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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
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
Ferguson Block
77 Wellesley Street West, 11th Floor
Toronto, ON M7A 2T5

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rejected Bike Month T-shirt 2012: Exhibit A

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

Why does Toronto bike despite poor Bike Scores?

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

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

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

Why do Torontonians bike despite a poor Bike Score?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Enforce this bike lane (please!)

Police car passing an illegally stopped car

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

Taking the lane.

Taking the lane

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

Department of wishful thinking

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Planning for separated bike lanes on Wellesley and Harbord slowed down

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Hope to see you there!

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

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

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

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

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

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

No, that's not how it works.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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