herb's blog

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

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KwLjLp9I3m0

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."

Should we ask for sharrows on Jarvis?

The Jarvis bike lanes have been scrubbed off. Mayor Ford "won" this round, though it's unclear what's been gained. Long-term I'm sure City Council will again decide what to do with the nastiness on Jarvis. I've got an idea for the short-term. I've suggested this before, and this is definitely not a replacement for bike lanes, but I'm just wondering if we could get a consolation prize of sharrows on Jarvis. I particularly like the "green-backed" sharrow pioneered in San Francisco.

We might have lost the bike lanes, but Transportation Services doesn't need council approval to install sharrows.

It's not clear if a future City Council will even want to bring up bike lanes on Jarvis again. There is a common perception that the bike lanes were "imposed" on the community without consultation, though the bike lanes were always part of the Environmental Assessment. The local councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, was only a reluctant supporter of the bike lanes; she preferred the wider sidewalks but definitely didn't want the status quo of five car lanes. So perhaps "complete streets" on Jarvis will mean only wider sidewalks. The same problem for cyclists will exist even with wider sidewalks: Jarvis will be a nasty place for people on bikes. I hope the future us can get separated bike lanes on Jarvis, but sharrows will be better than nothing.

The risk with sharrows is that it might convince politicians that the problem has been solved. But the reverse might also be true: that it will help increase the number of cyclists who will in turn demand better infrastructure.

Harbord separated bike lanes get mostly positive reception from residents and business

Residents and business owners alike showed up on a rainy Monday night to discuss the City's plan to install separated bike lanes on Harbord. The section in focus this night was between Bathurst and Spadina (the full plan is for separated bike lanes from Parliament to Ossington). As one resident noted she was pleasantly surprised that the meeting did not degenerate into a shouting match, but that everyone had a chance to voice their opinions which provided for a fruitful discussion on a controversial subject. (Photo of Terrazza Bicycle Park courtesy of Dandyhorse Magazine. Terrazza is a bit further west on Harbord but don't they have awesome bike parking?)

The meeting was organized by Tim Grant of the Harbord Village Residents Association and co-sponsored by the Harbord Village BIA and the Ward 20 and 19 groups of Cycle Toronto. Cycling department manager Dan Egan spoke as did the Cycle Toronto ward groups (I was one of the co-presenters along with Nico). The City highlighted the features of a bidirectional cycle track that they think would be the best option for Harbord and Hoskin. It would have the advantage of minimizing the loss of parking to only 20 spots between Bathurst and Spadina. The City would work towards off-setting those lost spots with off-street parking in the area.

In our ward groups presentation we emphasized the positive affect cycle tracks have had in reducing injuries, increasing retail sales of area business (as found in New York and elsewhere) and that Harbord has the opportunity to attract business by being seen as a hub of cycling. Instead of fighting it, celebrate. There are a lot of cyclists who take Harbord. By the City's numbers about 20% of the traffic on Harbord are bicycles. We can confirm that with our own rush-hour numbers where the percentage of traffic that were cyclists climbed to 30%. Compare that to Amsterdam where 38% of all trips are made by bike. Toronto's average share is only 1.7%. Harbord Village looks a lot more like Amsterdam than it looks like the rest of Toronto.

The owner of the Harbord Bakery, Goldie Kosower, appeared to be apprehensive of the bike lanes as did some other business owners. Bike lanes had previously been blocked by the local councillors because of the BIA's worry of lost parking. But now there seemed to be grudging acceptance so long as their needs were accommodated in the plan. Fears may have been assuaged by news that the plan would mean only 20 spots would be lost on the north side and that the City would work on providing more off-street parking.

There was some passion among some residents for the separation, including a father and daughter who cycle the street daily. The father stressed that the only safe option is physical separation for his children. A younger woman had recently returned from Amsterdam and wants bicycle infrastructure in Toronto that is safe enough for her mother to use.

Towards the end of the night Councillor Adam Vaughan appeared (he was delayed because of dealing with media regarding a shooting death on College). Vaughan said:

When we build bike lanes they must be separated. Painted lanes are good but aren't safe enough. My son, who bikes, needs the separation to be safe. But we don't have to do it overnight. We should sit down with businesses and planners to come up with a design. Harbord is critically important. It's a complex conversation. We might not get it all done at the same time.

People in this neighbourhood cycle but they don't do it safely. We don't accept it for drivers, nor for pedestrians, but we accept lack of safety for cyclists. We need to change that.

Some opposition came from Bike Joint owner Derek Chadbourne, who said he found the newly separated Sherbourne bike lanes terrible and thought Harbord was working fine as it is. He was also concerned about delivery truck access to his bike store on Harbord, asking where they would park once the separated bike lane was installed. Currently the delivery trucks stop in the painted bike lane in front of his shop.

No doubt, delivery truck access is a tough nut. Stores need to get their goods, and trucks need to be able to park not too far from the store. But blocking bike lanes is not popular amongst cyclists. Perhaps it would be possible to turn some of the parking on the south side into loading zones, or to come up with a sensible "curb management policy" that would allow the City to deal with the delivery access problem in a smart way not just on Harbord but for all parts of the city.

Or perhaps someone could always be available to create a "guaranteed bike lane" whenever a delivery truck blocks the bike lane.

Jarvis bike lane removals called off for the day because of protest: they'll try again tomorrow

The Jarvis bike lanes were slated to be removed today (above image from Toronto Star). The 5th lane light has already been installed. The parking meters for cars are back. But protests today have stalled the removal.

Around 1 p.m. Monday, workers began scrapping the white bike lane lines off of Jarvis St. using a large “Stripe Hog” truck. They didn’t make it far. At 1:34 p.m., 33-year-old Steve Fisher sat down in their path just before Wellesley St. E.

“I know you’re doing your job but I’m not going to move,” he said.

“I don’t believe the Jarvis bike lanes should be removed,” he said. “Before the lanes were involved I was hit twice by cars.”

Supervisor Jim Gillberry contacted the city for advice. After a wait of about 10 minutes the scrubbing truck pulled around Fisher and began work south of Wellesley, where another protester was waiting.

The truck pulled around the second protester only to encounter another person sitting in the street, as the sit-in continued.

Read more at the Star. I'm interested to see how things continue tomorrow.

Mayor Ford applauded the removal, saying he's just doing what he was elected to do.

City proposes complete Harbord/Wellesley cycle tracks all at once in 2014: tell them yes please

There is a Staff report before Public Works (PWIC) that is up for approval to build the Wellesley cycle track from Parliament to Queen's Park in 2014, to coincide with some resurfacing work on Wellesley. Then from Hoskin to Harbord they are proposing a bidirectional separated bike lane for the entire length. But safety and efficiency dictate that the entire length should be done in one go in 2014 as well:

Extending the cycle track on Hoskin Avenue to St. George Street is dependent on the reconstruction of the Queen’s Park Crescent West-Hoskin Avenue intersection. Accordingly, the Hoskin Avenue cycle track would also be delivered in 2014 to coincide with the intersection reconstruction. Consultation will get underway this Fall on the proposed Harbord Street cycle track, which would connect the Hoskin Avenue cycle track west to Ossington Avenue. The preliminary traffic investigation indicates that a bi-directional cycle track is feasible on Harbord Street and would enable parking to be maintained on one side of the street. From an operational perspective, the Hoskin and Harbord sections must be designed to integrate seamlessly, and therefore the entire section from Queen’s Park Crescent West to Ossington will be designed as one project rather than two separate projects, for 2014 construction.

You can send an email to Public Works and let the councillors know that you support this plan: pwic@toronto.ca Mention the item number in your email: 19.3. You can also sign up to speak on November 14 by using the same email address. You've got until Sunday to send your emails.

I also encourage you again to attend the November 12th meeting on Harbord bike lanes organized by the Harbord Village Residents Association.

This month's PWIC meeting is loaded with bike-related items. Also on the agenda is a proposal for developing a new cycling education program for schools; a report on the Rogers Road bike lanes (car traffic not effected, more than enough car parking); a request to the Ministry to clarify contra-flow bike lanes (currently they're in a grey zone); and a proposal to study methods for improving cycling safety around streetcar tracks (not much can be done, except take away parking but that's too radical an idea).

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