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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.

We want more BIXI in Toronto

Despite the repeated requests by people for more BIXI stations, there doesn't seem to be a lot of political movement in expanding BIXI Toronto right now. While BIXI Toronto is expected to be financially self-sustaining, it does need access to funds to expand. In answer to that yours truly, in conjunction with the Toronto Cyclists Union and The Urban Country, have launched a web tool for collecting your BIXI Toronto "wishlist" stations. wewantmorebixi.to allows you to add your suggested Bixi station locations to a map. You can also vote on existing suggestions made by other people.

We will keep BIXI Toronto informed of the popular spots as well as use the results as part of the Bike Union's campaign to increase the number of BIXI stations up from 1000 currently. There are no firm plans as far as we know for any major expansion, but hope springs eternal. And we do hope that we can make a dent into the car-centric mind of City Council which has so far been mostly unable to see how supporting cycling infrastructure saves us bundles of money in the long run. There is no more road capacity; we'll have to increasing rely on bikes, transit and walking if we want to move around.

Is there anything for cyclists in John Street plan?

The proposal for the "pedestrianization" of the John Street "Cultural Corridor" remake has been finalized and will be voted on by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting this Thursday Feb 16 and then on to City Council. There are no bike lanes in the proposal despite John Street being a quite popular connection for cyclists to and from downtown. It seems to me that some kind of bike lanes - out of pain or decorative bricks could have been an easily accommodated while still allowing for a much improve pedestrian realm.

The John Street plan looks quite nice. I look forward to seeing it completed. It's laudable that a downtown street will be made more livable by making motor vehicles less dominant. It's an important demonstration of moving away from fetishizing the private automobile, and towards a built environment friendlier to active transportation. But along the way the plan has devalued the role of cycling in creating a vibrant city.

The lack of cycling infrastructure is disappointing. There were a number of attendees to the open house who made requests for cycling infrastructure, but the planners decided they couldn't add any bike lanes because the street was recognized by City Council as a "pedestrian priority route" and claimed that bike lanes would interfere with their main goal:

Annual members meeting for CBN do-it-yourself bike shop Feb 13

For those out there who are interested in learning and working on their bike in a community environment, you might consider attending CBN's annual membership meeting coming up next week Monday. It's not too late!

The Community Bicycle Network would like to announce our Annual General Meeting. It will
be held on Monday February 13th, 2012 at 6:30 pm. The meeting will be held in the CBN shop at 761 Queen St. W. All CBN members are invited to attend and vote on the next board of directors. CBN will be open from 4:30-6:30 pm on February 13th for anyone interested in joining to purchase a membership. The suggested donation is $5.

CBN has a lot of important planning to do in 2012. Our lease is up in December and we'll be
looking for a new space. We continue to expand our workshop programs (teaching bike mechanic skills as well as safe cycling) and divert hundreds of bikes and bike parts from landfill. There will be spaces on the board opening up, and lots of other volunteer opportunities such as outreach at community events, updating the website and other media, designing a t-shirt, stripping bike donations and much, much more.

We are requesting that you share this press release with your community contacts including
posting it on your website, calendar, list serve, bulletin board etc. Please consider attending yourself or recommending it to someone you know. If there are any questions please contact
board@communitybicyclenetwork.org.

Thank you,

What's the denominator? Globe's interactive cycling collision map interesting but how helpful?

In this Globe and Mail produced interactive map of cyclists collisions from 1986 to 2010 there is a sea of pins representing reported collisions by cyclists and colour-coded for injury severity. It's a thing of beauty and nice to zoom in and out. But that soon gets old once you realize that there is little else that we can currently conclude from it. Can we tell if my route or neighbourhood is safer than another? Can we tell if cycling in Toronto has gotten safer over time? Not really. We are missing a key denominator - bike traffic. Not surprising since the City has only begun to collect this data in a more systematic manner. At the very least, the authors could try to explore some of the other interesting data in the dataset that they've hosted.

That doesn't seem to stop them from trying to reach some broad conclusions without all the information.

They claim: "Toronto falling behind pack in averting bicycle collisions, data reveals". Well, the data doesn't reveal that since you haven't compared the number of cyclists and bike trips over time and between cities. What are the cycling populations in each city? Have the number of bike trips grown or not?

New trails proposals: much improved but gaps still exist

City Transportation staff are developing a trails report and asking the public to review the proposed trail connections for Toronto before the report is submitted to Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. The open house will be in North York, 40 Orchard View Blvd (1 block north of Eglinton and west of Yonge), Monday February 6, 2012, 5:30 to 7:30pm) or comment via Facebook.

Our new mayor made the bike trails the primary focus of bicycle infrastructure. It's exciting that we might have more bike trails in our City! But let's not give the mayor too much credit. The vast majority of these connections were identified in the 2001 Bike Plan. What the mayor did was make these trails a priority over the rest of the bikeway network. In fact, the mayor has supposedly scrapped the Bike Plan because he claims that the roads are no place for bikes (or streetcars for that matter).

Sherbourne separated bike lane proposal received to strong support

City Transportation staff presented their vision of an improved Sherbourne Street for cyclists. The cyclists were pleased and there did not seem to be much political opposition from any group with the left mostly on side and with Councillor Minnan-Wong on board. You can view all the presentation slides now.

When determining how to best separate cyclists from motorists, City staff needed to take into account that it would still need to be permeable. Their design considerations included:

  • A rolled curb will separate the bike lane from the vehicle lanes
  • Bikes may enter and exit the cycle tracks
  • Emergency vehicles and Wheel-Trans can access cycle track when required
  • Garbage collection maintained as usual
  • Cycle tracks will be maintained all year


Sherbourne, North of Gerrard


Typical Intersection - the separation narrows bringing cyclists into clearer view with motorists. Note the indirect lefts, which I covered in a previous post..


Cross section in mid-block

Clearly define the bike lanes on Sherbourne in redesign

Tonight, Thursday, January 26, 2012 is the open house for "upgrading" the Sherbourne bike lanes to provide better separation between cars and bikes. Please drop by from 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School, 444 Sherbourne Street (at Wellesley), to provide your feedback.

Back in 2010 Dutch cycling consultants came to our city for ThinkBike, to work with urban professionals to rethink our cycling infrastructure and promotion is done in Toronto. Luckily they chose Sherbourne as one example and one of the teams produced a presentation, which you'd do well to preview before providing your feedback tonight.

A couple thoughts in response to their online notes:

  1. It would be good if they continued the separation north of Bloor. There is really no reason why not since as far as I recall there isn't any on-street parking for the first couple blocks. The first block is a bridge over Rosedale Valley which would benefit from better separation from cars, at least to prevent cars from parking in the bike lanes.
  2. From Bloor to Gerrard (a good portion of Sherbourne), there is no major roadwork scheduled so staff have suggested that more temporary installation take place, including flexible bollards and painted buffers. Likewise the work from Front to Queens Quay will be figured out in 2013 to coincide with road reconstruction.

Some new bike parking alongside Loblaws: late and not enough

Thanks to some warm winter weather and possibly to a bit of persuading on my end (by directing some emails to Street Furniture and to Councillor Vaughan's office), City staff have installed post and rings along Portland and Richmond next to the new Loblaws.

As I noted in the other post, Councillor Vaughan and Jennifer Chan of his office were quite helpful in pursuing the case of the missing bike parking to get it solved. Lisa Ing of Street Furniture was also helpful in spelling out the details of this location and the limitations of her office.

It's super that we now have some bike parking for Loblaws. Now what about the rest of the stores along that block on Queen? Short-term bike parking should be no more than 15 metres from the entrance of destinations, according to the Bicycles at Rest design guide. Are post and rings just not "aesthetic" enough to get installed there?

The "season" for installation of bike parking ends in the fall - it gets too difficult to install with lots of snow and the City ends its contract with the company that installs the bike rings. It is remarkable, then, that these post and rings appeared. Who installed them? There were plans in the works to install them but not until the spring. Did public pressure on City staff quicken that process?

Open house on Sherbourne Street separated bicycle lane designs

Montreal separated bike lane - probably not exactly how Sherbourne will look

You are invited to an open house to review designs for separated bike lanes on Sherbourne, likely to be approved and installed this year.

When: January 26 5:00 PM-8:00
Where: Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic School Gym - 444 Sherbourne St. (at Wellesley)

You can read up on City's info on separated bikeways. What is likely to be a contentious aspect of the separated bike lanes is the removal and offsetting of all on-street car parking, some of which will be moved to side streets. Hopefully this won't hinder it.

If you can't attend you can call the cycling infrastructure voicemail: 416-338-1066 or email: bikesherbourne@toronto.ca

From City's page:

The existing Sherbourne Street bike lanes were installed in 1996. On July 12, 2011, City Council directed City staff to proceed with detailed design and consultation to upgrade the Sherbourne bike lanes with the aim to better separate cars and bikes and improve safety for cyclists. The construction of the upgraded bike lanes is scheduled to start in summer 2012 in combination with the resurfacing of Sherbourne Street.

Separated bike lanes have been implemented in Montreal, Ottawa and Vancouver and are popular in hundreds of other cities around the world. Sherbourne is the first of a series of separated bike lanes approved by Council to improve the cycling network in downtown Toronto.

Toronto Committee to give cyclists late Christmas gift

Everyone loves to park in the bike lane

City Hall is back in business after the holiday season, but the gifts keep on coming. Parking on busy streets during rush hour, or blocking a bike lane any time has been increased by $150 fine if passed by city hall.

Public works and infrastructure voted 3-2 Wednesday to hike the fine from the current $60 for parking in a no stopping or standing zone and $40 for parking in a no parking zone.

The two dissenting votes were cast by councillors Shiner and Parker, who worried the hike is a “feel good” motion when the real problem is enforcement.

Tickets are issued by parking enforcement officers who work for Toronto police.

Shiner said their quota system — called “targets” by police — that sees parking officers expected to issue a certain number of tickets per day means they hit lots of cars at expired meters or on side-streets, rather than one car blocking busy traffic and causing a huge headache.

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, the committee's chair, agreed with the dissenters and said city staff will talk to police about better enforcement.

“We are moving forward in trying to address congestion,” said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong chair of the public works committee. “This is a positive step forward.”

The increased fine is one part of attacking the problem, he said, and proper enforcement is another.

The fine hike would need to go to council for approval before coming into effect.

Top eleven posts of 2011

Photo: Herb. Bells on Bloor 2011, popular as ever, even though City Council voted to stop the Environmental Assessment

Cycling and politics were a hot item in 2011, from the vote to remove Jarvis Bike Lanes, the vote to install protected bike lanes, the launch of Bixi, and the politicians who took cheap shots by trying to make cyclists into urban terrors. Here's a recap of 2011's top 11 blog posts, ranked by the number of comments. It's not the only way to rank blog posts, but the easiest to come by.

  1. Separated bike lane proposal and battle heating up
    Bixi bikes are on the streets and the fight continues to get separated bike lanes approved for downtown. Some lefty councillors oppose, some support.
  2. Few bike lanes: the cause of most sidewalk cycling
    A pedestrian dies after colliding with a cyclist in North York. There is a strong call to crack down on cyclists yet the pedestrian's family say he was an avid cyclist and understood how bad cycling infrastructure is in the burbs. And where are the critics when a pedestrian is killed by a motorist?
  3. Public Works committee votes to take out Jarvis bike lanes: total -8 km bike lanes this year
    The vote to take out the Jarvis bike lanes made international news. What big city in this era votes to take out bike lanes?

Parking at Queen and Portland: is the city taking bike parking seriously?

The new Loblaws, Winners, Joe Fresh at Queen St West and Portland have been open for a few months. In the inscrutable ways of the City, the stores opened with absolutely zero bike parking. The sidewalk was finished, trees were installed out front but no one felt the need to install bike parking anywhere surrounding the building. I like trees but wouldn't it have been even more important to install bike parking? Now we've just got people slowly killing the trees by locking to the trees.

I followed up with planner Lisa Ing of Street Furniture at the City, the area which is now in charge of post and rings (you can email your bike parking request to them). They are still figuring out how they will deal with post and rings. Lisa Ing told me about this location by email:

The post-and-ring locations were approved as part of the Site Plan Control process for this development. Our staff are typically not involved in this process. However Forestry and Urban Design staff do take into consideration bike parking issues.

I do not know the reasons why post-and-rings were not identified on Queen Street West as part of the site plan process. I am presuming there may be other street elements proposed or it could have been for aesthetic reasons.

Anyways, we can list this location in our database for future review.

Mayor Ford ends the 'war on the car' and starts one against motorists

True words by Albert Koehl in Rabble of how Mayor Ford is doing more harm to drivers than good with his archaic, anti-city approach to moving people:

Don Cherry has a lesson to teach Toronto Mayor Rob Ford.

Cherry has spent a career promoting the hockey fighter, sometimes known as the enforcer or goon. The problem is that the science of brain injuries has caught up with (and passed) his assertion that the violence of these bare-knuckle encounters doesn't really hurt anyone, and helps the game. Indeed, the very fighters whose role Cherry has championed are increasingly turning out to be the game's victims.

The cause that Ford championed most loudly during the election was that of motorists. On taking office he declared that the war on the car was over. He eliminated a small vehicle registration tax, then moved forward on his congestion relief plan by getting transit out of the way of motorists. Two of three streetcar lines approved by the previous administration were shelved and a third line would go underground at significantly higher cost. He even promised to build a new subway line. Cyclists, too, were targeted. The council he leads voted to eliminate three bike lanes at a projected cost of $400,000.

Science, and experience, makes it clear that Ford's solutions won't work -- and the main victim will be the motorist.

Reducing bike theft

John Taranu, volunteer of the Bike Union, provides some tips in helping to reduce bike theft. John also introduces the isthisbikestolen.com app created at the Random Hacks of Kindness / Open Data Hackathon on December 5-6 in Toronto. It lets you check if the bike you're buying has been stolen.

More on fighting bike theft, see bikeunion.to/theft

How to find the serial number of a bike:

How to register a bike:

No more dirty pants: upgrading a city bike to chaincase

My new chaincase came from Hoopdriver Bicycles and made by Velo Orange. Not cheap but good quality.

Us North Americans tend to underestimate the lowly chainguard (and fenders for that matter) on the bicycle. I'm a firm believer in clean pants and figure it can't be all that hard to produce a good chainguard that's going to keep them clean. Instead we've now got plenty of "city bikes" on the market (commendable for sure) that still lack a good chainguard. For example, Linus and Public bikes are two popular city bikes being seen all over Toronto. They've got fenders, racks, upright handlebars and simple, rational gearing. Yet they still lack a proper chainguard. Instead all they do is protect pant legs for just a small part of the turn. If your pants can still get oily or get jammed in the gears why bother at all?

I had previously blogged about my first attempt at clean pants using auto loom to cover the chain. It wasn't a failure though it might require occasional replacement of the loom as you can see how mine cracked (though it still worked), or find more flexible loom.

I wasn't sure how it would stand up in winter so I decided to splurge for the chaincase.