If not now, when? If not here, where? Separated bike lanes in Vaughan's Ward
Most cyclists - and even non-cyclists - in Toronto want to see bicycle lanes separated from traffic. Most of them think that it should be the top priority for improving conditions for cyclists, even more important than adding more bike lanes. Councillor Vaughan, however, seems to disagree. At least, Vaughan has done little for cyclists in his ward and has been negative about the first real ambitious plan for separated bike lanes in his ward. Yet Vaughan considers himself to be a bike-friendly councillor. If that's true, I put it to Vaughan to explain: if not this plan, which one? If not now, when? We'd like to know.
The 2009 City survey of cyclists and non-cyclists, ten years after the first survey of the state of cycling in Toronto, added a new option to the question on the top priorities for cyclists and non-cyclists in improving conditions for cyclists. Regular ("utilitarian") cyclists stated that their top priority is to separate bike lanes from traffic (77% said it would improve matters a great deal), even more important than adding more bike lanes (59%). Even among non-cyclists 2/3 found separating bike lanes as the top priority for improving conditions for cyclists.
Adam Vaughan says he's bike-friendly, and it's true that he has supported some great initiatives for cyclists such as on-street bike parking, BIXI Toronto, bike boxes on Harbord, separated bike lanes on University and sharrows. All good things, but only the voted-down University bike lanes taxed his political capital.
It's unfortunate that the separated bike lanes on University failed. With a Ford-led Council they're even less likely to get approval since many suburban councillors simple equate wide roads with smooth automobile and give barely a thought to reducing congestion by shifting drivers to cycling or transit.
Aside from the failed University bike lanes, I've yet to hear of any proposals from Vaughan that will provide dramatic, material improvements to cycling safety downtown.
Harbord has the longest existing bike lane (aside from Poplar Plains) and one of the busiest (after College). It has become a key part of the bikeway network. It is one of the few east-west routes without a streetcar and reasonably continuous across Central Toronto. One would think that completing the bike lane on Harbord would be quite important. It is important for all the thousands of cyclists that use it daily. Yet when the opportunity came up to fill in the missing bike lane, Vaughan didn't press the issue. He choose to spend no political capital. He dared not upset the Harbord Bakery, which claims that the parking is important to their business - the parking on both sides of the street. A proper bike lane would only require taking parking off one side the street, but even that modest solution is too much. If we can't have a complete bike lane on Harbord, then where? And when?
I hope things end up better for Richmond and Adelaide. It looked as if Vaughan was going to preclude separated bike lanes on Richmond or Adelaide. It looked like Vaughan's proposal for turning Richmond and Adelaide into two-way streets would prevent separated bike lanes from being installed. This would be a disaster: Richmond and Adelaide are great candidates for separated bike lanes - no streetcars, and they cover a long distance from Bathurst to Parliament. This is why they were included in the official Bike Plan for the last ten years.
Vaughan now claims that he does not want to preclude separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide, but that he wants to expand the debate to include two-way streets. Vaughan is one of the councillors who best understand the needs to create livable, dense urban neighbourhoods. I'm sure a lot of good ideas will come of it.
The reason I frame the debate with the phrase two-way is so that the idea gets attention, The assumption is one way streets work. I'm not sure they do. Hoopefully the phrase sparks a rethinking of the way streets can work and it then draws interest to the project. My job is to facilitate a process. Richmond and Adelaide form part of a transportation study that still is not underway.
It wouldn't be all that bike-friendly, however, if the chosen option for Richmond and Adelaide results in no separated bike lanes. I'd be more convinced if Vaughan at least took a strong position that no matter how the streetscape of Adelaide and Richmond that he supported separated bike lanes as a minimum. Otherwise, the needs of cyclists could very easily be negotiated away for some other mythical benefit.
I would also be more convinced if Vaughan hadn't already tried to keep bike lanes off of John Street during the environmental assessment process for that streetscape. Vaughan, and many businesses along it, want it to be "pedestrianized", but that also means no special consideration for cyclists. If we can't have University bike lanes (now a long shot) then the St. George / Beverly / John route is the best we've got. But Vaughan refuses to consider bike lanes on John that would help connect cyclists to Richmond. Just three short blocks of bike lanes, which could easily coexist with a better pedestrian realm. Urbane Cyclist, the large, popular bike shop on John St, supports the bike lane on John. "John Street has been heavily used by cyclists traveling southbound on Beverley St - St. George Street who wish to go south of Queen Street towards the downtown core and the lakefront for over 20 years."
Vaughan seems to be suggesting that cyclists should just make do with leftovers; that we shouldn't make any strong demands for his ward even though it has one of the highest density of cyclists in the country. Strong cycling infrastructure in his ward would provide smooth connections to the high employment and residential density from Lake Ontario up to the railway mainline north of Dupont. His ward is also the core starting area for BIXI Toronto. With millions of yearly trips likely resulting from the 1000 bikes bikehsaring system, there is even more critical need to ensure the infrastructure is present to provide a safe cycling experience.
Cyclists are important to him, except when we get in the way of car parking or upscale pedestrian malls. Sometimes it's hard to see just how cycling-friendly he actually is. Could it be that as a fit man in his prime he just doesn't understand the fears and concerns of the young and old cyclists out there? I've heard from a friend that he told them that he doesn't understand the problem with the door zone - a likely response from someone who either seldom cycles or handily rides quickly far away from the door zone but is going fast enough not to incur the "wrath" of the blocked motorist.
If not the separated bike lanes in Vaughan's ward, what? If not now, when? If not on these key streets, where? I am hopeful that Councillor Vaughan will see that the separated bike lane network proposed by Councillor Minnan-Wong and the Toronto Cyclists Union can be central to his city building agenda.