that would be motorists “have to pass a test” for “driving privileges.” What this means is that everybody has the same and equal right to share the road, but licensed drivers have the privilege of doing so with an insured and registered motor vehicle. That’s all. Somewhere along the way many seemed to have forgotten this.

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