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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

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:

First chance to ride Sherbourne cycle track

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.

Bicycle licensing is impractical, hurts the economy, and is punitive

Every once and a while the subject of bicycle licensing (whatever that means) comes up. In this case, it was Forum Research, a polling firm that decided to include it as one of their questions. There's no better way to raise the profile of a polling firm by addressing controversial topics and then get the results printed in a newspaper.

In a leading question, they asked “Do you approve or disapprove of licensing bicyclists so that traffic laws can be enforced with them?” The whole "so that" at the end makes the listener think that the only options are licensing or lawless chaos, sweeping away thoughts of cyclists already getting ticketed in yearly blitzes.

The Star panned their own article on bicycle licensing by reaching out to wonky folks like Cycle Toronto and yours truly (never one to give up a chance of self-promotion). The gist, bicycle licensing is confusing, impractical, punitive and would hurt tourism and the economy. Licensing hasn't prevented drivers from getting in crashes, so it's not clear how it solves things.

Bicycle licensing are a favourite of right-wing, suburban, driving politicians who find cyclists as a handy urban scapegoat, while mandatory helmets are a favourite of left-wing politicians who see cycling as a dangerous past time and that cyclists need to be saved from themselves. Neither group understands cycling or its potential to transform cities for the better.

“Bad poll. Wrong message. Bike licensing doesn’t work. Police have powers of enforcement. Go w(ith) education instead,” tweeted Cycle Toronto.

Of the 834 respondents, 65 percent approved. But the question didn’t make much sense to some people who pointed out that cyclists are already subject to the Highway Traffic Act. (Although the act does apply to cyclists, Police Chief Bill Blair told the police services board in 2011 that licensing would “create a certain accountability that would assist us in enforcement.”)

The issue of licensing comes up so frequently that the City of Toronto has a website devoted to its history, and Cycle Toronto has a statement online. The group opposes the idea on the grounds that creates unnecessary and costly red tape, when legislation already exists. Also, it discourages cycling.

The city investigated the idea of licensing cyclists in 1984, 1992 and 1996. The city’s manager of cycling infrastructure and programs says it is not currently being studied and doesn’t have much merit.

“This notion that if people have a licence they’d be better cyclists, that hasn’t stopped drivers from crashing into each other,” said Daniel Egan.

Another question in the Forum survey asked if licensing would be a fair trade for European style bike infrastructure.

“There’s a presumption that cyclists aren’t paying for anything, and don’t deserve anything, as if we don’t pay property taxes,” says I Bike Toronto blogger Herb van den Dool.

Since cyclists can already be stopped by police, van den Dool says licensing seems to be a way to collectively punish cyclists “because somehow there’s been a general sentiment created that we’re getting away with murder.”

Even further, it is an impractical idea that would hamper tourism efforts like the Bixi program, he said.

Eleanor McMahon, founder of Share the Road, says many people assume that a licence is a way to “control or change behaviour.”

“That hasn’t necessarily been the case with licensing cars,” she said.

Please attend! Wellesley-Hoskin Cycle Tracks 2nd Open House on Sept 11

The second open house for the Wellesley-Hoskin cycle tracks (aka separated bike lanes) is next Tuesday, September 11 from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm at Seeley Hall - Trinity College, 6 Hoskin Avenue (on the U of T campus, north side of the street).

It's important that we have a good showing from the public. It's clear from surveys that Torontonians are much more likely to consider cycling if they have some separation from car traffic. Wellesley to Harbord is one of the only feasible routes through the core (I enumerated the reasons previously). Still, we have to overcome the digging-in of heels by Councillor Wong-Tam, who seems to want to indefinitely delay the installation but has provided zero alternatives for safe cycling routes in her ward despite claiming to be a cycling-friendly councillor. Councillors Vaughan and McConnell are both supportive of the cycle track. Please consider thanking Vaughan and McConnell (and Councillor Minnan-Wong if he attends) for supporting the separation; while at the same time letting Councillor Wong-Tam that you support cycle tracks on Wellesley (talking points below).

The second open house will explore options for more detailed designs, based on input from the first open house. From the input received so far, staff have identified some key trends:

  • The majority of respondents are positive about improvements to the bicycle lanes to increase safety for cyclists.
  • Some residents are concerned about the potential negative motor vehicle traffic impacts which may result from the removal of all left turn lanes from Wellesley St.
  • So far, few concerns about the removal of on-street parking have been expressed; staff continue to investigate loading and delivery concerns.
  • Park users and cyclists would prefer a dedicated on-street cycling facility around Queens Park, to avoid conflicts which may result from heavy cycling traffic mixing with pedestrians using the Queens Park Multi-Use Path.

It's encouraging to see that the proposal is not raising a lot of opposition from residents.

Update: Talking points for the Open House

I'm providing some handy responses to some of the criticisms brought up by Councillor Wong-Tam. You could consider using them if they are brought up at the open house by her or others.

1. The proposal is rushed.

It's been a slow process, hardly rushed. City Council approved it July of 2011. It has been now delayed to 2013 when installation might begin. This is the second open house. Toronto is only now installing its first cycle track. New York City managed to install many more miles at a faster pace.

Far from being rushed Toronto is far behind other major cities in North America including New York, Vancouver, Montreal, San Francisco, Ottawa, Portland, all of which have started separating on-road bicycle lanes from traffic.

2. If we don’t get it right we might not get a second chance.

Toronto transportation staff are professional and competent and have studied how other cities have implemented cycle tracks. The plans they've shown so far show how they've learned from European and American cities.

3. There has been a lack of consultation.

The Wellesley-Hoskin cycle tracks have been raised at two Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) meetings (June 2011, May 2012). The first public open house was in June and this is the second.

A number of residents associations have discussed and support the cycle tracks.

The Bay Cloverhill Community Association supports the separated lanes (so long as it goes around Queen's Park instead of on the paths). The ABC Residents Association (Yorkville ) and the Moore Park Residents Association, both Ward 27 residents groups, have both written to Councillor Wong Tam requesting her support of the cycle tracks. The Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Associaton discussed and provisionally supported the cycle tracks.

4. Complete Streets need to be implemented.

"Complete Streets" is a vague term. Still, the changes to Wellesley are easily implemented and removed and involve temporary curbs installed in the road allowance. Changes can still be made to the road later on.

If by "complete streets" it means no separated bike lanes then we don't support this interpretation. Wellesley is the only street in the area with no streetcar tracks or significant on-street parking or retail.

5. Cycle tracks take space from pedestrians.

Cycle tracks reduce pedestrian injuries on streets where they have been installed. They provide a buffer for pedestrians. Pedestrian safety should be the priority, not just an analysis of the physical amount of space allocated to different road users.

6. Left hand turns need to be maintained.

Make a point of saying that you want as few left turns as possible.

All road users are safer - pedestrians, cyclists and motorists - when there are fewer left turns. There are fewer points of potential conflict. Transit will move faster. In downtown Toronto cyclists and pedestrians should have priority not automobiles with single occupants. There are already a number of intersections in downtown that prohibit left turns, let's make it safer here as well.

7. Loss of street vehicle parking.

There is almost on street metered parking on Wellesley. There are lots of commercial parking garages and on street pay parking in the vicinity, with more being installed.

We need to move away from prioritizing motorist convenience over cyclist safety.

8. Reduced access for retail businesses and hurting redevelopment of condos on Wellesley.

Obviously separated bicycle lanes make access more difficult to businesses and properties on Wellesley. Sidewalks for pedestrians do the same thing but no one questions that outcome. We have to have some streets where cycling trumps other modes of transportation. The car trumps everything everywhere else.

Why we need Wellesley-Hoskin separated bike lane and it needs political support

“Eventually you have to make some investments in cycling infrastructure and you can’t wait until there’s so many people demanding cycling. You have to take a lead in it and that way you’ll induce more people to cycle when they think it’s safer.”
-- Brandin O'Connor, Osgoode student, at the Wellesley-Hoskin first open house

The second public meeting for the Wellesley-Hoskin cycle track / separated bike lane project is coming up on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 from 4:30 to 7:30 PM, at Seeley Hall, Trinity College, 6 Hoskin Avenue. It's just west of Queens Park circle (apropos since it's one of the difficult and confusing areas to navigate).

Much of the criticism on Wellesley falls into the nitpicky category; we can easily lose track of the bigger picture. There are a number of good reasons why Wellesley-Hoskin is our best, realistic option for separated bike lanes. Let's debate the whole package. I do hope our councillors "take a lead" in building better bicycle infrastructure instead of their myopic "my ward is doing its own thing" view. Roads were never approved or debated on a ward-by-ward basis, it's not clear why, other than historical accident, that we do it with bike lanes.

Why Wellesley is the best choice for separated bike lanes:

  • There are no alternatives. Bloor is politically unattainable for the foreseeable and would only be possible then in short sections with pro-cycling councillors and retail owners. Mayor Miller only gave us a study of Bloor, nothing more. Councillor Wong-Tam for all her opposition, has suggested no alternative route.
  • It is linked to quite a few bike lanes. It helps improve the network.
  • It's long. From Parliament to Ossington if we get our way.
  • Queen's Park intersections are barriers. The intersection is dangerous on the west side of the park. Going eastbound from Wellesley to Hoskin is confusing. In fact there is no obvious route other than through the park where bikes are not technically allowed.
  • Wellesley-Hoskin is what's on the table. Even if there was a better option, if we don't approve this, there will be no other proposals for some time.
  • It will fill in the Harbord gap This plan will help us complete the route. Staff promised to fill it in 2010 but didn't deliver.
  • There is limited retail and limited parking. Makes it much easier to remove remaining.
  • There are no streetcar tracks. All the other long east-west streets around there, other than Bloor have streetcars and have little room for bike lane as is.
  • Goes through the university. Lots of students cycle.
  • Removing left turn lanes makes the street safer for everyone. If they remove left turn lanes to install the cycle tracks, the street will be safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and even drivers.
  • Removes the dangerous door zone. By removing parked cars we'll have fewer injuries and deaths from drivers opening car doors into cyclists paths.
  • Cycle Toronto is fully behind it. Cyclists need to squeeze benefits regardless of the politician. It's not like the progressive politicians got us a whole lot. We hear pro-cycling talk from downtown politicians but little action.
  • The Bike Plan is dead. The Bike Plan was a political document and it expired last year. We need to do what is politically feasible.
  • Cycle tracks are popular. They encourage many more people to cycle more regularly.
  • Cycle tracks are safer. Studies in Vancouver, Montreal and New York are showing that cycle tracks are safer.
  • The bike lane widths can increase. Most will become much wider than our typical painted bike lanes, with no interference from car doors.

Wellesley, unfortunately, may end up being one of the easier. But getting it means getting cycle tracks on streets like Bloor Street much more likely.

So let's build it already. (But first go to the September open house).

Cycling on Toronto streetcar streets: the typical scenario

Where do you ride on a streetcar street? Do you ride next to the parked cars, or do you truck along between the tracks of the centre lane? If you're like the vast majority of people you ride like in the image above, in the left part of the curb lane. I recently took a video on Dundas West to see how cyclists act in the wild (apologies for the sloppy phone video).

Toronto, unusual for North America, has a lot of streets with streetcar tracks. It's hard to avoid them or ride them safely. I taught Can-Bike cycling courses and took participants on downtown routes for years. I would show diagrams of a "regular" width lane where a bike and a car could easily share side-by-side (keeping 1 metre from curb), and a "narrow" width lane, too narrow to share. I taught the participants to take the lane but reality was more complicated. The theory didn't translate so well to streetcar streets.

In theory cyclists should ride in the centre of the centre lane on a streetcar street because the curb lane was usually blocked with parked cars and the centre lane is too narrow to share. As a group we would ride down the centre of the streetcar tracks. It looked impressive, but it wasn't very practical, especially when impatient motorists felt we were blocking them. We would do our best to ignore the yelling and honking but some would closely pass the entire group given half a chance.

Instead of encouraging participants to take the lane, it did the reverse. Numerous participants would tell me that on their own they would never take the lane on these streets. I couldn't blame them since I didn't ride like that myself except when making a left or if I had no choice and then only for a short stretch. It is too stressful. There are times when taking the lane does make sense such as when I wait behind the turning car in the video.

Comfort and Stress
Comfort and stress are mostly ignored in the theory. When it comes down to it, taking the lane can be very stressful and very few people would feel comfortable doing it on a streetcar street with parked cars. And it's not just the cars but also the streetcars breathing down your neck. Given the choice between being constantly under stress from cars approaching from behind and an elevation of risk of opening car doors, most people choose the risk they can't directly experience over the first-hand stress. People don't experience risk, we aren't good at assessing the riskiness of a situation, but we do experience discomfort.

Practicality
Taking the lane is often impractical on these streets. Bicycles have the advantage of being much narrower than cars and trucks. When approaching a long line of backed-up traffic the majority of cyclists will filter up to the front, much like I do at the end of the video. This can be done in a safe manner so long as the traffic is stopped. It's not practical to teach people to take the lane when filtering would get them further ahead. The trick is to give some pointers on when it's a good idea to filter and when it's not.

Minimize risk
We don't really know all the relative risks when riding on a streetcar street, nor how to rank them. There's the risk of opening car doors; the risk of being sideswiped; of a car turning in front of you; and the risk of being rear-ended. We also don't know the risk of being side swiped by an angry driver who passes as closely as possible, or threatens a cyclist. We have very little data, to help us decide if sharing the lane or taking the lane increases danger (I covered this in my previous post). In the moment you can only rely on your judgement and your skills.

How I try to reduce my stress and risk

  • When there are parked cars on the right, I try to stay far enough away to avoid any opening car doors.
  • I try to be vigilant for any people in cars and keep my hands on my brakes in case they open their doors.
  • By riding near the white line I try to avoid stressful conflicts with drivers. That will typically provide enough space for drivers to pass. It also reduces the number of unpredictable and potentially dangerous conflicts with drivers.
  • When there are gaps between parked cars I ride predictably in a straight line instead of swerving towards the curb. This helps me keep my place in the flow of traffic.

I wish some more practicality ended up in these cycling courses instead of sticking to dogma. If you agree, you may appreciate The Art of Urban Cycling, which takes a much less dogmatic approach to the business of safer cycling.

Like Wychwood, let's make it safer to cross streetcar tracks on busy cycle routes like Queen and John or Peter

This week a man died when his wheel got caught in some unused streetcar tracks on a residential street near the Wychwood Barns, just south of St. Clair. There has been some public outcry to remove these streetcar tracks to make the street safer. In fact, Councillors Layton and Mihevc are going to propose that the City remove the streetcar tracks on Wychwood Ave.

That will make it safer on Wychwood. What if our councillors put their attention and energy also on making the separated bike lane network crossing at Queen and Soho/Peter safer? If we are going to start building out a network of separated lanes we also need to think of how they will cross streetcar tracks.

Many cyclists use Beverley and John Street to get to and from downtown and they cross Queen at right angles. However, the needs of cyclists were largely ignored on John Street with the John Street EA, and we were told that cyclists would instead use Peter and Soho to cross Queen. The problem is is that the City hasn't made any plans to improve it yet. The average cyclist can't easily negotiate two quick turns across streetcar tracks especially in a mix of car traffic.

Cycle Toronto is still trying to ensure that John Street has adequate cycling infrastructure for cyclists. If that is just not possible, then it would be next best that politicians ensure that Peter and Soho are aligned so that cyclists can cross the streetcar tracks at safe right angles.

Aligning seems increasingly unlikely since the corner parking lot will soon be developed; it requires Councillor Vaughan and City Council to intervene by putting a hold on development. We don't know if Vaughan would support this. We are running out of safe options.

Councillors Perks and Layton voted on the Public Works committee to accept the John Street EA which would largely end it as a cycling route. If they are concerned with improving the safety of cyclists on streetcar tracks, I believe they could also take a much stronger stance on asking that the separated bike lane network has safe crossings. Let's use the opportunity of this media focus on streetcar tracks.

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