herb's blog

Staff take out protection from Harbord-Hoskin protected bike lane plan

The City, with its just announced revision to the Harbord-Hoskin plan, continues to be unwilling to take radical steps to protect cyclists, nor to ensure that there are certain routes where cycling safety is paramount. Instead they would prefer to not disturb the god-given rights of car drivers to convenient parking.

City staff, when asked by City Council to build protected bike lanes on Harbord, Hoskin and Wellesley, had originally responded with a bidirectional bike lane for Harbord and Hoskin. It was a compromise that would allow businesses to keep some on-street parking between Spadina and Bathurst. But after studying they've decided that the bidirectional leads to too much delay for all traffic users. So instead they're coming back with a stripped down option that is going to be just paint with no protection at all. Luckily they got the TTC to agree to lane widths similar to those on Wellesley otherwise it would have been even worse.

...the City completed a comprehensive traffic study to measure the effects of bi-directional cycle tracks operations at signalized and un-signalized intersections. This study showed it would not be possible to safely accommodate bi-directional separated bike lanes, without unacceptable delays to all road users.

I would have preferred the City to actually do a pilot project of a bi-directional bike lane. A computer model is a very poor substitute for the real thing and can't possibly capture all the possible tweaks or substitute for actual safety data. In fact, it is difficult to establish safety conclusions with even actual injury data. I can imagine a model would be quite poor in predictive powers.

Note that the City didn't say that bi-directional is "unsafe". Any infrastructure must be studied relative to other options including the status quo. Bidirectional works elsewhere, such as Montreal. It's just that the City was unwilling to accept the tradeoff of delays for a bidirectional bike lane.

Anyway this is what they now have planned for Harbord:

There are not even plastic bollards, though staff do suggest that it might be possible for the side without car parking (bollards would otherwise interfere with cars existing). But on Hoskin (east side of Spadina) the road is wider and there's room to put the bike lane between the curb and the parking. This is the preferred arrangement and is how saner cities like Copenhagen do it.

City's proposed cross-section of Hoskin

The TTC doesn't want the parked cars to be too close to their buses. The mirrors of the buses will overhang the lane widths. I guess the TTC would rather that cyclists' heads serve as a buffer. The City is unwilling to either force this option on the TTC or to take out the parking in the narrow sections so that there is enough room for this protection.

Toronto already has many bike lanes right next to parked cars, so it may seem unimportant that Harbord also have the same setup. It does seem that there is a bit of buffer to keep cyclists away from opening car doors. But research has shown that a bike lane next to parked cars is not as safe as a major road with zero on-street parking at all.

In short, on-street car parking poses a danger to cyclists and the City is unwilling to take measures to protect cyclists even on prime cycling routes like Harbord.

This is what I propose for Harbord: let the TTC "suffer". There is room for the buses and they can just drive more slowly. It's just Harbord, not one of the major transit routes. I made it on streetmix.

Or take out all the parking, at least between Spadina and Bathurst (streetmix). The amzing thing about this option is just how much room we've got to play with. We can even widen the sidewalks, which would certainly be a great option for the businesses along that stretch:

Just look at all that added space! And I bet without cars getting into and out of parking spots all traffic will move faster. This is the sanest option if people will just get past their prejudices.

A smart redesign idea Soho and Queen by Vaughan

The idea for redesigning the Soho Queen intersection has been floated around for a few years. I've been bringing it up ad nauseum. The City had been largely silent about it, and when staff finally mentioned it presented their own very basic plan as a fait accompli.

Turns out that Councillor Vaughan must have been thinking about how the intersection could be remade for some time. All this time we figured that Soho would need to be redirected through the empty lot on the west side of Soho, like in the following photo.

But there might be an easier solution. The possible solution came from Councillor Vaughan. Fellow Cycle Toronto volunteer Iain asked Councillor Vaughan last week about this intersection at the public consultation for Soho/Phoebe. The photo at the top is of what Vaughan proposed.

The property line for the parking lot on the west side of Soho, which is apparently owned by three "disinterested" dentists in Hong Kong, is quite far back. The street can be moved back quite a bit without affecting the property. This way no negotiations need to take place with any absentee landowners. This would also allow for an larger patio on the east side of Soho, which Vaughan sees as a big plus.

This is a great idea!

But why hadn't Vaughan presented this idea already? Vaughan's been working on the John Street pedestrianization for a few years. Methinks he could have saved himself some trouble if he had presented better ideas for making Soho, Peter and Simcoe better cycling routes.

Vaughan may have actually been trying to work out a deal with the landowners, which seems to have gone nowhere due to their lack of interest in developing the lot. From what I understand, making a deal with them hinged on them actually wanting to build something on this lot.

The alternative, as I was told by a lawyer, is where the city would identify a road widening of Soho Street on the west side of the road allowance and amend the Official Plan to show the road widening. When the parking lot is redeveloped the city can require at no cost that the developer give the city the land identified for free. [Corrected. Got a more accurate picture from a lawyer.]

But looks like Vaughan didn't want to go that route for whatever reason. I think that most politicians prefer not going "Robert Moses" for cyclists if they can help it.

Am I too harsh on Vaughan? A reader recently sent me a "threatening" note to lay off Vaughan:

I am a cycling enthusiast, but I am sick of your constant bashing of Adam Vaughan. He is one of the good city councilors [sic]. Just because he doesn't want to put bike lanes on every single street doesn't make him a bad guy. At least he's one of the few councilors [sic] with the guts to stick up against our crack-smokin mayor. I will stop reading your blog if you continue to bash him. Stick to cycling and avoid the politics over [sic] you've lost me as a reader.

For his own health I think it best this reader stop reading this blog. I'm not about to give politicians free passes when it comes to making Toronto a good cycling city.

I'll give Vaughan a check mark for coming up with an innovative solution for Soho and Queen. But he still gets an X for lack of follow through on his idea. And Vaughan and Transportation Services still get a failing grade on Simcoe, which will still be largely unusable as a bike route even with bike lanes due to the complete lack of a plan for how cyclists will safely cross major streets like Queen and Richmond.

City finally proposes Peter/Beverley connection and, meh, they can do better

There will finally be a public meeting to look at the City's planned connections of Peter Street to Beverley bike lanes. It really should have been part of the main public consultation for Richmond and Adelaide--in fact, the City promised it would--but it's only now quickly been announced as a separate meeting, just one week before the actual time.

Staff are frustratingly proposing just one option for connecting the two streets, and it's not the best option (the best would have been John St). They propose installing a contra-flow bike lane and move the traffic light at Queen to the other side of Soho, but won't consider changing the configuration of the roadway (such as the great example imagined by Dave Meslin a while back).

So staff are proposing the easy option:

I made the image a while back to show that Peter was inferior to John (the streets, that is).

They could have been creative with this (I don't know if they seriously considered it):

Can staff get away with offering just one option? I thought it was part of the Richmond-Adelaide Environmental Assessment, which would require the City to consider various configurations, including the "do nothing" one. Maybe staff decided it was easier to just pretend that it isn't.

So here are the details:

Thursday, March 6, 2014. 4 to 9 p.m.
Alexandra Park Community Centre,
105 Grange Crt. (follow Grange Ave. west of Spadina Ave.)

And this is what they're proposing:

Phoebe Street

  • Installation of a westbound-only contra-flow bicycle lane on the north side of the street, from Soho Street to Beverley Street, to allow the street to function in both directions for cyclists.
  • The existing one- way operation of the street will be maintained for motorists.

Soho Street / Peter Street / Queen Street Intersection

  • Painting of northbound and southbound shared lane pavement markings (sharrows) on Soho Street to connect Pheobe Street to Queen Street.
  • Traffic signal modifications to the Peter-Queen Street signal, to incorporate Soho Street into the intersection, which will function as a combined signalized intersection (no changes to roadway alignment are proposed).

I do like that they're also proposing a contra-flow for Stephanie which will still help cyclists get to/from John, but after this announcement they revised their proposal and shortened the contra-flow so it ends at John instead of McCaul in order to protect--you guessed it--precious parking.

Stephanie Street

  • Installation of a westbound-only contra-flow bicycle lane on the north side of the street, to allow the street to function in both directions for cyclists.
  • The existing one-way operation of the street will be maintained for motorists.

I'll accept it if this is the best we can get, but I do think we still have time to get something better. Ask the staff to consider moving the roadbed through the empty parking lot to meet up with Peter straight on. Get them to continue the Stephanie contra-flow the whole way. And demand that we also get Simcoe protected and connected (with traffic lights) all the way from Dundas to the waterfront. It's the only direct route in the area.

There's still time to get something better.

Council votes to allow e-bikes in Toronto bike lanes

In a controversial decision City Council has voted to allow e-bikes--both the regular-bike-looking and the e-scooter with vestigial pedals--in the bike lanes of Toronto. Council overturned the decision by PWIC which declined to allow the electric scooters in the bike lane. E-bikes are still banned from using trails and protected bike lanes. (Photo by Martin Reis)

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong's surprise motion barely passed with 21-18 votes. A few councillors were absent but it wasn't clear which way they would vote. Cycle Toronto, which had taken a strong stance on the e-bikes by stating that only "pedelec" should be allowed in the bike lanes, was caught off-guard by the motion.

A pedelec is similar to bikes in terms of speed and bulk, whereas an e-scooter is similar to a moped.

E-bikes is a controversial topic with people falling on either side of Cycle Toronto's stance, saying it was either too harsh or not strong enough. I trust my readers will not disappoint by being just as diverse. This is what Cycle Toronto said:

  • We’re supportive of e-bikes as an alternative to larger, less environmentally friendly motor vehicles, especially for people with impaired mobility.
  • We welcome Recommendation 1 to allow power-assisted bicycles which weigh less than 40kg and require pedaling for propulsion (“pedelecs”) in multi-use trails, cycle tracks and bicycle lanes.
  • But we’re concerned about Recommendation 2, which would allow electric scooters in all painted bicycle lanes across the City.
  • We support the MTO and Transport Canada addressing Recommendation 4, to split the existing power-assisted bicycles vehicle category into e-scooter and pedelec type vehicles, before the City considers the recommendation to allow them to drive in bicycle lanes.

Even though there is no crash data on e-bike/bike collisions, it's a valid concern. On the bright side, e-bikers, though still few in number, are potential allies in a fight for better cycling infrastructure. I'm not sure if that will make this decision palatable for most bicyclists.

Winter gives cyclists the middle finger. Show it who is boss

After a few milder winters, this winter has been particularly tough. A hardy few bike throughout the winter but even they have limits. As I write this the snow is thickly falling and only a few brave souls can be seen biking or walking.

The cold is actually manageable; bundle up and you'll do well. But the thick snow turning into ice on the sidewalks and roads makes it dangerous. This winter has been especially tricky with a freeze-thaw-freeze cycle that has turned much snow into hidden ice. Avoiding this ice buildup, I believe, is possible. If only the City cared enough.

When it snows the City usually lets people continue to park their cars at the curb on most of our major arterials. The result is a whole stretch of snow that isn't being plowed now does it have a chance to melt from the sun.

I took the picture on a day after a snow event. The snow fall was manageable and much of it melted with an application of salt and sun. Yet stubborn bits hung on for existence under parked cars and soon turned to ice.

During rush hour the lane is clear but the ice forced all cyclists into a lose-lose situation; either ride over the ice and risk life and limb or ride far to the left where the drivers get confused and angry. Dealing with the latter is probably safer but it still forces cyclists to deal with some drivers trying to make a "point" by cutting in as closely as possible. One friend got clipped by a mirror by such a driver. I try my best to just listen to a podcast and try to ignore them.

What can the City do about it? Banning winter would be great (climate change?) but unworkable. City Council has directed staff to "report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on the creation of a network of snow routes for Toronto's bikeway that receives priority clearing and that this report recommend what changes, if any, should be made to route signage."

That's a start, but many streets, such as Queen, King, Dundas, aren't officially part of Toronto's bikeway but still have many people biking.

What might help those people is a recently passed change in the City's by-laws. In December City Council passed a snow clearance plan, which grants the General Manager of Transportation Services—currently Stephen Buckley—the right to prohibit parking on designated "Snow Routes" (map) throughout the City during "major snow storm conditions". Most major downtown streets are designated "Snow Routes", some have bike lanes, many have streetcar tracks. The ability to prohibit parking on snow routes previously only rested in the Mayor.

The by-law Municipal Code Chapter 950, Traffic and Parking specifies that when 5cm of snow falls the General Manager or the Mayor may declare a major snow storm condition and prohibit on-street parking for up to 72 hours.

The City of Ottawa already had a bans overnight on-street parking when the forecast predicts 7cm+ of snow. I think they ban it overnight to give snowplows a chance to clear the roads. Even better is Toronto's approach of prohibiting parking day and night. In practice, I imagine the staff are quite reluctant to enforce this rule, which explains why we've still got problems like the photo above.

Maybe today is a great day to test this new power, Mr. Buckley.

Toronto protected bike lane strategy: study, discuss, repeat. Meanwhile Ottawa just builds them

Ottawa actually builds protected bike lanes. In Toronto we like to think and talk about it a lot.

Peter got an explanation of how it works in Ottawa from a friend, Alanna Dale Hill, who is an assistant to Ottawa councillor, Mathieu Fleury. Ottawa decided that they could build protected bike lanes on Laurier Ave without an environmental assessment. Meanwhile, Toronto's Transportation Services decided that the lanes that City Council had approved in June 2011 for Richmond and Adelaide required a costly EA. But just when the EA was set to be completed they decided they should also do a pilot project (but only along pieces of the planned project).

The Richmond/Adelaide EA is costing the City millions and four lost years during which they could have implemented a pilot project as originally planned. Ottawa was able to do a much better evaluation with real data rather than speculating from a model. And now Ottawa has a protected bike lane with very little fuss.

What is Toronto's fascination with costly studies while other Canadian cities just build? Even when City Council approves bike lanes Transportation Services has found a way to make those approvals precarious.

According to Alanna:

The Laurier SBL did not require an EA. The City’s interpretation of the requirements is that the re-designation of an existing General Purpose Lane (GPL) to a reserved lane is exempt and also that the construction or operation of sidewalks or bike lanes within existing rights-of-way are also exempt. Temporary changes to capacity (such as construction detours) are also exempt and the project ran as a pilot for 2-years which was considered a temporary condition.

No repercussions for Ottawa going ahead without the "proper" studies. So what is Toronto, Canada's largest city, afraid of?

Tricking out omafiets with essentials. Or keeping the romance alive

My life partner Heather has a one-speed omafiets (Dutch for grandma bike). When she rides it reminds me of Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands on her bicycle. Being upright she looks practically regal.

Statue of Queen Beatrix, not Heather

The only problem with this particular omafiets—at least for Canadian weather—is that it only has a coaster brake with which to stop, which can make cycling on icy downhills sometimes tricky. While a coaster brake is the height of simplicity—just pedal backwards to stop—it can lock up the back wheel if someone really steps on it.

So for Christmas I put together a front wheel with a rollerbrake (yes, I know, I'm such a romantic). So now she's got two brakes with which to stop. A rollerbrake's mechanisms are all internal (like coaster brakes) so it requires less maintenance and isn't affected by the weather like regular rim brakes. Even with wet rims the bike stops just fine.

Just perfect for city cycling.

I actually didn't set out to lace together a wheel. I couldn't find anyone locally who was selling a complete wheel with rollerbrake for this oma fiets. So I had to put it together myself with help from Hoopdriver and Urbane to get the steel rim, spokes and hub. I had also looked at Dutch Bike Bits. Curbside might also have had what I needed since they sell Dutch bikes.

Here's the result. Just in time for icy roads.

Turned out quite nicely if I do say so myself.

Bike wheel sizing is esoteric to say the least. Older Dutch bikes use the ETRTO 635 wheel size and I could only find the 622 built up with Sturmey Archer drum brakes on Dutch Bike Bits. The 622 standard is the same as what is commonly (at least with bike geeks) referred to as 700cc.

Once Hoopdriver and Urbane got me all the parts (rim, hub, rollerbrake, spokes, brake lever), I used Sheldon Brown's handy tips for wheelbuilding. I've built wheels a couple times before, so it may take some practice if you haven't done it before. It can be a nice, relaxing experience if you've got all the right parts.

There are actually people at machines in Asia that can quickly lace up and true millions of wheels a year. But what's the fun in that?

Sheldon Brown's wheel.

The bike in its full glory. Note the magnificent basket. It can carry so much stuff that I feel guilty for not putting one on my bike. The basket and rack came from Curbside.

Dr. Monica Campbell, champion for people on foot and on bike

Welcome to 2014! May we actually get some real, protected infrastructure this year!

At the end of last year I ruffled some Vehicular Cyclists' feathers by posting this: Avid Cyclists as policy makers are going extinct and they've no one else to blame but themselves (I still stand behind my analysis though I would probably now use the more accurate label of "Vehicular Cyclists" to better reflect the ideology and not just people cycling in car traffic because they have no other choice). Buried in the controversy was my mention of Dr. Monica Campbell, Director of Healthy Public Policy at Toronto Public Health, who had won an award at the 2013 Toronto Bike Awards.

(Photo: TCAT. From left, Dr. Monica Campbell, Nancy Smith Lea of TCAT)

Dr. Campbell is no Lance Armstrong. This is something which Vehicular Cycling seemingly holds as a prerequisite for a transportation planner - as in "If we all just rode at top speed all the time and never made errors then we'll be perfectly safe in car traffic". She is not that kind of expert, but one who knows how to bring science to the transportation planning profession; a profession that has notoriously avoided dealing with most injuries, deaths and health impacts such as obesity and asthma that are a direct result of our car fetish society.

The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, who presented the award, describes Dr. Campbell's work thusly:

Dr. Campbell has city-wide responsibility for ensuring the development of evidence-informed public policies that best protect the health of Toronto residents. She was selected by a majority vote of the TCAT steering committee for her leadership in demonstrating the link between active transportation and health and for spearheading numerous evidence-based initiatives within Toronto Public Health to improve the safety of cyclists and pedestrians in Toronto.

Under her leadership, Toronto Public Health has been producing reports such as the recent report "Improving Safety for Bicycle Commuters in Toronto" and has become more active in creating safety guidelines for cyclists and pedestrians (something which you'd think would have already been a higher priority for Transportation Services).

Some of the safety items that Public Health is pushing for, for which most cyclists will be pleased to have:

  • making construction zones safer for cyclists
  • stop using bike lanes for "storage"
  • review the "Watch for Bikes" by-law and improve it
  • advocate for side guards on trucks (only the feds can implement this but have been dragging their feet for years)
  • improve safety of cyclists at intersections

Her work, I think, is a signal that the underbelly of our municipal government is slowly understanding the new reality where fighting obesity and improving the safety and the comfort level of citizens is more important than obsessing about making cars go faster. Thank you Dr. Campbell for helping to make Toronto more equitable, safer, healthier and more fun in 2014.

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