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Does Toronto deserve its silver ranking as a Bicycle Friendly Community?

A few days ago I posted this photo on Twitter after coming across the sign last weekend in the Rouge Valley in Scarborough.

The organization who gave this silver award to Toronto, Share the Road, defended their program. The majority of the people responded, however, were not convinced. The average person in Toronto would probably be surprised that Toronto got a silver rating as a Bicycle Friendly Community.

The average person will probably think of sports medals of gold, silver, bronze and all those who didn't podium. A silver, in many minds, is just one step away from being awesome; best in the world. Most Torontonians, however, will never bike in most parts of Toronto, because cycling is perceived as dangerous. This is not surprising even the almost complete lack of cycling infrastructure in most parts of the city. So the silver award is very incongruous to the facts on the ground.

The fact, remains that it's very easy to travel between most destinations in Toronto and not see any cycling infrastructure. Even downtown the majority of our arterial roads have little to no bike lanes. And even the ones that have bike lanes are discontinuous. A bike lane that ends is not much more useful than nothing at all, and sometimes it hurts since it raises the expectations of safety for the cyclist and then just leaves them for the wolves.

The Share the Road program is derived from the League of American Bicyclists' program which operates nation-wide in the US. While the LAB program openly publishes its ranking criteria, Share the Road says theirs is "proprietary" so we don't really know how they rank.


NOT Share the Road's. Theirs is mostly a mystery.

If we go by LAB's criteria it would highly unlikely that Toronto could meet a silver rating. It falls behind in modeshare (less than 2%); number of bike staff per 70,000 residents, and the ratio of bicycle network to roads. (Though I suspect that in the latter category they probably allow for roads where all it takes is slapping up a sign that says "Bike Route".) But we'll never know for sure since Share the Road neither publishes their criteria and grading, nor published a report card of how Toronto has met or not met the criteria. Meanwhile LAB publishes report cards for many American cities, such as this one for Seattle, which breaks down Seattle's ranking into each category and also describes what the city can do to reach Platinum level. Looks like Seattle needs to do a lot.

I'm not a fan of LAB's ranking system either, but compared to LAB, Share the Road's program looks amateurish and looks more like just giving out gold stars to everyone who wants them. #goldstarsforeveryone Perhaps that's not true, but Share the Road has its work cut out to convince me otherwise.

A peek at the end of winter: Allo Vélo showing off Danish cargo bikes at Toronto Bike Show

Allo Vélo will be at the upcoming Toronto Bike Show (March 6-8, booth 650 at the Better Living Centre at the Ex) showing off the Danish cargo bikes they carry, namely, Triobike, Bullitt and Butchers & Bicycles. Allo Vélo, unless you count my wife, is the biggest sponsor of this blog. Thanks!

Lamar Timmins of the Montreal-based bike shop, has been working hard to expand their distribution beyond Montreal (thus willing to advertise on this blog). Given the small (but growing) market for cargo bikes, it makes sense to work on online retail since there are many potential customers in other cities where bike shops are not carrying cargo bikes. It's difficult for bike shops to sell cargo bikes; they are typically much lower turnover than regular bikes and take up much more space.

Anyway, Allo carries a few Danish cargo bike brands—the family-oriented trikes from Triobike, the courier-favourite, speedy and light Bullitt, and Butchers & Bicycles. Lamar will be showing off the "MK1 tilt-action" cargo trike, which you can see in action in this video.

I look forward to trying out the MK1; I haven't had a chance to see it yet. Stability is the biggest reason to get a trike, but the biggest drawback of trikes is putting up with slow turns and having to fight centrifugal force that is otherwise easy with a two-wheeled bike. By tilting, the MK1 seems to help provide a more enjoyable ride on a trike.

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.

Fixing the Adelaide and Bathurst approach to the new cycle tracks

I'm digging into improvements for the new protected bike lanes on Richmond, Adelaide and Simcoe. These lanes, known as cycle tracks by the planners, are currently a pilot project and are part of an environmental assessment that still needs to be approved by City Council. Previously I looked at better protecting cyclists at intersections.

This is part 2: Doesn't help if it's hard to get to the cycle tracks

Coming from the west end Adelaide is a great street to take. It's quiet and direct to Bathurst. But we get stuck at Bathurst because there's no easy way to get to the cycle tracks on the other side. For those in the know they might go up to Richmond and then back down but that takes longer. Instead most people just end up riding on the sidewalk for a few metres and cross at the crosswalk. But we think the City has to do better. So we propose this:

The City doesn't need to do all of this, but it would be good if they serious considered how cyclists are supposed to cross Bathurst when going eastbound.

So maybe that means allowing cyclists to turn left from Adelaide which would likely require moving the southern traffic lights on Bathurst; or maybe it could be a contraflow lane around the north side of the Catholic church so that cyclists can end up on Bathurst where they can make a left turn. (It's easier to draw then describe). I think the default option for most cyclists will be former.

You can post your comments to a forum that City public consultation staff set up, which they've called IdeaSpaceTO. A bunch of my suggestions are already up there. Feel free to copy and expand on the following suggestions which I think are pretty important:

  1. Extend protection into the intersections by extending the barriers to the corners and installing refuge islands to reduce chances of drivers turning into cyclists.
  2. Allow eastbound cyclists on Adelaide, west of Bathurst, cross Bathurst safely and legally to the cycle tracks.
  3. Make the crossings on Simcoe at Richmond and Queen safer by installing traffic lights. And if that's not possible, ban right turns on red at University so that the gap in traffic is much longer.
  4. Fix the bus stops by keeping the barriers and implementing an island for bus passengers to disembark before crossing the cycle tracks.
  5. Eliminate the right-hand turning lanes on Simcoe and Richmond to improve the safety of cyclists at these intersections.
  6. Extend the pilot project so it goes all the way to Parliament.

In the next instalment I will be talking how former Councillor (now MP) Adam Vaughan can finally see eye to eye on these cycle tracks. It comes down to one word: beauty

Winter is here-ish! Getting my brain geared up for snow, ice and cold

Me biking in snow and cold. That's actually near Penetanguishene, a place where this is actually considered a light sprinkling. We thought it was going to be still fall but—surprise!—it snowed.

Tom Babin's new book Frostbike—The Joy, Pain and Numbness of Winter Cycling—arrived just in time to help me prepare for this year's cold, snow and wind. Frostbike is a book about Tom exploring the history cycling in winter, how cities with strong cycling cultures deal with winter, and how he himself, as a suburban Calgarian, evolved his own thinking and behaviour around taking a bike to work. Tom shows us that cycling in winter is not complicated and that the cold and snow is not a problem. The biggest barrier to good winter cycling are the cultural barriers and lack of good cycling infrastructure found in North America compared to Europe.

Both my wife and I cycle all winter, except for the crappiest of days. The difference between us is that my wife has to get to her workplace everyday whereas I have the privilege of staying at home in my sweatpants if I don't feel like hoofing it over to the CSI office. So it's much more critical that my wife has a good commute than I have one. For instance, just last winter I outfitted her bike with a front brake so that she'll have more control.

Mind you, I still bike way more than the average since we don't have a car and taking transit is just boring and exasperating. We do our shopping, errands, visits and so on all by bike. So we both know full well how to dress for the ride. Clue: just dress warmly, especially the hands, and if you think you're going to sweat then dress more lightly because you want the body heat and sweat to escape.

But, we're nothing special. You don't have to be an athlete or superhero to bike in the winter. In cities where Tom visits in his book, such as in Finland and Denmark, everyone from young to old bikes in the winter. Even here in Toronto, where many people put their bikes away at the first nip in the air, I see everyone from young hipsters on their ironic ten-speeds to elderly Chinese-Canadians biking on the sidewalk in the winter. The decision to bike in winter seems to be just as much a function of habit and culture as anything.

Did you know the world's best winter cycling city is Oulu, Finland? I didn't until Tom explained how he stumbled upon this fantasy city at Velo-City, Vancouver 2012 when he ends up at the least popular seminar there: winter cycling where people get into heated discussions about salt. But when a visiting Finn describes Oulu, it seems to be from a different world.

Tom gets a bit obsessed with seeing Oulu and travels for the first Winter Cycling Conference to get a first-hand look at what first-rate winter cycling cities look like. (This year's Winter Cycling Conference was actually in Winnipeg). From the way Tom describes it, Oulu is like heaven for the bundled up cyclist. They have well-maintained trails but they don't plow them per se. They groom them like a ski trail. Instead of copious amounts of salt, their trails all have a nice layer of packed snow that is surprisingly easy to bike on and isn't slippery at all.

"The Winter Cycling Capital of the World"

As much as I don't like thinking about having to go through winter, once I'm in it, I, like Tom learned while writing his book, appreciate being outside in the fresh air. We spend too much winter indoors. Being in an urban environment doesn't always help, but my wife and I like to be a bit active: skating and skiing. In the book, Tom describes how he made a conscious effort to enjoy winter more:

No more would I suffer through winter and revel in the outsider status it gave me. My mission was to romp through it, and in my sheer joy would change my own attitudes and convert those around me into winter believers.

Like all experiments, he has mixed results (partly thwarted by southern Alberta's warm Chinook winds) but the idea is sound.

But with substandard urban infrastructure it's difficult to enjoy some activities. Skating rinks are crowded and have limited hours; there are very few continuous trails that we can use for skiing in the city; and the City doesn't plow or groom the vast majority of the park trails and bike lanes.

Calgary, interestingly, actually plows most of its trails. The story behind it is equally interesting as Tom relates. Calgary trail plowing was a DIY/protest plowing by a bunch of volunteers using at first their own bikes outfitted with makeshift plows and later with their own truck. Eventually the truck broke down and the citizenry, which had become quite used to the nicely plowed trails, started complaining in large numbers to politicians and City staff. The volunteers in essence forced the City's hand.

But Toronto staff is working hard on improving things here. Christina Bouchard of Toronto's cycling unit presented at the Winnipeg winter cycling conference on creating a "snow cycling network".

To plough the entire on-street cycling network would cost an estimated 3 Million CAD, but the plan developed will only cost $650,000. This is because the Transportation Services Department was able to prioritize the most-used cycling routes. Using data from spot and cordon counts, the city identified the routes with an excess of 2,000 cyclists in a 24-hour period during the summer.

But Calgary's example is still a good lesson for Toronto cyclists who want to keep prodding the City to start plowing more of the trails. Plow it and they will come.

Good for you, Tom, for helping me get over the dread of an upcoming winter on bike and back into the rhythm of dressing up for the weather. Mind you, the ice will still be an issue, but for that my wife and I will be soon reviewing this product I came across, the "Sneeuwsok" (a grippy snow sock for your tire). Here's what it looks like fresh form Hollandland (Zeeland snoepje kas—candy box—not included):

It only works on bikes with no rim brakes so my wife will be trying it out on her Dutch bike with rollerbrakes. I haven't tried out studded tires which probably work even better on ice but I hear they work poorly on dry pavement. The MEC site suggests adjusting the air pressure depending on the road conditions. Perhaps someone who's tried them out can let us know.

But still no snow sticking around. Snow already dammit! Snow!

Who or What is "The Average Cyclist" and why are we designing only for them?

At the last public meeting for cycling, I asked Dan Egan, head of the City of Toronto's Cycling Department a rather purposeful question, specifically:

"Who is the intended design user of our cycling infrastructure?"

And his response was the rather bland:

"The average cyclist"

Well, that got me thinking, who (or what) is the "average" cyclist?

Is it me? Probably not. I'm a CAN-BIKE II graduate and a former certified CAN-BIKE instructor. CAN-BIKE II graduates are rare, and instructors are even more so.

Would my daughters qualify? Again, nope. They have taken the Kids CAN-BIKE course and also the CAN-BIKE Camp. To compare: they are the only ones at their school to have done either, let alone both.

My wife? She's never taken CAN-BIKE, rides much less frequently than either myself or our daughters. Her rides tend to be shorter in distance and duration than the rest of our family. She's never commuted by bike. She'll only ride when most of her trip can be done over cycling infrastructure and the rest of the route she feels comfortable on. So she's more likely to ride to downtown than within our community.

My neighbor who rides quite a bit? He rides quite a bit around the neighborhood both as part of his multi-modal commute (to the GO train station) and for other activities such as shopping. However, the routes he uses either don't have any bike infrastructure at all, or else have infrastructure only on tiny segments of his routes. Can't be him.

My other neighbor who rides a couple of times a week during the better weather for fitness? He rides on the Humber Bay Shores and Martin-Goodman trails, and sometimes on part of the Humber River trail. Could be him.

My other neighbors who ride just a few times a year? They also tend to use the Humber Bay Shores and less frequently the Martin-Goodman trails and part of the Humber River trail. I've also seen them pack their bikes up on their cars to drive them to other trails where they will ride. Could be them, too.

Does this mean that the many of us who ride bikes a lot are not the intended, or design, user of cycling infrastructure? Yet we are generally the advocates. Are we asking the city to build cycling infrastructure that we can't, don't, or won't use? In some cases, yes we are.

In my own neighborhood of Mimico, we've done a good job providing multi-use trails which people on bike can use, but we've also seen quite a lot of contention along those same trails between different user groups with most of the animosity being directed against "fast" cyclists; and it's been said that these trails were not designed nor intended for the faster commuter cyclists. Does this mean that commuter cyclists are not the average cyclist, and that we aren't designing for them?

Well, let's have a quick look at the vision from our bike plan's Executive Summary, and see what is says:

The vision for the Toronto Bike Plan is to create a safe, comfortable and bicycle friendly environment in Toronto, which encourages people of all ages to use bicycles for everyday transportation and enjoyment.

I would interpret "everyday transportation" as commuting and "enjoyment" as fitness and/or occasional "Sunday" rides. And "people of all ages" are not going to share the same average in either skill, ability, nor speed.

To me this means that city staff are making a big mistake in designing cycling infrastructure for the "average cyclist" and that this very idea of an "average cyclist" is contrary to the stated vision of the bike plan.

What do you think?

Should the city be designing our cycling infrastructure for some real or imagined "average cyclist?"

Or should be be following the vision of our older bike plan, and be designing our cycling infrastructure for people people of all ages, uses, and abilities?

Now that we are finally protecting bike lanes, we should make the intersections safer

I'm quite happy—like many cyclists—that we've got new protected bike lanes on Richmond, Adelaide and Simcoe. These lanes, known as cycle tracks by the planners, are currently a pilot project and are part of an environmental assessment that still needs to be approved by City Council.

But I think we can do even better. I'm going to do a few quick blog posts about various improvements I believe would make it a "world class" (who doesn't want to be world class?) protected bike lane. The first is intersections.

The majority of injuries happen at intersections. We need to fix the intersection, not just mid-block.

According to the City of Toronto's own study, the majority of injuries happen at intersections, driveways and laneways, and most of those involved motor vehicles turning. Yet, we can see from the following image of the cycle tracks on Adelaide and Richmond, they disappear as we approach the intersection and then it's just business as usual.


Disappearing Bike Lane. Photo: Iain Campbell

I would assume that we would see little reduction in intersection collisions (there might be some lowered risk of a collision because the hordes of cyclists on them raises the awareness of drivers).

As with most intersections in this city, a lack of infrastructure at the intersection creates confusion about the right of way. Is it the driver on the left who wants to turn right or the cyclist on the right? It's also difficult for drivers to move to the curb because there lots of blind spots while shoulder checking.

People are even more uncomfortable at intersections where there's a right-turning lane such as on Simcoe north of Front, and on Richmond east of Bathurst. At these spots the City is forcing cyclists and drivers to switch places on the fly and it all looks like chaos as drivers arrive at speed and some cyclists stick to the sharrows that show them where to cross and others stick to the curb where they feel safest.

There's got to be something better than the same old, same old. We need to start adding protection to the intersections. At the very least we could emulate Calgary with the barrier going all the way to the intersection, and with the barrier being made of something more solid than a flimsy flexipost:

This is how I imagine the City could make minimum changes to their current design:

I'll take mock planters over paint any day

The planters would provide a strong visual cue to the separation and will slow down car traffic by changing the character of the street from being a thoroughfare to a slower street.

How to do Protected Intersections excellently

But the City could take it even a step further and mimic what has been done in the Netherlands and a few other countries, which Nick Falbo of Alta Planning out of Portland, Oregon, is calling Protected Intersections. And this is how it could be applied to typical North American intersections:

This is how Nick describes the big benefit of this style of intersection:

A collection of design elements makes left turns simple and secure, right turns protected and fast, and provides straight through movements that minimize or eliminate conflicts from turning cars. With this design, riders will never feel stranded, exposed, or unsure of where to go and how to get there.

There are some challenges with the current regulatory framework and engineering standards, but we hope that the City can adapt the key elements to Toronto's situation: "refuge islands" at the corners, forward stop-bar, bicycle-friendly traffic signals, and setback crosswalks and bicycle crossing.

This will help better describe the various features:

If it can be done on the small streets in the Netherlands it can be done here with enough political will to reduce cycling injuries.

If you like this idea too, please send your comments to Jason Diceman, the guy in charge of public consultation for this project.

Next, I will talk about the poor connections to the protected bike lanes from the west.

Lawyer guides us on how to make a claim for a damaged bike after being hit by a car

Patrick Brown, a lawyer at Mcleish Orlando, has provided his advice for people who have been hit by cars and would like to make claims for damages to their bicycles. I often get emails looking for advice on matters such as this but I'm just an opinionated blogger. Someone had reached out to me asking about what to do after he was hit by a car, but I'm not a lawyer, so I passed on the email to Patrick who kindly provided his advice pro bono to the unfortunate person.

In short, Patrick advises it is possible to get compensated for a damaged bike in a collision or crash if it meets some conditions and if the person follows the steps closely. Note: make sure you do not sign anything that releases the driver from any claim you may have for bodily injury.

Please don't take this article as official advice by me or by Patrick Brown. Your best bet is to contact a lawyer and get first hand advice since every case is unique.

Hopefully none of us will need to pay heed to this advice.

Yonge Street can easily accommodate protected bike lanes if we want

Previously on this blog I had panned a redesign of Yonge Street by young landscape architect Richard Valenzona, but which was given the prestigious NXT City Prize by a panel of judges which includes our Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmat.

As Schrödinger's Cat had pointed out, Valenzona's design was suspiciously similar to the Exhibition Place, London design which looks now like this:

Not exactly pedestrian and cyclist friendly. Pedestrians are still afraid of crossing the roadway and cyclists have no space of their own.

But to stray from just being negative I'd like to describe an alternative vision, which would balance the needs of cyclists with those of pedestrians and drivers. I believe there is enough space to protect cyclists while also providing more space to pedestrians.

My design is approximate since the roadway width varies along Yonge's extent. But if we follow Valenzona's cue that we can reduce car lanes by half that would mean we could dedicate about one car lane to a bidirectional protected bike lane and the other to expanding the sidewalks.

Since we're putting in a bidirectional bike lane we should probably also make the other lanes one way for cars, which makes intersections safer for everyone. Urbanists, don't get your underwear in a knot about one-way roads. Netherlands, one of the world's safest country for transportation is full of them; so is NYC. If done in combination of reducing speeds and lane widths and providing bike lanes and wider sidewalks it is a safe and friendly solution.

Maybe I'll enter my design into next year's NXT City Prize. But first I have to choose some nice looking brick if I want a chance of winning.

Use the Cycling App enough and you could win!

If you're using the City's cycling app to track your routes (or even if you haven't started yet), here's some added incentive:

PRIZES!

I asked for this very thing when I reviewed the app. You're welcome.

The contest runs from Oct 6 (yes that was two days ago but I just got the email so get off my back) to Nov 31. So you've got just under two months to amass a contest-worthy number of trips. Then you actually have until Dec 3 to send in your entry.

This is how it works: there are three contest levels for which you can be eligible depending on how many trips you do. The app itself will let you know if you're gold, silver or bronze worthy. You then send in a screen capture of your trips page to the City: email bikeplan@toronto.ca, or hashtag #TorontoCyclingApp via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Open up the app now to My Trips (or install it now if you haven't yet). You'll see that gold, silver and bronze match up to 50, 35 and 20 trips. The length of the trip doesn't matter. So that's doable right? Plus there are some nice prizes, including a new bike.

I'm only at 9 trips so I've got to start using this myself.

Designing nice streets is easy when we pretend cars do not exist

Young urban planner Richard Valenzona just won the $5000 NXT City Prize for his project YONGE-REDUX A New Vision of Yonge Street. Valenzona's entry pleased the judges by showing how he'd expand Yonge's "pedestrian access and transforming the street’s visual appearance". This is how he imagined it:

Toronto's chief planner, Jennifer Keesmat, thought it was a great idea. "This is an idea that would actually work in this location in part because it's an area where there are vastly more pedestrians than cars," said Keesmat.

I say it sucks.

I don't want to pick on Valenzona, who I'm sure is a smart, young man with a bright future in planning and picked some pleasing elements for his design here. No, my problem is that Valenzona's design is representative of a growing planning movement that could be considered quasi-"shared space".

Valenzona's design, which the judges were so pleased with, exists in a fairy land where downtown car traffic has virtually disappeared. So I took the liberty of fixing Valenzona's design by putting the cars back in:

Instead of that idyllic picture of pedestrians meandering on wide sidewalks and cyclists weaving to and fro on empty streets, the finished product will look more like another recent "shared space" mess in Poynton, England that did nothing to reduce car traffic and told cyclists to go screw themselves.

This is Poynton now:

I assume there's nice brick under all those cars.

Valenzona also received another $10,000 to continue working on his design. "Over the next year, Richard will work closely with Distl and a team of industry mentors to implement his vision and improve one of Toronto’s most famous public ultimately transforming it into a globally recognized street spaces."

You can add as much fancy brick as you like but you can't make traffic disappear. And if your solution for cyclists is to force them to sit behind heavy traffic and breath in heavy fumes, in ride in front of angry drivers forced to travel at bike speed, then your solution is actually worse than what we have right now on Yonge.

With no space for cyclists, and faced with the only option of sitting in car traffic, cyclists will probably do what this man ends up doing in Poynton: take to the expansive space set aside for pedestrians.

Will Yonge be yet another project like John Street or Front Street where designers decide to ignore all the concerns of cyclists? Is this what Toronto will interpret as a "complete street"? I guess we'll find out.

A new traffic light for cyclists at Lakeshore and Strachan

It only took twenty years from when Nancy Smith Lea first asked then-councillor Joe Pantalone to make the Lakeshore/Strachan intersection safer for cyclists, but finally, thanks to the advocacy work of Cycle Toronto's Ward 19 group, we've got a traffic light for northbound cyclists; liberating cyclists from taking the crosswalks in two stages.

This blog post is more about the power of strategic advocacy than about just one traffic light, so I'll be digging into the history of the advocacy around this one, simple improvement to the Lakeshore/Strachan intersection.

Smith Lea, local citizen, director of Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, and fastidious recordkeeper, recounted to me how she had notes about "conversation I had with [Councillor Joe Pantalone] from 1996 where he told me that a new road (Remembrance Drive) had just been approved to provide direct access to Ontario Place and once that was finished they were going to "clean up" the Strachan/Martin Goodman intersection for peds/cyclists. "

Well, that never happened. So ten years later (!), in 2006, Smith Lea sent another email to Pantalone who replied:

Hi Nancy
Thank you for writing to me. I understand and sympathize with the frustration that you are feeling with regards to bike lanes on Strachan Avenue and in the City.

Firstly, as part of the Princes' Gates area revitalization, which I led, the area to the east of the Gates was transformed from a "no go" area for pedestrians and bicyclists to an attractive place for both. Furthermore, again as part of this approval, a detailed plan to have dedicated bike lanes all the way to King St West (from Lakeshore) was also approved and I am told by Dan Egan that it will be in place before the end of 2006.

Despite, the above mentioned improvements, the Lakeshore/Strachan Ave/Marting Goodman Trail intersections were not part of this plan and need addressing. The good news is that the Toronto Waterfront Corporation (TWRC) has just completed the rejuvenation of the Trail from Marylin Bell Park going west AND the next section to be done is the section between Ontario Place and Exhibition Place. I am hopeful that TWRC will address the Strachan/Lakeshore intersection so that it will work better for cyclists and pedestrians (by copy of this e mail I am making aware the TWRC'S K Jenkins and Dan Egan, of the points you raise and with which I agree).

For such a low-risk project—one that we can safely assume would elicit zero public outcry and burn zero political capital but at the same time is such a key improvement—it's amazing that nobody at the City made it a priority in twenty years! It would have been such an easy win.

In the end what it took was an advocacy group, Cycle Toronto's Ward 19 advocacy group, and a bike-friendly councillor, Mike Layton to shepherd the proposal through the public works committee and City Council. Only then was it made a priority for transportation planners and made reality.

Three years ago, the Ward 19 group (at the time, I was the ward captain of this great bunch of volunteers) wrote a succinct report on Strachan, detailing six items that we thought should be fixed immediately. Of those six, two have now been addressed—a new traffic light at Strachan and East Liberty and the northbound light at Lakeshore—and one will be addressed when the Railpath phase two is installed: a four-way stop at Douro/Wellington. (The other three involve a southbound light at Queen, and improvements to the bike lanes on Strachan).

The lesson for all of us, I believe, is that the ingredients for getting small improvements to cycling will often require:

  1. A politician willing to propose and shepherd the project.
  2. A succinct and understandable proposal that the politician can easily craft into a motion.
  3. Local support from neighbourhood groups who aren't necessarily cyclists.
  4. An advocacy group that is willing to doggedly keep at.
  5. And an increase in population and cyclists putting pressure on the existing substandard infrastructure.

Nancy Smith Lea was definitely determined and, even had the friendly ears of the councillor, but the project failed to have any traction—in my opinion—because neither the councillor nor transportation planners made it a priority. Councillor Pantalone had "hope" that it would be addressed but ultimately didn't shepherd it and left it up to staff to make it a priority (or not). Thus resulting in nothing happening for years and years.

A toast to the determination of Nancy and the other cycling advocates over the years. Cycle Toronto and its ward groups have now picked up the torch and has become better at rallying and organizing for cycling improvements small and large.

Finally bollards on Adelaide as cycling trips soar

I got wind from the Twitter yesterday that contractors were going to start installing bollards on Adelaide last night so I made a quick detour this morning. As predicted it appeared that most of the bollards have now been installed between Bathurst and Spadina (video)

I was blown away by the shear numbers of people already biking along it. And the bollards seemed to be doing their job quite well: discouraging errant car blocking and providing some comfort to cyclists. It's nice to do a happy story now and then.

As I was taking a video of me getting lapped by cyclists rushing off to work, I saw cycling planner Lukasz Pawlowski chatting next to someone from the iconic Rotblott's Discount Warehouse. I stopped to talk to Lukasz and look in awe at the waves of cyclists passing us.

A few weeks ago, Lukasz mentioned, the Cycling Unit had done a count on Adelaide that pegged the daily number of bike trips at about 1700. And looked like it has increased even more since then. In their 2010 count at Spadina and Adelaide that number was 640. That's a roughly 300% percent increase for a bike lane pilot that only goes to Simcoe for now and up until today didn't have any protection.

Compare that to roughly 4000 daily trips for Harbord in both directions (number from Lukasz). Lukasz said he was aware there was a lot of latent demand along this corridor but was still surprised to see just how many people and how quickly people took up the route.

In my informal counts I've seen how cycling numbers were higher on Queen than on Bloor Street. As much as I'd also like to have bike lanes on Bloor, we've often glossed over the importance of bike lanes along Queen or King, perhaps because of the difficulty of installing them. But providing a continuous east-west route that incorporates Richmond and Adelaide is a huge release valve.

I encourage Jared of Cycle Toronto to take the mayoral candidates out for a ride along Adelaide and Richmond during rush hour so they can grasp just how important these protected bike lanes are to a downtown network.

Ride line 9

(cross-posted from Open Hand/Open Eye)

A high pressure petroleum pipeline known as "line 9" runs through Toronto, roughly parallel to Finch Avenue for most of its length. Historically, the pipeline has carried crude oil from terminals on the East coast to the refineries in Sarnia. Enbridge, the owner of the pipeline, proposes to reverse the flow and have the pipeline carry diluted bitumen, tar sand, from Alberta to refine on the East Coast.

We know that the Earth's mineral resources will not sustain the kind of high energy, high consumption culture and lifestyle symbolized and enabled by the private automobile for much longer. Trying to keep on with business as usual, squeezing the last oil out of our planet, will come at a high cost to the world, to the living things on it, and to us and our cities. Line 9 goes right through some of the most ecologically sensitive and the most heavily settled part of Ontario. As the energy industry wrings the last drops of fossil energy from this planet, pipes such as line 9 carry more and more dangerous and corrosive substances.

Amazing Sherbourne cycling numbers should convince Buckley that painted lines are not enough

Stephen Buckley, Toronto's transportation chief, has been very reluctant thus far to install protection on the separated bike lanes approved by City Council. Numbers coming from his own City Cycling Department (@TO_Cycling) should convince him to give up that reluctance if he has any desire to increase the number and diversity of people cycling in Toronto. This tweet presented the bike counts on Sherbourne, before and after the installation of cycle tracks:

Bicycle traffic averages on Sherbourne were 955/day in 2011 bike lane, they are now 2,827/day in Cycle Track #biketo

That's almost a 300% increase!!

Even with all its warts (not enough protection from car incursion, bike lanes not wide enough), Sherbourne cycle tracks are demonstrably popular.

On Facebook, Christine Bouchard of the City compared this to the expectations around motor vehicle traffic and road capacity:

In order for a street to be classified as a "local" street by the City of Toronto, it must carry less than 2,500 motor vehicles/day.

Since the Sherbourne Cycle Tracks are carrying an average 2,827 cyclists a day, this means that in the summer months these lanes are actually carrying more traffic than the 3,291km of local roads, in Toronto's 5,359 km road network.

Bouchard demonstrates well how cycling infrastructure is way, way more efficient in moving people for local trips than moving big metal boxes on wide roads.

Some of the increase in bike traffic can be attributed to Jarvis no longer having bike lanes. But even during the brief period when there were bike lanes, the number of cyclists was relatively low compared to Sherbourne; in the range of 890 per day and 290 before the bike lanes (some of the increase was attributed to the bike share launch). Even if all the people (technically, trips) who started biking on Jarvis because of bike lanes (around 600 per day) started biking on Sherbourne (unlikely that they all would) it would still only account for 1/3 of the Sherbourne increase.

Another reason to be confident that the cycle tracks are working (even though the City still needs to improve the separation on the bottom section) is that this bicycle count nicely correlates with a recent study of protected bike lanes in US major cities which found that bicycle traffic jumped quite a bit in the first year after installation. Bike Portland summarizes the main points:

  • Over a quarter of riders indicated they are riding more in general because of the protected bike lanes.
  • In its first year alone, a protected bike lane increases bike traffic on a street by an average of 72%
  • 96% of people riding in protected bike lanes felt safer on the street because of the lanes
  • 76% of people living near protected bike lanes support the facilities in additional locations, whether they use them or not
  • Drivers thought traffic became more predictable after protected lanes were installed. Most drivers said congestion and drive time didn’t change.
  • Parking is a key issue when street space is reassigned and cities. The impact to parking was the most negative perception, with about 30-55% of residents indicating the impacts to parking were negative, even in cases where a minimal amount of parking was removed, or parking was increased.
  • In the 144 hours of video analyzed for safety, studying nearly 12,900 bicycles through the intersections, no collisions or near collisions were observed. This included both intersections with turn lanes and those with signals for bicycles.
  • Over half the residents surveyed (56%) felt that the street works better for “all people” due to the protected bike lanes, while only 26% felt the street works less well.
  • Nearly three times as many residents felt that the protected bike lanes had led to an increase in the desirability of living in their neighborhood, as opposed to a decrease in desirability (43% vs 14%).

Protected bike lanes are demonstrably popular and safer. This should be enough to convince Buckley that painted lines—including the double painted lines they like to pretend are "buffers"—are not enough. But will it be enough?

(In other news, while Toronto's cycle tracks project on Richmond and Adelaide drags on for years and years in an EA and can't even get proper protection during the pilot phase, Hamilton amazingly has almost completed the installation of a two-way protected bike lane on Cannon Street after approving it just this year! And they didn't even do an EA or a pilot, which isn't required by provincial law despite what Toronto might claim.)

How (NOT) to run a red light

Like most cyclists, I do not make a fetish of the traffic laws. When certain interpretations of parts of the highway traffic act would require me to put myself in danger for the convenience of motorists, I choose to say safe. Better judged by twelve than carried by six. That said, many traffic laws serve to keep cyclists and other vulnerable road users safe. As I have written before on this and other web logs, most of the time it makes practical sense to follow the traffic laws, to return courtesy for courtesy with motorists. Cyclists, in my opinion, have only two actual ethical responsibilities: take all possible care to come home safely, if only for the sake of the people who love you, and do not hurt any other vulnerable road users.

This video shows a pair of cyclists running a red light, and taking what I consider an unethical risk with pedestrians in the crosswalk as they do so. The red light has no magic quality that makes it important, but the pedestrians matter: their lives matter to them as much as mine matters to me. The riding show on this video is wrong. Full stop. It puts other people in danger; nobody on any vehicle has any business doing that.

We can do better.

Has Buckley brought over his "relaxed parking" bike lane philosophy over from Philadelphia?

Someone asked me last week why our Transportation Services chief, Stephen Buckley, doesn't want—or seems very reluctant—to install barriers on the Richmond and Adelaide "cycle tracks" (despite council voting for them 39-0 and despite Buckley signing up to NACTO's bike guide which defines cycle tracks as being physically separated). I replied that I don't know but I poked around and I think I have some clues.

I present Stephen Buckley, General Manager of Transportation Services.

Buckley comes from Philadelphia, a city which has done the bare minimum for their sizable, passionate cycling population. Philadelphia has done little to address the problems with painted bike lanes and Buckley appears to be doing the same here.

Philadelphia is a large city with a city-wide average 2% bike mode share (compared to Toronto's city-wide average of 1.7%). This is high for a large American city, though it's more useful to compare the downtowns: Toronto's mode share jumps to around 10% while Philly's is a more modest 5%.

Under Buckley's watch Philadelphia installed pilot bike lanes on Spruce and Pine streets which were seen as major additions to the cycling network (and a major victory of the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia). Yes, bike lanes are great news, but Buckley and the City took a very loose view to motor vehicles stopping in the bike lanes.

Going to church or synagogue? God's on your side if you park in the bike lane. Need to stop for a latte? Stop with Buckley's blessing:

Buckley said the city would make sure there is a "relaxed parking situation" for churches, since the bicycle lane will take up parking spaces.

Under the plan, strict no-parking regulations will be enforced on the bike lanes. But taxis and residents' vehicles will be allowed to stand briefly on the curb sides of Spruce and Pine. Horse-drawn carriages will be allowed to use the bike lanes, Buckley said.

And this is the result:

Pine Street bike lane used for godly parking (Source: this old city). Note that the actual bike lane is under the line of parked cars; what you see is just the buffer.

And it gets even worse. The bike lane is too inviting for jerks as a quick way to pass a long line of traffic.

Source: this old city

And under Buckley's watch we've seen much the same with our completely permeable "cycle tracks":

Source: Ben Spur of Now Toronto who, in 45 minutes of walking the length of the Adelaide cycle track counted 27 vehicles in the cycle track, including 9 being driven in it.

(Ironic note: the Philly blogger posted a picture of a "bike lane" protected with planters in Toronto which turns out to be just the clusterfuck that is John Street.)

It's not surprising then that Buckley has carried this view over to Toronto. Buckley perhaps doesn't mind if cars end up stopped in the bike lane despite the fact that Toronto specifically created a new stricter by-law for cycle tracks that forbid all vehicles but emergency vehicles and utility trucks from stopping there.

You don't need barriers if you have no intention of preventing all vehicles from stopping in the bike lane. Buckley is working on improving enforcement, to his credit, but despite his naive quotes to the media he must surely know that it is quite impossible to promise a 100% car free bike lane with just a parking enforcement officer going back and forth.

The whole idea of a bike lane becomes untenable on really busy streets like Richmond and Adelaide where it doesn't matter if drivers are just stopped for a short time; multiply that by ten, twenty or thirty and the bike lane starts becoming completely useless as a safe commuter route.

And that's not even addressing the issue of couriers, cabs and tow trucks using the lanes constantly throughout the day. Enforcement won't work with them because these companies treat fines as just the cost of doing business. As Councillor Layton mentioned on Twitter: "earlier this term we doubled the cost of the ticket and made them so they could not be challenged in court. It still didn't deter."

Much the same happens in Philadelphia. A cyclist named Lucas described how a "stand briefly" policy becomes a solid line of parked cars:

I live on Pine, and when coming home tonight, I was forced out of the bike lane by a solid line of parked cars occupying it between about 19th and 16th (and not for the first time...). There are very clear signs posted saying "no parking at any time."

Enforcement didn't work in Phily, it's unclear how Buckley thinks it'll work in a city with a much busier downtown.

Buckley should be reminded that there is ample evidence that protected bike lanes (aka cycle tracks) make for safer cycling. And he should be reminded that it's not just about writing tickets to cars that stop in the bike lanes; the barriers on cycle tracks encourage more people to take up cycling. It's not just about abstract numbers that people are relatively safe, but that they feel safe enough that they'll leave their car at home and take up cycling. The vast majority of people will only take up cycling if they can bike on quiet side streets, bike trails or cycle tracks with barriers that separate them from motor traffic. Anything less is a failure in trying to bring more people to cycling.

It seems that Toronto was trying to slowly catch up to cities like Montreal and NYC with their expanding networks of protected bike lanes, but our Transportation chief seems content with emulating Philadelphia; a city with no protected bike lanes (this example is technically a river-side trail). That's not what I'd call having high ambitions of growing the cycling mode share here.

It's official: the Richmond Adelaide (protected?) bike lanes pilot

This morning Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong officially announced the pilot for the Richmond-Adelaide "cycle tracks" to the media. Attending also were mayoral candidate John Tory, councillors Mike Layton, and Ceta Ramkhalawansingh—interim Ward 20 councillor.

Photo: Brian Gilham

I put quotes around cycle tracks because everywhere else in the world cycle tracks are defined as having some sort of separation from motorized traffic. But in Toronto we have people like Stephen Buckley, General Manager of Transportation Services, who thinks he can build cycle tracks with just paint and the occasional ticket. And an occasional bollard in a "strategic" area.

I think it bodes well that John Tory showed up and supported the bike lanes. Whether he's genuine or not—and I think he actually is being more genuine in support of bike lanes than when he wants to carry the mantle of the "war on cars"— it shows that bike lanes are an important campaign issue which Tory is going to support in some form or another. I'm not saying he's going to do as much as cyclists might want, but all is not lost.

Councillor Ramkhalawansingh came out in support of the bike lanes and—like Tory—said she wanted more separation. But it's ironic that in her former role as the Chair of the Grange Community Association wrote [a letter to Public Works that bike lanes should not be installe](http://www.ibiketo.ca/sites/default/files/GCA letter to PWIC re Bike Lane Network(June 2011).pdf)d on Richmond and Adelaide unless they were converted to two-way streets. Word-for-word position of former Councillor Vaughan. Both Vaughan and Ramkhalawansingh knew full well that there was no way to install bike lanes and make it two-way. City staff had been saying as much all along.

Councillor Minnan-Wong, by the way, was also in support of more separation on these cycle tracks. As was Layton, Chow and so on and so on.

So that basically just leaves Buckley on his own, bucking the directive from City Council to install separated cycle tracks (or protected bike lanes as I prefer to call them) on Richmond, Adelaide and Simcoe.

*[Fix: I incorrectly stated that Olivia Chow was there.]

Constant Vigilance on Simcoe, Part 2

I finally had a chance to look at the Simcoe "cycle tracks" first hand. I saw a bike cop going up and down the street. As he passed I had a quick chat:

Me: Looks like you could spend all day on just this one street.

Bike cop1: I do actually. I spend my whole shift here.

!! I was just being sarcastic about the constant vigilance previously. Turns out that's exactly their plan.

Coming back up the street I saw another vehicle in the lane plus the first one which got a ticket. The bike cop had moved up the street.

As fast as the cop could write tickets or give warnings another car would park somewhere on the street. The truck in the background was the same one that got ticketed a few minutes earlier.

On parts of the northbound lane there are traffic cones. No cars were parked in the lane. Are the cones left over from the painting or were they placed as temporary bollards to prevent cars parking?

So what's Buckley's plan? (Stephen Buckley, that is, the General Manager of Transportation Services who reportedly insisted that the Cycling Unit test the cycle tracks without any bollards.) Have a cop dedicated to Simcoe 24/7/365? How much would that cost for each of the streets—Richmond, Adelaide, Simcoe—that were supposed to get protected bike lanes with bollards or planters? Given that being a bike cop is actually a coveted job on the force, I'm not going to use the entry level salary. Instead I'll use an average of the constable levels which comes to $77,000.

Now one cop couldn't even keep on top of the bike lane parking on a short street like Simcoe, so I'd argue that there'd need to be at least two cops each on Richmond and Adelaide. That's a total of 5 cops which comes to $385,000—give or take a bunch—per year. Or $77,000 for just Simcoe.

Let's compare that large number to the cost of installing bollards on just Simcoe because it's easier for me to estimate the total number. One surface mountable plastic bollard costs ballpark $50. I don't have a clue how much the installation costs but I'm going to estimate on the really high end that each bollard costs $50 to install or replace. I think there could be at least two hundred bollards on Simcoe which comes to $20,000 for the initial installation.

But I've heard from city staff that bollards get bent and broken and have to be replaced often. So I'll again assume on the high end that 50% of all the bollards get replaced every year, which comes to $10,000 a year.

$10,000 versus $77,000 which can't even buy prevention? Penny wise, pound foolish. I would have thought only our Mayor was the master of this backwards logic but GM Buckley seems to be getting the hang of it.

  1. *I've been told a parking enforcement officer is not the same as a cop.