herb's blog

Simcoe bikes: a city bike designed in Toronto

Simcoe step through bike

Not since the halcyon days of CCM have everyday bikes been created in Toronto (excluding high end Cervelo road bikes and the custom-built Mariposa bikes). Fourth Floor, local bicycle distributor and spin-off of bike store, Curbside Cycles, has gotten into building their own city bike. The bikes are actually built in Taiwan (like most bikes) but they were designed in Toronto for Toronto-like conditions. This could be an interesting start to more home-grown options for people who bike everyday (keep an eye on Toronto's Gallant Bikes as well)

Fourth Floor's Simcoe Bicycles evoke classic European 3 speeds but created with modern parts. At first glance they are like classic Italian bikes such as Bella Ciao (German-owned company with Italian made frames) or Abici. Fourth Floor built something that is better built than the popular Linus or Public bikes - better components, tough powder-coated frame, fuller chainguard - but isn't as expensive as bikes imported from Europe by avoiding all the import costs of complete bikes. I took a couple of the prototypes for a spin recently. I only got to try them out for a short time but I liked them. The feel and geometry of the Roadster was much like my everyday bike, which was converted from an old Norco mountain bike. Simcoe's designs were in fact inspired as well by 80s mountain bike geometry.

David Anthony of Octto and Cycle Mondo consulted on design and networked with Taiwan factory to get everything just so, including hard-to-find powder coating. Anthony, prior to stepping out on his own, worked as a R&D manager for Cervelo. A bit unusual to have a guy that designed carbon fibre road racing bikes, design city bikes, but the result seems to be pleasing.

The Simcoe bike will be starting in the range of $750 and up, where a typical Linus ranges from $500 to $900.

The Simcoe has a number of subtle touches that make it stand out for a mass-production bike. It has nice-looking lugs on the fork and head tube but is otherwise welded much like most other bikes in its category. It has a quill stem that fits well with the classic look and provides for more height adjustments than threadless stems.

The chain rings could be steel instead of aluminium for greater durability but that isn't unusual for most bikes now.

The bike will be powder coated which will really help with chipping and rust. Not as good as the high level of protection most Dutch bikes have (such as on the WorkCycles) but much better than the standard "wet" paint on most low-end bikes that easily chip.

I know what I like and have tried out many different types of bikes. I like the idea of a new Toronto-centric city bike and the Simcoe bike matches my own preferences in a bike for everyday use. For other perspectives others have previewed the bikes Lovely Bikes and OSC Cross (winterwear company).


Brushed metal headbadge. I like the look, though I keep thinking it's upside down.


Full chainguards are really under-appreciated. Most city bikes now have fenders but this is the first line I've seen with a full chainguard on the pants-facing side. The chain may still get dirty and rusty but at least pants are saved.


The geometry is similar to my converted Norco Mountaineer MTB. Notice my chainguard from Velo Orange (worth every penny).


The Step Through model comes with a parallelogram that Fourth Floor is hoping appeals to all genders. The line starts with calliper brakes and 3 speeds and goes up to 8 (or was it 7?).


The grey Simcoes in Step Through and Roadster will include drum brakes for the front and back and higher speeds. Drum brakes can be more dependable than calliper, particularly in wet weather, and require less maintenance. If you've got lots of hills with heavy loads, drum brakes might not work as well as disc brakes. If you're looking for performance, this is the wrong bike.


The racks work well with my Ortlieb bag. The racks in the prototypes are higher than the final product.


Single kickstand. I'd upgrade this to a double kickstand since they're so much more convenient when loading groceries onto a bike. And the bike is less likely to be blown over by the wind.


Front hub with drum brakes on the grey Roadster. The bikes have double-walled aluminum wheels with quality Schwalbe tires. Wheel size, if I recall correctly, is 26 x 1 3/8, which is the size of many older 3 speeds from the last century (not to be confused with the 26" of mountain bikes which are slightly smaller).


Classic-looking metal fenders with some nice touches.


Panda portrait FTW

How cycling activists saved contraflow bike lanes from purgatory

Strathcona contraflow lane

In 2008 and 2009, the City of Toronto approved the installation of 13 contraflow lanes, most as a part of the West End Bikeways consultation. The contraflow lanes, however, have been stalled for almost 5 years, because the City of Toronto legal department was concerned that the provincial Highway Traffic Act does not allow contraflow lanes on designated one-way streets. With last week's consultation of a contraflow lane on Shaw Street, we have finally overcome that bureaucratic hurdle.

This was a made-in-Toronto problem. The City of Ottawa interpreted the Highway Traffic Act differently and continued to install contraflow bike lanes. Meanwhile in Toronto, a staff person in Transportation Services made an issue of contraflow bike lanes, effectively stopping the project from the inside (that's how I heard the story at least). Funnily, Toronto has existing contraflow lanes on Montrose and Strathcona streets that weren't an issue for anyone, not in their respective communities nor for the City (photo at the top is of Strathcona). I assume that only someone who is full of bile and spite and thought this would somehow being their small life meaning would raise a stink about contraflow lanes.

We would still be stuck in the purgatory of approved-but-cannot-install bike lanes if it weren't for the hard work of Cycle Toronto volunteers and staff working with provincial and city allies. John Taranu of Ward 22, Laura Pin of Ward 14 and others campaigned successfully to get this changed. The Cycle Toronto volunteers reached out to Councillor Mike Layton, Dr. Eric Hoskin, MPP for St. Paul, and Jonah Schein, MPP for Davenport to push for a change in the law or a clarification that would enable Toronto to continue building contraflow lanes.

Finally, this last fall the Minister of Transportation, Bob Chiarelli, announced that provincial staff would meet with City staff to come to a legal resolution. The result of that meeting, in short, is that Toronto can now make streets two-ways for bicycles, but one-way for other vehicles. In practice, this won't change the way contraflow lanes look or work from existing ones. A glass half-empty look on this would declare that we're back to square one, but I prefer to think that being on a much surer legal footing is better than square zero.

Since the public will see no real difference on the ground, it's probably not interesting to most people on how the City and provincial staff came to a resolution. For those who are, here's the longer explanation that I received from the Cycling Unit on how they reached a convoluted agreement on reading the Highway Traffic Act. The streets will become two way, with one way restricted to bicycles, which municipalities are allowed to do. They are also allowed to use the existing signage to reduce confusion.

What we negotiate will allow us to install the same markings and signage we have used for the City's existing contra-flow bicycle lanes. The on-street installation will be the same, only the back end legislation will change. The legal mechanism used to do this is the provision that the municipality may place restrictions on individual lanes.

The bicycle lane will be restricted for the use of bicycles only.
Bicycles will be restricted to travelling in one-direction only in that bicycle-only lane.
The adjacent lane has no vehicle class restriction, and may be used by all road users, however this lane will have a lane restriction in it, to govern the direction of travel for that lane.
In effect what this means is that instead of having a one way street with an exception for bicycles, the street will be a two way street for bicycles, with lane restrictions in both directions so that only one-way use is possible for other vehicles.

A key issue for us was signage. In order for the general public to interpret and use the facility correctly, we felt it was critically important to NOT take down the one-way arrow signs on street where these types of facilities are installed.

The MTO agreed that we may maintain the one-way arrow signs to communicate that the general purpose lane is restricted for one-way use. A "bicycles excepted" tab may be used to further communicate that the although it is one-way for cars (or any road user other than a cyclist), the street is two ways for bicycles, as the cyclist may use the bicycle-only lane in the other direction.

We will have to send a housekeeping report to PWIC, to change over legislation of our existing Toronto "contra-flow" bicycle lanes, and can now start to program "contra-flow" bicycle lanes which have not yet been installed using this new legislative format.

Post-snowpocalypse: Sherbourne cycle tracks cleared long before bike lanes

Snow cleared on Sherbourne

Sherbourne cycle tracks got cleared. Most of the painted bike lanes in the city? Not so much. (Credit: photos from Jared Kolb, Cycle Toronto)

For all the naysayers who figured that building cycle tracks meant lanes blocked with snow, take a good look at both photos. Just because a lane is painted doesn't mean the City is going to take it seriously. In fact, the reverse seems to be true. The City made a commitment to clear the Sherbourne cycle tracks and it has. Meanwhile it wasn't until a few days later that the City started to clear the bike lanes. And perhaps they'd still be blocked if it weren't for some tweets to 311Toronto reporting the blockage.

A side benefit of the snow bank on Sherbourne is that it's provided enough of a barrier to keep cars from parking in it, at least for the time being. I think we've learned that the cycle tracks need more substantial barriers like this to keep cars out.


Ottawa study concludes one-way streets only way to accommodate cycle tracks for its downtown

A recent discussion paper (pdf) commissioned by the City of Ottawa for their Downtown Moves Project, produced by engineering firm Delcan, may provide clues of what the Richmond/Adelaide Environmental Assessment may discover about one-way to two-way street conversions. Surprisingly, despite a number of North American mid-sized cities converting their one-way streets to two-way (New York City is the big exception), there is a lack of quantitative evidence demonstrating the effects of the conversion from one-way to two-way operation. In fact, there are strong contra-factual examples where one-way streets have vibrant street life and businesses. Montreal and New York City are two important examples.

Given this lack of evidence and that Ottawa will want to maintain adequate sidewalk width and have dedicated bike lanes on some of these streets with an 18m wide right-of-way, the discussion paper concluded that it work much better to keep the streets as one-way.

The lesson for Toronto, and in particular for Richmond and Adelaide is that if the streets get converted to two-way it will be very difficult to get any sort of bike lanes. Richmond and Adelaide, like most downtown streets are categorized as having 20m rights of way, though the actual width fluctuates.

Highlights of the report

Capacity of one-way streets is higher than two-way:

...one way street can accommodate relatively high traffic volumes with only two (2) travel lanes, given that turning movements can happen from one lane or the other. By comparison, a two-way street will need a wider, three (3) lane cross-section to accommodate a turning lane.

The capacity of one‐way streets can be approximately 10% to 20% greater than that of two‐way streets. Increased capacity can translate into fewer lanes and fewer through streets within a one‐way grid system, or alternatively, the option to reprogram any surplus capacity/space for other purposes (i.e., dedicated parking lanes, bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks).

Though many cities have made the conversion, some notable cities haven't and the streetscape hasn't suffered:

...there are many examples of successful commercial and pedestrian environments within existing one-way street corridors, including in New York City and Montreal. These successes demonstrate that there are likely elements at play other than direction of traffic flow that characterize a successful street such as the width of the roadway, number of travel lanes, width of sidewalks, presence of on-street parking, cycling facilities, access to public transit, the quality of built form and streetscaping along the street, and market conditions.

New York City, NY features a road network that is almost exclusively one-way streets, and it is considered an extremely vibrant pedestrian environment (and New York City achieves the highest transit share in the US).

Also in Montreal, QC, Rue Sainte Catherine and Boulevard de Maisonneuve and others are one-way streets, and are considered very successful commercial streets within the downtown core of the City. In both of these cases, the width of the road, width of sidewalks, presence of on-street parking, access to public transit and most importantly, built form of the buildings on the street, each impact street life far greater than one-way traffic.

The corresponding conclusion is that, on downtown Ottawa 18m wide streets where a dedicated cycling facility is to be provided and sidewalks are to be of appropriate width, this can most readily be accomplished in a one-way vehicular arrangement.

The push for conversion to two-way is coming from an ambition of creating more livable streets downtown. It's an admirable ambition that is shared by the vast majority of people who bike. But it's not clear that two-way conversion is necessary, nor even a sufficient condition for turning Richmond and Adelaide into livable streets (or destinations in the parlance of Vaughan and company). NYC and Montreal are doing just fine with one-way streets. Toronto has plenty of two-way streets that are unfriendly, not just to cyclists, but to pedestrians as well. Dufferin, Jane, Bathurst, Kingston Road and so on.

Forgiving streets: shouldn't "forgiving" for all users be the overriding principle?

Grist in the mill

Winter gets me thinking about how our streets are unforgiving. While riding on streets covered with fresh snow I sometimes imagine what would happen if I make a small mistake. Don't get me wrong, I don't mind slipping on snow. And Toronto winter streets are often clear of snow. When there is snow or ice, little slips sometimes happen but I just keep going. There's a difference in feelings of comfort, however, between slips on quiet side streets and slips on main arterial streets where we are typically forced into a narrow space between parked and moving cars. On arterial roads it feels like I'm grist in the mill, being ground into flour. Here we are an annoyance to drivers, but provide a valuable service of "friction" to calm traffic down. This seems to be our lot as Toronto cyclists.

Forgiving highways

The concept of "forgiving roads" first arose amongst traffic engineers as a way to design roads to forgive mistakes made by drivers. The reason our highways have wide shoulders and grassy areas with few obstacles, for example, is to allow wide enough clear zones to bring vehicles to controlled stops if they leave the road. If for someone were to accidentally drive off the road they would have lots of room to slow down. It was only natural for traffic engineers to start applying the forgiving highway principles to all rights-of-way. During the 1966 National Highway Safety hearings, national road safety expert Kenneth Stonex, who began his career at General Motors sought to apply the highway principles to urban streets. In this way North American urban environments began to be reshaped entirely for the automobile.

“What we must do is to operate the 90% or more of our surface streets just as we do our freeways… [converting] the surface highway and street network to freeway road and roadside conditions,” Stonex testified. It sounded logical at the time… and a great political solution, because the responsibility for fixing the problem once again fell on government, not the individual. We dove deep into the Forgiving Highway philosophy and still have not come up for air.

Why should forgiving roads only apply to auto drivers?

While highways have been designed so that drivers can maintain a high speed in relative safety, urban streets that are forgiving in this sense completely ignore the safety of everyone who isn't in a car. An urban street that accounted for people walking and cycling would require much different parameters. There is no way a pedestrian or a cyclist can compete with the speed of drivers. And yet urban streets are too complex to match highway driving. There are too many intersections with decisions to make to allow drivers to reach highway speeds. We are left in an awkward position where drivers complain of urban streets of being too congested and slow but engineers still have a predilection towards enabling drivers' ability to go fast. Drivers can still reach speeds - during the non-congested times of day - that are clearly unsafe. Cyclists are still forced to bike in the narrow space between parked cars and streetcar tracks, which only gets narrower and more dangerous in winter. Pedestrians are forced to scurry across crosswalks in the hope that drivers see them. That's not useful for anyone. The streets, instead, should be forgiving enough so that the most vulnerable person is able to safely use it, with a very low risk of death. Too much to ask?

The dark age of cycling advocacy is over

Cycling advocacy, however, has only recently begun to become more vocal in asking for an alternative to roads that prioritize high speed motor traffic. Cycling advocacy went through its own "dark age" when it was dominated by a ultra-libertarian and elitist ideology called "vehicular cycling" which put all the onus on cyclists to keep up with motor vehicles around them. All unfit, slow, young, old cyclists be damned. Harold Munn, who invented the term, defined vehicular cycling as "The task is to convince [cyclists] to operate their bicycles as they do their automobiles."

"Say what you will about vehicular cycling, but nobody is going to argue that it’s “forgiving," writes Bill Lindeke, in an excellent article on very same topic of forgiving streets for all. Lindeke read Bruce Epperson's interesting history of the vehicular cycling ideology (at least interesting for a bike nerd). Vehicular cycling was born in the United States in the 70s and 80s when the idea of creating bikeways had a stillbirth, leaving just university town Davis, California with a network of bikeways. The advocates and planners in Davis, Epperson describes as being a "third stream of egalitarians", alongside the vehicular cyclists and a middle stream of pragmatists.

Epperson writes that in Davis, the planners and advocates emphasized the vulnerable:

The third-streamers openly advocated policies that specifically targeted the weakest and most vulnerable bicyclists and involuntary users who rode strictly out of need, not choice. Together, these comprised cycling’s lowest common denominator, and for the third stream planners, they formed the yardstick by which to measure success or failure. If high-end recreational cyclists couldn’t live with their solutions, well, there were lots of other sports in the world they could turn to.

Lindeke asks the key questions that North American cities are only now beginning to ask:

Do you design bike lanes with the assumption that all the cyclists will be fast, efficient, well-trained, and “educated” about how to ride in traffic? Or do you design bike lanes for people who will move slowly, dawdle, and are perhaps younger or older or riding in groups? Do you design lanes for people who occasionally fall down?

Cycling advocacy in North America has made a sharp turn away from elitism of vehicular cycling and has started demanding cities designed for the vulnerable, the dawdlers, the old, the young. And some cities like New York, Portland, Chicago have heard the call. Toronto?

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.

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