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Cycle training with great infrastructure: the false dichotomy of education versus infrastructure

In the Netherlands, children have cycle training in school as part of the regular curriculum. Many of them bike to school so need good training in order to be independent. Most adults in the Netherlands know how to ride a bike, though increasingly there is training for adults as well, particularly for those coming from other countries. [Thanks to David Hembrow of A view from the cycle path]

The history of cycling advocacy in North America has been dominated by a debate on education versus infrastructure. Though increasingly passe as cities begin to improve their bicycle infrastructure, the debate had served a purpose of allowing policy makers to focus on doing nothing; even just focusing on helmets as if that is enough to get people comfortable with cycling. We now know that is just not enough.

In the Netherlands there is a sort of social compact, that the government will provide safe and comfortable cycling infrastructure and this will allow people to see cycling as a normal and safe part of everyday life. I believe that motorists, cyclist and pedestrians will all "behave" more sanely when cyclists are seen as a normal part of the equation instead of as "pests" or "outlaws".

A cyclist with iPod hears better than a motorist driving

The Ride On magazine of Australia has found that cyclists listening to music or podcasts with headphones hear more ambient noise than motorists who don't have their radios on (photo above is courtesy of Ride On). This innovative investigation by Ride On revealed that the reality if contrary to a popular misconception - commonly held by police and insurance companies with no evidence - that cyclists are riding dangerously if they wear headphones.

Ride On used a synthetic "ear" to measure the volume inside and outside the car.

"With the ear-bud in our synthetic ear but not playing music, we measured the ambient traffic noise at 79dB. With the in-ear earphones, the traffic noise was 71dB," found Ride On. The volume was set to a "reasonable" level, about 3 clicks below full volume on the iPod, which they measured to be 87 dB. They then had a cyclist call out "Passing" and ring a bell. The tester outside the car with headphones on playing music heard the call, whereas the tester in the car with the motor running and the stereo on at a moderate level (69 dB) did not.

We quickly established that cars are remarkably soundproof. We measured the average peak of ambient traffic noise inside the car (with the motor running) to be 54dB, which is 26dB quieter than outside the car. We rang a bike bell right outside an open car window and measured it from in the car at 105dB. With the window closed, the same bell registered just 57dB.

The decibel is a logarithmic unit, which means that the difference increases as the decibels are higher. On the decibel scale, the smallest audible sound (near total silence) is 0 dB. A sound 10 times more powerful is 10 dB. A sound 100 times more powerful than near total silence is 20 dB. A sound 1,000 times more powerful than near total silence is 30 dB. Normal conversation is around 60 dB and a lawn mower around 90 dB. Thus ambient sound inside the car is about 100,000 times that of silence and the ambient sounds outside the car, even with headphones, are about 10 million times.

There are two things I take away from this: one, that riding with headphones are fine so long as the volume is reasonable, and, two, a cyclist is better off being prepared to stop or serve rather than ring a bell at a motorist with their window closed.

If Councillor Wong-Tam cares about cycling safety she has a funny way of showing it: Wellesley open house for cycle tracks

In the first of two open house meetings, a good showing of the public got an initial look at the proposal for separated bike lanes (also known as cycle tracks) on Wellesley and Hoskin, part of a larger project approved by City Council last year to create a network of separated bike lanes that improve safety and comfort for cyclists. Wellesley will eventually connect to Harbord to create a continuous cycle track from Ossington to Parliament.

I dropped by and took a look at the panels explaining the initial planning and provided my feedback. I also got a chance to speak with Councillor Wong-Tam, the only councillor attending. But it's not what you think; Councillor Wong-Tam didn't attend because she was so keen on the public consultation process and wanted to ensure that it went smoothly. Instead, most of her comments to me and other interested citizens were to criticize the consultation process and to point out her problems with separated bike lanes and the priority of the project. In fact, the councillor appears ready to call the public consultation process dead on arrival.

Attendees at the open house: Courtesy of Cycle TorontoAttendees at the open house: Courtesy of Cycle Toronto

Why is Councillor Wong-Tam so eager to attend the public consultation so as to slam it? It's not entirely clear, but from her comments it appears as if she is more concerned for condo developers, businesses and drivers and how the bike lanes will impact them than she is interested in making some bold moves to improve conditions for cyclists on this major cycling route. She displayed a similar reticence over separated bike lanes on Sherbourne before she backed down and agreed it should go ahead.

In order to convert the regular bike lanes on Hoskin-Wellesley to separated bike lanes (also known as cycle tracks), staff determined that left turn lanes and on-street parking between Bay and Parliament would likely need to be removed. This can be controversial but so far there have only been a smattering of complaints to staff. This first open house was the first opportunity for citizens to provide feedback to inform the design process. The more detailed plans will then be presented at the second open house in September. During the consultation process businesses, resident groups, property owners / managers have the opportunity to have a site meeting with City staff, to discuss their concerns and possible solutions. Staff will also involve City agencies and divisions - TTC bus service, Wheel-Trans pick-up/drop-off, fire and emergency access, curb-side waste collection, and snow removal and street cleaning - in the design process.

Why improve these bike lanes? Separated bike lanes are popular (77% of all Torontonians); they increase safety by providing some separation between cars and bikes; and they encourage a lot more people who might otherwise not bike to try it out. Cycle Toronto has pushed for the separated bike lane network. Harbord/Hoskin and Wellesley streets in particular are prime candidates as they form a major cycling backbone in Toronto, a popular and rare east-west cycling route that doesn't have streetcar tracks and is fairly continuous. Adding separated bike lanes to this route will add some much needed safety to help reduce crashes and injuries and to increase ridership.

The City provided a good summary of how Toronto is playing catch-up to many cities in Europe and North America who have been bringing their cycling facilities up to a higher standard (most recently Chicago):

In Canada cycle track type bike lanes, separate from motor vehicle traffic, have been built in Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Guelph. Cycle track bicycle lane designs which help to keep
cyclists and cars separate are also popular in hundreds of other cities around the world. Lessons learned from these leading cities can help Toronto enhance its own bike facilities. Better bike facilities can create an environment that is safer for Toronto's existing population of cyclists. Cycle Track type facilities can also create an environment that is more accessible for people who do not yet cycle, residents riding in their golden years, and children. The goal of improving cycling facilities is to make cycling in the City, where you are near to motor vehicles, less intimidating.

Read more on the new standard for separated bike lanes in the United States on the NACTO site (National Association of City Transportation Officials)

Here's where the network of separated bike lanes is planned for Toronto:

View Downtown Bikeway Upgrades in a larger map

In comments to me and to Novae Res Urbis, a Toronto development industry newsletter, Councillor Wong-Tam made a number of comments that seemed designed to undermine both the process and the reasons for installing separated bike lanes in general.

At least 12 new projects are in the pipeline along Wellesley,” Wong-Tam said. “If you don’t factor in where those new buildings will have their egress and access points then I fear that we’re going to spend all this money and then tear it up later on.”

Wong-Tam would also like to see better coordination with property owners along the street who may have servicing or loading concerns, adding that “removing the bulk of the on- street parking isn’t necessarily going to be great for our main streets.”

Is Wong-Tam suggesting that this project be stopped until all 12 new projects are finalized? And what if yet more condo projects are proposed? Shall cyclists wait until those are done too?

Given that the City has explicitly noted how this process includes the opportunity for site meetings for stakeholders, it's unclear how Wong-Tam's criticism here has any traction. It appears as if her prime concern is with property owners and condo developers. Is this public consultation process not enough or would like them to have special access to the planning process?

“It’s a very expensive exercise to get wrong,” Wong-Tam said. “We can rush to a conclusion, build it out and [have it] not functioning the way we need to have it function then have residents upset that separated bike lanes don’t work. And then you will have a really hard time, if you mess up Wellesley and you mess up Sherbourne, of ever getting a complete network of cycling infrastructure. Which is why I’m advocating for a complete streets strategy, better coordinating with planning [and] a template that will ensure that the programming works for everyone.”

It's hard to understand her concern when City staff have already said that this is not a major project: they are not ripping up the street or changing the road width. They are proposing rolled curbs, bolted to the pavement such as they are doing north of Gerrard on Sherbourne, and changing the painted lines. City staff are “looking for some kind of temporary design that will be less costly but also something that we can remove when the street does get reconstructed and replaced with something permanent.” (Novae Res Urbis, June 29).

Councillor Wong-Tam is presenting her "complete streets" process as alternative to this process but it seems to be more of a case of doing nothing. A "complete streets" approach is sufficiently vague to mean anything in this context. If Wong-Tam wants better lighting on the street (which she mentioned to me) then bike lanes aren't holding that up. That can happen at any time and won't be covered under the cycling budget at any rate. If she is advocating for major road changes such as wider sidewalks (which she hasn't explicitly said) then it would likely involve a whole environmental assessment process and would actually be more disruptive for existing businesses. This just isn't going to happen any time soon.

Councillor Wong-Tam is throwing terminology around like complete streets to suggest she has an alternative that is equally satisfactory to cyclists, when, at best, it seems to be an empty term used to stall this process, and, at worst, is being used to keep the status quo of on-street parking for businesses and left turns for motorists.

Do left lanes and on-street parking convenience trump cyclist safety? Wong-Tam didn't make it clear that she would stand up for cycle tracks and take heat if there was opposition. But it's not even clear if there would be much opposition. Staff mentioned to me that they didn't think that removing parking would be that contentious since there isn't much currently and alternative locations exist. Removing left turn lanes will be a bigger issue, but even here I can't imagine a concerted effort to oppose it. I didn't see or hear any substantial opposition at this public open house and there are already many intersections downtown where left turns are prohibited.

Wong-Tam complained to me about the short notice for the meeting and how she didn't know what was being proposed until she arrived that night. I do not believe she is being genuine. Councillor McConnell had requested separate public meetings for each ward, which was likely to help Wong-Tam as well. This demand which was met, but ultimately the meetings were combined. Councillors were fully aware of the timing. Citizens first found about it three weeks ago from a Cycle Toronto notice on June 8. Information about the project was available on the City's website around June 8. The Ward 20 Cycle Toronto group on June 5th had emailed City staff and councillors Vaughan, Wong-Tam, McConnell and Minnan-Wong requesting that a date be set in a timely manner. There was ample opportunity to be abreast of the matter in her own ward.

Councillor Wong-Tam, however, told me that she hadn't publicized the open house in her ward. No newsletter went out explaining to interested citizens and stakeholders about the project and how they could provide comments. The same isn't true for a recent town hall Wong-Tam hosted on Jarvis Street as a Cultural Corridor. The councillor mentioned to me that she had made sure that all her constituents, particularly those in the northern part of her ward such as Rosedale, knew about it.

Wong-Tam could have put in the same effort for the Wellesley separated bike lane open house. If she felt certain groups were underrepresented they could have been invited. She could have used her office's resources which are larger than Cycle Toronto's. Was Councillor Wong-Tam hoping to discredit the public consultation by not publicizing it?

(The Jarvis town hall, by the way, had no explicit mention about the Jarvis bike lanes, but rather heritage and culture of Jarvis Street. Cycle Toronto did a call-out for cyclists to mention the bike lanes as important to the street. Councillor Wong-Tam mentioned to me after the open house how she was pleased with the resulting 'alliance' between heritage proponents and bike lane advocates. Was she crafting this outcome or did it appear as a sideshow? It's not clear how central Wong-Tam was to that relationship.)

Even though Wellesley runs through Wards 20, 27 and 28, only Wong-Tam appears to be against the process and project. This is quite surprising given her caché in the cycling community about being a pro-cycling councillor. I even saw her bike off down Wellesley after the meeting. Don't get me wrong, I think it's awesome that she bikes but it doesn't make a difference if a politician isn't supportive of what most cycling activists are fighting for. Councillors McConnell and Vaughan weren't present at the open house, yet it's clearer that they are supportive. McConnell has made it clear to constituents that she is supportive of the cycle tracks and Vaughan had even emailed me to express that he "totally support[s] seperated bike lanes to St George along Hoskin west of Queen's Park. No more consultation is needed."

Councillor Wong-Tam also brought up the Bike Plan as if this project could easily morph into installing some other bike lane somewhere else in the City.

“I’m disappointed that we’re actually not installing new bike lanes, more bike lanes, as in there’s not a single metre of new bike lanes being put into this entire project,” Wong-Tam said. “So that’s rather disappointing considering all the time and effort and resources being tossed into this.”

If Wong-Tam is not pleased about separated bike lanes on Wellesley she didn't offer any alternative bike plan for her ward. Instead she talked about completing the bike plan, how suburban cyclists need bike lanes too. Bringing up the Bike Plan is a red herring. It's not as if, for instance, the Pharmacy bike lanes will be brought back from the dead if the Wellesley separated bike lane project is stopped. The wheels of City Hall do not turn quickly and if this project is stopped here it won't be revived any time soon nor will it quickly result in bike lanes elsewhere. Besides, since the Bike Plan was drafted in 2001, cities the world over have advanced their understanding of bike lanes and cycle tracks. We should hold our bike lanes to higher standards, particularly are best used ones.

Councillor Wong-Tam even seemed to agree with a suggestion made by someone at the open house that there are machinations at City Hall that are setting up this project for failure. Supposedly so that bike lanes in general can be discredited. In this theory, the right wing with Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Chair Councillor Minnan-Wong at the helm want this to fail and so are forging ahead in such a way as to ensure that end. We know that Minnan-Wong is against bike lanes on Jarvis, but it is an entirely different matter to think that the right wing also wants the separated bike lane network to die. I'm not sure how it serves Minnan-Wong to be the main Council backer of a failed project.

Another idea floated by Councillor Wong-Tam at the open house was to suggest that this is a plan to get cyclists off the roads. I'm sure that this is front and center in the minds of some suburban politicians. A proposal to get cyclists off Toronto streets was last seriously proposed in the 1970s and it failed then. Today is a much different environment with many more people cycling and the urgent need to reduce traffic congestion. It is even less likely to pass.

Can we also accuse councillors Perks and Layton, who voted for Wellesley and Sherbourne at PWIC, of being part of the conspiracy? And councillors Vaughan and McConnell, who are supportive of the project in their wards? And why does the largest cycling advocacy organization in Toronto, Cycle Toronto, continue to push for separated bike lanes? Is Wong-Tam suggesting they are dupes to some nefarious plan?

I still hold out hope that Councillor Wong-Tam can be convinced of the need for this project and to get it installed in a timely fashion. Despite cycling herself Councillor Wong-Tam doesn't seem to be aware of where North American cities are headed and how she seems to be actively preventing Toronto from joining this modern world of being safer and more comfortable for all age groups and abilities. Cycle tracks aren't just a benefit for people cycling but for all road users. I encourage Councillor Wong-Tam to support cycle tracks on Wellesley.

City ignores regional transit authority Metrolinx on Front Street

In February Metrolinx submitted its reservations regarding the Front Street Environmental Assessment in front of Union Station which excluded any specific bicycle infrastructure. Yet the City chose to ignore it when making its decision at City Council. Cycle Toronto has asked the City and Province to rethink Front Street (as well as John and Jarvis).

Metrolinx's letter, however, didn't seem to have much affect on City Council's decision on Front Street. City Council did not delay the decision even though the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee had asked staff to consider changes to the plan. Staff came back with nothing, claiming to be unable to arrange the appropriate meetings. It's not clear if they knew about the Metrolinx letter. The Front Street EA went to City Council with no input on improvements for cyclists.

It's strange that Metrolinx, the provincial transit authority, seemed to have no effect on City Council's decision. Metrolinx is clearly concerned that the EA had ignored Metrolinx's key "mobility hub" objectives, prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle access to transit stations. Union Station is the largest and most important of hubs and close to some of the highest mode shares for walking and cycling in Ontario. The Metrolinx letter, written by Leslie Woo, Vice President of Policy, Planning and Innovation:

As the busiest transportation hub in Canada, Union Station plays a critical role in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area rapid transit network, serving more than 200,000 passengers daily. Planning for the station and surrounding area should reflect this importance, and emphasize seamless integration of all modes of transportation.

In 2011, Metrolinx released Mobility Hub Guidelines to clearly communicate the mobility hub concept and provide guidance on developing mobility hub plans and incorporating mobility hub objectives into other planning activities, including environmental assessments. A key objective of the Mobility Hub Guidelines is to prioritize pedestrian and bicycle access to stations, including the provision of a range of bicycle parking options and bicycle sharing in proximity to station entrances.

It is encouraging to see an emphasis in the EA on pedestrian priority and safety; however, I would encourage the City to consider this opportunity to concurrently improve access to Union Station for cyclists. In particular, the preferred concept identified through the EA provides minimal dedicated on-road space for cyclists. With the introduction of a greater number of taxi and loading zones, there may be a greater number of points of conflict between cyclists, pedestrians, and motorized vehicles. On Front Street, the consideration of on-street bike lanes or dedicated cycling facilities may help to reduce conflicts, especially in high activity areas, such as adjacent to taxi stands and loading zones.

I understand that BIXI station locations are currently planned for the north-east corner of Front and Bay Streets and the north-west corner of Front and York Streets. These stations are relatively far from station entrances, and do not provide clear and short connections for Union Station customers using BIXI. Providing additional BIXI bicycles in the plaza directly in front of Union Station would provide better access and visibility, creating a seamless connection between transit and bicycle sharing. In addition, the City should consider providing more bike parking directly adjacent to the station building itself and its entrances. Locating additional post-and-ring facilities on the north side of Front Street does not provide bicycle parking close to station entrances, and reduces convenience to station users arriving by bicycle.

I would like to comment the City for their work through this environmental assessment to improve pedestrian access to Union Station. The suggestions offered here provide greater consideration for cyclists using the station, and to provide more balanced access to the station by a wider variety of modes. Thank you for your consideration of these suggestions.

Reducing injuries is important but not at expense of public health: Provincial Coroner's helmet recommendation misguided

The Provincial Coroner came out with his long-anticipated recommendations for reducing cycling deaths today. Alongside recommendations asking for a provincial cycling plan, complete streets, education and sideguards for trucks, he also recommended mandatory helmets for all age groups. His mandatory helmet recommendation is outdated, misguided and overshadows is otherwise (though somewhat broad) set of recommendations. The media has latched onto the helmet recommendation like it is the magical talisman that will solve all that harms cyclists. Drivers won't have to change anything, it's all up to the cyclists! Almost every headline is: "Ontario Coroner calls for mandatory helmets for cyclists..."

The limitation of this coroner's review is that it only looked at a relatively narrow perspective, that of deaths and injuries while cycling. The Coroner never considered were the broader public health implications. Nor did he consider, it seems, whether other jurisdictions saw a reduction in injuries and deaths. Nor how it is that some jurisdictions such as the Netherlands as pictured above can be very safe while most cyclists young and old don't wear helmets. When it comes to mandatory helmet legislation, it is widely considered by experts now to have either no impact or a negative impact on public health. I spelled out the broad issue yesterday. It is one thing to promote helmet use while still leaving the option open for people, but it has been shown that once you try to enforce helmet use many people just decide not to bother. The experts have shown that the health benefit of cycling is much greater than the risk of injury or death.

Even the Toronto Coroner's report on cycling fatalities in 1999 recognized that mandatory helmet use could backfire:

...helmet use is not a panacea for drastically reducing cycling related fatalities or serious head injuries. Stricter bicycle helmet legislation and mass helmet usage in other countries (U.S.A., Australia, and New Zealand) have failed to produce any statistically significant reduction in the rates of fatalities and head injuries, despite optimistic projections. In addition, compulsory helmet use may result in reduced bicycle usage.

Did you get that? Mandatory helmet legislation showed NO statistical evidence that it reduced fatalities and head injuries!

One could ask too why there is so much of an emphasis on helmets for cyclists when drivers and pedestrians also suffer head injuries that could be prevented with helmets? I personally have suffered a head injury sustained in a car crash. But I'm sure requiring helmets for drivers and passengers would create a loud outcry.

It's not clear if the Coroner took any consideration of the impact of this on the public bikesharing initiatives such as BIXI Toronto or Capital Bikes in Ottawa. Bikesharing in Melbourne, Australia is struggling because of mandatory helmets and Vancouver is having trouble launching its own service because of mandatory helmets there.

A bicycle helmet law came into effect in Ontario in 1995. It was originally meant to be applied to all ages but was amended by regulation to exempt adults. Helmet usage among children increased after the legislation but eventually dropped off because of a lack of enforcement.

I wish the Coroner had considered the public health aspect of his review before making any recommendation, but instead he had decided to forge ahead with a misguided recommendation. If the Liberal government takes up this recommendation I believe that it will put a big dent in cycling promotion in this province and put us even further behind. If Australia is any indication then we could see reductions in cycling by 20 to 40%! That is a hugely negative impact on public health, especially considering how Toronto celebrates when the number of cyclists increased by 6% in the decade from 1999 to 2009. Maybe the reductions won't be as large here, but even a small drop would likely overshadow any positive impact.

Helmets may protect your head but mandatory helmet laws will likely make cyclists less safe

Some BC citizens are ramping up a campaign to get rid of the mandatory helmet law in British Columbia. Next year Vancouver will be launching a bikesharing system and this would be a good time to either get rid of the law or exempt bike-sharers. One of the only poorly performing bikesharing systems happens to be in mandatory-helmet haven Melbourne, Australia.

The anti-mandatory activists in BC may be making a very good point as economist Charles Komanoff explained on Streetsblog recently. Mandatory helmet laws are unlikely to make cycling any safer and could actually make things worse by turning people off from cycling (by as much as 20 to 40% in Australian states and cities!). The head protection that helmets give are then outweighed by the poorer health of those who decide not to cycle and a worse 'safety-in-numbers' effect for those still cycling.

Komanoff points out three key areas which helmet legislation proponents ignore:

  1. They ignore the possibility that some non-helmet wearers will cycle less or will refrain from taking up cycling in the first place rather than use a helmet or risk being cited for riding bareheaded.
  2. They ignore safety-in-numbers, or, in this case, its inverse, by which having fewer cyclists on the road tends to raise per-cyclist crash rates with motor vehicles, as cyclists’ diminished presence on the road leads drivers to treat them as aberrations rather than as part of traffic.
  3. They overstate helmets’ protective value in reducing injury severity in the event of crashes.

In the following two photos it's actually the father and daughter without helmets on Dutch separated lanes, and not the woman with the helmet and safety vest in the middle of Brussels traffic who are likely to be safer. Infrastructure and behavioural changes (such as in the Netherlands) have had a bigger impact on safety for cyclists then mandatory helmet legislation (such as in Australia).

Helmet legislation certainly has the intended effect of increasing helmet usage. But as Komanoff shows in his chart, it can be easily offset by the decrease in the safety-in-numbers effect. Part of the confusion in all this lies in the fact that proponents have assumed what is true in case-control studies is also true across a society. Case-control studies have suggested that cyclists who choose to wear helmets usually have fewer head injuries than non-wearers. The same is not true for a society where helmets have been made mandatory. Before and after data show enforced helmet laws discourage cycling but produce no obvious response in reducing the percentage of head injuries. Dr. Dorothy Robinson looked at all jurisdictions that had introduced legislation and increased use of helmets by at least 40 percentage points within a few months: New Zealand, Nova Scotia (Canada), and the Australian states of Victoria, New South Wales, South Australia, and Western Australia. When looking at head injuries he found that there was no clear evidence that the reduction in head injuries can be attributed to helmet laws. In all cases head injuries were dropping anyway. Robinson also found that in Australia cycling rates were increasing before helmet laws put the brakes to it.

The reasons helmet laws aren't working may be partly due to risk compensation where people feel that they can take greater risks when wearing a helmet; they might be wearing the helmet incorrectly. Some of the researchers also made incorrect adjustment for confounding variables in case-control studies where they misjudged how much of the effect was due to helmets.

Helmets also aren’t very effective in reducing injury damage to cyclists who are struck by cars, one of the main reasons to wear one in the first place.

The most authoritative epidemiological analysis of helmet efficacy to date, a study of 3,390 cyclist injuries reported from seven Seattle-area hospital emergency departments and two county medical examiners’ offices, summarized in Injury Prevention in 1997, found that helmet-wearing conferred only a 10 percent reduction in severe injury rates; and even this small differential fell below the threshold of statistical significance. What makes this analysis especially noteworthy is that it effectively invalidated the authors’ premature and incomplete conclusion in their decade-earlier study that helmets were spectacularly effective in reducing the chances of head and brain injuries; it was that “finding,” which has reverberated around the medical echo chamber ever since, that catapulted helmet promotion to the fore of bicycle “safety.”

And this isn't even taking into account the health benefits of cycling. A person who decides to avoid cycling is likely a person with an increased health risk due to inactivity and obesity. As Professor John Pucher points out:

“All scientific studies find that, even using conservative, understated estimates of the health benefits of cycling, they far exceed any traffic risk,” explains Pucher.

The exact ratio varies from city to city and from country to country, but the health benefits of cycling are at least five times higher than the traffic risks, and in some countries, such as the Netherlands and Denmark, the ratio is almost twenty-to-one.

So here's to having the choice of wearing a helmet or not. You can reduce the risk of a head injury for yourself by choosing to wear a helmet (though helmets are less effective when you're involved in a collision with a car). However let's not turn away people from a healthier lifestyle just because they don't want to wear a helmet. The risk of bad health is much higher for those who are sedentary than for those who cycle, helmet or no helmet.

Three streets, four legal challenges! City's outdated, cyclist unfriendly planning on John, Front and Jarvis

In an unprecedented challenge to the City, four legal challenges have been submitted to the City and the Minister of the Environment claiming there has been shoddy process on Front Street, John Street and Jarvis Street that have resulted in plans that exclude cyclists and make conditions unsafe. I haven't heard of any other North American city having so many legal challenges to its planning authority and process at once.

Cycle Toronto is challenging the decision to take out bike lanes on Jarvis Street, stating that making the street more difficult for cyclists is doing environmental damage, represented by law firm Iler Campbell (letter to city). Cycle Toronto is also challenging the EA for Front Street, stating that the remake of the connections to this major transportation hub is making conditions worse for cyclists and that the City didn't consider Metrolinx's concerns regarding cycling infrastructure, represented by Papazian, Heisey and Myer Barristers and Solicitors (CycleTO's initial submission, letter from Metrolinx to City, letter to City, response from City, Part II request to Province and response to the City). Then on John Street the bike shop Urbane Cyclist is challenging the John Street EA, arguing that the project will force cyclists from the best cycling connection in the area with no Plan B in place, represented by Ian Flett. And finally, Don Wesley, Ward 20 resident and Cycle Toronto volunteer is challenging John Street and represented by Fogler Rubinoff LLP (letter to City by CycleTO, letter to City by Wesley, Part II request to Province).

What is most galling (other than the Jarvis bike lane removal) is that what passes for a "comfortable cycling environment" is a wide curb lane with sharrows (quoting a condescending Stephen Schijns, Manager in Infrastructure Planning, in his response to Cycle Toronto). This during a time when American cities are undertaking quite progressive initiatives like the Green Lane Project which will support cities in developing dedicated, separated green bike lanes. Instead of providing world class bike lanes, cycling facilities in Toronto are way down on the list of importance. Instead of bike lanes we're given sharrows and a wide curb lane on a busy arterial road. I'm sorry but sharrows do little to encourage people to feel safe enough to take up cycling.

Front Street, according to Schijns, will include "a wide single lane in each direction marked by sharrows, and a pedestrian-oriented traffic-calmed environment which will have the effect of maintaining vehicular traffic speeds at comfortable levels. The 4.75 m wide lanes will be substantially wider than the vast majority of curb lanes on City streets and will provide a comfortable cycling environment." Schijns also wishes to inform cyclists - as if we didn't know already - that "the plan also recognizes that pedestrians and cyclists are not the only users of Front Street." And that the reason that a dedicated bicycle lane wasn't included was because of a "delicate balancing act" whereby City engineers had to figure out how best to convince the broad public that sharrows are actually "cycling infrastructure". Meanwhile the EA was approved while failing to address the concerns of Metrolinx that the cycling infrastructure was poor.

Let's hope that this wakes the City up that it can't continue to expect cyclists to just take the little scraps off the table. The Bike Plan has been dangled in front of cyclists for over a decade but we've met plenty of resistance and foot dragging from both politicians and even many Transportation Services staff. It didn't seem to matter much if there was a progressive mayor like David Miller in power or a regressive mayor like Mel Lastman or Rob Ford, there has been certain level of inaction and resistance in making the city safer for cyclists. What is needed is to make foot dragging harder to accomplish.

Public Meeting on Wellesley/Hoskin separated bike lanes: June 27 6pm

The first of two Public Meetings on bike lane upgrades to the Wellesley-Hoskin corridor is taking place on June 27th at 6pm at Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School (444 Sherbourne St). If you are unable to attend you can send an email with your comments as well. The first phase of separated bicycle lanes on Wellesley/Hoskin/Harbord are to be built between Parliament and St. George Street.

Transportation Staff are now studying the Wellesley Street, and Hoskin Corridor to develop some possible designs for how these bicycle lanes can be improved. Staff have already done extensive research in the development of recommendations for improvements existing bicycle lanes for Sherbourne Street, and so some of the lessons learned from Sherbourne may be considered for the Wellesley-Hoskin Corridor.

Physically separated bike lanes connected in an overall network have been demonstrated to dramatically increase the number of cyclists using the facilities. Separated bike lanes on Wellesley, however, may be contentious to some people due to the likely removal of on-street parking for part of the corridor and removal of left-turn lanes. Thus all the more reason to show up even briefly to show your support for this key section of a separated bike lane network in Toronto. From the City's site:

Introducing a cycle-track type design to Wellesley St. - Hoskin Ave. will require more width than the existing painted bike lanes. In order to maintain the traffic flow and efficient TTC bus service along Sherbourne Street, the new design will result in the following changes:

  • Removal of all on-street parking on Wellesley Street between Bay St. and Parliament St.
  • Removal of existing left-turn lanes

As part of this process, city staff are conducting parking surveys to see if new parking spots can be added to streets near Wellesley St. and Hoskin Ave. to partially offset the loss of parking on these streets. The design will maintain vehicle access to all connecting driveways and laneways along Wellesley Street and Hoskin Ave.

In a city where there is such high demand for many of our narrow downtown roads, it's important to push to move on-street parking to side streets or parking garages. There are many alternatives to where someone can park their car, but no alternative for a safe cycling route through this part of town.

Legal objections to John Street EA: deficient in addressing cyclists issues

Don Wesley is the co-captain of the Ward 20 advocacy group of Cycle Toronto (formerly Toronto Cyclists Union). With support of his Ward group and solicitors, Fogler, Rubinoff LLP, he is taking legal steps to ensure that the John Street EA addresses the concerns of cyclists. Local John Street business, the Urbane Cyclist bike shop, is also bringing forward their legal concerns, represented by Ian Flett.

From Wesley's letter, the main objection to the EA:

... the EA proposes to narrow existing vehicular lanes along John Street without provision for bike traffic, thereby effectively eliminating John Street as a cycling route and instead turning the route into a “ride at your own risk” corridor in which cyclist safety will be endangered due to competition for space with automobiles.

Wesley's states that the John Street EA contained two legal deficiencies. One, the EA does not comply with the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment and, two, it is inconsistent with the 2005 Provincial Policy Statement and does not conform with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

Wesley and Urbane Cyclist are requesting a meeting with the Public Consultation Unit of the City of Toronto. In case their issues aren't resolved to their satisfaction, they will request the Minister of the Environment issue a Part II order pursuant to the Environmental Assessment Act. A Part II order allows an interested person to ask for a higher level of assessment for a class environmental assessment (Class EA) project if they feel there are significant outstanding issues that have not been adequately addressed.

Ward 20 cyclists believe that there are ways of achieving the goals of the City on John Street while accommodating cyclists and protecting their safety.

The John Street EA was approved by Council, but there were some flaws in the process that make this legal challenge important. Staff used incorrect numbers for estimating cycling traffic, which they later admitted their data was somewhat flawed after sustained effort by Dave Meslin and other activists in recording actual data with lots of media attention. Instead of the claimed percentage of 2% bike mode share during peak times, Meslin had measured closer to 30%. Though the admission was posted on the site, this information was not available for the public meetings.

Another flaw was in the process of pushing hard for a pedestrianization of John Street without a commitment to ensuring that cyclists would have the same level of access and connectivity on John or close by. Indeed, it now appears as if cyclists may not even get an adequate cycling route on Soho/Peter, and this was the route that was championed by Councillor Vaughan. The major concern was improving the connection across Queen Street since currently it includes an unsafe jog across streetcar tracks and a left turn - something very few cyclists feel comfortable in doing. A new building is being proposed for the corner that would eliminate a chance for a reconfigured intersection.

This makes fighting for a John Street that includes cyclists even that more important.

Opportunity to object to John and Front Street EAs until June 11

Front Street and John Street EAs have been approved. I previously wrote how both the John and Front Street EAs failed cyclists. The notice of completion for both projects has been issued and people will have an opportunity to object by June 11, 2012.

You can view the final report for John Street and the notice of completion. The Front Street report is here and the notice of completion here. Both of these EAs effectively short-changed and/or ignored the needs of cyclists, both young and old. Particularly with Front Street, there was a persistent bias that cycling wasn't a legitimate mode of transportation and could be ignored whenever it became inconvenient.

Send your concerns to:

Jason Diceman
Senior Public Consultation Coordinator
JohnSt@toronto.ca
Tel: 416.338-2830
Fax: 416.392-2974

and also send your concerns to

The Honourable Jim Bradley
Minister of the Environment
Province of Ontario
minister.moe@ontario.ca
Ferguson Block
77 Wellesley Street West, 11th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 2T5

Public Meeting on future of Ontario Place: tell them it needs to include cycling

There will be a public meeting this Tuesday to steer the future of Ontario Place. Ontario Place is right on Lake Ontario and includes a part of the most travelled bike trail in Toronto, the Martin Goodman Trail. There has been an ongoing issue with Ontario Place using unsafe "P gates" to restrict the flow of cyclists crossing intersections. It has also been focused on automobile access with its vast parking lots to the detriment of access by other modes, including cycling. (Thanks to John Taranu for the tip-off).

In order to get better cycling infrastructure on Ontario Place's vast property cyclists will need to speak out today at the public town hall.

The Minister’s Advisory Panel on Ontario Place Revitalization invites Ontarians to participate in a town hall on the future of Ontario Place.

Date: Tuesday, June 5, 2012
Time: 6:30 - 9:30 p.m.
Location: Metro Toronto Convention Centre
South Building, Room 801
222 Bremner Blvd, Toronto

John Tory, the Chair, will ask a series of questions about how to make Ontario Place a year-round destination. If you are participating consider the following questions:

  • What are the key elements of a public space that matter to you?
  • What would entice you to return to Ontario Place many times during the year?

The roundtable session will be followed by a presentation on the key themes heard during the group discussions and a Q&A session.

Ideas and suggestions will be considered by the Advisory Panel as it prepares its final report to government on the redevelopment of Ontario Place.

Cycle Toronto asks City to improve bicycle access in Union Station plan, else may take it to Province

The City had approved an EA report for a remake of Front Street in front of Union Station. It would improve pedestrian access, but in the end, provided nothing substantive for cycling access, and perhaps even made it worse in some respects. This for a major transportation hub in Canada. Cycle Toronto has expressed its concerns (pdf) about the project and has sent a letter to the City to see that its concerns are met. If not, Cycle Toronto may bring its concerns to the Province under the EA legislation. The approved EA, according to Cycle Toronto, is contrary to the City of Toronto Official Plan, Metrolinx's transportation policies, and fails to provide adequate lanes for bicycle transportation and fails to accommodate access by bicycle to Union Station, a concern that was also expressed by Metrolinx at an earlier date.

If Cycle Toronto's concerns can't be resolved with the City, they will "make an order under Part 11 of the Environmental Assessment Act that would require the Project to undergo an individual environmental assessment".

Previously Metrolinx had also expressed concerns that cyclists were being short-changed. Lesiië/ Woo, Vice President of Policy, Planning and Innovation at Metrolinx, said in February:

It is encouraging to see an emphasis in the EA on pedestrian priority and safety; however, I wouid encourage the City to consider this opportunity to concurrently improve access to Union Station for cyclists. In particular, the preferred concept identitìed through the EA provides minimal dedicated on-road space for cyclists. With the introduction of a greater number of taxi and loading zones, there may be a greater number of points of conflict between cyclists, pedestrians, and motorized vehicles. On Front Street, the consideration of on-street bike lanes or dedicated cycling facilities may help to reduce conflicts, especially in high activity areas, such as adjacent to taxi stands and loading zones.

The City's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee had previously asked City staff to consider changes to the plan, but staff came back with nothing, saying that they were unable to arrange a meeting with the appropriate people in time. So instead of delaying the approval until changes could be discussed, it was summarily accepted. Perhaps this time they'll find the time.

Rejected Bike Month T-shirt 2012: Exhibit A

Reportedly they decided in the end to go with a less clichéd t-shirt for Bike Month 2012.

Why does Toronto bike despite poor Bike Scores?

Walk Score had recently released a scoring system for cycling in collaboration with researchers from Cycling in Cities, a University of British Columbia research program. A number of American and Canadian cities now have scores, including Toronto.

There is something odd going on with Toronto. The places where the highest percentages of commuters use bicycles also have a high chance of being areas with low Bike Scores. I overlayed a map of the bicycle mode share across Toronto from Statistics Canada. The following is just the bike commuter mode share:

I then tried to merge the two in the following image. Where bike mode share is high but the Bike Score is poor it shows up as purplish. Where bike mode share is high and the Bike Score is good it shows up as bluish-green.

Why do Torontonians bike despite a poor Bike Score?

There are three possible explanations. Bike Score is trying to measure whether a location is "good for biking" and not necessarily correlate with high bike mode shares. Bike Score might be missing, or not giving enough weight to, some factors that make Toronto neighbourhoods bike-friendly. Or Bike Score data is inaccurate and misses some key bike infrastructure. I think it's a combination of the three.

Bike Score will never match perfectly with mode share. It appears that averaged across a city that there is a strong correlation of mode share and Bike Score. Yet this isn't true for areas of Toronto. Bike Score actually takes into account bike commuting mode share when coming up with the measure. An obvious way to increase the match would be to give mode share a higher weighting. But make it too high and it just becomes a a mode share measure and not one of "bikeability".

Bike Score is based on the Cycling in Cities research, which included these environmental factors important to cyclists:

  • cycling infrastructure (separated bike lanes and bike paths, local street bikeways, painted bike lanes)
  • topography (hilliness)
  • desirable amenities (grocery stores, restaurants, schools, etc.) and road connectivity (both are components of Walk Score, which was used to capture these elements within Bike Score)

There seems to be missing data. In the Trinity Bellwoods area, for example, the mode share is one of the highest in the city, yet the Bike Score is quite poor. Part of this breakdown may be due to what seems to be missing College and Harbord bike lanes (there doesn't appear to be a green smudge where they are). These are two of the best used bike lanes in the city. Bike Score should get more accurate data from the City of Toronto.

Aside from these omissions there still seems to be disconnect so let's speculate on other factors that influence high bike mode share. One factor is destination (distance to desirable amenities and road connectivity). They include destination as a heat map and it appears to match bike mode share more closely than their overall Bike Score. Should they give destination more weighting?

Another factor is the friendliness of residential streets. While the main arteries of Toronto seldom have bike lanes, the residential streets provide respite for the speed and chaos of traffic. Local street bikeways are included but unlike other cities like Vancouver Toronto residential streets often don't have any bike-specific features yet can still be bikeable.

Another factor is cultural influence. Cycling rates have increased in Toronto at a much higher rate than the increase in cycling infrastructure. In areas where people can see "ordinary" women and men of all ages cycling, it becomes much easier for other people to see themselves as cycling as well. Since Bike Score already incorporates a mode share component it appears as if either this data is missing for Toronto or they might need to give it a higher weighting. As Bike Score says, "We believe as more people in your social network bike, there's a stronger chance that you will bike."

Since Bike Score is in beta it will inevitably improve by adding more accurate data and perhaps changing the weighting of items over time. I look forward to seeing how it will develop and be used by researchers, business and government.

Enforce this bike lane (please!)

Police car passing an illegally stopped car

I have another video; this one makes the point that we need better enforcement of bicycle lanes. Too often, drivers seem to think they can legally pull into a bike lane to load and unload, or to take (or make) a cell phone call. It doesn't help when police, as shown in this video, ignore infractions. They don't have to ticket every offender; just speak up and educate the drivers, or at least move them along.

Taking the lane.

Taking the lane

A video I hope will interest my fellow cyclists: a comment on why cyclists take the lane, and why, whoever complains about it, taking the lane does not seriously inconvenience motorists. This video addresses the hazards of passing cyclists and shows, as clearly as I can, why passing a cyclist so rarely accomplishes anything for a motorist.

Department of wishful thinking

The Trillium Automobile Dealer's Association has a regular column in the "Wheels" section of the Toronto Star. Usually written by the president of the association, these columns express the collective viewpoint of members of the association. Recently, an article in this column addressed a trend automobile dealers find alarming: the increasing number of young people who have reached driving age but decided not to drive. They don't buy cars. A goodly number don't get their licenses.

Progress on Wellesley-Harbord cycle tracks and closing the trails gaps. PWIC decisions and Adam's new way to roll

At yesterday's Public Works and Infrastructure meeting, positive advancements were made for the separated bike lane plan and the City-wide trails plan. The update on the Wellesley Cycle Tracks project was approved and the scope was expanded:

  • PWIC directed the General Manager of Transportation Services to "expand the scope of the consultation, design and installation of the Wellesley Street Cycle Track Project to Parliament Street in the east and to St. George Street in the west." That is, this planning phase would include separated bike lanes on Hoskin.
  • In response to Councillor McConnell's request PWIC decided that "consult with the Ward Councillors on the design and the consultation process for the portions of the separated bicycle lanes that are located in their Wards."
  • Councillor Minnan-Wong made a motion to direct the GM to "assist in the consultation and design of separate bike lanes on Harbord Street between Ossington Avenue and St. George Street and report back to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in the first quarter of 2013."

Politically, cyclists made some successes here. Completing cycle tracks on the whole length of Wellesley-Hoskin-Harbord from Parliament to Ossington will be a great boon to cyclists. Harbord is already the second busiest bike route in the city. This will help fill in the gap at Spadina to Bathurst, better connect Wellesley and Hoskin and make it a safer and more comfortable trip.

I hope that we don't get bogged down in consultation as it seems now that there might be separate consultations in each ward. Though I am encouraged that councillors are now starting to see how much people want separated bike lanes, off-street paths and quiet residential boulevards, both as cyclists and as "near cyclists" (the people who are likely to start biking if conditions improve).

Councillor Vaughan has come out as completely supportive of separated bike lanes on Hoskin. Vaughan said to me by email yesterday, "We totally support separated bike lanes to St George along Hoskin west of Queen's Park. No more consultation is needed." Vaughan had also reportedly stated that he would support separated bike lanes on Beverley, Peter and Simcoe in return for support on the pedestrianization of John Street.

Kudos to Councillor Vaughan for supporting separated bike lanes! We may not have agreed on where they should go but Vaughan's support for these lanes plus his other Ward 20 bike lane proposals means that he's committed to getting cycling improvements to his ward and they are complementary to the main separated bike lane network.

There will now be a seperate public consultation process for work on Harbord-Hoskin from work now scheduled to be done for Wellesley in 2013. Since Harbord-Hoskin has been approved by PWIC for planning the City's Downtown Bikeways Upgrade map has been expanded.

The City-wide Trails plan was adopted, with motions centred on ensuring public consultaiton work for each section, and the inclusion of local councillors. This is a good thing. Many downtown cyclists don't see a direct benefit for many of the trail improvements (myself included unless I'm making a longer trip to the suburbs). Some are pointing out that too much money is being put into trails that serve fewer people than downtown and that the trails won't be ploughed in winter or lighted. These are good points though instead of looking at ways to divide a small budget in a different ways, we should be calling for an even bigger cycling budget. Given the obesity health problem in our city, good suburban infrastructure is critical just as much as downtown cycling infrastructure is critical for safety. Most of the improvements in the trails infrastructure were already identified in the Bike Plan, and were always seen as important. But point well taken that we don't want to implement them at the expense of safe routes elsewhere.

Along with the trails approval, a motion was adopted to review the feasability of signal improvements at Strachan Avenue and the Waterfront Trail. The GM will report "on the installation of a northbound bicycle crossing within the signalized intersection of Lake Shore Boulevard West at Strachan Avenue to facilitate cyclists accessing the northbound bicycle lanes on Strachan Avenue from the Martin Goodman Trail." As a key access point for downtown cyclists and pedestrians to the waterfront, it's great news to see some progress being made to make this a safer and more usable intersection. Councillor Layton facilitated this motion on behalf of Ward 19 residents.

I hope the City can improve the pace of the work by bring consultants on board to deal with the backlog of off-street and on-street bike routes approved. On y va!

We may get Wellesley - Harbord separated bike lanes, but will it be a patchwork?

Tomorrow City staff will give an update on planning for separated bike lanes on Wellesley. Councillor McConnell (who has been presumably consulting with other councillors along the Wellesley - Harbord route) has sent a proposal to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee requesting that the planning for Wellesley be extended to St. George, as a sensible place for the first phase of separated bike lanes to end.

Unluckily, she has proposed that there be a separate consultation processes for each section of the proposed separated bike lanes. The lanes would pass through wards 20, 27 and 28, thus there would be three consultation processes if I'm reading her correctly. Adopting this proposal would mean that to finish the separated bike lanes from Parliament to Ossington would require five separated consultation processes! That means one consultation for every kilometre of the 5 kilometre route. That's just crazy.

And if the separated bike lanes weren't approved in each and every ward, we would end up with a patchwork. Imagine travelling along some nice separated bike lanes and then abruptly going back to regular bike lanes or even no bike lanes at all. Then travel a few blocks more and they start up again. You don't have to imagine that hard since that's how Toronto currently pretends to have cycling infrastructure, by only building where politically expedient.

This is why bike lanes have not been completed in this city.

Not only would it provide for an onerous process, it would be expensive, repetitive and it would divide us. You'd think that each ward was a separate country and not actually just a political boundary for a city councillor. Why don't we install border guards while we're at it?

I propose something else: let's just get on with it. We're a city with substandard cycling infrastructure, even for North America. We currently have zero continuous east-west separated bike lanes while cities like New York, Vancouver and Montreal are zooming past us. We have large patches of Toronto with next to no cycling infrastructure, even downtown (just look at our poor Bike Score). I propose that we have one joint ward consultation process. That consultation process was good enough for Sherbourne Street, which involved 2 separate wards so why not on Wellesley?

While I like Councillor McConnell's proposal for pushing on to St. George in this first phase, I am very disappointed in the consultation proposal.

Complementary downtown network: Vaughan's plan for more bike lanes

Councillor Vaughan had presented his combination of proposed bike routes in Ward 20 over a year ago. These bike routes would provide some key cycling infrastructure in some under-served neighbourhoods (I've drawn the "previously approved" ones above - can anyone point me to documents where they were approved?). There are more in Vaughan's document (which includes proposed in the bike plan and existing bike lanes). The proposed bike lanes would be 1 km on Dan Leckie, 1.4 km on Bremner, and 1.3 km on Blue Jays Way, for a total of 4 km.

These bike lanes would serve the growing downtown condo crowd, expand the network for BIXI riders, provide some key links for visitors and residents to access the waterfront and link up to already approved separated bike lanes.

The separated bike lanes includes 5 km on Harbord to Wellesley, 3.5 km on Richmond, 2.5 km St. George / Beverley, 1 km on Simcoe, and 3.5 km on Sherbourne. Including Vaughan's "approved" bike lanes above that comes to about 20 km.

I think it's helpful for cyclists to get behind Vaughan's proposals for Ward 20. Other than our disagreement over the need for bike lanes on John, Councillor Vaughan has had good proposals. Portland will link up with future bike lanes on Richmond and/or Adelaide; Peter will link Beverley to Richmond/Adelaide; and extending Simcoe bike lanes will provide better access into downtown while crossing the separated bike lanes (once they're built).