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First chance to ride Sherbourne cycle track

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

Cycling in the Annex: Public Meeting Oct 2

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

The topics:

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

Details:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Update: Talking points for the Open House

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

1. The proposal is rushed.

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

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

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

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

3. There has been a lack of consultation.

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

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

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

4. Complete Streets need to be implemented.

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

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

5. Cycle tracks take space from pedestrians.

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

6. Left hand turns need to be maintained.

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

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

7. Loss of street vehicle parking.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why Wellesley is the best choice for separated bike lanes:

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

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

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

Cycling on Toronto streetcar streets: the typical scenario

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How I try to reduce my stress and risk

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Crossing streetcar tracks: some tips on a tricky manoeuvre

Streetcar tracks are tricky and someone can get injured (or worse as in the case of yesterday's crash) if someone gets their wheels stuck in them. NOW Toronto covered the potential danger of streetcar tracks last week. But I'd like to just provide some basics of how you can deal with them better. It's making the best of a bad situation.

The key guideline is taking them as close to 90 degrees (at right angles) as possible so as to minimize the chance that your front wheel gets caught.

It's more difficult when you're riding alongside the streetcar tracks and need to cross them. Often it's because the right lane is blocked or the cyclist is trying to turn left. I will even turn a little away from the tracks first and then I can make a sharper turn across them. Make sure you slow down, signal and shoulder check first.

Or you can make an indirect left turn and avoid the stressful situations where you'd be trying to cross the tracks and watch out for fast cars behind you and coming towards you. It allows you to cross tracks at closer to 90.

Practice on a quieter street if you're uncomfortable. Toronto will have streetcars for a long time so it's best to focus both on education as well as on improvements to make them safer.

Taking the lane: when simplistic advice can make things worse

Taking the lane in theory

Take the Lane!

You may have been advised that the best way to be safe is to take the lane. Everyone from public space advocates to CAN-BIKE instructors to the League of American Bicyclists and CyclingSavvy promote taking the lane when a cyclist can't safely share the lane with a car. While taking the lane can be an effective strategy as a cyclist, it should not be taken as helpful in all situations. In fact, in many cases it may cause more problems than it supposedly solves.

Lane Position on a Wide Road

All the main North American cycling courses discuss lane position and largely agree that when lanes are wide enough the cyclist can easily share the lane with a motorist, so long as the cyclist rides far enough from the curb (about 1 metre out). The League of American Bicyclists states that a cyclist should:

  • Ride in the right third of the right-most lane that goes in the direction you are going
  • Take the entire lane if traveling the same speed as traffic or in a narrow lane

According to my CAN-BIKE handbook, the general rule is to "maintain one metre from the curb or from parked cars". But that rule only applies when there is enough room for the car and bike side by side. "If the lane is too narrow or there is an obstruction that narrows the lane then take the whole lane."

CyclingSavvy is more dogmatic in insisting that the lane be at least 14 feet wide in order to safely share. Very few lanes in Toronto meet this criteria. By any of the courses criteria, a cyclist would find themselves on a road that the courses would advise them to take the lane. But there's a problem with that simplistic prescription.

When taking the lane won't work

In the top diagram (I used the icons from the Toronto Cycling Map) we see how taking the lane is supposed to work. The lane is too narrow to share so the cyclist takes the lane. This, according to the courses, sends a message to the traffic behind that they should safely pass in the next lane instead of squeezing the cyclist into the curb. When practised in a large city like Toronto, results will be mixed. There will be drivers who willingly wait behind until it is safe to pass. In my experience, however, it is just as likely that the driver is impatient or annoyed. And, once in a while, we will even encounter an enraged driver.

The cyclist, particularly if they are young or elderly, will feel intimidated or be threatened by drivers behind them. Most of the drivers will keep calm and even if they are annoyed are willing to wait. But it's a crap shoot if we'll meet a driver who openly threatens by driving closely, swearing at the cyclist, revving their engine or honking, or even passing as closely as possible to "teach the cyclist a lesson". It's those situations that can leave even seasoned cyclists shaking, stressed or even injured if the driver manages to sideswipe. In those cases, any safety benefit of taking the lane is lost.

These drivers are not evil people out to get cyclists. Rather, annoyance builds up to such an extent from frustrating downtown traffic that they are more likely to get road rage and take it out on someone on a bike. Particularly if they've been conditioned to see cyclists as not having a "right" to the road and see them as blocking their path. Road rage can cause people to take risks that they wouldn't normally take when they are calm. It's not a medical condition per se, but Wikipedia mentions there is a link to "Intermittent explosive disorder", which is listed as a medical condition under impulse control disorder.

You can create your own experiment on the stretch of Shaw Street from Dundas to Queen. The lane is too narrow between the parked cars and the central meridian to share. According to the theory the best thing the cyclist can do is take the lane. Having ridden this stretch many times I have come to dread the sound of an approaching car behind me. Mostly the driver will wait, but a high number of them will start honking or even find any gap in the parking to try to make a quick pass.

Very few people would never get stressed or have some fear building up. Can we read the mind of the motorist? The only evidence of their intentions is by their actions. If they start honking or revving their engines they might be trying to just intimidate but who knows. It's a crap shoot.

In this situation we would best deal with it by pulling over and quickly getting out of the way of the driver, hoping that they'll just move on instead of also stopping to harass us.

Toronto's not exceptional in having frustrated drivers. As Easy as Riding a Bike notes that "[n]o-one seems to have told U.K. drivers about it. Putting yourself out in the middle [of the] road can, in my experience, appear to some drivers as an act of deliberate provocation. They don’t have a clue what you are doing." And Volespeed goes even further, stating that Taking the Lane, or "primary position", embodies a dishonesty.

The phrase, I believe, originally came from motorcycle training. But as applied to cycling, it doesn't make the same sense as it does in motorcycling. The "primary position" cannot be the primary position for cyclists on roads where the speeds are almost always far in excess of most people's top cycling speed. Some fit, young cyclists can cycle at 20 mph on the flat, but few of our roads have a 20mph limit, and in the more normal 30-limit urban areas, typical speeds are up to 45, in reality, where the roads can take it. So even fast cyclists stand little chance of maintaining the primary position most of the time. A more normal cycling speed, even with the current cadre of cyclists, would be 10–15mph. For them, in being sold this "primary position" theory, they are clearly being sold a lie. And this is to say nothing of the currently largely-excluded groups that we want to get on bikes: children, the unfit and the elderly, who are not going to do more than about 8 mph.

Fast suburban but narrow lanes
In Toronto's suburbs most arterial streets have high average speeds of greater than 60 km/h. Many of these suburban arterial lanes are narrow. It rarely make sense to take the lane on these streets. The high speeds and the fact that no driver is expecting to see a slow cyclist means that taking the lane can be inviting danger. In fact, CAN-BIKE teaches that on fast arterial streets that cyclists should actually ride close to the curb - 1/3 metre instead of the typical 1 metre.

Crowded downtown streets
In downtown Toronto the situation is different. We have arterial roads with on-street parking, narrow lanes, lots of traffic and often streetcar tracks. Streets like King, Queen, Dundas, Ossington, Dovercourt, College and Bloor. It would be quite hard for the typical Toronto cyclist to avoid these streets completely. What cycling courses don't teach is how the average cyclist can best deal with these streets. In theory, it would seem that taking the lane is the best and only option. The sanest approach to riding such streets is often to ride somewhere between the parked cars and the middle travel lane.

The above diagram is a typical streetcar street outside of rush hour: parking on both sides of the street and the middle travel lane is busy. Using the Take the Lane principle the best and only correct position would be A. This would be the best way to both avoid opening car doors and overtaking cars. In theory. In reality very few cyclists can ride fast enough to keep up with the peak speeds of cars. Cyclists may be able to easily keep up with motorists because cars often get stuck behind other cars, but when there is open road in front, all too often a cyclist who is taking the lane is seen by motorists as trying to deliberately anger them by blocking their path. These drivers will soon be itching to pass and will often pass quickly and unsafely. Riding out in the middle in front of a line of frustrated drivers is emotionally stressful. The average person can only handle so much intimidation from drivers.

Even if you're one of the very rare persons with an exceptionally thick skin that can take all matter of verbal abuse and threatening behaviour, you'll soon feel like a schmuck as you get stuck behind backed up car traffic while the rest of the cyclists filter up in the right lane.

99% (give or take) of all downtown cyclists ride in position B most of the time. It is a position that makes the best of a bad situation. I find that the best position is on the left edge of the right lane, as far as possible from opening car doors with enough room on the left for cars to pass in the left lane. It's not ideal but such is life living in a car-centric town.

Which position is safer?

Some educators claim that taking the lane is safer than staying to the side. The claim is that a cyclist is more likely to be side swiped than struck from behind. There are two issues with this conclusion: one, the statistics don't back this up, and two, even if there was evidence of this, the studies don't report what position the cyclist had taken on the roadway prior to their crash. From the available evidence we can't conclude that cyclists out in the middle of the lane are less likely to be struck than those on the side.

One of the best-known and comprehensive cycling safety studies was done in 1994 by Alan Wachtel and Diana Lewiston. They noted that being struck from behind accounted for only 5 of the 314 (1.6%) bicycle-motor vehicle collisions they studied. But side swipes were also only at 8 out of 314 (2.5%). It's not clear if either number is statistically significant., though given that most cyclists I've observed tend to stick to the curb, it doesn't seem to be a high number at all.

There is a further problem with trying to using Wachtel-Lewiston study to support taking the lane. The study doesn't report the position in the lane of the cyclist before they struck, only if they were on the roadway or sidewalk. Thus it's unclear if taking the lane will make any difference in either being struck from behind or in being side swiped.

I have had close calls being close to the curb as well as while trying to take the lane, for different reasons. The cyclist does not have complete control over the reaction of the driver. By being close to the curb a driver may see it as an opening and squeeze the cyclist to the edge. But by taking the lane a frustrated/enraged driver may find the first opportunity to pass and then pass as closely as possible so as to teach the cyclist a lesson. I've experienced both.

Two other studies are not much help either. The Toronto car-bike collision study 2003 and the major 1977 Kenneth Cross study (clearly getting a bit dated) only reported on collisions where the motorists were overtaking, and did not differentiating between "side swipes" and struck from behind. We can't draw a conclusion from either study that we're better off taking the lane. In the Toronto study the top three collisions downtown in terms of severity of injury were 'Motorists Overtaking', ‘Dooring,’ and 'Motorist Left-Turn Facing Cyclist'. Being more visible can likely decrease the risk of any of these, though it's unclear how far out a cyclist should ride. In the case of dooring, riding far enough out to be able to quickly avoid opening car doors is a good idea.

Holding to the dogma

Cycling education in North America still doggedly sticks to the take the lane philosophy with varying degrees of exceptions. These courses are mostly based on a cookie-cutter "vehicular cycling" philosophy that was developed in the 1970s by mostly fit, young people (the "father" of this movement was John Forester). Courses like CAN-BIKE or Cycling Savvy owe their roots to this movement, and continue to mostly stick to a worldview that is not always based on the best evidence. Instead there is a lot of the anecdotal evidence of a sub-group of people who were at the top of their faculties and fitness (obviously they're all elderly now). That these courses continue to hold whole-heartedly to this worldview does a large disservice to all the people who don't fit into that sub-group, particularly to those who are not in the prime of their life or fitness, or are too young.

There aren't hard and fast rules to cycling safely; there are many Toronto streets downtown and in the suburbs that defy the simple lessons taught in the cycling courses. Cycling educators have also tended to ignore or dismiss cycling infrastructure that makes it easier for different traffic modes to coexist. I have found a course like CAN-BIKE useful, and in fact, I had taught CAN-BIKE for a number of years. But I think it's time for CAN-BIKE to be rebuilt taking into account the wealth of knowledge coming out of Europe and increasingly in North America as young and old, able and disabled start cycling in our cities.

Cycling education shouldn't be about going fast, and safety should be available to the slow and fast, young and old. Education is also an alternative to improved cycling infrastructure. Really, we want both.

I hope to be looking at other cycling education themes in future posts and look at how we can think beyond a pure "vehicular cycling", one that acknowledges the inadequate infrastructure and that cyclists need to find a way to make good of a bad situation until things improve in our cities.

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

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