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When bike lanes disappear: are they just for show?

Even when the City tries to do right (let's ignore for the moment where the City does wrong - as with the Jarvis bike lanes removal), little stubborn facts show the City (except for the tiny Cycling Unit in the Transportation Services aka Department of Motor Vehicles) still isn't taking traffic safety seriously.

With the ongoing construction of Strachan for a new overpass to accommodate more frequent GO Transit service, a temporary bypass road was constructed, complete with bike lanes and sidewalks. Mostly. I recorded myself taking the bike lane. The bike lanes are quite nice, but quite inconveniently disappear completely and without warning at the most critical points, where the road narrows and curves. And, like in the video, the bike lane can disappear right next to a large truck, forcing the person to figure out how to avoid being crushed.

Neither cyclists nor drivers are given any warning nor direction on how to act or merge. It appears that no thought was given by planners or contractors on how cyclists are supposed to behave just outside of the reconstructed road. They may have followed the plan to the letter, but somehow someone didn't think to see how the reconstructed bike lanes would meet up with the existing ones.

If the City truly had a plan for improving the safety of cyclists -- if it considered bike lanes an important aspect of increasing safety (and there is more and more research that this is true) -- then they probably would not have created this mess on Strachan. But as it stands it's a symbol of how bike lanes tend to be seen as just gimmicks.

Province will clarify contra-flow bike lane legality by year end

Contra-flow bike lanes have been stuck in legal limbo in Toronto for the last few years. Looks like this might soon end as the province may clarify the law by year end for hesitant Toronto City Staff who've held off on putting in the bike lanes.

Though it's welcome news to have this issue resolved (hopefully in the affirmative), it appears to be a made-in-Toronto problem as Transportation Services staff in Toronto have held up the council-approved contra-flow bike lane while Ottawa City staff have continued to install them. Ottawa has interpreted the Highway Traffic Act as allowing for contra-flow bike lanes.

A contra-flow is a one-way bike lane that can be installed on one-way streets so that cyclists can use the street as two-ways while motorized traffic must continue to follow the one-way restriction. A few contra-flow bike lanes were already installed in Toronto before this became an issue (Montrose, Strathcona).

Cycle Toronto (in particular the Ward 14 group with Laura Pin) got the support of MPP Jonah Schein and Councillor Mike Layton in making a request to the province for clarification. [Updated: it was ward 14, not 13 as comments note]

InsideToronto.com has more info:

David Salter, press secretary for transport minister Bob Chiarelli, confirmed the province was working alongside several municipalities, including Toronto, on updating Ontario Traffic Manual guidelines in regards to cycling issues. Part of the update, according to Salter, includes examining contra-flow lanes, which allow cyclists to travel in both directions on some one-way streets.

“We’re looking forward to receiving the project team’s recommendations and will review them as quickly as possible,” wrote Salter in a statement Tuesday morning.

The city has approved the installation of 13 more contra-flow lanes as part of its official bike plan, including a series of lanes on Shaw Street in 2013.

But to put in the lanes, the city requires clarification from the province regarding a section of the Highway Traffic Act, which prohibits two-way traffic along a one-way street, said city councillor Mike Layton.

Layton said technical issues related to signage for the lanes may also be holding up the process.

“What we’re seeking is we want to make sure they’re safe and no one is bending the rules, and that’s going to take some clarification on the side of the minister,” said Layton, who represents Trinity-Spadina.

City council voted last week to adopt a motion seeking clarification by the end of 2012 from the province regarding the legality of contra-flow lanes.

Last week, provincial transportation critic Jonah Schein said over 600 people have signed a petition asking for clarification from the minister regarding the lanes.

“It doesn’t require a legislative change, it just requires the minister to let us and the city know when we can move ahead with contra-flow,” said Schein, who represents Davenport for the NDP.

He said approving the legality of the lanes would improve safety for cyclists, especially those who make use of one-way streets to avoid main arterial road traffic.

“That would provide proper lane markings and there would actually be a bike lane on a one-way street,” said Schein. “By making the lanes legal and providing proper signage we could essentially create a safer way for cyclists to commute the city.”

On Chiarelli's 2012 Ontario Bike Strategy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Toronto unique in having an urban vision of "destinations" and narrow roads that marginalizes cycling

Toronto is "unique", not just for its "war on the car" mayor (who may be losing his job this morning), but also because it seems to be obsessed with it's own version of "complete streets" and creating "destinations" that seems to have excluded cycling from a number of important routes, including John Street, Bloor Street (at Yorkville), Union Station. This came to the attention of the international blog Copenhagenize this morning as they point to evidence in City's planning process, politics and urban-aware media that seems to have largely marginalized cycling as a means of getting around.

Even the original environmental assessment for Jarvis Street turned down bike lanes. It was with the help of then Councillor Kyle Rae that bike lanes were reconsidered and installed. But even Rae, didn't think that bike lanes were necessary for Yorkville, because it was meant to be a "destination". Destination was also the word bandied about by the planners for John and Union Station. To cycling, destination should be a code word that means we'll get ZERO bike infrastructure.

Copenhagenize explains it in its usual incendiary, yet insightful, way:

Toronto's "uniqueness" over the past few years due to its Mayor is well-defined and well-documented. The current political leadership is a running joke.

It is important to highlight that the City's singular focus on pedestrian traffic is also unique. I can't think of another city similar to Toronto in size that completely and utterly ignores the potential of bicycle traffic. For improving public health, for reducing congestion, for.... christ... do I even have to write this? And it is not just the Mayor, but also city hall, journalists and random hipster/urbanist magazines.

Pedestrians are always - or should be - at the top of the traffic hierarchy. Duh. But it's astounding that the anti-cycling sentiment in such a large city in the western world here in 2012 runs so deep.

This is not a good kind of "unique". I fear that even if Toronto discards its Mayor, the battle to modernise itself is light years behind that of other, more visionary cities.

Rolling: a video

From Transportation Alternatives, New York. "For the past 40 years, Transportation Alternatives has been demanding (and winning) new bicycle lanes across the city. Now, it’s easier to bicycle than ever before."

Should we ask for sharrows on Jarvis?

The Jarvis bike lanes have been scrubbed off. Mayor Ford "won" this round, though it's unclear what's been gained. Long-term I'm sure City Council will again decide what to do with the nastiness on Jarvis. I've got an idea for the short-term. I've suggested this before, and this is definitely not a replacement for bike lanes, but I'm just wondering if we could get a consolation prize of sharrows on Jarvis. I particularly like the "green-backed" sharrow pioneered in San Francisco.

We might have lost the bike lanes, but Transportation Services doesn't need council approval to install sharrows.

It's not clear if a future City Council will even want to bring up bike lanes on Jarvis again. There is a common perception that the bike lanes were "imposed" on the community without consultation, though the bike lanes were always part of the Environmental Assessment. The local councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, was only a reluctant supporter of the bike lanes; she preferred the wider sidewalks but definitely didn't want the status quo of five car lanes. So perhaps "complete streets" on Jarvis will mean only wider sidewalks. The same problem for cyclists will exist even with wider sidewalks: Jarvis will be a nasty place for people on bikes. I hope the future us can get separated bike lanes on Jarvis, but sharrows will be better than nothing.

The risk with sharrows is that it might convince politicians that the problem has been solved. But the reverse might also be true: that it will help increase the number of cyclists who will in turn demand better infrastructure.

Harbord separated bike lanes get mostly positive reception from residents and business

Residents and business owners alike showed up on a rainy Monday night to discuss the City's plan to install separated bike lanes on Harbord. The section in focus this night was between Bathurst and Spadina (the full plan is for separated bike lanes from Parliament to Ossington). As one resident noted she was pleasantly surprised that the meeting did not degenerate into a shouting match, but that everyone had a chance to voice their opinions which provided for a fruitful discussion on a controversial subject. (Photo of Terrazza Bicycle Park courtesy of Dandyhorse Magazine. Terrazza is a bit further west on Harbord but don't they have awesome bike parking?)

The meeting was organized by Tim Grant of the Harbord Village Residents Association and co-sponsored by the Harbord Village BIA and the Ward 20 and 19 groups of Cycle Toronto. Cycling department manager Dan Egan spoke as did the Cycle Toronto ward groups (I was one of the co-presenters along with Nico). The City highlighted the features of a bidirectional cycle track that they think would be the best option for Harbord and Hoskin. It would have the advantage of minimizing the loss of parking to only 20 spots between Bathurst and Spadina. The City would work towards off-setting those lost spots with off-street parking in the area.

In our ward groups presentation we emphasized the positive affect cycle tracks have had in reducing injuries, increasing retail sales of area business (as found in New York and elsewhere) and that Harbord has the opportunity to attract business by being seen as a hub of cycling. Instead of fighting it, celebrate. There are a lot of cyclists who take Harbord. By the City's numbers about 20% of the traffic on Harbord are bicycles. We can confirm that with our own rush-hour numbers where the percentage of traffic that were cyclists climbed to 30%. Compare that to Amsterdam where 38% of all trips are made by bike. Toronto's average share is only 1.7%. Harbord Village looks a lot more like Amsterdam than it looks like the rest of Toronto.

The owner of the Harbord Bakery, Goldie Kosower, appeared to be apprehensive of the bike lanes as did some other business owners. Bike lanes had previously been blocked by the local councillors because of the BIA's worry of lost parking. But now there seemed to be grudging acceptance so long as their needs were accommodated in the plan. Fears may have been assuaged by news that the plan would mean only 20 spots would be lost on the north side and that the City would work on providing more off-street parking.

There was some passion among some residents for the separation, including a father and daughter who cycle the street daily. The father stressed that the only safe option is physical separation for his children. A younger woman had recently returned from Amsterdam and wants bicycle infrastructure in Toronto that is safe enough for her mother to use.

Towards the end of the night Councillor Adam Vaughan appeared (he was delayed because of dealing with media regarding a shooting death on College). Vaughan 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. But we don't have to do it overnight. We should sit down with businesses and planners to come up with a design. Harbord is critically important. It's a complex conversation. We might not get it all done at the same time.

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.

Some opposition came from Bike Joint owner Derek Chadbourne, who said he found the newly separated Sherbourne bike lanes terrible and thought Harbord was working fine as it is. He was also concerned about delivery truck access to his bike store on Harbord, asking where they would park once the separated bike lane was installed. Currently the delivery trucks stop in the painted bike lane in front of his shop.

No doubt, delivery truck access is a tough nut. Stores need to get their goods, and trucks need to be able to park not too far from the store. But blocking bike lanes is not popular amongst cyclists. Perhaps it would be possible to turn some of the parking on the south side into loading zones, or to come up with a sensible "curb management policy" that would allow the City to deal with the delivery access problem in a smart way not just on Harbord but for all parts of the city.

Or perhaps someone could always be available to create a "guaranteed bike lane" whenever a delivery truck blocks the bike lane.

Jarvis bike lane removals called off for the day because of protest: they'll try again tomorrow

The Jarvis bike lanes were slated to be removed today (above image from Toronto Star). The 5th lane light has already been installed. The parking meters for cars are back. But protests today have stalled the removal.

Around 1 p.m. Monday, workers began scrapping the white bike lane lines off of Jarvis St. using a large “Stripe Hog” truck. They didn’t make it far. At 1:34 p.m., 33-year-old Steve Fisher sat down in their path just before Wellesley St. E.

“I know you’re doing your job but I’m not going to move,” he said.

“I don’t believe the Jarvis bike lanes should be removed,” he said. “Before the lanes were involved I was hit twice by cars.”

Supervisor Jim Gillberry contacted the city for advice. After a wait of about 10 minutes the scrubbing truck pulled around Fisher and began work south of Wellesley, where another protester was waiting.

The truck pulled around the second protester only to encounter another person sitting in the street, as the sit-in continued.

Read more at the Star. I'm interested to see how things continue tomorrow.

Mayor Ford applauded the removal, saying he's just doing what he was elected to do.

City proposes complete Harbord/Wellesley cycle tracks all at once in 2014: tell them yes please

There is a Staff report before Public Works (PWIC) that is up for approval to build the Wellesley cycle track from Parliament to Queen's Park in 2014, to coincide with some resurfacing work on Wellesley. Then from Hoskin to Harbord they are proposing a bidirectional separated bike lane for the entire length. But safety and efficiency dictate that the entire length should be done in one go in 2014 as well:

Extending the cycle track on Hoskin Avenue to St. George Street is dependent on the reconstruction of the Queen’s Park Crescent West-Hoskin Avenue intersection. Accordingly, the Hoskin Avenue cycle track would also be delivered in 2014 to coincide with the intersection reconstruction. Consultation will get underway this Fall on the proposed Harbord Street cycle track, which would connect the Hoskin Avenue cycle track west to Ossington Avenue. The preliminary traffic investigation indicates that a bi-directional cycle track is feasible on Harbord Street and would enable parking to be maintained on one side of the street. From an operational perspective, the Hoskin and Harbord sections must be designed to integrate seamlessly, and therefore the entire section from Queen’s Park Crescent West to Ossington will be designed as one project rather than two separate projects, for 2014 construction.

You can send an email to Public Works and let the councillors know that you support this plan: pwic@toronto.ca Mention the item number in your email: 19.3. You can also sign up to speak on November 14 by using the same email address. You've got until Sunday to send your emails.

I also encourage you again to attend the November 12th meeting on Harbord bike lanes organized by the Harbord Village Residents Association.

This month's PWIC meeting is loaded with bike-related items. Also on the agenda is a proposal for developing a new cycling education program for schools; a report on the Rogers Road bike lanes (car traffic not effected, more than enough car parking); a request to the Ministry to clarify contra-flow bike lanes (currently they're in a grey zone); and a proposal to study methods for improving cycling safety around streetcar tracks (not much can be done, except take away parking but that's too radical an idea).

Connectivity, separated bike lanes and politicians waffling: right and left agree. Now let's build

Sherbourne separated bike lane and cyclist

I know that for many people progressive councillors in the last couple terms of council have promised a lot but delivered little. But Denzil [Minnan-Wong] is promising a lot but not delivering much either. I think Denzil has raised the issue of connectivity and separated bike lanes as a priority. I give him credit. It's separated bike lanes and not just bike lanes. When we build them now they will be separated and I think that's a good thing. But Denzil has promised a lot but delivered little.
-- Councillor Adam Vaughan at recent Joint Cycle TO wards meeting

Yes and yes and yes. Politicians haven't delivered much and the little we've gotten has been a struggle; neither left nor right has made it easy. Despite the problems we have with Councillor Eager-to-remove-Jarvis-bike-lanes Minnan-Wong, we can at least agree with Councillor Vaughan that Minnan-Wong has raised the bar by pushing for a connected, separated bike lane network. Torontonians are ready for something more than just a painted line.

Speaking of connectivity, the Harbord Village Residents Association is holding a public meeting to talk about the City's plan to install separated bike lanes through their domain (as part of the larger project to install them from Wellesley and Parliament all the way to Harbord and Ossington). There are currently no bike lanes at all between Spadina and Brunswick, let alone separated bike lanes. The meeting is Nov. 12, 7pm at 45 Brunswick (more info here).

Jarvis Bike Lane Usage Continues to Increase in 2012

Bike traffic on Jarvis Street has nearly quadrupled since Spring 2010

Cycling traffic continues to increase on Jarvis Street despite the decision to remove the bike lanes. John Taranu and the Ward 27 Cycle Toronto group, which includes Jarvis Street, conducted a bike count this month from morning to dusk and found a doubling of a previous doubling of cyclists:

As you probably know, the City of Toronto undertook cyclist counts on Jarvis St in 2010 and 2011, before and after the installation of the Jarvis bike lanes. However, no cyclist counts have been done since then. We decided to do our own counts by videotaping the street for an entire day in October 2012 from a location overlooking Jarvis (at Isabella) and then counting the number of cyclists per hour. The results were surprising.

Cycling use has continued to increase steadily since 2010, the last year counts were made. From spring to fall 2010, after the bike lanes were installed, the number of cyclists nearly doubled. Since then, from fall 2010 to fall 2012, the number of cyclists has nearly doubled again. Even two years after the installation of the lanes, more and more cyclists are using the lanes.

In morning rush hour, from 8AM to 9AM, there are around 1000 southbound cars using this section of Jarvis, and over 100 southbound bicycles (according to the City count). The bicycle mode share is 10%. By installing bike lanes, the overall capacity of Jarvis has been increased by 10% in just two years!

These counts were taken at Jarvis south of Isabella, a section that sees somewhat less bicycle and automobile traffic than further south at College and Gerrard. It is likely the same trend holds further south.

A few notes are needed to explain the methodology. The videos were taken on October 2nd and October 3rd 2012, from 8AM to 7PM when there is sufficient daylight. The early morning and evenings are too dark to be able to see the traffic. The video was sped up 4x to make counting easier. Only southbound cyclists were counted; the videotaping location meant that some northbound cyclists obscured by cars. The video for Tuesday October 2nd is available online here: youtu.be/NJl_tZMxsGM.

Where will the people go once the lanes are removed?

Bike lanes and quiet streets make cycling safer, but the safest of all are cycle tracks: study finds

The Cycling in Cities program at the University of British Columbia has published the results of their ambitious study and revealed that bike lanes and quiet streets make cycling safer, but that separated bike lanes (cycle tracks) provide the most safety. In their study of 690 injured cyclists in Toronto and Vancouver who ended up in emergency rooms, they've found that bicycle infrastructure had a positive effect on cycling safety. Not surprisingly people prefer bike lanes, bike paths and quiet streets to just regular roads (as discovered their earlier study).

The researchers also found that major streets with on-street parking were the riskiest streets for cyclists, and particularly for Toronto cyclists, major streets with on-street parking and streetcar tracks.

We found that route infrastructure does affect the risk of cycling injuries. The most commonly observed route type was major streets with parked cars and no bike infrastructure. It had the highest risk. In comparison, the following route types had lower risks (starting with the safest route type):

  • cycle tracks (bike lanes physically separated from motor vehicle traffic) alongside major streets (about 1/10 the risk)
  • residential street bike routes (about 1/2 the risk)
  • major streets with bike lanes and no parked cars (about 1/2 the risk)
  • off-street bike paths (about 6/10 the risk)

The following infrastructure features had increased risk:

  • streetcar or train tracks (about 3 times higher than no tracks)
  • downhill grades (about 2 times higher than flat routes)
  • construction (about 2 times higher than no construction)

The Toronto Star's story focused exclusively on the danger of streetcar tracks, but they missed the bigger story that it's not just the streetcar tracks but parked cars that make things particularly dangerous for cycling. Not only does Toronto have few alternatives to streetcar streets downtown, almost all of them allow car parking for most of the day, thus providing only a very narrow comfortable space between parked cars and streetcar tracks. Even though streetcar tracks are involved in a third of cycling injuries, half of those injuries were the result of parked cars:

Motor vehicles were involved in many injury events beyond direct crashes. For example, nearly half of crashes involving streetcar tracks involved maneuvers to avoid double-parked cars or cars moving in or out of parking spots.

It's highly possible that the danger of streetcar tracks can be mitigated in Toronto by removing on-street parking and providing bike lanes (or at the least sharrows). The researchers may have found much different results if that were the case.

The same researchers are applying their research to improving cycling education. For instance, no cycling courses currently cover route selection even though studies have shown that bicycle infrastructure make people safer. They also recommend that cycling education begin to cover the circumstances when motor vehicles are likely to pass closely. Their recommendations were to:

Include information about the relative safety of route types and route characteristics to help cyclists plan their routes, in particular:

  • decreased risk associated with bike-specific route types, including cycle tracks, bike lanes, and bike paths,
  • decreased risk associated with routes with low traffic volumes, including residential street bike routes,
  • increased risk associated with roundabouts or traffic circles at intersections, and
  • increased risk after dark on routes without streetlights.

Include information about motor vehicle passing distances, so cyclists understand circumstances when motor vehicles are likely to pass closer to them, in particular:

  • where motor vehicle speeds and traffic are high,
  • where there is motor vehicle traffic in the opposing direction, and
  • when the passing vehicle is a heavy vehicle such as a truck or bus

Calgary politician stands up for bike lanes with business opposition: will Toronto politicians do the same?

Calgary is installing a couple downtown bike lanes next year, and local alderman Brian Piincott isn't caving into local business pressure to stop them.

The bike lanes will remove parking on one side of the street, and this concerns the Calgary Downtown Business Association's Maggie Schofield. Schofield claims that “we already know from other jurisdictions that there's a huge potential for loss of business and so that's why we asked for an economic impact study and a current state assessment."

Alderman Brian Pincott said the new lanes are meant to create a safer environment for cycling and that there's still plenty of parking downtown. “I don't see a single business suffering at lunchtime on Stephen Avenue because there are no cars and no parking on Stephen Avenue.”

Meanwhile in Toronto, the Harbord Village BIA, and in particular, the Harbord Bakery, is convinced that filling in the gap in the bike lanes from Brunswick to Spadina will hurt business. Councillor Vaughan has done little to dissuade this notion. Instead last year he even sent out a letter to residents warning of the "problems" posed by separated bike lanes on Harbord:

If approved, the proposed lanes would require half the commercial parking to be eliminated. Since the morning rush hour has the most intense traffic flow, it is likely that the parking on the south side of the street would be lost.

Vaughan could have told the BIA that he would take their parking concerns into account and work on finding additional off-street parking in exchange for a safer cycling route. He missed that opportunity.

More recently, however, Vaughan approved of the separated bike lanes on Hoskin to St. George, putting it within spitting distance of the standoff at Spadina. Vaughan said that he didn't feel there needed to be any public consultation along this stretch. Given that it's dominated by the university where many bike, it makes sense.

What doesn't make sense is the opposition from retail along that tiny stretch of Harbord, and why politicians have been so wary to step on any toes there. The internationally-known study of retail and cycling on Bloor in the Annex showed us that business owners overestimate the percentage of customers who arrive by car and underestimate the percentage of cash that cycling customers are bringing in. (Thankfully, the BIA and residents association along Bloor between Bathurst and Spadina are now in support of bike lanes.)

Anyone who bikes along Harbord notices the constant stream of cyclists during rush hour (backed up by this 2010 Bike Cordon Count). Recently I did an informal count while drinking coffee at Sam James. I found that bikes comprised about 50% of all the peak direction (eastbound) traffic from 8 to 9 am! If there's anywhere in this city where we need a complete and separated bike lane, it is Harbord.

What we need is a politician with the guts of Pincott.

Established non-profit DIY bike shop CBN looking for a new home

Community Bicycle Network (CBN), the non-profit organization dedicated to improving communities through cycling and recycling is need of a new place to spin its wheels. The church on Queen Street West where Community Bicycle Network has been tucked away for the last number of years has been purchased by a developer and all tenants are required to leave as of December 31, 2012.

So far, the group has a few potential locations on the table but, with the clock ticking, CBN is now calling on the people it has served for almost 20 years, and its supporters, to help it find just the right place to set up shop. CBN needs about 1000 sq ft with a store front, preferably in an underserved community / priority neighbourhood in Toronto, accessible by walking, cycling, public transit and driving.

Board member Eric Tchao noted that a free, subsidized or below market rent would be a valuable asset to the organization.

Since 1993, both CBN staff mechanics and DIYers have repaired thousands of bicycles and diverted salvageable frames and parts from the landfill for reuse or recycling. As a social enterprise CBN has played an important role over two decades in making cycling accessible to Torontonians and a new location will enable us to continue serving the community.

The organization is asking anyone who knows of an available space that could suit CBN’s needs to contact Board Chair Adrian Currie by phone on 416-504-2918 or email via info@communitybicyclenetwork.org.

You can drop by the shop currently located at 761 Queen Street West, lower level.

Jarvis bike lanes to be removed: Council motions fail

The Jarvis bike lanes are going to be removed in a few weeks.

The council motions presented by Councillors Wong-Tam, Matlow and Cho failed to stop or delay the Jarvis bike lane removals. In a few weeks they will be removed, even before the Sherbourne separated bike lane is completed (which was sort of how it was originally spun). As a sop to the left, Councillor Minnan-Wong passed a motion that the money should come out of the general transportation budget and not the cycling budget.

This is a terrible precedent.

“Every time someone gets hit to the concrete from a door, or breaks a leg or an arm as they get cut off, you’ll be the ones to blame,” Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) told colleagues during heated debate. “Every time someone dies as a result of a bike accident on Jarvis, you’ll need to explain to those families why it was so necessary for us to remove these lanes.”

I am left wondering what happened to the centrist councillors who could have safely voted to keep the lanes. Where were their heads? Councillor Colle and Berardinetti had both previously stated the lanes removal was a waste of money and had insinuated they would vote to keep them.

Councillor Bailao, of all people, voted against the motion to keep them. This from a councillor which has one of the highest bike mode shares in the city; a ward which has hundreds of Cycle Toronto members. Bailao certainly figured that she would be safe from a backlash from people who want safer cycling. I hope she feels some heat over this. If we are having centrist councillors vote to remove bike lanes then we should start with persuading them before moving to the right of the spectrum.

Email her office. Call her office. 416-392-7012

UPDATE: Peter Low pointed out to me that Ana Bailao originally clarified her position on the Jarvis bike lanes to the Ward 18 group. She specifically said that "The decision to remove the Jarvis Street bike lanes was premature and a significant step backwards for safe cycling in the City of Toronto. I opposed the removal of these bike lanes and supported the motion and amendments of the local Councillor to save these lanes."

How odd then, when the vote was just about saving those lanes, she now clearly thinks they should be removed.

Again, she needs to wear this albatross and it's up to her residents to take her to task.

Still some hope to save Jarvis bike lanes

P1070245

There is still a chance that the Jarvis bike lanes will be given a reprieve at the upcoming City Council meeting. Councillor who want to keep the lanes will work some procedural magic to get a vote on the agenda.

There are number of reasons to keep the Jarvis bike lanes. Dave Meslin in the Sunday Star listed eight of them. For me, the main reason to keep the lanes is that they reduce collisions. Overall collisions dropped by 23 percent and, amazingly pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions (where a car hits a pedestrian, not vice-versa) dropped by 89 percent. (This might be the first time that the City has produced clear results of the before-after collision rate of bike lanes.)

The only reason given for keeping the lanes by Councillor Minnan-Wong, is that they will increase the throughput of motorists. The bike lanes had minimal impact on driving time, which makes sense since both the top and the bottom of Jarvis act as bottlenecks for drivers, squeezing them through a smaller space.

Cycle Toronto is asking people to call or email their Councillor to get their support in saving them. You can find your ward here and then email your Councillor here.

Photo: Martin Reis

Parking in Sherbourne separated bike lane: will parking attitudes evolve?

A friend took a photo of a UPS courier blocking the entire separated bike lane on Sherbourne. I posted it to Twitter and got a lot of response. Some people related their own sightings of vehicles blocking the lane, including a school bus (@andyinkster : @biketo @CDL_TO I see your truck, I raise you a school bus, leaving Sherb #biketo lane http://twitpic.com/ayyv7q) and a line of taxis in front of the Phoenix. Lots of cyclists were hassling the taxis that night.

Blocking a bike lane, whether separated or not, is a major problem in Toronto. It is endemic among taxi drivers and courier drivers. Can this behaviour change? Will they get used to the idea that a barrier means they should stay out of it? A similar issue arises in areas where cars use the sidewalk to park. Thus part of the problem is a culture among drives that they have the privilege of using any part of the road or sidewalk.

While most people were angry with vehicles blocking the bike lane, one cyclist @ErinForks took the position that we should expect the lanes to be blocked now and then:

@biketo where exactly did you want him to park? R you saying bike lanes are to be clear all the time? Life isn't perfect either...

‏@r0607ninja responded:

@ErinForks @biketo That's pretty much the point of having physically separated lanes

It might look like the separated bike lanes aren't working, but perhaps the barrier is already having an effect, since it's not clear just how bad the bike lane blocking was prior to the installation. The rounded curb still allow cyclists to cross over into the next lane to pass the obstruction. It might not be as easy as without the curb, but from Twitter my sense is that most cyclists would see that as a trade-off they can live with.

Perhaps the to-be-adopted new by-laws for cycle tracks with a $150 fine for blocking will help change the attitude. Toronto could also look towards other cities to see how they've dealt with the issue with cycle tracks. It's clearly not a Toronto-centric problem. From what I understand part of the cycle track on Sherbourne will be raised which may both provide a better psychological barrier for drivers while also making it easier for cyclists to pass blockages. This may be a possible solution.

Side note: for a happier view of the bike lane jnyyz posted Critical Mass photos. Here's them riding down Sherbourne:

P9283461

First chance to ride Sherbourne cycle track

P1060542 Sherbourne 'Separated' Bike Lane

The Sherbourne cycle track (aka separated bike lanes) is one step closer to being completed. Tino has photos for us of the first section close to completion.

Cycling in the Annex: Public Meeting Oct 2

On Oct 2 at Miles Nadal, the Annex Residents Association is holding a public meeting on cycling in the Annex.

The topics:

  • 30 km/hr speed limits on Annex roads
  • bike lanes on Bloor from Bathurst to Avenue Rd
  • additional cycling safety measures
  • results from Clean Air Partnership / TCAT's Business and Cycling Survey

Details:

7pm, Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012
Miles Nadal JCC (Bloor and Spadina SW corner)
Room 318

Cyclists and Councillor Adam Vaughan: a rocky but productive relationship on separated lanes

In terms of downtown councillors who say they support cycling and who actually follow through, Councillor Adam Vaughan is often of the latter. Councillor Vaughan may have strong opinions on what cycling infrastructure should look like, but he is still supportive nonetheless.

Councillor Vaughan has not always seen eye to eye with Cycle Toronto and the local Ward 20 group. He has been generally supportive of many cycling initiatives, but he had strong opinions of what projects he figured should be a priority and he had produced his own document of the routes he felt were a priority and possible. These didn't always jive with the priorities of Cycle Toronto, but may be valuable additions to the bikeway network if and when they are implemented.

Initially when Cycle Toronto supported the separated bike lane network through downtown, Councillor Vaughan saw it as a barrier to getting a couple other plans implemented, namely a pedestrianized John Street and a one-way to two-way conversion on Richmond/Adelaide. He was also sceptical of the benefits of creating the separation.

Councillor Vaughan, however, has come around and has provided support for some of the key sections that go through Ward 20. Here is where Vaughan has grown to support separated bike lanes:

  1. Wellesley-Hoskin. When the separated bike lanes on Hoskin-Wellesley came up for public consultation, Vaughan gave his unconditional support for separated lanes on Hoskin. Given the traditional approach of councillors (both on the right and left) to protect on-street parking, this is a commendable move.
  2. Beverley-Peter-Simcoe. Councillor Vaughan also announced his public support of separated bike lanes on Beverley to Peter at a Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meetting this last year when he worked out a deal with Councillor Minnan-Wong to support the John Street EA that would turn it into a pedestrian mall with some vehicle access.
  3. Sherbourne. Vaughan criticized that the Sherbourne separated lanes didn't provide enough separation: "not a pronounced enough separation.... Unless you make it physically risky to put a car in that spot, you will get cars in that spot. You'll have taxis, you'll have couriers, you'll have vendors."
  4. Richmond/Adelaide. More recently Councillor Vaughan has been more supportive of separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide. It's not clear yet if he will fully support them even if it means his proposal of two-way streets can't go forward in order to achieve them. But one can be hopeful.
  5. University. Under the previous mayor, David Miller, he helped push for separated bike lanes down the median of University Avenue. It never happened (because of a mistaken vote and a mayor who focused much more on transit than cycling) but it still could. Separated University bike lanes would work well with the connection between Wellesley and Hoskin ensuring that new cyclists could transition easily from Hoskin or Wellesley and go downtown along University. This concept, however, may have to wait until a new mayor comes along or political support builds enough to revive it.

It's commendable that Councillor Vaughan has been vocal in promoting a bike plan for Ward 20. We should be encouraging other councillors to draft up bike plans for their wards (in the current vacuum of the now-expired city-wide bike plan) so long as they are drafted with consultation with local and city-wide cycling advocacy organizations.

In the next year Vaughan as the councillor for Ward 20 will be in a pivotal position to assist the completion of the downtown network. A series of major cycling infrastructure initiatives all centred on Councillor Vaughan's ward will be proceeding within the next 12 months. We need Councillor Vaughan to support these projects to help make them a reality.

  1. The downtown traffic study's recommendations will be forthcoming which may address
    (i) separated bicycle lanes on Peter Street and Simcoe Street and, (ii) resolve the safe crossing of Queen Street West between University Avenue and Spadina Avenue; by addressing improvements to the crossing for cyclists at Simcoe, and at Soho/Peter. It will replace the existing route on John Street which will probably be lost in the longer term due to the John Street Pedestrian Plaza.
  2. The Hoskins Harbord separated bike lanes consultation and implementation process from St. George to Ossington may proceed. Wellesley Hoskins separated lanes between St George and Parliament are scheduled to be constructed in 2013.
  3. An environmental assessment process for separated bike lanes on Richmond Adelaide is commencing this fall.
  4. The proposal for separated lanes on Beverley Street which was adopted by Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in 2011 may proceed in 2013.

Based on his record at City Hall I think we can count on Councillor Vaughan but his constituents who are reading this blog need to give him their support to help him respond to the NIMBYism that surrounds all public initiatives in urban areas. Let Councillor Vaughan and PWIC know that you support a prioritized implementation timeline. Email PWIC, Councillor Vaughan and Councillor Minnan-Wong (avaughan@toronto.ca, councillor_minnan-wong@toronto.ca, pwic@toronto.ca). There are a number of balls to juggle in order to complete the square (Harbord-Wellesley, Sherbourne, St. George/Beverley/Peter, Richmond/Adelaide), and it would be nice that we can get it completed in a timely manner with no holes to be filled in at an undetermined later date.

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