herb's blog

One way streets as "destinations", just look at Manhattan

Councillor Vaughan has expressed his concern that the entertainment district (which includes Richmond and Adelaide) should be more than "thoroughfares" and need to be "destinations" as well. Though Vaughan doesn't mention it in this article, he has been championing the conversion of Richmond and Adelaide to two-way streets as the means by which to create a "destination". The two-way streets conversion may preclude the installation of separated bike lanes, and conversely, separated bike lanes would make a conversion to two way much harder.

This urge for two way streets doesn't hold much water. We only need to look at Manhattan where one way streets reign. The streetview photo above is of Broadway where the car lanes have been reduced to provide a meridian for safer walking and a separated bike lane as a safe, comfortable space for people to bike.

Two way street conversion is a popular idea amongst some progress urbanist types. Former mayor David Miller recently repeated the same refrain to a cycling advocate friend (they bumped into each other on the street and started discussing bike lanes). Miller, like Vaughan, presented the same notion that Richmond and Adelaide need to be converted to two way streets create destinations and that the bike lanes would prevent that from happening. This notion is not the consensus. Matt Blackett of Spacing recently spoke eloquently on CBC Radio in defence of the importance of separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide.

Manhattan is full of one way streets and has the liveliest street life of any city in North America. New York City has been working on calming its busy network of one way streets for the last few years, including adding plazas, meridians, and separated bike lanes. As far as I know, they haven't converted any of the one way streets, bucking the conventional wisdom of two-way conversions.

Converting a street to two way is not a guarantee of creating destinations, if that were true then Bathurst and Dufferin would be great streets to hang out on. Nor do one way streets in themselves automatically result in dead street life. If that were true, then neighbourhoods across the city would be outraged with their one way residential streets.

There are plenty of ways to add life to a street; to make it more comfortable to walk or bike on. Instead of sticking to a tired trope, let's look at the whole range of options.

Vaughan hasn't made up his mind yet on bike lanes for Richmond and Adelaide, even after 12 years in the Bike Plan

Councillor Adam Vaughan told the press yesterday, in regards to the news that the Environmental Assessment on Richmond and Adelaide bike lanes will be starting, that he is willing to consider bike lanes but that "he hasn’t made up his mind. The entertainment district needs to be considered as a destination, not just a series of thoroughfares". (Thanks to Tino for photo of Sherbourne.)

Vaughan hasn't made up his mind yet? Bike lanes are "thoroughfares"?! Bike lanes for Richmond and Adelaide have been in the City's Bike Plan for 12 years (some say it came up even earlier). Let's take a look back over the last 12 years.

2001 Bike lanes are proposed for Richmond and Adelaide in the Bike Plan (appendix, map).

2001 Bike Plan makes a promise that "All Toronto residents will be within a five minute bicycle ride to the bikeway network." The Bike Plan plans a grid of bike routes throughout the entire city. Even then there are gaps, even downtown. Progress is slow right from the start.

2001-present A smattering of bike lanes are built (and some stopped and some removed), most of them in the suburbs where roads are wider and don't require taking out car lanes.

2009 Councillor Kyle Rae declares Bloor at Yorkville a "destination" and didn't think bike lanes were "appropriate" (in his speech supporting bike lanes on Jarvis). The sidewalks are expanded and no bike lanes planned nor installed, despite protest from cycling advocates.

2009 A Ward 20 Cycling Committee is formed with the help of Councillor Vaughan's office. Many of the committee members eventually leave because of Vaughan's reportedly heavy-handed involvement but not before producing a report (see below).

2010 The City's Cycling Unit holds packed public meeting on the Bike Plan of over 200 people in February in Metro Hall. Dan Egan, manager of the Cycling Unit, outlines their priorities for the downtown bikeway network for 2010-2011. He mentions staff will advance Richmond and Adelaide bike lanes in their spring report to Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. The March report mentions nothing about bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide. It's not clear why not? As a Miller-controlled committee, PWIC could have pushed for bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide. It often happens that staff won't propose something if they know a local councillor is opposed.

2010 The Ward 20 Cycling Committee goes "rogue" and produces a report requesting protected bike lanes on Harbord, University and Richmond/Adelaide.

2010 Rob Ford wins election that fall.

2010 Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong proposes cycle tracks for downtown, including Richmond/Adelaide.

2011 Vaughan sends letter to residents condemning "barricaded" bike lanes and accusing the Bike Union of not working with the local "community". Through a Vaughan initiated process the community didn't identify any east-west street through the city's core. It's not clear how Vaughan defines "community" but presumably it doesn't include people who commute to work in the area or who have to travel through the ward.

2011 Vaughan won't consider bike lanes on the well-used bike corridor, John Street, because he says it is meant to be a destination and not a transportation corridor (much as he's saying now about Richmond and Adelaide). Vaughan doesn't advance request to make alternative route on Peter/Soho safer crossing at Queen St.

2012 City Council approves an Environmental Assessment for Richmond and Adelaide.

2012 At the Harbord Village Residents Association meeting on bike lanes, Vaughan says to the group "Now when we build bike lanes they must be separated. Painted lanes are good but they aren't safe enough. My son needs something safer than just painted bike lanes." And he also says "People in this neighbourhood [Harbord] cycle but they can't do it safely. We don't accept such unsafe conditions for drivers, nor for pedestrians, but we accept it for cyclists. We need to change that."

2013 Richmond and Adelaide EA begins.

If Vaughan sees the big benefit of cycle tracks for the safety of cyclists, why hasn't he yet supported cycle tracks on Richmond and Adelaide? They were in the plan since 2001 and Vaughan was a major powerbroker when Miller was mayor. Richmond and Adelaide weren't brought to PWIC during that whole time.

And if Vaughan thinks Richmond and Adelaide aren't appropriate for bike lanes, then where? Richmond and Adelaide are nicely situated between two cycling corridors, King and Queen, but don't have the major drawback of streetcar tracks. The staff creating the Bike Plan were unable to find any other streets south of College that were useful for bike lanes.

Toronto seems to have a quite particular opposition to bike lanes by some progressives. The codeword is "destination", and it's been applied to a major arterial such as Bloor and now Richmond and Adelaide as a reason for not installing bike lanes. It's as if somehow the arterial road will cease to being a major street and turn into a residential street.

Vaughan says he supports cycle tracks. When will Vaughan make up his mind about Richmond and Adelaide?

Sherbourne cycle track is getting plowed: another step closer to normalizing winter cycling

The Sherbourne cycle track is being plowed! In one sense this is banal and hardly anything to get excited over. But since cyclists are routinely ignored when it comes to city services, this could be viewed as an important step in terms of normalizing cycling infrastructure. Where Toronto's road services staff previously largely ignored bike lanes and paths, they now have specific equipment and directives to clear the Sherbourne cycle track. Because the City had started clearing the Martin Goodman Trail (started under Mayor Miller) and purchased plows that could fit the width of a trail, it meant that it became that much easier to start plowing the Sherbourne cycle track.

@larrylarry tweeted this photo of the freshly plowed Sherbourne cycle track, the day of the Christmas storm. Some people have pointed out problems. While these are valid issues with using the lane, I'm more interested in how the gears at City Hall are slowly shifting. And where we can best put pressure for further change.

It is rare to find a bike lane that is being properly plowed. Almost all of them suffer from either not being plowed at all, or where parked cars entering and leaving will push it full of snow again, making them largely unusable. Sherbourne cycle track suffers from some of that and a new problem of pedestrians using it instead of the unplowed sidewalk. But these are not problems inherent to a cycle track.

Sherbourne is a mixed bag - not everything is working well, particularly the issue of cars parking in the cycle track - but this isn't the end of the story. The City will tweak it and cycling advocates will push for improvements both on Sherbourne and for future cycle track plans. The major improvement is that the City is setting higher standards for cycling infrastructure and this will have bigger benefits down the road.

Sherbourne cycle tracks completed, go try them

The first cycle track in Toronto is now complete! After all the politics and foot-dragging, Toronto is now in the club with the likes of New York City, Chicago, Montreal and Vancouver.

Christina Bouchard created a quick video and the City of Toronto released a press release (thanks David Juliusson):

The City of Toronto has completed construction of its first cycle track - a lane for bicycles that is separated from motorized vehicle traffic. The new lane is located on Sherbourne Street between Bloor Street and King Street.

Over the next few years, Toronto is creating a 14-kilometre network of cycle tracks in the downtown area.

The Sherbourne cycle track has new features that distinguish it from the City's painted bicycle lanes:
• Buses don't stop in the cycle track. It is raised to sidewalk level at bus stops to provide accessible passenger loading. Cyclists are required to stop for passengers getting on or off buses.
• Bike boxes have been provided to assist cyclists making left turns when connecting with east-west bicycle lanes on Shuter Street, Gerrard Street and Wellesley Street.
• Parking next to the bicycle lane has been removed and parking lay-bys have been provided at six key locations to facilitate pickup/dropoff activity and commercial deliveries

Toronto City Council has adopted a Cycle Track Bylaw setting out the rules of operation for cycle tracks. The bylaw provides for a $150 fine for drivers who stop or park their vehicle on a cycle track.

The only exemptions to the bylaw are the following three:
• emergency services or police vehicles actively responding to an emergency
• Hydro and utility vehicles in the lawful performance of their duties
• Wheel Trans vehicles actively loading or unloading passengers

Toronto Transportation staff are working with the Toronto Police Service and Parking Enforcement staff to ticket and tow vehicles that are illegally blocking the cycle track.

Frequently asked questions and other information about cycle tracks are available at http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/network/downtownupgrades/.

Toronto is Canada's largest city and sixth largest government, and home to a diverse population of about 2.7 million people. Toronto's government is dedicated to delivering customer service excellence, creating a transparent and accountable government, reducing the size and cost of government and building a transportation city. For information on non-emergency City services and programs, Toronto residents, businesses and visitors can dial 311, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

When bike lanes disappear: are they just for show?

Even when the City tries to do right (let's ignore for the moment where the City does wrong - as with the Jarvis bike lanes removal), little stubborn facts show the City (except for the tiny Cycling Unit in the Transportation Services aka Department of Motor Vehicles) still isn't taking traffic safety seriously.

With the ongoing construction of Strachan for a new overpass to accommodate more frequent GO Transit service, a temporary bypass road was constructed, complete with bike lanes and sidewalks. Mostly. I recorded myself taking the bike lane. The bike lanes are quite nice, but quite inconveniently disappear completely and without warning at the most critical points, where the road narrows and curves. And, like in the video, the bike lane can disappear right next to a large truck, forcing the person to figure out how to avoid being crushed.

Neither cyclists nor drivers are given any warning nor direction on how to act or merge. It appears that no thought was given by planners or contractors on how cyclists are supposed to behave just outside of the reconstructed road. They may have followed the plan to the letter, but somehow someone didn't think to see how the reconstructed bike lanes would meet up with the existing ones.

If the City truly had a plan for improving the safety of cyclists -- if it considered bike lanes an important aspect of increasing safety (and there is more and more research that this is true) -- then they probably would not have created this mess on Strachan. But as it stands it's a symbol of how bike lanes tend to be seen as just gimmicks.

Province will clarify contra-flow bike lane legality by year end

Contra-flow bike lanes have been stuck in legal limbo in Toronto for the last few years. Looks like this might soon end as the province may clarify the law by year end for hesitant Toronto City Staff who've held off on putting in the bike lanes.

Though it's welcome news to have this issue resolved (hopefully in the affirmative), it appears to be a made-in-Toronto problem as Transportation Services staff in Toronto have held up the council-approved contra-flow bike lane while Ottawa City staff have continued to install them. Ottawa has interpreted the Highway Traffic Act as allowing for contra-flow bike lanes.

A contra-flow is a one-way bike lane that can be installed on one-way streets so that cyclists can use the street as two-ways while motorized traffic must continue to follow the one-way restriction. A few contra-flow bike lanes were already installed in Toronto before this became an issue (Montrose, Strathcona).

Cycle Toronto (in particular the Ward 14 group with Laura Pin) got the support of MPP Jonah Schein and Councillor Mike Layton in making a request to the province for clarification. [Updated: it was ward 14, not 13 as comments note]

InsideToronto.com has more info:

David Salter, press secretary for transport minister Bob Chiarelli, confirmed the province was working alongside several municipalities, including Toronto, on updating Ontario Traffic Manual guidelines in regards to cycling issues. Part of the update, according to Salter, includes examining contra-flow lanes, which allow cyclists to travel in both directions on some one-way streets.

“We’re looking forward to receiving the project team’s recommendations and will review them as quickly as possible,” wrote Salter in a statement Tuesday morning.

The city has approved the installation of 13 more contra-flow lanes as part of its official bike plan, including a series of lanes on Shaw Street in 2013.

But to put in the lanes, the city requires clarification from the province regarding a section of the Highway Traffic Act, which prohibits two-way traffic along a one-way street, said city councillor Mike Layton.

Layton said technical issues related to signage for the lanes may also be holding up the process.

“What we’re seeking is we want to make sure they’re safe and no one is bending the rules, and that’s going to take some clarification on the side of the minister,” said Layton, who represents Trinity-Spadina.

City council voted last week to adopt a motion seeking clarification by the end of 2012 from the province regarding the legality of contra-flow lanes.

Last week, provincial transportation critic Jonah Schein said over 600 people have signed a petition asking for clarification from the minister regarding the lanes.

“It doesn’t require a legislative change, it just requires the minister to let us and the city know when we can move ahead with contra-flow,” said Schein, who represents Davenport for the NDP.

He said approving the legality of the lanes would improve safety for cyclists, especially those who make use of one-way streets to avoid main arterial road traffic.

“That would provide proper lane markings and there would actually be a bike lane on a one-way street,” said Schein. “By making the lanes legal and providing proper signage we could essentially create a safer way for cyclists to commute the city.”

Toronto unique in having an urban vision of "destinations" and narrow roads that marginalizes cycling

Toronto is "unique", not just for its "war on the car" mayor (who may be losing his job this morning), but also because it seems to be obsessed with it's own version of "complete streets" and creating "destinations" that seems to have excluded cycling from a number of important routes, including John Street, Bloor Street (at Yorkville), Union Station. This came to the attention of the international blog Copenhagenize this morning as they point to evidence in City's planning process, politics and urban-aware media that seems to have largely marginalized cycling as a means of getting around.

Even the original environmental assessment for Jarvis Street turned down bike lanes. It was with the help of then Councillor Kyle Rae that bike lanes were reconsidered and installed. But even Rae, didn't think that bike lanes were necessary for Yorkville, because it was meant to be a "destination". Destination was also the word bandied about by the planners for John and Union Station. To cycling, destination should be a code word that means we'll get ZERO bike infrastructure.

Copenhagenize explains it in its usual incendiary, yet insightful, way:

Toronto's "uniqueness" over the past few years due to its Mayor is well-defined and well-documented. The current political leadership is a running joke.

It is important to highlight that the City's singular focus on pedestrian traffic is also unique. I can't think of another city similar to Toronto in size that completely and utterly ignores the potential of bicycle traffic. For improving public health, for reducing congestion, for.... christ... do I even have to write this? And it is not just the Mayor, but also city hall, journalists and random hipster/urbanist magazines.

Pedestrians are always - or should be - at the top of the traffic hierarchy. Duh. But it's astounding that the anti-cycling sentiment in such a large city in the western world here in 2012 runs so deep.

This is not a good kind of "unique". I fear that even if Toronto discards its Mayor, the battle to modernise itself is light years behind that of other, more visionary cities.

Rolling: a video

From Transportation Alternatives, New York. "For the past 40 years, Transportation Alternatives has been demanding (and winning) new bicycle lanes across the city. Now, it’s easier to bicycle than ever before."

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