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The history and circumstances of bike facilities in Toronto and Montreal: TCAT video

From TCAT, a video that explores the history and circumstances of bike facilities in Toronto and Montreal. Also available in French and Spanish. As a bike advocacy nerd, I think it's a bit short but it's probably just right for the wider public to get a decent understanding.

It's interesting to see how things develop differently in Canadian cities, having just come back from Vancouver and tried out their extensive bike network of cycle tracks and bike boulevards.

Harbord cycle tracks will not be for the hardcore but for the rest of us

Weak cycling infrastructure on Harbord

The Harbord and Hoskin bike route as it currently exists is not good enough to convince a large percentage of people to bike. For that to happen, as many other cities have found out, physically separated bike facilities make cycling much more popular as well as safer.

Even though Harbord and Hoskin is a popular bike route (partly by funneling people from other streets), its painted bike lanes and sharrows only attract a small portion of Torontonians. Being just paint makes it easy for motorists to park in, and sharrows do nothing to prevent cyclists from having to struggle and squeeze between car doors and fast moving traffic.

We've now got an opportunity to showcase a new, better way of building bike infrastructure. Harbord to Wellesley, if all goes well, from Ossington to Parliament will have protected bike lanes along its entire length by the end of 2014.

Toronto is hardly being radical by building protected bike lanes. Heck, even Lincoln Nebraska is building a bidirectional cycle track!

Lincoln, Nebraska gets its own cycle tracks

Attracting the "interested but concerned"

The Portland Bureau of Transportation in a survey found a "interested but concerned" group of potential cyclists that made up 60% of the population. This is a group that is willing to bike (unlike the 30% who would never consider cycling) but have been turned down by the poor state of infrastructure. Compare that 60% to the 1% of the strong and fearless and the 7% of the enthused and confident and it makes me think how vocal cyclists now often fail to think of how different things would be if even half the potential cyclists could be converted.

For the interested but concerned person, this is what is needed to convince them to hop on a bike on busy urban roads - separation from motor vehicles. These are people - young, old and unsure - who are uncomfortable riding in busy traffic and will only consider cycling as a regular activity if they get more infrastructure.

This group of potential cyclists rank separation from traffic higher than existing cyclists. The preference study at UBC's Cycling in Cities showed that for potential cyclists, having separated bike lanes or quiet bike boulevards was important and were unwilling to ride on major streets with parked cars and just painted bike lanes. It's interesting to note that even regular cyclists ranked cycle tracks highly but were much more comfortable riding on major streets with painted bike lanes.

Where hardcore cyclists are comfortable riding in mixed traffic next to large trucks and car doors (though even this changes as we get older), the potential cyclists are most comfortable on recreational bike paths and with clear separation from motorized traffic. While hardcore cyclists tend to be dominated by men, potential cyclists represent the larger population in gender, age and ability.

The City still tends to listen primarily to the 2% hardcore cyclists when building new bike facilities. The idea for protected bike lanes on Harbord (and Sherbourne and Richmond/Adelaide), however, came from outside the hardcore group. It was borne of people who had seen cities like Amsterdam or New York and saw the potential in Toronto. It was a major push to get City cycling staff and cycling advocates to think beyond painted bike lanes that provide next to no comfort or protection and focus more on the concerns the 60% and come up with strategies for building what is needed.

Protected bike lanes on Harbord and Hoskin will help provide a mind-shift among Torontonians, improving infrastructure for the majority.

Harbord/Hoskins needs more than just paint

Some preliminary drawing and figures were presented at the recent open house.

From Queens Park to St. George

From St. George to Ossington

Harbord and Hoskins cycle tracks will be a great improvement for those streets where speeding along stretches is still common, drivers routinely park in the bike lanes, and where a large stretch doesn't even have bike lanes.

Protected bike lanes are safer

But it's not just that people prefer more separation on streets like Harbord, it has also been shown to be safer than just painted bike lanes. After NYCDOT build cycle tracks on Prospect Park in Brooklyn they found a number of benefits, more so than what a painted bike lane would provide:

  • Speeding is down
  • Sidewalk cycling is down
  • Crashes are down
  • More cyclists of all ages are using it

The protected bike lanes will also provide specific benefits of vastly improving the intersection at Queens Park and Hoskin. What is currently an uncomfortable and unsafe intersection where cyclists and pedestrians have to deal with high speed traffic will be redesigned so cyclists can avoid having to try to cross multiple lanes of fast traffic.

And let's not forget that we finally have the political will to fill in the missing bike lane along Harbord, where cyclists have nothing but a narrow space between the doors and moving traffic. This requires politicians willing to risk the wrath of merchants.

Both Councillors Layton and Vaughan have come out supporting the Harbord separated bike lanes. Along with public works Chair Minnan-Wong, the support for Harbord is across the political spectrum. This is pretty rare in cycling advocacy. Even Mayor Miller missed his chance to build major bike lanes. Politics is the art of the possible and if this opportunity is not taken, it will be much harder to build another chance.

With such broad support the chance of getting protected bike lanes along the longest bike route through central Toronto just might be possible.

Toilets for BIXI

A plan for saving BIXI Toronto seems to be shaping up. Councillor Minnan-Wong may be on to something with an idea to scrap the expensive self-cleaning toilet contract with Astral Media in exchange for Astral Media paying down BIXI Toronto's outstanding loan. Even Councillor Vaughan thinks it's a good idea. The self-cleaning toilets seemed to be a great idea during Miller's term but it turns out that they aren't nearly as popular as BIXI.

Astral Media made a deal with the City a few years ago, promising to pay for street furniture in exchange for plastering its ads around Toronto. There was a marginal but expensive self-cleaning toilet project that has been having trouble finding locations. Turns out toilets are not as popular as BIXI bikes.

From the Toronto Star

The 20-year Astral contract allows the city to “cash out” of the toilets after 10 years — that is, force Astral to pay the city a certain amount of money in exchange for the right to not build the majestic thrones. Minnan-Wong’s proposal: persuade the company to allow the city to cash out now, four years early, and funnel the proceeds to the Bixi debt.

“It’s an initiative that the details have to be worked out on. But there is a synergy and an interest on everybody’s part,” said Minnan-Wong, a North York conservative. “The public wants to save Bixi. The city wants to save Bixi. The city is not so interested in the toilets. And Astral is willing to help out.”

It seems that the City also got some interest from companies in purchasing or just operating BIXI. The most promising is Alta Bikeshare, which is already operating a number of BIXI Toronto's sister systems, including in New York and Chicago. They are willing to assume the debt servicing but only if they can reduce costs and increase revenues slightly (read increase prices). It's unclear if the City will be pursuing private operators in addition to paying off the debt by scrapping toilets. It might be a good way to clean the slate and let an operator and the City invest in a much needed expansion. We'll find out more today as BIXI goes back to Exec Committee.

Update: The Exec Committee item provides some more details but no mention of the toilet deal.

None of the six respondents to the RFI were of the view that the BIXI Toronto operation could be assumed by a private operator/owner without some level of City subsidy; however there appears that there could be some potential to reduce the City's financial risk, to some extent, through a new arrangement with a private sector firm.

The six respondents:

  • Alta Bicycle Share (operates other large BIXI systems and likely has the best chance of running BIXI Toronto in my estimation)
  • B-cycle (operates its own bikesharing system in smaller American markets. Would it want to replace BIXI bikes with its own clunky model?)
  • CycleHop (site offline but claims to be involved in bikesharing management. small potatoes)
  • Four Square Integrated Transportation Planning (has done some bikesharing planning for Capital Bikeshare)
  • StartUpNorth (if it's this site, it seems to have no experience with managing such systems)
  • Toole Design Group (transportation planning)

The respondents were able to provide some useful comments (p.4):

There was a general consensus among the RFI respondents that bike share programs cannot fund the start-up capital equipment costs through membership and usage fees and sponsorship contributions. Bike share programs generally require some form of funding for the initial capital investment, either through municipal funding, government grants or a large title (i.e. naming rights) sponsorship.

How BIXI Toronto compares to other systems - performing well in some areas, poor in others:

  • Has reasonable operating costs;
  • Has a low number of members per bicycle compared to other systems;
  • Is generating a large number of trips per bicycle;
  • Has a cost-recovery, through membership and usage fees, that is generally in line with other comparable systems;
  • Appears to have a lower than expected level of sponsorship revenue on a per bike basis; and
  • Could increase membership, stimulate usage and generate sponsorship opportunities by expanding the system.

Have your say on Richmond and Adelaide today and on Harbord tomorrow

The first open house for Richmond and Adelaide cycle tracks is happening today (hurry!) at City Hall until 9pm and for Harbord (the Wellesley/Hoskin section was already approved) tomorrow at Kensington Gardens, Multi-Purpose Room 25 Brunswick Avenue from 4 to 8pm.

There's a booklet to explain all the details for Richmond and Adelaide. I first saw this informative document at the stakeholders meeting two weeks ago.

Speaking of which, the meeting was quite interesting. There were a lot of people there who were excited in some kind of separated bike lane. Even the head of the taxi union/federation had previously lived in the Netherlands and "got it" when it came to safe cycling infrastructure.

I was approached by Councillor Adam Vaughan afterwards. That's a whole blog post in itself. He was quite concerned that I had painted him in a negative light (as being indifferent, or at worst, against the separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide). So he wanted to set the record straight. I can't say I came away from the chat thinking that he'd drastically changed his mind, though he seems less likely to block the bike lanes in favour of his configuration. On Harbord, Councillor Vaughan was much more clear: he supports separated bike lanes there because it's got community support. Let's hope Vaughan can be convinced too that the prime concern of many is that there is a safe, protected bike route on Richmond, Adelaide, Peter and Simcoe. We want more bicycle highways.

American bicycle culture and infra from the perspective of a Dutchman

A Dutch "anthropological" look at American bicycle culture by Mark Wagenbuur of BicycleDutch. Much the same for Canada. Glimmers of change, but we're still so much in a car-fetishizing culture with space dominated by cars.

Infographic: how cyclists will go out of their way to travel on comfortable bike lanes

Thanks to Iain Campbell for this great infographic "Two Wheeled Traffic, or why bike lanes work"! It shows the bike traffic volume relative to the size of the road. Thus a street like St. George has only two car lanes but carries many more cyclists than nearby Queen's Park/University with its 8 lanes. Iain's data came from the City's 2010 Bike Cordon Count, which counted bike traffic into and out of downtown over 24 hours.

Iain's infographic provides a strong visual of how bike lanes are a much stronger magnet for cyclists than the importance of a road for car traffic. It strongly suggests that people will go out of their way to travel on a more comfortable, less stressful street with bike lanes. This is why I believe that separated bike lanes on Richmond and/or Adelaide will be a big draw for people of all ages, shapes and sizes.

There's more than one way to stop a bike lane

Bike Lane Closed by Tino

Councillor Vaughan said that he has never voted against a bike lane. Though that might be true, there are many ways to stop a bike lane. (Photo credit: Tino)

The obvious way to stop a bike lane is to vote against it. An example is University when the opposition to Mayor Miller passed an amendment to remove University from the bike lane plan that year.

The most egregious way to stop a bike lane, for which Toronto has become world famous, is to rip out existing ones. Thanks to spiteful Mayor Ford, Councillor Minnan-Wong and Councillor Berardinetti we are now three bike lanes fewer.

Those are the methods that get the most public attention. But even before a bike lane reaches a vote or is built, a bike lane can be stopped. John Street is a favoured north-south route for cyclists. Councillor Vaughan led a drive to turn it into a "pedestrian priority zone" (as well as a patio zone from what I can tell of the plans). The environmental assessment, which ended last year, resulted in a solution with no bike lanes. It didn't help to build trust in the process when the consultants largely ignored cyclists in the official count. Dave Meslin revealed the fudge of their recorded flatlined 2% bike mode share by conducting his own count (along with some help from yours truly and other volunteers) showing a much higher number during peak hours.

According to the EA, however, the bike mode share didn't matter since they were directed to create a pedestrian priority zone (which also happened to include motor vehicles, large and small). As a palliative, Vaughan had pointed out that Peter would become the alternative route, though we've yet to see much movement among staff or councillor to create that solution. Thus I'll hazard to say that the entire process was configured so that bike lanes would be excluded and never come to a vote.

Another way to stop a bike lane is to build local opposition. The current Vaughan says he supports separated bike lanes, but the older Vaughan actually blasted them as "barricaded". That doesn't sound like someone who supported separated bike lanes, but instead like someone who's trying to build local opposition to them.

Yet another way to stop a bike lane is to call for more community consultation or to make it a pilot project. Councillor Wong-Tam took these tactics with the Sherbourne protected bike lanes. The City's Cycling Unit staff went door to door along Sherbourne, consulted with businesses and residents groups, and held public consultation meetings for Sherbourne (where the majority of attendees supported the lanes). I was told by a staffperson at the time that Councillor Wong-Tam provided next to no help in making her constituents aware of the project. It all suggested an attempt at stopping the bike lanes by studying it to death.

It's easy to point out the idiocy of politicians who rip out bike lanes, but it's good to keep in mind that there are more subtle ways out there to kill a bike lane while trying to keep the "progressive" label.

Cycling Gotham

Humber Woods Park

[I'd like to introduce a new blogger to I Bike TO, Ian Slater. Ian is a father, husband and professor at York University. And as a guy on a bike, he'll be providing us with an interesting perspective of the long-distance commuter. Welcome Ian! -- Herb]

I was driving my son home from class one night on a poorly lit side street in Toronto when a cyclist, with no helmet, no lights, no reflectors and in dark clothing flew off the sidewalk and cut me off. I saw him at the last second and braked. He then pulled over to the side up ahead, adjusting something on his belt. I drove by, rolled down my window and told him, “I can’t see you brother, you’re completely invisible in the dark, I almost hit you.”, to which he replied:

“I can see you”, and rode off into the night.

My son asked me, “what did he mean by that?”

I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the answer to that question. What did he mean by that? Surely this guy is smart enough to realize that he is hard to see in the dark without any sort of lights and wearing light non-reflective clothing. And no helmet too, what does this tell me? Well, maybe he’s overconfident, that would explain his comment. Or perhaps he thinks that you are just as likely to run him over if he’s visible as when he’s not, so why bother?

The longer I listen to the public dialogue around cars and bikes in Toronto the more I favour the latter explanation. I think many cyclists are both overconfident and convinced that motorists would just as soon run them over as pass them by. I have seen many, many verbal fights break out between cyclists and motorists as I commute. They are rarely pretty. It’s all “war on the bike” and “war on the car”, I want a better model, war is ugly and, to be frank, if we’re at war the bikes are going to lose.

The level of mutual animosity in all this finally pushed me to start blogging. I think it’s time to dive in to the public dialogue.

Toronto occupies a very interesting position, a large metropolitan center with an international population, a strained transit system and an increasing number of cyclists. Or so it seems from what I see on the roads. Toronto has been cited as having the worst commute times from a sample of international cities, 80 min a day (that includes to and from work).

The TTC is strained and expanding, the city is growing. Air quality is impacted by an increased number of cars, I breathe the difference every time I ride. I see the wistful look on motorist’s faces when I wheel by them in a traffic jam.
We are ripe for a cycling revolution, but the mutual animosity makes this difficult.

I’ll be posting here regularly, giving my thoughts on current issues around cycling in TO, and hopefully pointing out some useful information for those who are thinking of long distance urban cycle commuting. What works for the short hop rider doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.

I hope I can bring a fresh perspective on things, and possibly get a few people who have been thinking about cycling to give it a go. The weather right now is fantastic for riding, cool and sunny, and everything is in full bloom, giving almost every street in the city a roiling green canopy, there’s never been a better time to be on something moving at a speed that allows you to see what’s all around you. The fresh air on your face, the ability to pass bumper to bumper traffic.

You know you want it.

I have also been taking pictures of Toronto cycling routes for 5 years or so, all on my phone camera and while moving. I’ll post a pic here regularly too, maybe it will inspire you to try out a new trail, with all the focus on bike lanes, we forget that Toronto has a wealth of urban cycling trails.

The pic at the top is from Humber Woods Park in North West Toronto.

Cheers,

Ian

Councillor Vaughan will not support "bicycle highways," in and of themselves, on Richmond and Adelaide

Dunsmuir cycle track - Paul Krueger

No matter which way you look at it, Councillor Vaughan has never said "I unreservedly support separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide". Instead he has caveats and reservations. Vaughan is willing to sacrifice protected bike lanes, and the safety of cyclists, on Richmond and Adelaide if he doesn't get his beautification list. On their own, in and of themselves, protected bike lanes have little value to Vaughan. This much I have parsed from his words. (Photo: Dunsmuir bike lane. Credit: Paul Krueger.)

Councillor Vaughan told me he supports bike lanes. In an email, he replied "Separated bike lanes, integrated with a stronger pedestrian realm is a must." He was visiting Vancouver at the time, exclaiming "great bike lanes here!" But here's his qualifier: "If all we build is a bike lane then all we will have accomplished is building a by-pass." An "isolated gesture". Just "bicycle highways". So is that a maybe? Why is a well-informed politician, who has a strong opinion on almost every area of city building, caging his words on separated bike lanes?

By the way, Councillor McConnell didn't put any restrictions on her support for protected bike lanes on the portions of Richmond and Adelaide that run through her ward. She supports them. Period.

Isolated gestures

Vaughan celebrates Vancouver bike lanes, but does he know that the outstanding protected bike lanes on Dunsmuir and Hornby streets were done as "isolated gestures"? Mayor Gregor Robertson of Vancouver took leadership in pushing for them even against some local opposition. The primary focus was bike lanes. Sure they put in planters but they weren't deal breakers. For free, Vancouver got even further separation of car traffic from traffic on the foot highway (like in the photo above).

The protected bike lanes, in fact, would be an isolated but major gesture for a ward where little has been done to install and advance protected cycling infrastructure. Politicians and traffic planners alike have mostly ignored cycling safety for so long that in order to get anything built, bike lanes are, by nature, "isolated". It seems as if bike lanes in downtown are constantly being pushed off the table, whether it be Yorkville, in front of Union Station, John Street and now the Annex. In each case the politicians and traffic planners have figured that people on bikes will just have to fight it out with cars.

Vaughan had a perfect opportunity to get protected bike lanes in Ward 20 when he was a close ally of former Mayor David Miller. During this administration's 6 years not one protected bike lane was built. The closest we came was a failed vote on a protected bike lane for University. People tend to focus on Councillor Paula Fletcher's mistaken vote, but the Mayor wasn't even present for the vote. It wasn't important enough for the mayor.

What does he want
Vaughan has described protected bike lanes at various times as "bicycle highways", "single use and isolated gestures", "barricaded", "by-passes". So why is he holding up progress on bicycle infrastructure? What are these other things he wants? From his comments I've gathered these requirements: "Stronger pedestrian realm" aka fancier "foot highways." Planters. Bike parking. "Connectivity". Two-way streets. "Complete streets"

Foot highways? Last I looked there were foot highways on both sides of the street. And they're bidirectional!

Planters? Well here you go:

But is he going to try to block the bike lanes if he can't get planters?

Bike Parking? Nope. Is he seriously considering this a requirement for his support?

Connectivity? Done. It already connects with Beverley bike lanes and Sherbourne! And can be extended to Eastern bike lanes and to the Railpath. (Richmond and Adelaide are certainly more connected than Vaughan's preference for Wellington).

Two-way streets? Come on, you can do better. New York is full of one-way vibrant streets as "destinations".

Complete streets Sorry, Vaughan's definition sucks: "accommodate choice in as safe and as beautiful a way as possible". So far as I can tell, no jurisdiction that has a complete streets policy has put "beauty" on par with safety. No one's going to say they hate beauty but who would sacrifice safety for it? (Other than an artist). Instead, Toronto's City Planning says complete streets is the "safe and adequate accommodation, in all phases of project planning and development, of all users of the transportation system." Let's use their definition.

Fast forward to now
We have a plan to build awesome, connected protected bike lanes across downtown. There are zero alternatives. So far, Councillor Vaughan is unwilling to lend his support. Is he just trying to squeeze some concessions, or his he willing to let the plan die if he doesn't get his way?

We'll see. This bike lanes will represent, I think, a turning point. Either we'll begin down the bicycle highway towards emulating cities like Chicago, Vancouver and New York, or we'll hit a deep pothole and stall safe cycling in this city.

Footnotes: quoting Vaughan on bike lanes
For those interested in the history of Vaughan's quotes on bicycle highways, read on.

Last year (2012) at a joint ward meeting that I attended with Cycle Toronto's representing wards 19, 20, 27, and 28 Councillor Vaughan had suggested that he was against "bicycle highways":

"...to create a bike highway through the downtown is as serious a piece of bad planning as a car highway."

He had also said at that meeting that "creating a single use capacity will not solve the problem".

Also last year (2012) at a meeting organized by the Harbord Village Residents Association on bike lanes for Harbord Vaughan had said:

When we build bike lanes they must be separated. Painted lanes are good but aren't safe enough. My son, who bikes, needs the separation to be safe.

People in this neighbourhood cycle but they don't do it safely. We don't accept it for drivers, nor for pedestrians, but we accept lack of safety for cyclists. We need to change that.

And in January of this year (2013) Councillor Vaughan had said to the Toronto Star that he remained undecided regarding bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide.

It’s crucial that any bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide be considered in the larger context of pedestrian traffic, cars and transit, said Councillor Adam Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina). Although he’s willing to consider bike lanes, he hasn’t made up his mind. The entertainment district needs to be considered as a destination, not just a series of thoroughfares, he said.

In 2011 in a letter to his residents Vaughan had called them "barricaded bike lanes".

From Vaughan's response from last week:

We have set aside funding for streetscape improvements. Bike lanes, bike parking, plantings and connectivity are all important components of a good plan.

I support exploring these issues specifically, and separated bike lanes generally. They are a critical component of the future for the street. But they must form part of a comprehensive re-thinking of the streets and not just a single use and isolated gesture.

If all we build is a bike lane then all we will have accomplished is building a by-pass. This is not good planning nor will it serve riders well. It should never be about getting from a to b. It should be about building complete streets that accommodate choice in as safe and as beautiful a way as possible. ...

Why unidirectional cycle tracks will likely work better on Richmond and Adelaide

Richmond and Adelaide unidirectional bike lanes

If all goes well Richmond and Adelaide will have protected cycle tracks by the end of next year. We don't get many chances like this in Toronto where we missed our Bike Plan's targets by a wide margin. Bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide are in the Bike Plan, which means it's been over twelve years!

There is some risk that we won't get them. Councillor Vaughan, for instance, still won't commit to supporting the bike lanes (I'll delve more into what Vaughan thinks in my next post) and who knows what will happen after the 2014 municipal election if the lanes are delayed. So I think it's imperative to build them efficiently, while still getting a result that is safer and cost-effective. As I'll argue below, I think it's justified for us to get nit-picky and traffic-planning geeky here. I think you should support unidirectional protected bike lanes as the best kind of protected bike lanes for this project.

First, let's get the definitions right. A unidirectional cycle track has one way bike traffic. Cycle tracks in New York are mostly unidirectional (the photo above shows a unidirectional cycle track as imagined on Richmond by Dave Meslin). Good examples of bidirectional bike traffic can be seen on the Martin Goodman Trail, or the cycle tracks in Montreal. On bidirectional cycle tracks or bike paths bike traffic goes in both directions.

One of the main things going for a bidirectional cycle track is that it doesn't require as much width and typically allows for more on-street parking to remain. Such might be the compromise on Harbord/Hoskin where the Cycling Unit staff prefer a bidirectional cycle track. Hoskin and Harbord are considered good candidates for bidirectional because there are few major intersections -- only Bathurst and Spadina -- unlike Richmond and Adelaide.

However, there are more reasons to consider unidirectional cycle tracks for Richmond and Adelaide as the preferred option:

  1. Makes it easier to extend the bike facilities west of Bathurst to Strachan and perhaps connecting to the West Toronto Railpath extension through the CAMH grounds to Sudbury.
  2. Is less expensive because it doesn't require new traffic lights. Thus less likely to be shelved because of cost.
  3. Results in less waiting at intersections for all traffic because there would be fewer light phases.
  4. Is generally the preferred, safer option where it is possible to install unidirectional (according to traffic experts in Denmark and Netherlands).
  5. Makes it more likely that the bike lanes are installed before the election. We don't know if a new Council will still have the willpower to install them.
  6. Allows for more predictable traffic movements at major intersections, of which Richmond and Adelaide have a few (Bathurst, Spadina, University, Bay, Yonge, Church and Jarvis).

Danish researchers Ekman and Kronborg found that unidirectional tracks were typically safer than bidirectional because they allow for merging of traffic at intersections:

Ekman and Kronborg (1995) conducted an extensive literature review and interviewed bicycle safety and traffic-engineering experts across Scandinavia and in the Netherlands to compare the merits of unidirectional versus bidirectional bicycle tracks. They found that bidirectional tracks on one side of the road are cheaper to build than two unidirectional paths on opposite sides of the road but that the former are less safe. Bidirectional paths are less safe, they argued, because they do not allow cyclists to merge with traffic lanes when near intersections. Merging with traffic lanes reduces the risk of being struck by turning vehicles. [Ekman, L. & Kronborg, P. (1995). Traffic safety for pedestrians and cyclists at signal-controlled intersections. Report 1995: 4E. TFK. Lund.]

Note that they say that bidirectional is cheaper than unidirectional but they are assuming both options are on the same street. We have a unique opportunity to build on separate streets with unidirectional which would likely preclude installing whole new traffic signals. Thus believe unidirectional would be cheaper for Richmond and Adelaide. I'm interested to see if the EA will confirm that.

We've waited long enough
I think there's a recognition by many people that we've been waiting too long for good cycling infrastructure. As of this writing the groups who've officially supported the protected bike lanes, with many also specifying unidirectional, include Hot Docs, MEC, Annex Residents Association, Moore Park Residents Association, Liberty Village Residents Association, and West Queen West BIA. See the letters of support on Cycle Toronto's site.

Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein of Chicago, noted at a recent talk in Toronto, that Toronto has gotten a lot of things right - streetcars, sidewalks, condos sprouting up all over. But the one glaring hole is a lack of cycling infrastructure. Toronto is exceptional among North American cities in that it has a significant cycling population but it has fallen way behind in providing protected bike lanes. While Chicago zooms ahead in installing hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes, cycling activists in Toronto are struggling to get just one cycle track that was promised years ago. So it's no wonder people are getting impatient.

Citi Bike launches in NYC while Toronto's BIXI struggles for political support

Yesterday was the first day of New York's new 6000 bike-strong bikesharing system, Citi Bike. Toronto was early into the bikesharing game, first with CBN's BikeShare and later with BIXI Toronto. Now as New York has come strong out of the gate, and as Chicago comes strong soon after with a 4000 bike Divvy Bike system, Toronto is stuck at about 1000 bikes while councillors dither on whether they should put any money at all into this very affordable (far more affordable than our subsidized roads and subways) public transportation system.

In July staff will report back to the Executive Committee on the Request for Interest for any private operators/buyers of BIXI Toronto. From my source, there has been some interest from the private sector, but so far only for companies that are interested in running BIXI Toronto, not owning it outright.

While the Executive Committee is leaning to find a private sector buyer they can dump the system on (and Ford's preference is for closing it down altogether), TTC Chair Councillor Karen Stintz passed a couple motions at last Friday's TTC Comission meeting for studying the feasibility of BIXI Toronto being absorbed into the TTC (the official minutes aren't out yet).

  1. That TTC staff be requested to prepare a report by the July 2013 TTC Board meeting on the feasibility and expected costs of integrating BIXI Toronto into the TTC: and
  2. Forward this decision to the City of Toronto Executive Committee, with a copy to the Deputy City Manager, Cluster B, with a request that any decision on the BIXI matter be deferred until the subject TTC report is referred by the TTC Board to the Executive Committee for consideration.

While the ownership questions are being debated in the political forum, there is developer Section 37 funds for 3 stations along King Street, as well as funding tied to the Pan-am Games for 50 stations that is sitting in limbo. One can only hope that Toronto's striving to become "world-class" will shame politicians into supporting BIXI Toronto properly. Doug Ford, you like Chicago so much? Why not emulate their roll out of bikesharing and hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes?

Let's break out of suburban islands by connecting our culs-de-sac with cycling/walking routes

Davis, California

Toronto, like many North American cities, will need to tackle the suburban challenge when trying to make cycling more accessible to the average person. One way would be to make more efficient use of our major arterial roads such as Kingston Road. Kingston Road has a wide pointless median that could be removed to make room for cycle tracks on the edges without sacrificing precious road space for cars. That, however isn't going to happen in the short-term. And we'll still be left with many suburban neighbourhoods that are difficult to navigate by bike because they were purposefully built to make for difficult driving. Unfortunately this also makes it very difficult to walk or bike directly.

In a previous iteration of my life I commuted to York University and I found out quickly how taking side streets was a frustrating exercise. It required stopping to look at a map to find out how I could navigate the culs-de-sac and t-intersections of North York when trying to avoid having to ride on Keele Street where bikes are neither welcome nor expected.

Toronto could be exploring easy wins for the suburbs. One idea is to connect our culs-de-sac so we can remove barriers to accessible, healthy transportation. If we're starting with a blank slate there are ways to encourage these connections:

...zoning codes and ordinances should encourage connecting culs-de-sac with other transportation and neighborhood destinations. In some cases utility easements or alleys abutting culs-de-sac can be designed for double duty as multi-use paths, creating cross-town connections.

One community that was designed around connected culs-de-sac with great success is Davis, California (as seen in the image above). Most neighbourhoods, remarkably, have culs-de-sac which are connected to "linear parks" so that non-car trips have quick, direct access even while car trips require a more circuitous route. Yet, Toronto proper, has been mostly built-out and other than some limited quick wins it is much more difficult to do this with existing neighbourhoods.

An existing suburb of Portland, Oregon, Tigard, undertook crowdsourcing the mapping of quick wins. They asked the public to submit their "desire paths" through their town to find existing informal paths with no formal public access that can be improved and formalized. They then plan to build 42 miles of these connection among the neighbourhoods. "The city and its contractor, Kittelson & Associates, established a wiki-based web site where residents could indicate on a map where such informal walkways were." It's not clear how successful they were but it provided an interesting example of how other cities could improve their networks.

By the way, if you're not sure what a desire path is, it doesn't take much to find examples of them around you. A desire path, as defined by Nancy Friedman, is a "term in landscape architecture used to describe a path that isn't designed but rather is worn casually away by people finding the shortest distance between two points." Any trodden path will fit the criteria. Transportation planners should pay close attention: desire paths often point to problems with the officially sanctioned routes or lack thereof.

"A close look at any city park or green will typically reveal footprints that break away from paved walks, trails that countless pedestrians have worn into the grass. Such a trail is a desire path: the route people have chosen to take across an open place, making a human pattern upon the landscape." (Citing Lan Samantha Chang , in Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney.)

In my previous commutes to North York and to Mississauga I had to work hard (with mixed results) to find these desire paths which would reduce my time on the main streets with speeding, polluting vehicles. If you use Google's bike directions you will discover a wealth of short established connections (such as here or here). But they are scattered, only locals are likely to know about them, and there is no guarantee that you can string enough together to complete your route. Instead Toronto would need to take stronger actions:

In this scenario, bicycle/pedestrian connections must be carved out of private properties, streets, and rights-of-way. Municipalities have had success purchasing one or more affected properties, constructing a sidewalk or multi-use path between two culs-de-sac, and then re-selling the property. The City of Phoenix, Arizona, purchased and demolished a derelict property and constructed a multi-use path connection into an adjacent neighborhood.

What a different city it would be if Toronto had a well-marked network of short paths and residential streets that connect to cycle tracks on main arterial roads. People, young and old, could easily bike or walk across neighbourhoods to school, work, shopping, the playground.

Allan Sheppard Sr says son denied a fair hearing but Crown says decision was made independently

Allan Sheppard Sr

Update: I've added info from the Crown's email on the independence and public record of the decision in the case. There has been little media coverage with both sides of the story so far.

We'll never know exactly what happened on the night four years ago that former Attorney General Michael Bryant and bike courier Darcy Allan Sheppard got into an on-street argument that resulted in Sheppard's tragic death. But Allan Sheppard Senior today made an impassioned and levelheaded statement that his son never received justice through a "robust prosecution". Sheppard Sr. and supporters have assembled documents that they acquired through freedom of information requests that they say raises questions about the decisions made by the prosecutor of the case. They claim that justice was not done when Special Prosecutor Richard Peck decided that there wasn't enough evidence for a trial, and that they have evidence "the Crown tweaked, massaged, and cherry-picked evidence and testimony, effectively to exonerate Mr. Bryant." (Photo: TVO)

The Crown has responded that an independent outside prosecutor handled the case and the reasons for his decision are public record. In an email from the Crown to Newstalk 1010 saying "on May 25, 2010, the independent outside prosecutor concluded that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction and withdrew the charges against the accused. The independent prosecutor put his reasons for this conclusion on the record in open court. As this was matter was handled by an independent outside prosecutor, the Ministry has no further comment to make on this matter." Peck was brought in from British Columbia as a prosecutor for the matter given that Michael Bryant was Attorney General of Ontario at the time.

From Sheppard Sr's statement today, Sheppard said that just like everyone deserves a robust defence, so every victim deserves a robust prosecution.

That does not mean the victim’s side of the story must prevail; only that it must be considered, presented, and argued as robustly as any defence.

In our common-law system, that argument must take place in an open, adversarial court that is designed and intended to find truth between robustly contested theories of a case.

That didn’t happen for my son.

Sheppard Sr said he didn't know what justice would look like in this case, nor does he think it was necessarily unjust to drop the charges. Instead, Sheppard Senr says that there was injustice in how the prosecutor explained the decision "in a way that exonerates Mr. Bryant of all responsibility and accountability and, in effect, justifies what he did to my son—without the transparency necessary to support such a conclusion." The Crown, it seems, considers the case closed and that a responsible decision was made. There wasn't any public comment from Special Prosecutor Peck that I could find as of this posting.

More evidence that Helmet Laws don't make us safer

Today we learned that U of T researcher Jessica Dennis found helmet laws do nothing to reduce rates of hospitalization for head injury. We can add this to the other studies that have successfully questioned the usefulness of helmet legislation.

There has been a lot of confusion between statistics that show that helmets reduce head injuries and helmet laws which are designed to force everyone on a bike to wear a helmet. While helmets arguably reduce head injuries (although even here there is some contra-evidence), the fallout of helmet laws have been unclear at best and negative at worst. Dennis' study focused on rates of hospitalization across Canadian provinces and compared provinces that implemented helmet laws to those that didn't with their relative hospitalization rates for head injuries. They found little evidence that helmet laws did much to reduce injuries across a population.

Rates of hospitalizations for any cycling-related injury decreased by 28% (95% CI 22.8-33.2) among individuals younger than 18 in provinces with helmet laws and by 22.3% (95% CI 15-29.6) in areas without the laws, "suggesting fewer young cyclists, improvements to cycling safety, or a change in hospital admission policies," according to the researchers.

Hospitalizations for any cycling injury among adults hovered around 10 per 100,000 person-years in provinces with and without the helmet laws, with no significant differences seen.

Despite these decreases, the segmented regression analysis found no "meaningful changes" on hospitalization for head injury.

This study had a narrow focus on just hospitalization and didn't take into account whether people were discouraged from cycling because of helmet legislation. The Ontario Coroner's report on cycling deaths, however, also noted that before implementing a helmet law that the negative effects on cycling need to be also taken into consideration. One problem they found in their review of deaths due to head injuries was that the rate of helmet wearing for young cyclists was much lower than for adults even though helmets are mandatory for under 18 cyclists!

Some research exists which suggest that the health benefits of helmets may be outweighed by the detrimental effects on overall health in the population through the decrease in cycling activity in jurisdictions where helmets have been made mandatory.

The Coroner stressed that because of the possible negative health effects of a helmet law that the Province undertake an evaluation that begins "with a critical appraisal of the existing literature from jurisdictions in which mandatory helmet legislation has been implemented, and the collection of high-quality baseline data on cycling activity in Ontario."

I'm a pragmatic person that thinks that helmet promoters and helmet pro-choicers can co-exist here. I'll happily not bug you for choosing to wear a helmet (or for not wearing one while driving) while taking for myself the freedom to choose when and where I'll wear a helmet. A helmet is like a talisman. It may provide some protection in a limited fashion to a small part of your body, but it has little to no usefulness when forced on a whole population.

What a close pass feels like

As the title on the video says: this video is not about blame. It's about what a close pass feels like on a bicycle. It's a plea for motorists to allow at least a meter when passing a cyclist. I think it may help to make a case for legislation, proposed in Ontario and enacted in a number of American states and elsewhere, to require motorists to give cyclists a meter, more or less, of space.

BIXI is public transit: Stintz proposes TTC take on BIXI for the public good

We might still get the City to treat BIXI as public transportation. TTC Chair Karen Stintz will make a motion at City Council this week asking city staff to see if it would make sense for the TTC to take over the financially troubled BIXI Toronto. (Photo credit: Ian Muttoo)

“I absolutely see BIXI as being an integral part of public transit in the city,” Stintz said in an interview Sunday evening. “We’re having a discussion next week about the future of BIXI and I intend to move a motion to request a review of whether the TTC could actually take over the BIXI portfolio.”

Stintz said doing so might allow more BIXI bike share stations to be added at TTC stations to complement the existing transit system.

Stintz's strong stance on BIXI as public transportation is a breath of fresh air. The Mayor has taken the knee-jerk reaction that he'll have nothing to do with BIXI. It's the only proposal thus far that suggests a long-term plan for BIXI. Montreal's public transit agency, STM, is interested in absorbing BIXI, and the City of Montreal is giving direct funding to expand and cover shortfalls.

It's good that Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is also offering some proposals, though they tend to center on getting small amounts of funding from the private sector (here and here), but it would be much better if she'd just show strong support for folding BIXI into the TTC. To look to developers to install a few stations here and there in underground parking as in Wong-Tam's proposal, will do little for BIXI's survival nor is it particularly practical. What BIXI needs for being viable is expansion on the scale of Montreal's BIXI.

Councillor Mike Layton had already managed to negotiate a deal with a developer for one station. But one new BIXI station a year would mean that it would take 350 years to reach Montreal's soon to be 450 stations! If BIXI Toronto were to reach 450 stations within the next five years (a reasonable hope in my mind) that means we'd need to make 70 deals with developers a year. It is unrealistic that we'd be able to do that, especially considering that only Layton has so far approached developers for BIXI stations.

It's a bit odd to see a left-winger look first to the private sector when a right-winger sees BIXI as an integral part of public transportation. BIXI could do a lot to relieve the pressure off of the crowded streetcars, subways and buses. It's good to see the TTC Chair take BIXI seriously and I hope that the centre and left of City Council can get behind Stintz's proposal. There's more hope for BIXI in the TTC than making small deals with developers.

UPDATE: A source has told me that Councillor Stintz will probably be making a motion at the next TTC meeting, May 24th, proposing that the TTC take over BIXI.

Queens Quay's a work in progress but cycling will get better (except for the detours)

Detour on west end of Queens Quay

Queens Quay is undergoing a lot of street construction but the result should be beautiful. Even with the upheaval, construction, noise, and traffic people are still coming to enjoy themselves. As did I this last weekend when I joined in on a Jane's Walk hosted by some staff from Waterfront Toronto. On their Queens Quay walk they explained the undergoing work on the street and how it will be transformed into a much nicer boulevard, closer to Barcelona's waterfront promenade than it's current car-choked frustration.

For people on bikes, the Martin Goodman Trail (MGT) will be much improved with a fully separated bike path and a walking path to take over the southern two lanes of car traffic. That cyclists are treated so well may be due in no small part to the fact that the firm that won the design bid, West 8, is based in the Netherlands.

I was disappointed, however, to find out that the eastern end of Queens Quay - east of Jarvis - will have to wait until the government commits to funding a streetcar extension to Parliament and eventually the Portlands. Christopher Glaisek, VP Planning and Design of Waterfront Toronto, and one of the speakers on the walk explained that they are avoiding having to do the work twice. The streetcar extension price has climbed up to $370 million (something about maintaining access to the Hyatt so the streetcar has to be underground for a longer stretch).

In the meantime Waterfront Toronto got a bit of extra funding to extend the sidewalk and create interim cycle tracks from Yonge to Jarvis which should be open by June. I think this might be the second official cycle track built in Toronto!

East of Jarvis the cycle tracks end and eastbound cyclists are directed back onto the roadway. They travel in some freshly paved bike lanes until they merge again with the Martin Goodman Trail at Parliament. Going westbound by bike is a bit trickier. At Parliament they will be asking cyclists to cross at the lights and then take the bike lane along the road until they get to the Jarvis crosswalk where they will then again merge into the cycle tracks. Currently there is no indication that cyclists should do this so most people are choosing the obvious direct route, an asphalt "sidewalk" that replaced the MGT that was previously longer.

They kindly put some "No bicycles. Pedestrians only" stencils but from what I saw many people either ignored or didn't notice them. Another problem with this sidewalk, as Jelle Therry, Design Manager for Queens Quay, West 8+DTAH, pointed out to me, is that the sidewalk speaks a double language: the sign may say no bicycles but the asphalt says "Bike here!"

So why did they stop the cycle tracks at Jarvis?

According to Chris, they stopped at Jarvis because it would have required lights at the intersections, which would have required re-installation when the street is rebuilt for the streetcars. At least that's what I think he said. It doesn't make any sense to me. They didn't install lights for the cycle track from Yonge to Jarvis. And didn't the old Martin Goodman Trail that this sidewalk replaced take the exact same route? All the intersections are glorified driveways so I can't imagine that temporary cycle tracks couldn't have been worked out.

While the stretch of Queens Quay from Lower Spadina to Jarvis is going to be awesome, the rest of QQ leaves me frustrated. Why didn't they just leave the MGT where it was and connect it to the new cycle tracks at Jarvis? And why are they leaving the section from Spadina to Bathurst as is where cyclists will be forced to cross the street yet again?

Bypassing the Construction

Making things nicer unfortunately means some necessary headache but they City has been trying to ease things for everyone. There's a marked bypass route for cyclists so that they can avoid the construction mess. Interestingly the detour follows a forgotten section of the MGT - you can still see the distinctive blue/green markings. I believe that it fell into disuse when condos encroached on it years ago. It may also have been too far out of the way, when most people would have preferred Queens Quay's much nicer scenery.

Detour signage is an issue. I had a hard time finding the signage for the detour when I was travelling back from the Jane's Walk. It was only by testing a couple side streets that I found the detour and I was actively looking for it. Most people won't even know it exists. I backtracked and saw a small detour sign that was easily missed. The signage on the west side of the construction wasn't much more visible and I saw a number of people just biking onto the sidewalk since it was the obvious choice.

Most people seemed to be more than happy to bike at a walking pace down the sidewalk.

The new Queens Quay will be a big improvement for cycling but there are still some glaring issues. Putting in better signage for the detour seems to be an easy fix, though making the east end work better for cycling will take more work and perhaps a different mindset by Transportation Services that seems to ignore human behaviour by trying to get people to cross a wide road twice over a short distance. And I didn't hear anybody talk about any plans for west of Lower Spadina. It's going to be good but could have been done better.

Bells on Bloor: a pedal powered parade for bike lanes

Bells on Bloor is a group ride along Bloor Street for bike lanes. A lot of people come out to it, because it's fun! It's taking place Saturday May 11 at noon. Meet at the Bloor Street High Park gate and ride along Bloor Street to Queen's Park.

Bloor Street would make a great bike route - a good place for cycle tracks given that there are no streetcar tracks and the subway runs underneath. It's starting to look like it's possible, at least along the Annex BIA's section where the local BIA seems to be warm to the idea. For the rest of Bloor, it seems to me there is still more work to be done. Bells on Bloor helps make cyclists voices be heard.

The family-friendly rides and walks begin from various parts of the city and converge at Queen’s Park for a 2 pm rally for safer roads. The second annual Cycle and Sole (www.cycleandsole.com) event includes groups such as Walk Toronto, Bells on Danforth, Bells on Bloor and others.

The groups are also calling on the provincial Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to implement recommendations recently made by the Chief Coroner for Ontario. Those recommendations included a Complete Streets approach to planning that would include lower speed limits in residential areas, more mid-block pedestrian crossings, and more bicycle lanes. Similar recommendations have been made by Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.

The rise of Motordom and how we learned to blame the victim

Privileged Sport in Puck

Recently, as I was once again honked at with no place to move, I thought of the recent 99 Percent Invisible podcast on The Modern Moloch. In it Roman Mars interviews Peter Norton who describes how the powerful forces behind the automobile aka "Motordom" had a major public relations victory as it convinced us that the person responsible for safety was the victim rather than the operator of the vehicle. Today it's considered normal (at least in North America) that streets are for motor vehicles primarily and that people are only tolerated at best. (Photo credit: Privileged Sport, Puck. Library of Congress, The Invention of Jay-walking.)

In the early 1900s, before the advent of mass usage of the automobile, things were quite different. Nothing went faster than 10 miles per hour. People crossed the street wherever they wanted because it was easy to avoid collisions in slow moving traffic. Like in this early film of Market Street in San Francisco:

The arrival of cars changed this and people were outraged by the children and adults being killed. It's hard to believe it but there were calls to ban or put tight controls on automobiles. There were even comparisons of automobiles to Moloch, the god to which the Ammonites sacrificed their children. And reminiscent of modern ghost bike memorial rides for killed cyclists, "cities held parades and built monuments in memory of children who had been struck and killed by cars" (link)

But powerful forces behind automobiles (which called themselves "Motordom") created a shift in public consciousness through some crafty public relations. "Don’t blame cars, blame human recklessness." As Mars notes, "this subtle shift allowed for streets to be re-imagined as a place where cars belonged, and where people didn’t." So this is where the term "Jay Walking" went from being applied to a country bumpkin to being "rebranded it as a legal term to mean someone who crossed the street at the wrong place or time".

The industry lobbied to change the law, promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of "jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law. (The Atlantic Cities)

Putting people first
We are now looking at this from the opposite end. Advocates are attempting to kick the car off its pedestal. The two pronged tactic involves changing mindsets on the one hand, and changing the infrastructure on the other.

Streetsblog has been working long to change mindsets with their regular online feature Weekly Carnage which shines a light on car crashes and traffic deaths/injuries. Inevitably very few drivers are changed. Transportation Alternatives of NYC also has an ongoing "Vision Zero NYC" campaign that wants the simple goals of zero deaths, zero injuries, zero fear of traffic. Like Motordom's PR campaign to blame the victim, the Vision Zero campaign is most powerful in changing peoples' mindsets. And in many cities, including Toronto, there are memorial rides whenever a cyclist is killed by a motorist.

The mindset isn't enough. Just as Motordom successfully rebuilt our cities around the automobile, now nothing less than a major restructuring is necessary to take back some space. That includes proper cycling infrastructure, better sidewalks and calmed streets so kids can once again go play in the middle of them.

The Financial Case for Bicycle Parking at City Hall

Doug Ford calls the proposed bike parking station in the City Hall parking lot "gravy". That makes him precisely wrong. Bicycle infrastructure offers the cheapest solution to two very difficult problems that threaten Toronto's future prosperity: the increasing cost of health care, and transportation gridlock in the GTA.