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"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

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!

A step backwards as City fails to make Union Station at Front Street safer for cyclists

City Council on March 5th adopted the plan for Front Street with a more pedestrian friendly design that reduces the width to two wider lanes. Yet in the process they ignored the needs of cyclists by not including bike lanes, and even made access to Union Station worse by moving bike parking and BIXI stations away. What it did keep intact is loading and taxi zones and even places for cars to do u-turns, all of which meant something had to be compromised, namely bike lanes.

Public Meeting - Cycling and the Eglinton LRT, Monday March 19th

Since the Eglinton LRT is back from the dead, it looks like the bike lanes planned in the EA may also be back!

There is a public meeting Monday, March 19th at 6:30PM in the Northern District Public Library, 2nd floor meeting room, 40 Orchard View Blvd. (Just north of Yonge & Eglinton)

Goals: Identify opportunities for cycling advocacy created by the LRT, learn about planning initiatives under way, and set cyclist strategy.

The Eglinton Crosstown LRT is currently in the planning stages. Stretching for 25 kilometres from Black Creek Drive to McCowan station, the project cuts through 13 City wards and will transform the heart of Toronto. Multiple organizations are working on the project, including Metrolinx, TTC, and the City's planning and transportation departments. This is a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity for cyclists to advocate for complete streets across the entire city.

The changes along Eglinton will have numerous impacts on cycling, including:
removal of hundreds of buses and dedicated bus lanes from the street
changes to the crossings on Eglinton
changes to traffic patterns, car parking, bike parking, road surfaces
changed connections with off-road trails, ravines, and on-street bike routes
new bike lanes on the above-ground sections (Laird Dr. to Kennedy Station)
Eglinton is important to cyclists! Not only is it a major east-west corridor, with significant residential, employment and retail concentrations, but many bike routes cross it north-south.

American city leaders learning bike design practices from the best

It's been pointed out (by Streetsfilm here and by others) that the Dutch actually had to work at getting the best bike infrastructure in the world, it wasn't in the genetics. (If that were true I would have seen a lot more Dutch farmers biking everywhere while growing up in rural Alberta.) This film looks at a recent trip to the Netherlands by American city leaders.

Recenty Streetfilms joined a group of city leaders from Chicago, Washington, DC and Miami on a study tour of the Netherlands, through the Bikes Belong Foundation's Bicycling Design Best Practices Program. The program shows American transportation professionals and policy makers real life examples of what it looks like to invest in cost-effective bicycle facilities. This video takes you on a tour of the incredibly well thought out street designs in the Netherlands. You'll see the infrastructure, hear from the experts on the ground, and watch the tour participants react and imagine how they might implement similar designs in American cities.

The trials and tribulations of getting to the nitty gritty of bike lane politics

I feel like I should explain (while also being a bit pugilistic, fighting the good fight). Being a volunteer blogger I have to rely on the goodwill of others who have gathered information for me, or who are actively involved in the issue and are willing to share with me what's going on. I think it's better to get the information out there while couching it in terms like "likely" and "maybe" rather than keep it locked up. Last Friday's post about Councillor Wong-Tam is a case in point.

That blog post presented information on how Councillor Wong-Tam had sent a memo calling for a "trial" on Sherbourne separated bike lanes to City cycling manager Dan Egan without a public announcement. Cycling advocates didn't know that she was planning to do so, and there didn't seem to be any public record of her planning to do so except for a passing reference in the Dandyhorse Magazine about "bike spotting" from across Canada.

Councillor Wong-Tam didn't consult much before requesting pilot for Sherbourne

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam sent a February 7 letter (pdf) to Transportation Services cycling manager Dan Egan requesting that the Sherbourne separated bike lane be made into a "pilot" saying there needed to be further "consultation". Surprisingly she sent this letter during the consultation period which ended February 17 and she didn't copy Councillor Pam McConnell whose ward shares Sherbourne.

During the consultation period staff consulted with residents and businesses along Sherbourne, working to address their concerns into the plan. They addressed issues of TTC Bus service, Wheel-Trans pick-up/drop-off, Fire and emergency access, Curb-side waste collection and Snow removal and street cleaning. The presented the results in the panels at the January Open House. The majority of people attending the Open House appeared to be supportive of the separated bike lanes. It's not clear what further consultation needed to be done.

By calling for a pilot Councillor Wong-Tam would preclude any coordination of the repaving with the bike lane plan and possibly forcing staff away from their current plan of a raised cycle track with a rolled curb.

My visit to Central Commerce's new bike mechanics class

Central Commerce, a school in downtown Toronto, has launched an innovative course for students to learn the basics of bike mechanics. Last week I met with the period one class and teacher Ravi Mohan-Sukhai to learn how the course is coming along.

I met Ravi in the otherwise unused basement of Central Commerce where he was happily moving from student to student, helping them with their bike project. Twelve students in each of three daily classes meet in the basement of Central Commerce Collegiate Institute in Toronto, learning the basics on donated bicycles and parts. During the course they will fix up not only a bicycle for themselves but up to five other bikes that will be sold off to support the program.

There is a waiting list and the students clearly love the change of pace from the usual sitting in their desks, listening to teachers talk. One eager girl, Fahmeda tells me she also likes the hands-on aspect of the elective class and that she'll get a bike out of it at the end of the course. Omar signed up for the course soon after starting at the school, eager to learn the basics of bike mechanics.

Ravi is supported by two assistants, Matt Draimin and Eugene Chao, both Curbside Bicycles mechanics, who both come almost daily to help students with their bike education.

The bicycles are stored in empty classrooms in the basement and in the empty swimming pool. The bikes were provided by the Cabbagetown Youth Centre (CYC) to Central Commerce, which in turn were donated by the government to CYC as a settlement in prolific bike thief Igor Kenk's court case. Many of his thousands of stolen bikes that he bizarrely stored in garages around the city were unclaimed and were eventually given to CYC so they could be refurbished for youth. The bikes are finally being put to a good use.

Ravi, Matt and Eugene have sorted the bikes into those which are more easily refurbished, the bikes to be used for parts in the appropriately named "Boneyard", and those to be dealt with at a later date. Despite the large numbers of bikes donated, there are still a lot of supplies to be purchased. For this Ravi's approach has been to sell some of the refurbished bikes back to the community (there will be a spring sale coming up) and to offer bike repair to school staff. Ravi registers each bike with the Toronto Police so they're aware that these bikes that were once stolen now have a legitimate life.

Each semester Kristen Schwartz from Culturelink teaches bike safety to the students, gives them a helmet and a bell. Many of the students might not have been aware of road rules. They will follow it with a ride.

The class got quickly organized last fall as the thousands of bikes were sent to be stored. Instead of just letting the bikes sit, the school principal, Iwona Kurman, quickly organized for Ravi to be hired and gave him space in the basement to teach the elective. Given that the focus of Central Commerce is commerce, the class will eventually have a broader focus that will also incorporate an interdisciplinary study of environmental issues, physical activity, business and science.

The class, the first of its kind in the Toronto District School Board, started last fall with just two students but quickly grew as word got around. Ravi has been designing his own curriculum to meet the particular learning needs of high school students and to keep the students on top of the quirky needs of bicycles in need of various levels of work. All the bikes will require overhauling the bearings, brakes and gears but some will have more serious issues with the frame, broken drivetrain or other issues. The students - with the help of Matt and Eugene - are taught to identify such issues.

The object is not to produce bike mechanics; some students may end up working in the bike industry, but some will use the hands-on mechanical concepts as a foundation for other technical trades. And others may find that they are using their new bike to go to school or run errands and be able to repair their own bicycles. The course can help student become more mobile, more self-reliant and give them an understanding of mechanical systems like the common bicycle.

Looking for parts in the Boneyard

Ravi's office

Working bikes

The parts of the wheel

Matt providing tips on front brake

The bike mechanics class

How to assess for damage

Working on brakes

Eugene teaching Omar

Innovative study shows that cycle tracks and local streets mean fewer injuries for cyclists

I attended a webinar on the "Bicyclists’ Injuries and the Cycling Environment" (BICE) study back in January. The BICE study examined which route types are associated with higher and lower cycling injury rates. The webinar covered a summary of their study's results, which will be available soon online. While some of the study concepts may difficult to understand without an academic research background I thought it was interesting to convey how this study approached the difficult area of injuries and cyclists from a new angle. And from their study we find some interesting results, the most interesting being that they have shown that cycle tracks and local streets that restrict through motor traffic are the two types of routes that reduce the risk of injury for cyclists compared to the typical arterial road with parked cars (exemplified by streets like Dundas, Queen, Bloor and so on).

Councillor Wong-Tam trying to stall on Sherbourne separated bike lanes

It was a bit of a shocker to find out that Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is getting cold feet on separated bike lanes for Sherbourne, thus potentially putting Toronto's first opportunity for better separation into jeopardy. It has come to my attention that Councillor Wong-Tam has filed a request for Sherbourne's separated bike lanes to be installed only in the North as a pilot for study and further community consultation.

It appears as if the Councillor is trying to stall the project with claims of "needs more community consultation" despite the fact that it has already gone through a completely open process with the community. Most of the residents and businesses who provided comments had said that they supported the bike lanes. There is such a thing as studying a thing to death.

By requesting it only be installed on the North end of Sherbourne, it appears Councillor Wong-Tam, is willing to give up on the improvements for the lower part which were to be coordinated with road repaving. Has Councillor Wong-Tam consulted with Councillor Pam McConnell whose ward covers the other half of Sherbourne? Given that Councillor McConnell supported the separated bike lanes I'd say she hasn't.

In the Winter issue of Dandyhorse, she was asked "How do you feel about having the first separated bike lane in Toronto installed in your ward?"

Cyclists lose John, but will we be getting a consolation prize with Beverley, Peter, Simcoe?

At the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting yesterday, the John Street Corridor Improvements Environmental Assessment Study was approved despite the number of people in the cycling community who voiced their displeasure of being ignored. It was a plan that was pushed by commercial interests along John, as well as by Councillor Vaughan, but provided very little for cyclists who comprise up to 1/3 of the traffic along the street.

But surprisingly, there may be a consolation prize for cyclists. A reputable source at the PWIC meeting heard Councillors Minnan-Wong describe how Councillor Vaughan was willing to support separated bike lanes on Beverley, Peter, and Simcoe (and presumably Richmond or Adelaide to connect these streets) if he the John Street report was approved. Since a John Street without bike facilities was approved, I presume that Vaughan is now committed to improving this alternative route, and that Minnan-Wong wanted to make sure this commitment was recorded in the public record.

Union Station might make it more difficult to reach by bike

[Update: PWIC accepted the Front Street EA Report with an amendment: "The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee requested the Downtown Design Review Panel to meet with the Acting General Manager, Transportation Services, the Director, Community Planning, Toronto and East York District, and the Chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to review the report on the Front Street West Reconfiguration - Environmental Assessment Study and provide comments to be forwarded to the March 5, 2012, meeting of City Council."

PWIC basically recognized there were some strong concerns about the lack of cycling infrastructure. Hopefully something improved can be figured out in time for the City Council meeting.]

Union Station is the busiest transportation hub in the country. For some time it's been known that something needed to be improved for the stream of people walking in and out of the station across Front Street. Today there is a meeting of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to look at the Front Street Environmental Assessment Report. It looks like a big improvement for pedestrians and as someone who occasionally uses Union, I will appreciate that cars will have more deference to me walking across. I continue to be flummoxed why cyclists' safety is being sacrificed to get there while motor vehicles will still get plenty of room. I ask the planners to imagine an 8 year old or an 80 year old on a bike navigate this section of Front.

Union Station would constitute a ”mobility hub” under Metrolinx’s mobility hub guidelines, which calls for "Balanced Access to and from Transit Stations":

  • Create safe and direct pedestrian and cycling routes to rapid transit stations from major destinations and regional cycling and pedestrian networks.
  • Provide secure and plentiful bicycle parking at station entrances with additional cycling amenities at high volume locations.
  • Provide clearly marked and protected access for pedestrians and cyclists at station areas to minimize conflicts, particularly at passenger pick-up and drop-offs (PPUDO), bus facilities, and parking access points.