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A smart redesign idea Soho and Queen by Vaughan

The idea for redesigning the Soho Queen intersection has been floated around for a few years. I've been bringing it up ad nauseum. The City had been largely silent about it, and when staff finally mentioned it presented their own very basic plan as a fait accompli.

Turns out that Councillor Vaughan must have been thinking about how the intersection could be remade for some time. All this time we figured that Soho would need to be redirected through the empty lot on the west side of Soho, like in the following photo.

But there might be an easier solution. The possible solution came from Councillor Vaughan. Fellow Cycle Toronto volunteer Iain asked Councillor Vaughan last week about this intersection at the public consultation for Soho/Phoebe. The photo at the top is of what Vaughan proposed.

The property line for the parking lot on the west side of Soho, which is apparently owned by three "disinterested" dentists in Hong Kong, is quite far back. The street can be moved back quite a bit without affecting the property. This way no negotiations need to take place with any absentee landowners. This would also allow for an larger patio on the east side of Soho, which Vaughan sees as a big plus.

This is a great idea!

But why hadn't Vaughan presented this idea already? Vaughan's been working on the John Street pedestrianization for a few years. Methinks he could have saved himself some trouble if he had presented better ideas for making Soho, Peter and Simcoe better cycling routes.

Vaughan may have actually been trying to work out a deal with the landowners, which seems to have gone nowhere due to their lack of interest in developing the lot. From what I understand, making a deal with them hinged on them actually wanting to build something on this lot.

The alternative, as I was told by a lawyer, is where the city would identify a road widening of Soho Street on the west side of the road allowance and amend the Official Plan to show the road widening. When the parking lot is redeveloped the city can require at no cost that the developer give the city the land identified for free. [Corrected. Got a more accurate picture from a lawyer.]

But looks like Vaughan didn't want to go that route for whatever reason. I think that most politicians prefer not going "Robert Moses" for cyclists if they can help it.

Am I too harsh on Vaughan? A reader recently sent me a "threatening" note to lay off Vaughan:

I am a cycling enthusiast, but I am sick of your constant bashing of Adam Vaughan. He is one of the good city councilors [sic]. Just because he doesn't want to put bike lanes on every single street doesn't make him a bad guy. At least he's one of the few councilors [sic] with the guts to stick up against our crack-smokin mayor. I will stop reading your blog if you continue to bash him. Stick to cycling and avoid the politics over [sic] you've lost me as a reader.

For his own health I think it best this reader stop reading this blog. I'm not about to give politicians free passes when it comes to making Toronto a good cycling city.

I'll give Vaughan a check mark for coming up with an innovative solution for Soho and Queen. But he still gets an X for lack of follow through on his idea. And Vaughan and Transportation Services still get a failing grade on Simcoe, which will still be largely unusable as a bike route even with bike lanes due to the complete lack of a plan for how cyclists will safely cross major streets like Queen and Richmond.

City finally proposes Peter/Beverley connection and, meh, they can do better

There will finally be a public meeting to look at the City's planned connections of Peter Street to Beverley bike lanes. It really should have been part of the main public consultation for Richmond and Adelaide--in fact, the City promised it would--but it's only now quickly been announced as a separate meeting, just one week before the actual time.

Staff are frustratingly proposing just one option for connecting the two streets, and it's not the best option (the best would have been John St). They propose installing a contra-flow bike lane and move the traffic light at Queen to the other side of Soho, but won't consider changing the configuration of the roadway (such as the great example imagined by Dave Meslin a while back).

So staff are proposing the easy option:

I made the image a while back to show that Peter was inferior to John (the streets, that is).

They could have been creative with this (I don't know if they seriously considered it):

Can staff get away with offering just one option? I thought it was part of the Richmond-Adelaide Environmental Assessment, which would require the City to consider various configurations, including the "do nothing" one. Maybe staff decided it was easier to just pretend that it isn't.

So here are the details:

Thursday, March 6, 2014. 4 to 9 p.m.
Alexandra Park Community Centre,
105 Grange Crt. (follow Grange Ave. west of Spadina Ave.)

And this is what they're proposing:

Phoebe Street

  • Installation of a westbound-only contra-flow bicycle lane on the north side of the street, from Soho Street to Beverley Street, to allow the street to function in both directions for cyclists.
  • The existing one- way operation of the street will be maintained for motorists.

Soho Street / Peter Street / Queen Street Intersection

  • Painting of northbound and southbound shared lane pavement markings (sharrows) on Soho Street to connect Pheobe Street to Queen Street.
  • Traffic signal modifications to the Peter-Queen Street signal, to incorporate Soho Street into the intersection, which will function as a combined signalized intersection (no changes to roadway alignment are proposed).

I do like that they're also proposing a contra-flow for Stephanie which will still help cyclists get to/from John, but after this announcement they revised their proposal and shortened the contra-flow so it ends at John instead of McCaul in order to protect--you guessed it--precious parking.

Stephanie Street

  • Installation of a westbound-only contra-flow bicycle lane on the north side of the street, to allow the street to function in both directions for cyclists.
  • The existing one-way operation of the street will be maintained for motorists.

I'll accept it if this is the best we can get, but I do think we still have time to get something better. Ask the staff to consider moving the roadbed through the empty parking lot to meet up with Peter straight on. Get them to continue the Stephanie contra-flow the whole way. And demand that we also get Simcoe protected and connected (with traffic lights) all the way from Dundas to the waterfront. It's the only direct route in the area.

There's still time to get something better.

Council votes to allow e-bikes in Toronto bike lanes

In a controversial decision City Council has voted to allow e-bikes--both the regular-bike-looking and the e-scooter with vestigial pedals--in the bike lanes of Toronto. Council overturned the decision by PWIC which declined to allow the electric scooters in the bike lane. E-bikes are still banned from using trails and protected bike lanes. (Photo by Martin Reis)

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong's surprise motion barely passed with 21-18 votes. A few councillors were absent but it wasn't clear which way they would vote. Cycle Toronto, which had taken a strong stance on the e-bikes by stating that only "pedelec" should be allowed in the bike lanes, was caught off-guard by the motion.

A pedelec is similar to bikes in terms of speed and bulk, whereas an e-scooter is similar to a moped.

E-bikes is a controversial topic with people falling on either side of Cycle Toronto's stance, saying it was either too harsh or not strong enough. I trust my readers will not disappoint by being just as diverse. This is what Cycle Toronto said:

  • We’re supportive of e-bikes as an alternative to larger, less environmentally friendly motor vehicles, especially for people with impaired mobility.
  • We welcome Recommendation 1 to allow power-assisted bicycles which weigh less than 40kg and require pedaling for propulsion (“pedelecs”) in multi-use trails, cycle tracks and bicycle lanes.
  • But we’re concerned about Recommendation 2, which would allow electric scooters in all painted bicycle lanes across the City.
  • We support the MTO and Transport Canada addressing Recommendation 4, to split the existing power-assisted bicycles vehicle category into e-scooter and pedelec type vehicles, before the City considers the recommendation to allow them to drive in bicycle lanes.

Even though there is no crash data on e-bike/bike collisions, it's a valid concern. On the bright side, e-bikers, though still few in number, are potential allies in a fight for better cycling infrastructure. I'm not sure if that will make this decision palatable for most bicyclists.

Winter gives cyclists the middle finger. Show it who is boss

After a few milder winters, this winter has been particularly tough. A hardy few bike throughout the winter but even they have limits. As I write this the snow is thickly falling and only a few brave souls can be seen biking or walking.

The cold is actually manageable; bundle up and you'll do well. But the thick snow turning into ice on the sidewalks and roads makes it dangerous. This winter has been especially tricky with a freeze-thaw-freeze cycle that has turned much snow into hidden ice. Avoiding this ice buildup, I believe, is possible. If only the City cared enough.

When it snows the City usually lets people continue to park their cars at the curb on most of our major arterials. The result is a whole stretch of snow that isn't being plowed now does it have a chance to melt from the sun.

I took the picture on a day after a snow event. The snow fall was manageable and much of it melted with an application of salt and sun. Yet stubborn bits hung on for existence under parked cars and soon turned to ice.

During rush hour the lane is clear but the ice forced all cyclists into a lose-lose situation; either ride over the ice and risk life and limb or ride far to the left where the drivers get confused and angry. Dealing with the latter is probably safer but it still forces cyclists to deal with some drivers trying to make a "point" by cutting in as closely as possible. One friend got clipped by a mirror by such a driver. I try my best to just listen to a podcast and try to ignore them.

What can the City do about it? Banning winter would be great (climate change?) but unworkable. City Council has directed staff to "report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on the creation of a network of snow routes for Toronto's bikeway that receives priority clearing and that this report recommend what changes, if any, should be made to route signage."

That's a start, but many streets, such as Queen, King, Dundas, aren't officially part of Toronto's bikeway but still have many people biking.

What might help those people is a recently passed change in the City's by-laws. In December City Council passed a snow clearance plan, which grants the General Manager of Transportation Services—currently Stephen Buckley—the right to prohibit parking on designated "Snow Routes" (map) throughout the City during "major snow storm conditions". Most major downtown streets are designated "Snow Routes", some have bike lanes, many have streetcar tracks. The ability to prohibit parking on snow routes previously only rested in the Mayor.

The by-law Municipal Code Chapter 950, Traffic and Parking specifies that when 5cm of snow falls the General Manager or the Mayor may declare a major snow storm condition and prohibit on-street parking for up to 72 hours.

The City of Ottawa already had a bans overnight on-street parking when the forecast predicts 7cm+ of snow. I think they ban it overnight to give snowplows a chance to clear the roads. Even better is Toronto's approach of prohibiting parking day and night. In practice, I imagine the staff are quite reluctant to enforce this rule, which explains why we've still got problems like the photo above.

Maybe today is a great day to test this new power, Mr. Buckley.

Toronto protected bike lane strategy: study, discuss, repeat. Meanwhile Ottawa just builds them

Ottawa actually builds protected bike lanes. In Toronto we like to think and talk about it a lot.

Peter got an explanation of how it works in Ottawa from a friend, Alanna Dale Hill, who is an assistant to Ottawa councillor, Mathieu Fleury. Ottawa decided that they could build protected bike lanes on Laurier Ave without an environmental assessment. Meanwhile, Toronto's Transportation Services decided that the lanes that City Council had approved in June 2011 for Richmond and Adelaide required a costly EA. But just when the EA was set to be completed they decided they should also do a pilot project (but only along pieces of the planned project).

The Richmond/Adelaide EA is costing the City millions and four lost years during which they could have implemented a pilot project as originally planned. Ottawa was able to do a much better evaluation with real data rather than speculating from a model. And now Ottawa has a protected bike lane with very little fuss.

What is Toronto's fascination with costly studies while other Canadian cities just build? Even when City Council approves bike lanes Transportation Services has found a way to make those approvals precarious.

According to Alanna:

The Laurier SBL did not require an EA. The City’s interpretation of the requirements is that the re-designation of an existing General Purpose Lane (GPL) to a reserved lane is exempt and also that the construction or operation of sidewalks or bike lanes within existing rights-of-way are also exempt. Temporary changes to capacity (such as construction detours) are also exempt and the project ran as a pilot for 2-years which was considered a temporary condition.

No repercussions for Ottawa going ahead without the "proper" studies. So what is Toronto, Canada's largest city, afraid of?

Tricking out omafiets with essentials. Or keeping the romance alive

My life partner Heather has a one-speed omafiets (Dutch for grandma bike). When she rides it reminds me of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on her bicycle. Being upright she looks practically regal.

Statue of Queen Beatrix, not Heather

The only problem with this particular omafiets—at least for Canadian weather—is that it only has a coaster brake with which to stop, which can make cycling on icy downhills sometimes tricky. While a coaster brake is the height of simplicity—just pedal backwards to stop—it can lock up the back wheel if someone really steps on it.

So for Christmas I put together a front wheel with a rollerbrake (yes, I know, I'm such a romantic). So now she's got two brakes with which to stop. A rollerbrake's mechanisms are all internal (like coaster brakes) so it requires less maintenance and isn't affected by the weather like regular rim brakes. Even with wet rims the bike stops just fine.

Just perfect for city cycling.

I actually didn't set out to lace together a wheel. I couldn't find anyone locally who was selling a complete wheel with rollerbrake for this oma fiets. So I had to put it together myself with help from Hoopdriver and Urbane to get the steel rim, spokes and hub. I had also looked at Dutch Bike Bits. Curbside might also have had what I needed since they sell Dutch bikes.

Here's the result. Just in time for icy roads.

Turned out quite nicely if I do say so myself.

Bike wheel sizing is esoteric to say the least. Older Dutch bikes use the ETRTO 635 wheel size and I could only find the 622 built up with Sturmey Archer drum brakes on Dutch Bike Bits. The 622 standard is the same as what is commonly (at least with bike geeks) referred to as 700cc.

Once Hoopdriver and Urbane got me all the parts (rim, hub, rollerbrake, spokes, brake lever), I used Sheldon Brown's handy tips for wheelbuilding. I've built wheels a couple times before, so it may take some practice if you haven't done it before. It can be a nice, relaxing experience if you've got all the right parts.

There are actually people at machines in Asia that can quickly lace up and true millions of wheels a year. But what's the fun in that?

Sheldon Brown's wheel.

The bike in its full glory. Note the magnificent basket. It can carry so much stuff that I feel guilty for not putting one on my bike. The basket and rack came from Curbside.

Dr. Monica Campbell, champion for people on foot and on bike

Welcome to 2014! May we actually get some real, protected infrastructure this year!

At the end of last year I ruffled some Vehicular Cyclists' feathers by posting this: Avid Cyclists as policy makers are going extinct and they've no one else to blame but themselves (I still stand behind my analysis though I would probably now use the more accurate label of "Vehicular Cyclists" to better reflect the ideology and not just people cycling in car traffic because they have no other choice). Buried in the controversy was my mention of Dr. Monica Campbell, Director of Healthy Public Policy at Toronto Public Health, who had won an award at the 2013 Toronto Bike Awards.

(Photo: TCAT. From left, Dr. Monica Campbell, Nancy Smith Lea of TCAT)

Dr. Campbell is no Lance Armstrong. This is something which Vehicular Cycling seemingly holds as a prerequisite for a transportation planner - as in "If we all just rode at top speed all the time and never made errors then we'll be perfectly safe in car traffic". She is not that kind of expert, but one who knows how to bring science to the transportation planning profession; a profession that has notoriously avoided dealing with most injuries, deaths and health impacts such as obesity and asthma that are a direct result of our car fetish society.

The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, who presented the award, describes Dr. Campbell's work thusly:

Dr. Campbell has city-wide responsibility for ensuring the development of evidence-informed public policies that best protect the health of Toronto residents. She was selected by a majority vote of the TCAT steering committee for her leadership in demonstrating the link between active transportation and health and for spearheading numerous evidence-based initiatives within Toronto Public Health to improve the safety of cyclists and pedestrians in Toronto.

Under her leadership, Toronto Public Health has been producing reports such as the recent report "Improving Safety for Bicycle Commuters in Toronto" and has become more active in creating safety guidelines for cyclists and pedestrians (something which you'd think would have already been a higher priority for Transportation Services).

Some of the safety items that Public Health is pushing for, for which most cyclists will be pleased to have:

  • making construction zones safer for cyclists
  • stop using bike lanes for "storage"
  • review the "Watch for Bikes" by-law and improve it
  • advocate for side guards on trucks (only the feds can implement this but have been dragging their feet for years)
  • improve safety of cyclists at intersections

Her work, I think, is a signal that the underbelly of our municipal government is slowly understanding the new reality where fighting obesity and improving the safety and the comfort level of citizens is more important than obsessing about making cars go faster. Thank you Dr. Campbell for helping to make Toronto more equitable, safer, healthier and more fun in 2014.

Challenging the City for foot-dragging on downtown north-south route

The saga for a north-south route continues as the City drags its feet on planning safe intersections. John Street bike store, Urbane Cyclist, isn't taking it lying down.

The City first decided to ignore cyclists in the John Street EA. This was accomplished by fudging the numbers so that it looks like a lot fewer cyclists took the route when in actuality it's a key north-south route for people biking from Beverley. The City pretended that the cycling mode share was a solid 2% no matter the time of day, weekday or weekend. Very suspicious. When activists did their own count (I helped) and showed that rush hour mode share for cyclists was much higher (over 30%!) the City was forced to revise their numbers.

Still, the City forged on with the plan to "pedestrianize" John Street (while not actually excluding motor vehicles), making the street much less useful as an effective route for cyclists. Particularly when John will be closed off for the many events taking place at CityTV. Urbane Cyclist and Don Wesley petitioned the Province to ensure that the EA properly accounted for cyclists. The Province denied the request saying that the City was working on alternatives:

I understand that the City will be undertaking a separate Class Environmental Assessment study for cycling infrastructure in the (east-west) Richmond/Adelaide corridor. This study includes consideration of north-south cycling options from Beverley Street to the waterfront. [emphasis mine]

The City promised that proper cycling routes would be created on Peter and Simcoe.

Now that the Richmond/Adelaide EA is well underway, it continues to be unclear if they plan to actually build a connected north-south route with safe and effective intersection crossings. Urbane Cyclist, through lawyer Ian Flett, has notified the City that they're concerned that it hasn't kept up their end of the bargain.

According to your schedule, you intend to address “intersection treatments” early in the New Year. Our client is very concerned that this important aspect of the study has been left so late.

The public meetings on November 18, 19 also addressed Peter and Simcoe Streets, but noticeably didn't address any intersection treatments. Of particular concern is how cyclists are going to get from Beverley bike lanes to Peter bike lanes, and also how cyclists are to cross busy intersections on the Simcoe bike lanes without any traffic lights. Some of the documentation even suggests that the intersection treatments will be left to the "future". If that's the case, it's anybody's guess when we'll get a connected, complete north-south route.

It's unclear what Councillor Vaughan thinks of this. Vaughan included Peter and Simcoe in his office's own Ward 20 bike plan. My email a couple weeks ago to Vaughan hasn't been returned yet.

Avid cyclists as policy makers are going extinct and they've no one else to blame

At the recent Toronto Bike Awards, Dr. Monica Campbell won the TCAT Active Transportation Champion of the Year. Monica worked in Toronto Public Health to put a "health lens" on transportation planning.

Monica is a leader in cycling issues but she is not an "avid cyclist". She only started cycling after BIXI Toronto launched. She has the perspective of someone who is interested in cycling but uncomfortable in heavy, fast traffic. In this way, Monica reflects an ongoing evolution of leadership in cycling infrastructure.

Who are "avid cyclists"? Here's a clue:

Some surviving avid cyclists (source), the three on left are members of the obscure but semi-powerful National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Bicycle Technical Committee (John Schubert, John Allen and John Ciccarelli, members of NCUTCDBTC, and New York bicycling advocate and planner Steve Faust), critiquing New York's cycling infrastructure. I don't think NYC asked the committee for permission before building those protected bike lanes. So if these guys are no longer driving the agenda, I guess that makes them backseat drivers.

Such avid cyclists—many of whom can often be seen wearing cycling-specific gear and can be heard saying phrases like "Take The Lane" and "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles"—are increasingly being surpassed by a different breed in policy circles.

The NCUTCDBTC, for their part, have approved a handful of bike symbols to be used on roads (like bike boxes that cities were building anyway) but for the most part have disapproved of the strong push for protected bike lanes and more "European" cycling infrastructure.

By the nature of their minimal-intervention philosophy that appeals to only a tiny minority of the population, the avid cycling leaders are putting themselves out of a job. Instead, it's people like this who are changing the game:

Mia Birk as Portland Bicycle Program Manager led a transformation of Portland into one of the bike-friendly cities in the United States. She's now a principal at Alta Planning & Design, a leading bicycle planning firm that also happens to operate many of the bikesharing programs that have mushroomed across North America.

And also...

Janette Sadik Khan is the current head of NYDOT who revolutionized bicycle and pedestrian planning in New York and helped to spur on a nationwide push for better bicycle infrastructure (Photo: Momentum Magazine). She also was one of the key leaders in creating a new nationwide NACTO bike planning guide for transportation planners. They had decided if they couldn't change the highway planning agencies from the inside, they'd just set up their own. There were no transportation planning guides or committees in the US that permitted protected bike lanes, so the NACTO guide is now a competing guide in North America and one which the more ambitious cities will first turn to for advice.

Sadik-Khan, seen here with former US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, launching the NACTO guide.

Evolution in local leaders

Increasingly these policy makers are not the gear heads, "avid" cyclists and the road warriors - the survivors when everyone else stopped cycling. I'll happily put myself in the category of a reforming avid cyclist.

Instead the leaders are increasingly women and men who are intensely interested in making cycling (and walking) safer for their families. In Dr. Campbell's case, she had only taken up cycling when BIXI Toronto was launched. And after being hit while using BIXI, has worked to make cycling safer. The result is that Toronto Public Health is now starting to "invade" the domain of the male-dominated Transportation Services by getting them to consider safety. Duh. To the average person as well as to Public Health it doesn't make sense why this isn't already a prime concern for the engineers.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there are actually a handful of female cycling planners who have also done great work in upsetting the applecart.)

I think there is a clear correlation of the increase in cycling, increase in safer cycling infrastructure and that the policy makers and leaders are increasingly women. And the avid cyclists/road warriors are making themselves extinct.

Corrections: Sadik-Khan is the soon to be the former head of NYCDOT. In the top photo only the left three are committee members. I made the source of the top photo more explicit and added the names of the people in the photo, instead of just linking "avid cyclists" to the source. And yes, not all avid cyclists have new bike gear, just the majority. I've removed this line "I don't imagine she's got the gear: no special shoes, padded shorts, stretchy fabric." because I think it's just a distraction from my message.

The Hammer to get bikesharing too but it's not BIXI

Hamilton is getting bikesharing by next year, reports Raise the Hammer. Instead of BIXI, the system that has been installed in all the major North American cities with bikesharing, the winning bidder was a new kid on the block, Social Bicycles. Apparently BIXI was disqualified on a technicality, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Social Bicycles wouldn't have won. Hamilton is purchasing the system with funds from Metrolinx.

Unlike BIXI and similar systems like Velib in Paris where there are stations that contain the "brains" of the operations, Social Bicycles worked to squeeze all the brains (GPS, pin pad and batteries) onto the bike. In some ways it harkens back to an older model of bikesharing, Call a Bike in Germany (but a lot less ugly). They claim that it's a cheaper way to operate and that since the bike can be locked up anywhere that people won't be stuck with a full station.

There are potential drawbacks in my mind. It's probably harder to find a bike. They've mitigated that by having a smartphone app and by providing financial incentives for people to lock up in a zone instead of just anywhere. And I'd be interested to see if the bikes are as durable as BIXI's.

So far they've only operated on a small scale in a handful of medium-sized cities like Tampa Bay, Buffalo. Hamilton's system of 650 bikes will be a major test of its viability.

It'll be interesting to compare it to Toronto's BIXI. Will it be easier to expand and operate Social Bicycles?

Half-assed connections for downtown lanes

Staff seem to be half-hearted in ensuring that Peter and Simcoe (and Richmond and Adelaide for that matter) are properly connected to the wider network.

Don't get me wrong, the east-west routes look to be awesome. And north-south they've done a half-decent job of trying to make sure there's separation. The big issue is that the staff seem to have decided that they don't find it important to design the lanes so people can safely get into them or off of them (their proposals, booklet). The pinch points:

  • Crossing Bathurst will still be a pain. The map just punts the crossings to the "future".
  • They've been unclear if they'll include a connection between Peter and Beverley. The map above says "future connection" but staff also said they reviewing modifying the Queen St intersection and connecting via Soho and Phoebe.
  • They have no plans to make it easy to cross Queen at Simcoe. Traffic lights are probably the only thing that will make it easy to cross. If we don't get that people just won't use it.
  • On the south end the bike lanes just end at Wellington and Peter. And on Simcoe cyclists must continue on unprotected bike lanes for the rest of the trip to the lake.

The interesting thing is that Peter and Simcoe were part of the "Ward 20 bike plan" that Councillor Adam Vaughan presented a few years ago:

The staff need to feel a bit of heat. And it wouldn't hurt to email Councillor Vaughan and let him know you support his proposals for Peter and Simcoe.

And, oh, let the staff know you're not pleased with their pilot project plan. The risk is that a pilot will endanger a permanent installation. The pilot as it stands is likely both too small and too temporary (just 3 months or so) to provide good results to let us know if the lanes will be popular. If they go forward with a pilot they should be doing a lot of promotional work and provide good connections to make sure cyclists know about it and are willing to use it.

See jnyzz's blog post for more commentary.

BIXI saved and City finally willing to see it as public transit

In the midst of the craziness caused by our crack-smoking, bike-hating mayor, City Council overwhelmingly voted to save BIXI Toronto. The details are still confidential but it's understood that the deal likely involved purchasing the debt of BIXI and the unlocking of expansion funding that was waiting for this deal to be settled. (Photo: Martin Reis)

Toilets for bikes swap

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong can be thanked for coming up with a unique funding plan. It involves a deal with Astral Media who was contractually obliged to build some automated self-cleaning toilets, which turned out to be quite difficult to place. Instead of building the toilets Astral will now pay the City a fixed amount of money which will be used to pay the outstanding debt of BIXI Toronto and purchase it from the Montreal head company PBSC. As a result of this BIXI Toronto will no longer have to finance the debt. I was told by BIXI's manager that they were quite capable of operating efficiently if it weren't for the approximately $3.5 million in debt that had to be financed.

If it were just up to the mayor, BIXI would have been already scrapped as a "failure". Instead it looks like the opposite is happening.


Additionally, the deal means that BIXI will now have access to money allocated by Metrolinx for improving transportation for the Pan-Am Games and also about a million dollars in development funds that were acquired in deals that Councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mike Layton made with condo developers in their wards. In the deals the developers were allowed to reduce the number of required parking spots in exchange for funds to purchase BIXI stations.

It's definitely a good start to an expansion plan with approximately one million dollars. But in order to build up the system to even the original plan of 3000 bikes would require more dedicated capital funding. Part of that may come from formalizing funding through new developments - the City is revising the parking standards.

BIXI Toronto will be run under the Toronto Parking Authority, much like Montreal's BIXI is owned by their parking authority. I believe that the third-party operator they are considering is probably Alta Bikeshare, which is already operating New York's Citibike, Chicago's Divvy and many others.

Advocacy was key

Cycle Toronto once again was key to a successful campaign. Its campaign got us BIXI three years ago when it almost died under Mayor Miller. And it now channelled the existing support of individuals and businesses into success. A lot of businesses sent letters of support via Cycle Toronto. And Cycle Toronto's Jared Kolb negotiated with a few politicians to get this deal signed and delivered.

A lot of people were sentimental about BIXI but without a firm strategy it would probably all come to naught.

Bikesharing as public transit

Minnan-Wong told the Atlantic Cities that bikesharing has to be recognized as a form of public transit that will require a subsidy to operate, just like any other public transit system.

Still, Minnan-Wong said that the program has proven popular both with the public and many Toronto lawmakers. “There’s a real appetite on our council to keep Bixi,” he says. But the business model, he says, is broken. “It has to be recognized as a form of transit,” he says. “And as we know, no form of transit breaks even. It requires a subsidy.”

That is quite a positive statement coming from a right-wing politician who was formerly quite skeptical of supporting BIXI financially. This bodes well. Even with a subsidy bikesharing doesn't get much cheaper as far as transportation goes.

BIXI will now not only survive our crack-smoking mayor but thrive.

Bike lanes on Richmond-Adelaide: a win for Cycle Toronto. Now improve plan for Simcoe and Peter

The preferred configuration for Richmond and Adelaide looks like it will be one-way protected bike lanes on both streets. The Wellington option was dropped as inferior. This is a great win for Cycle Toronto which has been campaigning for this exact configuration. And it's in no small part due to public works chair Minnan-Wong championing it for the last few years. It's ironic that it took a (former) ally of Mayor Ford to get this essential project completed.

While the east-west route is shaping up well - really, it will be awesome - Cycle Toronto has some issues with the north-south connections that the City staff are recommending. The staff seem to have left out any specific recommendations of how to fix the Peter/Queen intersection so that cyclists can safely connect to the Beverley bike lanes. And the Simcoe contraflow lane stops a bit short at Richmond instead of connecting to Queen.

There will be an open house next week Monday, November 18, and
Tuesday, November 19, 2013. There will be a presentation Monday at 6pm and from 9am to 9pm both days the materials will be on display at the Metro Hall Rotunda, 55 John Street. If you can't attend then you can email your comments to CyclingRichmondAdelaide@toronto.ca and copy info@cycleto.ca.

You can read the booklet handed out at the last stakeholders workshop to get an idea of the current recommendations.

So please attend the public consultation; please, please thank the staff for all their hard work and give them some feedback on how they can provide better protection for Simcoe and Peter. Thank you.

North/south connections

As for further details on the north-south connections, Cycle Toronto is asking people to make these requests to improve the plan:

  • Fully protected lanes on Peter St & Simcoe St (staff are currently proposing painted lanes on the southbound lane on Simcoe St between King St and Front St).
  • Realignment of the Soho St / Peter St intersection to promote a smooth north / south transition between Beverley St, Phoebe St, Soho St and Peter St.
  • Additional traffic signals on Simcoe St from Queen St south to Front St to increase safety for cyclists.
  • Contraflow lanes on Phoebe St and fully protected lanes on Simcoe St from Front St to the lake!

The City and Councillor Vaughan have been aware of the problem at Peter and Queen for a few years now. A creative solution was even offered a couple years ago by Dave Meslin on how to cross Queen:

Councillor Vaughan told me that his office was looking at solutions for the intersection when I spoke with him at the last stakeholders meeting. I'm a bit surprised that nothing concrete has come out yet. Not even a possible solution of moving the lights.

It's a pretty good plan with some key places where improvements can be made if staff are serious about improving the protection for cyclists. It has yet to be built but I'm getting more optimistic that we will see some big improvements downtown because of this plan.

Two-way cycle tracks are fine, just look to Montreal

Rue Berri cycle tracks

Are two-way (or bidirectional if you prefer) protected bike lanes "dangerous"? Some of the opposition to the Harbord proposal are fomenting fear and doubt by claiming as much. There's even a "No Danger Lanes" facebook page decrying the bidirectional for Harbord.

Let's put this question a different way. Has there been an uproar in Montreal about death and destruction because of their plentiful bidirectional bike lanes? Has there been a bloodbath that we've been ignoring?

I might have missed something but I think not. Montrealers seem to be plenty angry at their corrupt mayors but when it comes to their bidirectional cycle tracks (aka protected bike lanes), the overwhelming majority of people seem to be happy and there's been no outcry of cyclists getting injured on them in great numbers.

And Montreal isn't alone. Cycling nirvanas like Amsterdam also have bidirectional cycle tracks and the people seem to be happy with them, or at the very least accepted them.

A bi-directional path. Photo: Mikael Colville-Andersen.

So let's use some common sense. Two-way cycle tracks are not dangerous. They are safe and people are comfortable with them.

Is this a bloodbath you were looking for?

You might say, "Well that's all well and good but what about this Montreal blogger who seems to have discovered the dangers of Montreal bidirectional?"

Let's take a look.

This Montreal blogger is David Beitel who made a claim that the cycle tracks in Montreal have an "elevated risk" of cycling accidents. He pointed out that two of the cycle tracks had the second and third highest number of accidents between cyclists and drivers in Montreal out of all streets.

You might exclaim: holy crap, why are all these cyclists getting injured on cycling infrastructure? Let's rip it all out!

But let's not get carried away. Beitel falls for a common error: he provides absolutely no context to the data; no denominator to put his data into proper perspective. The denominator we need here is the number of people cycling on each street.

Without a denominator of the cycling traffic volume, we might as well just conclude that riding on a highway like the Gardiner Expressway is the safest. Highways typically have very few cycling crashes. But they also usually have next to zero cyclists using them. Because it's illegal.

Beitel's approach cannot avoid absurd conclusions.

When we take into account cycling traffic volumes we would find that the cycle tracks in Montreal, such as De Maisonneuve and Berri, are actually not dangerous at all. When cycling traffic increases we will typically see some uptick in the number of car-bike collisions. And we realize that even though a highway may have zero cyclist colliding with drivers, it might be because there were no cyclists there.

So Beitel's conclusions are junk and anyone here in Toronto who references Beitel as "proof" of the danger of bidirectional is plain wrong. If you're curious you can read a bit more about this in the Evidence Training Guide created for cycling educators by the Cycling in Cities group at the University of British Columbia (particularly pages 2, 3 and 43 in the sidebar).

Bidirectional cycle tracks are probably safer

Of the scientific evidence we do have, we could make a safe bet that 1) bidirectional cycle tracks are probably safer than riding on the road and 2) cycle tracks in general are safer than bike lanes.

In a study headed up by Harvard's Dr. Lusk, it found that Montreal's two-way cycle tracks were shown to be "either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions".

Lusk found that Rue Berri (as pictured above) had a lower risk (0.48) than the reference street of Denis. Reference streets are always considered to be 1 for comparison purposes. Being below one means a street is safer than the reference.

Overall, the study found that the cycle tracks they studied (all of which were bidirectional) had a 28% lower injury rate. Lusk concluded that their "results suggest that two-way cycle tracks on one side of the road have either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions. This lowered risk is also in spite of the less-than-ideal design of the Montreal cycle tracks, such as lacking parking setbacks at intersections, a recommended practice."

Cycle tracks (one and two-way) are safer than the road

Cycle tracks in general are safer than both riding on the road or even riding in a painted bike lane. The following diagram from UBC's study of injuries and bike infrastructure describes it well:

Cycle tracks beat all the other options for on-road infrastructure by a mile.

Where possible, build unidirectional otherwise bidirectional works

This all being said, the cycling infrastructure guides are now usually recommending unidirectional over bidirectional. Vélo Québec's Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists, for instance, says (p. 80):

"On-road bike paths should preferably be unidirectional. Bi-directional paths offer effective safety between intersections but complicate traffic at intersections. In fact, they increase the number of conflict points between bicycles and turning vehicles."

"Preferable" but not always possible.

This is fine in an ideal world. But we live in a world with physical and political constraints. We don't have the political sway to force politicians to ignore merchants and take out all the parking on any of our major arterials. Bidirectional is seen as a compromise: cyclists get something safer, more comfortable and merchants get to keep some on-street parking. For instance, Councillor Vaughan has publicly stated that on Harbord it is bidirectional or nothing:

“The bi-directional protects the parking that is needed,” says Vaughan. When asked for specific numbers his assistant helps out: “Right now there are 48 parkings spots – and with the bi-directional plan, we are trying to salvage 95 to 98 per cent of parking.” The unidirectional plan would take out all of the on-street parking.

“If the choice is bi-directional or nothing then bi-directional is safer,” says Vaughan.

So we are fighting for bidirectional on Harbord and possibly on more streets in the future with similar constraints. And we will work with traffic planners and the community to make them as safe as possible. There are number of tools at the planners' disposal: separate light phases, improved sightlines, markings through the intersections, signage, bump-outs and so on.


A business that understands bike parking is good for biz

Stone Canoe, an advertising agency on Richmond St. West, understands the need for good bike parking. Most of its employees bike to work. But instead of just buying a commodity bike rack they instead used their creative juices to build their own. The result was impressive: a quite functional bike rack that also represents the company's brand (a stone canoe no less). (Image: Jacques Gallant)

Stone Canoe commissioned a half-ton piece of artwork geared to give cyclists in the area a beautiful place to park their bicycles. The bike rack, reminiscent of a stone canoe, has been installed on the northwest corner of Walnut Ave. and Richmond St. West. The Toronto Stone Canoe team worked closely with Montreal jewellery designer, Pilar Agueci (pilaragueci.com), and Montreal metalsmith, Jacques Gallant (solutionsgallant.com), who designed and built the rack. It serves as a functional roadside attraction, and an indication of the boutique advertising agency’s commitment to creativity, and standing out.

Drivers still liable even if they hit sidewalk cyclists

A reader sent this question to me:


I started commuting by bike this year around Vaughan and the North Toronto Area. Given the lack of bike lanes on my commute and the speed of traffic on the roads I use the sidewalks for some of my commute. I have noticed that drivers pulling out of driveways or turning at intersections rarely stop at the sidewalks or intersections to check for pedestrians as required by the Highway Traffic Act (HTA). I realise that I also violate the HTA by riding on the sidewalk, but I would like to know if I am ever hit because a driver did not check for pedestrian traffic when pulling out of a driveway, do I have any rights as a cyclist or am I fully to blame for riding on the side walk?

Thank you,

I'm no lawyer so I passed the question on to Patrick Brown of Mcleish Orlando, who has represented a lot of cyclists involved in collisions. Turns out that even if you're riding on the sidewalk a driver will likely still be largely liable for damages in a civil suit.

Here's what Patrick said:

I have had cases involving both situations: 1) where the cyclist is on the sidewalk and is hit by a car on a driveway leading to the road, and 2) where the cyclist is on the sidewalk and rides on to the roadway at an intersection. In each case, the lion share of liability has been found against the driver of the car regardless of the fact that the person was riding on the sidewalk.

In a civil case, whenever a cyclist or pedestrian is struck down by a car, there is a reverse onus applied to the driver.

Section 193 of Highway Traffic Act imposes a reverse onus on the driver who strikes a pedestrian/cyclist. The Defendant driver is presumed to have been negligent unless he/she can prove otherwise. The courts have repeatedly indicated that “the defendant cannot discharge the onus on him/her by showing that the plaintiff’s loss or damage was caused in part by the negligence of the plaintiff. That can only be done by the defendant showing that there was no negligence or misconduct on his part.” (Shapiro v. Wikinson, [1943] O.J. No. 806 (Ont. C.A.), aff’d by [1944] S.C.R. 443 (S.C.C.) . The courts have therefore found that the duty owed by the driver is to “take proper precautions to guard against risks that might reasonably be anticipated to arise.”

In many cases, the driver is responsible to look for pedestrians and other users of the sidewalk. The fact that a person is on a bike does not remove this responsibility from the driver and does not give the driver to hit the person. therefore, in the majority of instances, the driver of the car will be held to be at fault unless they can show that they took reasonable steps to look and see what was there.

In these cases, the driver’s insurance defence lawyer will assert contributory negligence against the cyclist. Depending on the nature of the collision, the cyclist may have a portion of fault attributed to him or her. For example, if the cyclist was at a standstill or moving slowly when struck, the fact they were on the sidewalk with a bike would be immaterial, since they were there to be seen. In those circumstances, the driver would likely be found 100 percent to blame. If, however, the cyclist was riding at a quick pace and they were difficult to see due to obstructions, a portion of fault may be found against them. Once fault is determined, the driver of the car is responsible to pay damages based on their percentage of fault.

Therefore, even though you are riding on a sidewalk and a car hits you, you can still successfully sue for damages. In the majority of circumstances, the larger share [and in many cases 100% share] will fall on the driver.

Some people will want me to take a firm stance against sidewalk cycling. I think it's more complicated than that. It's not surprising that people choose to ride on the sidewalk in the suburbs. The roads are simply scary, even for experienced cyclists like myself (and more so the older I get). I usually take the road but sometimes will only carefully take the sidewalk if the road is too scary (hello Highway 7).

I've given some tips before on how to safely and respectfully ride on the sidewalk. Since we teach our children to ride on the sidewalk safely and respectfully, perhaps we should also teach adults who are not able to navigate fast suburban traffic how to use the sidewalks as well (legality aside).

We got a study of Bloor bike lanes, but was it set up to fail?

So we got the Bloor Environmental Assessment restarted, thanks to the efforts of Albert Koehl, founder of Bells on Bloor, and Cycle Toronto's ward groups along Bloor. There are a couple reasons, however, that make activists believe that the politicians are committed more to the appearance of being progressive rather than actually building bike lanes on Bloor. They can claim a victory that they've restarted a study on the idea of Bloor bike lanes while avoiding the possible repercussions from merchants.

The first reason is that their request for a pilot project was ignored. The lack of a firm commitment to a pilot project has made Koehl cynical about the outcome. Koehl noted to me that some kind of pilot was being discussed behind the scenes but nothing concrete came before the Public Works committee. So we don't have much reason to believe a pilot will happen (though I'll post the info if I find out more).

Running pilot projects has worked wonders for New York where DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan revolutionized bike lane building by quickly building bike lanes that can easily be tweaked (or even removed) later on. A pilot project would provide instant feedback both to planners and to the community. In Toronto, however, councillors were unwilling to take such an important step.

The second reason is that the EA has been crafted so that it will study just the feasibility of bike lanes on Bloor rather than the best way to implement bike lanes. In a normal situation, the workflow would be like this: let's say a nuclear power plant is proposed to be built by the government. An environmental assessment kicks in by law to help guide the process of how it will be built, understand the negative effects and how to mitigate them. But the Bloor EA is being done ahead of any commitment to Bloor bike lanes. Councillors have not committed to building a bike lane on Bloor, just the feasibility.

And even more annoying is that the EA is not required by law for a bike lane. Recall that the City has happily built all of our other bike lanes without an EA (except for Richmond and Adelaide). An EA makes bike lanes look expensive.

Compare this to the Richmond-Adelaide EA. Here City Council had already voted to build bike lanes and the EA exists to help build it.

We can blame former Mayor Miller for starting this EA treadmill. The Bloor EA provided some cover to show that he was doing something for cyclists rather than show results. It wasn't a commitment to build anything then it was cancelled by Mayor Ford.

It would be easy to just give up at this point, but I suggest that we hold the feet of our politicians to the fire, whether they be progressive or not. Let's build what is possible now (Harbord, Wellesley, Richmond, Adelaide) and push the Bloor councillors to make an actual commitment to a pilot on Bloor.

Bloor study likely to piggyback on Dupont EA, but actual infrastructure still some years away

The public works committee has passed a motion for a combined environmental assessment for Bloor and Dupont streets. The motion still needs to pass City Council. Public works was probably the main hurdle, it being dominated by Ford's appointees, and that passing the EA at Council will be easier.

Councillor Janet Davis' amendment to extend the EA to the Danforth failed. There was also nothing in the motion approving a pilot project for Bloor. It's not clear if City staff can implement a pilot without Council approval, though it doesn't seem likely since staff probably won't take any risks on such a high-profile corridor. Councillors along the corridor will be very careful not to upset local merchants.

It seems odd to combine Dupont and Bloor in one EA. This is probably a strategic move in order to facilitate it getting passed by Council. The Dupont EA was already going to start next year so it seems that it was more politically palatable to include Bloor in that EA rather than try to create a separate EA with its own budget requirements.

Interestingly, Berardinetti, Grimes and Parker voted down Davis' motion, but Councillor Minnan-Wong voted for it. But on the final vote for a Bloor EA without the Danforth, everyone but Minnan-Wong voted for it. It's not a secret that Minnan-Wong would likely not vote for it, but it's interesting that some councillors would not want to extend it to the Danforth. For some of them it would be too close to their own backyard, even though a Danforth bike lane would be less disruptive to car traffic than on Bloor.


Even in a best case scenario, actual implementation is some years away. The EA will likely start in 2014 and would probably go for at least a year. Any actual construction, if the EA recommends bike lanes and if Council approves it, would likely not begin until 2016, if the current EA for Richmond-Adelaide is any indication. And even then it's still completely possible that the new Toronto Council will get cold feet and delay or shelve any implementation.

There are some idealists (a minority if this blog's comments are to be trusted) who think that we can prioritize Bloor Street ahead of any other project (such as Harbord) and only complete Harbord after Bloor is "done". Given the likely timeline for Bloor, if these idealists got their way, we would have no new bike lanes from this administration and likely for even longer.

I think few cyclists would agree to such a deal. Something is usually better than nothing.

Cycling staff want your opinion on new parking on Queen West. Hold the panic and rage

The City recently installed a number of bike stands along Queen Street from Gladstone to Markham. Brian Park, Toronto Urban Fellow at the Cycling Unit, told me about their survey of the bike parking, asking that people fill it out:

Transportation Services is installing new bike parking infrastructure between Markham St and Gladstone Ave on Queen St W as part of a special study being conducted by Transportation's Cycling Infrastructure and Programs Unit. We recently updated our webpage - please take a look.

Please be nice be nice in your comments. It's amazing how jerky people can get. The City has already been forced to take remedial action on one installation because of a panicked response from some people.

Pylons repurposed as doomsday signs. Conveniently you'd have to dismount to read them.

This bike rack was installed at the southeast end of Trinity Bellwoods. Brian happened to be there when a furious Dorian approached him, outraged at the bike rack placement and that it would cause disaster and mayhem to rain down on people using the park path. Dorian was kind enough to record the interaction on the Facebook page for City of Toronto Cycling for posterity:

Dorian commanded Brian to "remove it today" preceded by a nice "F you". It appears that Brian did neither, thankfully. Dorian then followed up with his threat to put up signs and create a petition. It appears that Dorian managed to sign up enough panicked people to get City staff to trim the hedges to increase the sight lines around the corner. The bike rack is still there and being used last I looked. I also haven't heard of any tragic deaths due to bike rack impalement. So that's good news.

It doesn't seem to have concerned Dorian that this path exits out onto a sidewalk. If it wasn't a bike rack there it could just as easily have been a child or your grandma. Maybe the path is badly placed but until that gets fixed (not any time soon) only a jerk would take that corner at full speed.

Anyway, space is precious in this City what with businesses generally trying to keep all their sacred curbside parking so putting in bike racks anywhere is tough. It's encouraging enough that City staff are finding parking spots and boulevard space to place some bike racks. So I encourage you to go fill out the survey to help us get more of them. Just be nice about it.

Reluctantly thankful Toronto cyclist

It's easy to be negative. I've often had interactions with people who seem to have little to offer but criticism about the (lack of or poor quality) bike infrastructure in Toronto but also the City staff, politicians and even the volunteer activists. Heck, I'm often quite critical myself given the slow progress and occasional backwards steps. But it's healthy to focus on our blessings now and then. This is the day after all when Canadians are supposed to do count them up. So here goes. (Photo: Thank You letter from student to Mike Layton regarding Shaw Street)

I'm grateful that a lot of people have decided to use bicycles in Toronto for everyday transportation, particularly in downtown where some parts have up to 16% of people commuting to work by bicycle (according to Statscan's 2011 National Household Survey). According to recent counts by some Cycle Toronto volunteers, there are times of the day where cyclists make up about half (50%!) of all traffic on College Street during rush hour (see for yourself). Nearby streets such as Harbord and Queen have traffic mode shares that are above 40% and 30% respectively at rush hour.

Clearly there's a lot of latent demand for better cycling infrastructure.

I'm grateful that we finally might get a good east-west route through Toronto's core on Richmond and Adelaide. The environmental assessment is finishing by January and we'll hopefully get it approved and installed in 2014/15. Likewise, things are moving along on Harbord-Hoskin-Wellesley to provide a second safe cycling route through downtown. We'll finally be able to fill in the gap, have a showcase protected bike lane and provide a safe crossing at Queen's Park. And maybe we'll actually get the environmental assessment restarted for Bloor Street! (Word is that staff are suggesting it get rolled into the Dupont EA).

I'm grateful that even though it has been tough to convince enough politicians to support cycling (it's even been quite hard to get some so-called progressive councillors to override business fetish for curbside parking), we have a couple key bureaucrats who are quite supportive of cycling infrastructure. The General Manager of Transportation Services Stephen Buckley came from Philadelphia where he oversaw a number of new bike lanes. And Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmat understands the importance of safe, connected infrastructure and has fully supported protected bike lanes. She was key, for instance, in getting protected bike lanes on Eglinton for the LRT project.

We're even getting in some bike infrastructure right now. The contraflow bike lane is almost finished on Shaw Street. The bike trails on the Finch hydro corridor are being completed. Bike racks are being installed all along Queen Street between Gladstone and Manning as part of the City's pilot of intensifying available bike parking in key areas. And protected bike lanes on Wellesley will be built this year. It's more than nothing, it's something and it's useful.

(Photo by Tino of College Street bike parking that looks kinda like a car just to taunt those motorheads)

We've got bike tours of art in Art Spin and music fest in the Bicycle Music Festical. And we've even got a big Ai Wei-wei sculpture of bikes at City Hall. Lots of art and bike stuff going on.

The thing that makes me the most hopeful, however, is that cyclists are finally getting organized and becoming vocal. I'm grateful for all the people who put in lots of time to create a strong organization, Cycle Toronto (ne Toronto Cyclists Union). And I'm really grateful to my GF who spent years building the organization up, ensuring that it wasn't just a bunch of complaining cyclists but a savvy, strategic and well-organized group. Which brings me back to my original point. Cyclists who can also focus on the wins, big or small, are also healthier.