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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:

Bike Mode share in Toronto

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.

Comparing Bike Score to Mode Share in Toronto

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's proposed 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.

Both bike lane proposals

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).

There will always be more to do, but that's not the same as saying that nothing has been done: prof opines on cycling in TO

Ron Buliung, a professor of transportation geography at the University of Toronto, elaborated on his interview for a Public Radio International's The World in an article War on the Streets of Toronto: Motorists vs. Cyclists. and the representation of the cycling in Toronto (thanks to TCAT for posting!). Buliung noted to the BBC that Toronto is "not seeing dramatic increases in fatalities or injuries of any kind, or much change in the frequency of injury on our major arterials". What is actually happening is that other North American cities are becoming safer and seeing fewer cyclist injuries and fatalities. Toronto has stalled at an average of about 1100 collisions per year over the last five years.

Perhaps ironically Buliung was involved in a sideswipe collision the day of his interview with the BBC. Thankfully he wasn't injured badly. In his musings below he tries to provide illumination on Toronto's "war on the ..." rhetoric and on the way we tend to fall into a binary discussion of good/bad aspects of transportation in this city. Things are improving in some ways - injuries are static as cycling rates increase, yet not so in other ways: we don't know if "near misses" and "unreported collisions" are rising or not.

“The war on the car”, “The war on public transit”, and now, care of the BBC, “The war on the bike”. This polarizing discourse about transportation in Toronto, launched by Mayor Ford, and sustained by a chorus of local and international media outlets, completely misses the mark. A more sensible conversation is one that acknowledges the multi-modal reality of passenger transport in our city and in cities across the globe. It’s much easier to play one mode against another than to do the tough work of figuring out how to make them work together.

In a busy city such as ours, irrespective of how you travel, the bad news stories are plenty. Congestion is getting worse, cars are crashing into each other, pedestrians, and cyclists. My personal story of cycling in the city includes the stories of friends and students being struck by cars; my partner was “doored” on College Street while pregnant and thrown over her handle bars into the street car tracks; and I was recently side-swiped while en route to a BBC interview to discuss cycling in Toronto (no injury occurred). This personal narrative influences how I think about the perceived and actual risk of cycling in the city.

In the BBC article, my comments regarding a retrospective analysis of reported injuries and fatalities were used as a counterpoint to the reporter’s suggestion that, “Toronto’s streets have turned into some kind of a roller derby”. Here we have, again, a complex process reduced to a simple binary description, i.e., it’s really bad out there/no it’s not. In the days since the BBC interview, I have spent a few hours observing the activity at one of our busiest intersections (in terms of bicycle traffic), College and Bathurst (also the site of the interview). During that time, I observed a young girl, escorted by an adult, trying to cross the street on her bike. She fell off her bike, lost a shoe in the streetcar tracks, and had to be picked up and carried the rest of the way; we are a long way from 8-80 indeed.

When I add my personal observations from around the city, to my cycling experience (about 11 years here), I can tell you that my perception of risk has increased over time. I can’t recall the last time I rode my bike in mixed traffic without incident, usually a near miss here or there. One could conclude that as I’ve aged I’ve also become more risk averse. Most of my experience bicycle commuting has occurred during the peak periods (rush hours) in the a.m. and p.m., at a time of day when the streets are awash with every kind of vehicle imaginable. The data tell us that most car-bike collisions are occurring at those times, particularly during the afternoon rush (City of Toronto, 2003). It may indeed be a bit of a “roller derby” during the peak hours. In other words, in my view, the roller derby exists, but not everywhere – and not all the time.

So, what of the good news? Data from the 2001 and 2006 census suggest that bike commuting to work is on the rise. While the city-wide bike to work mode share rests at 1.7%, we have neighbourhoods where the mode share is as high as 17%. Reported injuries and fatalities were lower in 2006 (during the peak) than in 2001. More recent data suggests little change in injury or fatality between 2006 and 2011 (City of Toronto, 2011). In other words, if we assume that the number of cycle commuters continues to increase, while frequency of injury remains relatively stable, then one could conclude that something is going right. One problem with this type of analysis is that the near misses, and unreported collisions are excluded. My near misses and unreported collision not only affect my perception of risk, they also fit into the broader story about the objective risk of injury associated with cycling in the city.

I would like to think that things are getting better, but I’m not completely sure yet. We are talking about preventable injury and death. It is not a good thing that, on average, close to 1000 cyclists are injured annually. Afterall each event carries with it several direct and indirect, and at times, enormous social and economic costs. These costs trickle across scales, from the individual to the employer and to the broader community.

The profile of cycling in Toronto has clearly increased through time; we have very passionate public advocacy groups (Toronto Cyclists Union, TCAT), and let’s not forget about our city hall staffers who are working to see the bike plan implemented. Although it might appear as though things have stalled (another claim from the BBC piece), there is more cycling infrastructure in the city today than there was in 2001. As of March 20, 2012 roughly 76% of the planned off-road capacity had been built, along with 56% of the planned signed routes, and 22% of the planned bike lanes (although these are the toughest sell of all) (City of Toronto, 2012). There will always be more to do, but that’s not the same as saying that nothing has been done! The best way to get people to consider switching to cycling is by building these supportive infrastructures, and – one of the best ways to reduce injury risk is to get more people cycling (i.e., safety in numbers).

While the currently available infrastructures might not all represent the grade and/or barrier separated ideal, they are a critical piece of the civic discourse on the role of the bicycle in the city – the painted line, the sharrow, the signed route, represent – if you will, a re-branding of our streets, a clear label telling all road users that the bicycle has a place in our city.

The relationship between the bicycle and Toronto is almost as old as the city itself. In the City of Toronto Archives I found a photograph of a bicycle storage facility located at the Toronto Lithograph Company, dated 1898 (that’s right, the idea of bike storage at work is more than a century old!). In addition, the conversation about bike lanes in the city has been dated to around 1896 (City of Toronto, 2001). The bicycle has been part of Toronto’s transport system for more than a century, it has survived the modernist auto-centric experiments with transport and city form of the past, and it will survive Mayor Ford."

Ron Buliung
Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Research Associate, University of Toronto Cities Centre

References:
BBC News (2012) Cyclists accuse Toronto mayor Ford of ‘war on bikes’. Available from: http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17914504 [Accessed May 7 2012]
City of Toronto (2001) City of Toronto Bike Plan: Shifting Gears. Available from: http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/bikeplan/index.htm [Accessed May 7 2012]
City of Toronto (2003) Bicycle/Motor-Vehicle Collision Study. Available from: http://www.toronto.ca/transportation/publications/bicycle_...... [Accessed May 7 2012]
City of Toronto (2011) 2011 Cyclist Collision Summary Leaflet. Available from: http://www.toronto.ca/transportation/index.htm#data [Accessed May 7 2012]
City of Toronto (2012) Bikeway Network Project Status. Available from: http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/network/network-project-stat... [Accessed May 7 2012].

Planning for separated bike lanes on Wellesley and Harbord slowed down

It appears as if work on the separated bike lanes on Wellesley and Harbord has been slow and it's unclear if the City will meet its timeline. Transportation Services has been working on the initial phase of Wellesley but they haven't gotten far enough in either project to meet the target dates.

City Staff was directed last year, June 2011, by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) to "proceed with the detailed design and consultation process for developing separated bicycle lanes on Wellesley Street with the goal of implementing them in 2012".

City staff was also directed by PWIC to start working on Harbord - Hoskin and Beverley to report in May this year:

City Council direct the Acting General Manager, Transportation Services, to commence the design phase for separated bike lanes on Harbord - Hoskin and Beverley that includes community and stakeholder consultation and consideration of the availability of parking on local side streets, with a report back to the May 2012 meeting of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.

This year, at the April 18, 2012 PWIC meeting, PWIC requested an update on Wellesley. We will get the official update at the May meeting. I spoke with Christina Bouchard of Transportation Services who told me that they have been doing "counts, parking surveys and traffic analysis along Wellesley, and have met with the Councillor" but that they haven't prepared any public consultation meetings as of yet. Given this pace it appears that the probability of constructing the separated Wellesley Street bike lanes in 2012 is remote.

Hopefully City Staff has advanced the design work for physically separated bicycle lanes on Harbord, Hoskins and Beverley Streets as they were directed a year ago. I haven't received any information on the progress, but given the pace of Wellesley it's likely that these streets will be even later. Anyone interested should monitor the agenda of PWIC for its May 16, 2012 meeting.

The Ward groups of wards 19, 20, 27 and 28 have become concerned regarding the slow pace and have sent a letter to PWIC (pdf) to suggest a number of improvements to the process. The letter strongly supports the separated bike lanes on Wellesley, Harbord-Hoskins and Bevereley. In addition it supports the improvements suggested by Councillor Vaughan for Ward 20. It also suggests that City Council expand the scope of planning for Wellesley to include the bikeway from Ossington to Parliament.

Ride the Ravine - charity bike ride through Toronto's ravines

in

Evergreen Brick Works will be hosting their inaugural charity bike ride “Ride the Ravines” on Sunday, June 17, in support of accessible cycling in the GTA. Riders of all levels are welcome! Register today!

Ride the Ravines will take riders through Toronto's ravine network, residential streets, a major road, the lakeshore boardwalk, and a few parks. The route begins and ends at Evergreen Brick Works, and is 25km in total (with the option of a shorter 12km route as well). This will be a fun mass ride weaving through parts of the City you've never seen.

After the ride, cyclists and community members will come together for our after-party at Evergreen Brick Works – a vibrant, fun-filled event featuring live musical acts, delicious food, and an opportunity to mingle with sponsors, retailers, and community partners (including ING Direct, Cycle Toronto and yours truly, I Bike TO).

Hope to see you there!

Poster is below in case you would like to print it off.

"Dangerous" streets? when the media tries to crunch its own numbers

OpenFile has a young and bike-friendly group of journalists writing and researching for it. It has just produced a pretty cool map of traffic "accidents" called OpenRoad where people can choose start and end points of a journey to see the number of crashes along the way that were reported to the police. (I'm going to stick to calling them crashes since we don't know if they were actually accidents or if they could have been prevented). The Globe and Mail created a similar map not too long ago, using the same / similar data. I wrote up my criticisms of that map and most of the same criticisms stand for OpenRoad. OpenFile, in this initiative, is misleading the public more than they're helping. They've failed to provide context for the numbers and the whole project implies that they are helping people find the most dangerous intersections.

OpenFile is aware of the problem with the data and notes that "A route with more accidents isn't necessarily more dangerous for each individual on it." Popular cycling routes will inevitably have more crashes than routes where no cyclists venture. Their map is unable to tell us why an intersection has lots or few crashes. Is it because it gets used a lot by cyclists? Or does it have bad sightlines, heavy traffic, or lots of potholes? We have no idea based on their map.

It begs the question of the usefulness of the map at all if we can't even use it to help us make decisions on our routes.

With the one hand OpenFile explained the limitations of the OpenRoad map, but with the other hand they were exploiting it for headlines like "MONTREAL'S MOST DANGEROUS INTERSECTION FOR CYCLISTS" and a tamer headline "Vancouver’s intersection with the most bicycle-vehicle collisions", which still contained the statement "It will come as no surprise that Main Street at East 2nd Avenue, a hub of both bikes and cars, is the most dangerous cycling intersection in Vancouver with 10 accidents reported to police between 2007 and 2010".

No, that's not how it works.

The media now seems to be more interested in playing with cool new tools rather than consult with experts - in this case bike safety researchers - in order to understand how we can actually measure "safety" and "danger".

We don't have good cycling counts in Toronto. The best we have is the Downtown Cordon Count from 2010 but it will serve the purpose for my argument. Let's compare College and Dundas. The report counted the number of cyclists passing a cordon over the day and the western boundary was Spadina. Using the OpenRoad map I selected a route on College from Bathurst to Beverley and the same from Dundas. I then can make a rough comparison of crashes to the cyclist counts on these two streets.

Street Cyclists (per day) Crashes (2007-2010)
College 4722 65
Dundas 1394 30

There are 3 times as many cyclists on College as Dundas, but only 2 times as many crashes. (I am making what I think is a safe assumption that cycling traffic on College tends to always be about 3 times as high as Dundas). From the viewpoint of an individual cyclist which street would you think would mean less risk of a crash? Going by the OpenRoad map and headlines I would venture that OpenFile would proclaim Dundas as the safer street and College as more dangerous. College has twice as many crashes after all. But as soon as we take into account how many cyclists are actually travelling on these two streets College starts to look a lot better than Dundas.

Ideally in such investigative journalism it would be nice to have a map like this, which maps the pedestrian collisions with a denominator of pedestrian traffic. But we can't get that. So what is the point of OpenRoad?

OpenFile and the Globe and Mail have, at best, just provided yet another fun-looking but pointless widget, and, at worst, helped to persuade people to choose cycling routes that are actually more dangerous than their tool would tell them. Anyone up for biking on Steeles? It has a heck of a lot fewer crashes than College Street.

Reduce speeds to save lives, set targets for reducing injuries and deaths: chief medical officer

A new report released by the Toronto's chief medical officer shows how cycling and walking are both good for our health and save it's money. The report, “Road to Health: Improving Walking and Cycling in Toronto,” also demonstrates how reducing motor vehicle speeds reduces the number of people being killed annually, recommending that Toronto lower speed limits to 30 on residential streets and 40 on arterials. The latter will prove to have a hard time getting traction in Toronto, despite the fact that many Toronto residential neighbourhoods already have 30 zones with traffic calming measures (though many also do not). And despite the fact that other cities have proven how successful it can be on making other cities more liveable, literally.

Studies are quite clear that deaths and serious injuries increase dramatically with higher speeds. There is a “greatly increased probability of death or serious injury when hit by a vehicle travelling 50 km/h compared with 40 km/h.” One of the studies found that 85 per cent of people struck at 50 km/h are likely to die, versus only 25 per cent at 40 km/hour.

Toronto politicians aren't ready to push for this and a majority of drivers are bound to think the proposal goes too far, except when it comes to their own neighbourhood. Currently the City requires communities to individually apply for lower speed limits, asking traffic engineers who feel their job is to keep cars going fast for exemptions to the rule. The rule is that they first need to get speed humps and they can only get those if traffic engineers measure that the average speed on the street is above the posted limit. The City has made it exceptionally difficult for neighbourhoods to get safe streets. This proposal would flip out around by saying we should be going slower everywhere except for those roads where we make an exception. From the Star:

Dylan Reid, former co-chair of the city’s pedestrian committee, argued that residents have already demonstrated that they prefer slower speeds on local streets.

“Most of Toronto’s residential areas are designed to slow cars down, and people want them slow. . . . I think this is frankly just catching up to reality in a lot of ways,” Reid said.

“Where there is a wide road that is suited for a faster speed, it’s easy to simply post that speed where appropriate. But it doesn’t make any sense for the default speed to be 50 km/h.”

If I may make a bold claim, Torontonians want lower speed limits where they and their children live but not where the drive. They deserve safe streets, they feel, but elsewhere speed should trump safety. Cycling and walking advocates (and maybe a campaign like 20 is Plenty for Us can take advantage of this dichotomy and start helping local communities to fight city hall for the right to safety where they live. We now have an official report to back it up. Just don't rely on councillors to take the lead since our love for speed is ingrained.

The report has another proposal that has been overlooked but that could prove to be powerful. It recommends the City to set targets for reducing injuries and deaths. Imagine getting a yearly report that showed how we missed our goal to reduce deaths. It would bring media attention to the fact that city inaction has a direct result on more people dying. What politician would want to get behind that story? New York City is doing something similar with their Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, where the city is now required to produce a report to show what, if anything, they've done to reduce pedestrian injuries and deaths. Building political traction can be difficult, but this would help keep politicians' feet to the fire.

Even if the City might not yet be ready to do something rational to save lives by lowering speed limits, the report has a number of strategic measures that it recommends to improve Torontonians' health by getting us walking and cycling more and doing it with less risk of injury or death. And already the press coverage of the controversial recommendation for lower speed limits will help jolt people out of their complacency. At least we now can't deny the trade-off: if you want to go faster you know you're risking greater injury and death.

The Jarvis fifth lane: outdated traffic planning

On the day of the Complete Streets Forum in Toronto and just after the Toronto Cyclists Union said they would take their request for an Environmental Assessment on the Jarvis bike lane removal to the province, I was thinking about an outdated urban traffic planning - popular in the 1950s - that is favoured by some people on City Council. Contrary to our Mayor, Minnan-Wong sees an important place for cyclists and pedestrians, while still emphasising a central place for motorists. While Councillor Minnan-Wong seems to be seriously considering how to balance different needs, I don't believe he or anyone else can successfully balance the insatiable needs of of the car against the needs of the community. We only need to look at our current suburbs to see how giving over our neighbourhoods to "optimize" car travel has failed to reduce congestion. It would be hard to find people anywhere in Toronto that are willing to give over yet more space to automobiles in their own community.

Councillor Minnan-Wong is concerned that downtown Toronto is becoming too unfriendly for motorists, particularly in a time when public transit is so poor that many people are still "forced" to commute by car. Minnan-Wong stands by his stance on Jarvis, that it should primarily be seen as a route for motorists and not as a complete street that also takes into account the people who live on it or who travel by other means. Instead, other routes like Sherbourne should be optimized for means like bicycle.

Do we need more transit? Yes. Do we need more bike paths? Yes. Would it be better if more people could walk to work or take transit? Yes.

But in the real world, biking from Malvern or Rexdale to King and Bay works well in theory but a little worse in practice. And a lot worse in the months of November through to March. Given the city's lack of progress at installing bike lanes, it is no surprise that many suburban cyclists make different choices about how to get around.

A mobility plan includes measures to expand the use of transit and bicycles, and – critically – practical means to substitute public for private methods of transport over time. Until the supply of transit is adequate (and we're a long way from there) or until our downtown is bike-friendly, the city has a duty to enable its citizens to enjoy the benefits of mobility, including trips taken by car.

There is some nuance to this view and has some logic to it. We can't make driving more difficult while failing to make it easier to take transit or bike. This would only serve to anger motorists. But there are a few problems with Minnan-Wong's argument.

One, it doesn't help that the TTC commission voted to reduce bus service in the suburbs and that Minnan-Wong voted with the majority. It would be easier to take his argument if he was also working hard to improve transit.

Two, Torontonians are frustrated by congestion, though far from being a downtown problem, traffic congestion has been getting much worse in the suburbs while remaining stable into and out of downtown over the last two decades (from 1985 to 2006). The question we should be asking ourselves is, why is traffic in the suburbs - with its wide and plentiful roads - getting worse while downtown traffic is not? Instead of trying to fix downtown congestion, we should look at what the suburbs can learn from downtown?

Three, re-installing the fifth lane on Jarvis will provide next to no benefit for anyone. The street will be less safe for all people and frustrated drivers will still be frustrated even with up to 2 minutes saved in travel time. The staff had measured times post fifth lane removal of between 2 to 5 minutes longer during rush hour. However, this delay was likely reduced because of the installation of a dedicated left turn signal at Gerard and Jarvis. So it's not clear if motorists will save any time.

One would think that an extra lane would help more. But there are bottlenecks at the top and bottom of Jarvis, which means we can only squeeze as much capacity as there is at the bottleneck since that is where motorists are forced to merge again into fewer lanes.

And even if there weren't bottlenecks on Jarvis, it would not be able to escape the principle of "induced demand". Induced demand means that the more supply you provide the more people who will find more reasons to make trips. And then soon the supply is all taken up and we're back to similar congestion levels as before.

Four, shaving off 2 minutes of someone's commute time while making someone else's commute (or neighbourhood) more dangerous is a lousy trade-off. All over Toronto there exist neighbourhoods who have fought to install speed humps and lower speed limits on their streets. Jarvis may be a main arterial but people still live on it or travel on it by foot or bike. How do we weigh and prioritize what we value here? Don't we usually prioritize safety over convenience?

We can see models in Europe for how to create communities that better balance the competing needs of cars versus the rest of the community, but these communities relegate cars to a small part of their overall transportation mixture. By pushing for expanding the space dedicated to cars we soon run into problems. It is no longer the 1950s; there is no cheap land in much of Toronto on which to build more roads. Squeezing a couple minutes here or there is not going to solve congestion. It's probably not even a worthwhile goal for Toronto. Congestion is the price we pay for being a successful city. After all, as David Mirvish said, "If we get slowed down, that’s part of the price of living in a city. Plan ahead."

Let's see the stats on improved travel times at Jarvis/Gerrard advanced left turn phase

The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) voted to reinstall the fifth lane of Jarvis and remove the Jarvis bike lanes after the installation of the Sherbourne Street separated bike lanes at its meeting on June 23, 2011. Cyclists, the Toronto Cyclists Union in particular, supported the Sherbourne separated bike lanes but were against creating a trade-off with the Jarvis bike lanes. The number one argument used to push for removing the Jarvis bike lanes was that it slowed down traffic (by about 2 to 5 minutes). In the report Transportation Services staff had noted that travel times could be improved by installing an advanced left turn signal at Jarvis and Gerrard streets. The staff have installed the advanced left and have studied the results. It's time that PWIC released the results so the public knows if it has helped resolve travel time issues.

At PWIC’s June 23. 2011 meeting, PWIC had before it a June 9 , 2011 City staff report, Bikeway Network 2011 Update. City staff advised in the report, referring to Jarvis Street, that:

Travel times increased by approximately two minutes in both directions following the installation of the bike lanes in the a.m. peak hour and by three to five minutes in both directions in the p.m. peak hour.

  • Much of the increased travel time could be attributed to the delays and queues experienced at the Jarvis Street/Gerrard Street East intersection, particularly in the northbound direction during the p.m. peak period.
  • The introduction of an advanced left turn phase in the northbound direction at this intersection, scheduled this summer, will reduce the delays at this intersection and the overall travel times between Queen Street East and Charles Street East.

An advanced left turn phase in the northbound direction of Jarvis Street at the intersection of Jarvis Street and Gerrard Street East was introduced in the summer/fall of 2011. New stats for the intersection of Gerrard and Jarvis have been internally generated by the City and a travel time analysis may be available that would help the public and the Committee in understanding if there has been a change in the delay experienced by motorists on Jarvis Street during rush hour after the change in signal timing.

PWIC should release the new travel time statistics now so that the community can be able to assess the real impact, if any, of the removal of the 5th lane of Jarvis and the installation of the Jarvis Street bike lanes.

Will a bikesharing-friendly company buy BIXI?

Public Bicycle System Company, the maker of BIXI systems worldwide was required by the province of Quebec to be sold off in a loan agreement with the City of Montreal. CBC reports that Serco, a large UK-based multinational that operates a whole range of government services from air traffic control to prisons to London's bikeshare system, is interested in purchasing BIXI.

This won't affect the existing systems using BIXI bikes since all but Toronto's are run independently. BIXI Toronto is owned by the international wing so it would likely be also be owned by Serco. Dan Egan of Transportation Services says that this won't affect BIXI Toronto's service since the owner would assume the 10 year contract with the City.

Previously, Alta Bicycle Share had also expressed interest in purchasing BIXI. It's not clear if they're still in the running. Alta operates the bikesharing systems in Washington, Boston and Melbourne. They will also soon operate ones in New York City and Chicago.

Some local Quebec investors are also interested.

If BIXI must be sold, it would be ideal if the new owner was focused on creating extensive and efficient bikesharing systems. Given Alta Bicycle Share's one and only business is bikesharing it seems like their interests would align much better than Serco, which has its fingers in so many different pots.

Poll down since provided misleading sense of accuracy and website security issues hopefully solved

I Bike TO update: I've resolved some security issues that appeared on Monday. The website should be running smoothly and securely again.

I had published a poll on the proposed Toronto Cyclists Union name change. I decided to take it down since it was not going to provide an accurate sample of the bike union membership. It would do the opposite of just muddying the discussion. Website polls are blunt tools that can only tell us who is most eager to vote and not a representative sample of the population. The resulting numbers may look accurate enough but they won't mean much.

In this case the population is the bike union membership, so to know what they are thinking we would have to conduct a survey of a random sample of the membership. To be precise about 325 people would have to be surveyed. I used this handy sample size calculator based on a membership of 2100, confidence level of 95% and margin of error of +/- 5. For those interested in this survey methodology stuff, wikipedia does a good job of giving an overview. For everyone else, let's just keep conversing.

Removing Jarvis bike lanes requires environmental assessment states legal opinion commissioned by Bike Union

P1070156  Ride For Jarvis Bike Lanes

The Toronto Cyclists Union yesterday threw down a legal opinion (drafted by Iler Campbell LLP) at the City, making the claim that City Council's vote to remove the Jarvis bike lanes and install a 5th lane requires a full Schedule C Environmental Assessment. If the City doesn't respond within 10 days they will approach the provincial Ministry of Environment.

The Torontoist:

Commissioned by the Cyclists Union, Iler Campbell LLP’s opinion contends that bike lane decommissioning and a reversible centre-lane addition on Jarvis Street is subject to a minimum of a Schedule B project screening—that is, screening for projects that “have the potential for some adverse environmental effects.” However, the firm recommends that a more intensive Schedule C assessment (for projects that “may have significant environmental effects”) be undertaken.

Installing the 5th reversible lane (as it was before the original environmental assessment was done) would go against the Official Plan and provincial guidelines that recommend improving streets for active transportation. It would inhibit active transportation and encourage more air pollution and worse health. It is hoped that the City and/or the province will agree it requires a Schedule C Environmental Assessment because of these potential adverse effects so the public can be properly consulted.

Can the Jarvis bike lanes be saved?

Is there a chance the Jarvis bike lanes could be saved? I certainly hope so, but let's look at the details.

Last year Councillor Minnan-Wong made a last minute motion to remove the Jarvis bike lanes at the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC), without consulting/warning Councillor Wong-Tam or the ward citizens who use it. Councillor Minnan-Wong managed to get it pushed through City Council despite the protests of cyclists and Councillor Wong-Tam, and despite the $250,000 price tag to bring back the reversible lane. Such is politics where there is never a Gravy Train when it's your own pet project.

But Toronto Cyclists Union members - and in particular Ward 27 cyclists - are still fighting to get that decision changed. They have a Drivers for Jarvis campaign to showcase that drivers (like Steve and his Jaguar pictured above) in fact find bike lanes useful and want to keep them on Jarvis as well.

It is an uphill battle. Councillor Wong-Tam would have to work hard to convince enough colleagues to pass it at PWIC and/or city council. If she can't get PWIC to reverse its decision (the same PWIC dominated by Minnan-Wong) then I believe there will have to be a 2/3 majority at council to get it on the agenda. A difficult prospect but who knows how this would shake down. Surprising things could happen, such as the recent tweet by Councillor Berardinetti - the same infamous councillor who pushed through the removal of two bike lanes in her ward. Berardinetti, in response to Dave Meslin's complaint of the cost of removing the Jarvis bike lanes, suggested that they save the Jarvis bike lane and save the quarter million dollars for transit.

Will enough councillors have this change of heart?

How dedicated is Councillor Wong-Tam to keeping the bike lanes? She has been quoted in the media as wanting to keep the Jarvis bike lanes, saying that "removing the bike lanes is a step back and throws into disarray a plan to beautify Jarvis Street.". In person she expressed to me that it was important that we fight to save the Jarvis bike lanes. I haven't been able to find any press release or news item from her office suggesting that saving the Jarvis bike lanes was a key priority or how we could go about saving them. She is, however, holding a public meeting on the topic of "Jarvis Street Cultural Corridor". This might be where she will make a principled stand for bike lanes on that busy, fast corridor, though none of the speakers seem to be experts in cycling, which includes Heritage Toronto, Cultural Affairs, ERA Architects, and Heritage Preservation Services. So maybe the meeting is more about the buildings than about the streetscape? It's unclear. The Ward 27 Bike Union group has posted an event asking for cyclists to come to call for keeping the bike lanes.

The last time I heard the term "cultural corridor" was in regards to John Street. And in that case calling it a cultural corridor/pedestrian priority area was a justification for not incorporating bike lanes. So in regards to Jarvis we should be careful when it comes to vague terms like cultural corridor and what it means for safe, efficient transportation for cyclists.

It's unclear at this time what specifically Councillor Wong-Tam is doing to save the Jarvis bike lanes. Perhaps there's stuff going on behind the scenes that I'm missing. If there is feel free to let us know in the comments.

There are still councillors to convince. The unofficial leader of the pro-LRT cohort, Councillor Karen Stintz, was herself against the bike lanes, claiming she heard from a mother who's children were going hungry for minutes(!) because she was late for dinner. (Think of the children! Meanwhile the mothers who choose to bike on Jarvis with their kids have only themselves to blame.)

Here's where I think councillors will most likely stand, based on their support for bike lanes on principle or based on their alliances. A simple majority to overturn the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes is possible, though not ensured, and a 2/3 majority is unlikely.

NO Camp: 19

  • Rob Ford - Mayor of Toronto
  • Mike Del Grande - Ward 39 Scarborough-Agincourt
  • Doug Ford - Ward 2 Etobicoke North
  • Mark Grimes - Ward 6 Etobicoke-Lakeshore
  • Doug Holyday - Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre
  • Norman Kelly - Ward 40 Scarborough-Agincourt
  • Denzil Minnan-Wong - Ward 34 Don Valley East
  • Frances Nunziata - Ward 11 York South-Weston
  • Paul Ainslie - Ward 43 Scarborough East
  • Peter Milczyn - Ward 5 Etobicoke-Lakeshore
  • Vincent Crisanti - Ward 1 Etobicoke North
  • Giorgio Mammoliti - Ward 7 York West
  • Cesar Palacio - Ward 17 Davenport
  • David Shiner - Ward 24 Willowdale
  • Michael Thompson - Ward 37 Scarborough Centre
  • Gary Crawford - Ward 36 Scarborough Southwest
  • Frank Di Giorgio - Ward 12 York South-Weston
  • Ron Moeser - Ward 44 Scarborough East
  • James Pasternak - Ward 10 York Centre

Wildcards: 6

  • Michelle Berardinetti - Ward 35 Scarborough Southwest
  • Jaye Robinson - Ward 25 Don Valley West
  • Gloria Lindsay Luby - Ward 4 Etobicoke Centre
  • Chin Lee - Ward 41 Scarborough-Rouge River
  • John Parker - Ward 26 Don Valley West
  • Karen Stintz - Ward 16 Eglinton-Lawrence

Likely to vote Yes based on alliance or principle: 20

  • Josh Colle - Ward 15 Eglinton-Lawrence
  • Josh Matlow - Ward 22 St. Paul's
  • Mary-Margaret McMahon - Ward 32 Beaches-East York
  • Ana Bailão - Ward 18 Davenport
  • Raymond Cho - Ward 42 Scarborough-Rouge River
  • Anthony Perruzza - Ward 8 York-West
  • Glenn De Baeremaeker - Ward 38 Scarborough Centre
  • Shelley Carroll - Ward 33 Don Valley East
  • Sarah Doucette - Ward 13 Parkdale-High Park
  • Paula Fletcher - Ward 30 Toronto-Danforth
  • Maria Augimeri - Ward 9 York Centre
  • John Filion - Ward 23 Willowdale
  • Mike Layton - Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina
  • Kristyn Wong-Tam - Ward 27 Toronto Centre-Rosedale
  • Mary Fragedakis - Ward 29 Toronto-Danforth
  • Adam Vaughan - Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina
  • Janet Davis - Ward 31 Beaches-East York
  • Joe Mihevc - Ward 21 St. Paul's
  • Pam McConnell - Ward 28 Toronto Centre-Rosedale
  • Gord Perks - Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park

If we are going to have any chance of saving the Jarvis bike lanes I think it would be necessary for Councillor Wong-Tam to make an official statement, start holding public strategy meetings with the help of advocates on how to save the bike lanes and start working to sway enough councillors to pass a reversal. She might be doing some of this, it's just not public information.

Protest of Michael Bryant's lecture at the ROM

There will be a demonstration against Michael Bryant this Thursday March 29 at 5pm at the Royal Ontario Museum. The following is the press release from Benjamin Mueller-Heaslip, who is organizing the event. His contact info is at the bottom and you can contact him with questions and concerns:

On Thursday March 29 Michael Bryant, the former Attorney General and MP who was excused from standing trial after killing cycle messenger Darcy Allan Sheppard, will be lecturing the Liberal Party at the Royal Ontario Museum.

The incident was captured by surveillance video and witnessed by many who were willing to share their accounts. A special prosecutor, Richard Peck, with ties to the liberal party worked with the defence team to document and publish Mr. Bryant’s version of the events.

The exceptionality of Mr. Bryant’s case is undeniable: no rational person in the same circumstances could expect the exemption from a fair trial and weighing of evidence that was granted to our ex-attorney general. Anyone without his political connections, that is. In fact, it’s quite difficult to imagine a more clear-cut example of legal bias.

Bike Hour Toronto: Get on your bike at 6pm today!

I wish I had heard about this earlier so I could do more promotion, but nevertheless it's not too late to celebrate Bike Hour in Toronto! I heard about it on Twitter and the Star for the first time. Bike Hour originated in Australia this year with University of Newcastle academic and cyclist Steven Fleming.

Bike Hour will be held twice a year on the equinox and it is meant to be like Earth Hour but laid back. The genius part is that it automatically includes all the people who just happen to be on their bike and haven't even heard of it!

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