Ontario's new bicycle facilities manual: a little bit closer but still far to go

The Ontario Traffic Council has produced a new Bicycle Facilities guide. It was produced with help from Vélo Québec, which has the experience of Québec's extensive cycling facilities, and Alta Planning and Design which has been at the forefront of a new generation of protected bicycle facilities in North America. It is a promising document, but it still falls short of high water mark that is Dutch bicycle facilities standards. This much we learn from David Hembrow of A view from the cycle path, who explained how even this updated Ontario standard falls short of Dutch expectations for their own facilities. It reveals that even though the concept of providing protected facilities that appeal to all ages and abilities is now here, it has yet to fully permeate planning.

The language of the document is slippery. Some of it sounds quite reasonable on an initial reading, but when you look closely it becomes obvious that the authors have rather low aspirations for cycling. There is an expectation that cyclists can share the roadway when both speeds and traffic volumes are at higher levels than we would experience. The authors think that it is only necessary to "consider" building an on-road cycle lane even speeds of up to 100 km/h. The language of the document betrays the lack of ambition for cycling.

From the graph streets like Richmond and Adelaide would "qualify" for protected bicycle facilities, but just barely because the traffic is quite high. This graph might exclude a lot of streets that in Europe they would consider excellent candidates for separated facilities. These decisions are mostly arbitrary so perhaps the traffic planners could err on the side of making streets more comfortable.

The manual is not particularly innovative but reflects the state of the art in North America, not surprising given the consultants come from across the continent. For those of us doing cycling advocacy in North America it's good to have an outside critique to help us keep an eye on a distant goal. We are mindful that we want to celebrate our wins, big and small, lest we come off as ungrateful, something with which Hembrow doesn't have to concern himself. By being the first Ontario document to explicitly allow for protected bicycle lanes this is a real step forward. But Hembrow's excellently placed skewer of North American traffic planners blind spots shows just how far we still have to go.

Comments

That graph shows that trying to fit all the different roads we have in North America into a simple X-Y chart with bland averages on both axis doesn't work. Plus, are we supposed to double the daily traffic volumes for four-lane roads, etc.?

Richmond and Adelaide need dedicated bicycle space because, in rush hour, there's no place for bicycles to ride. The same is the case for just about every other downtown street that goes anywhere.

The result is that anyone who tries to commute downtown by bicycle has to thread between traffic. It does not matter if you're "hardcore", or an occasional Bixi rider. Some of the not-so-hardcore riders, who I would happily pass on some route such as Harbord, leave me in the dust downtown. Why? They are riding into gaps, such as beside a slowly moving bus, that I consider too unsafe to try. Yes, I like to go fast, but I also try to apply what I've learned in 35 years experience of riding in the city to understand my risks.

The alternative of vehicular cycling is a non-starter. This would mean standing still, right behind a car, and right ahead of another car, until basically rush hour clears.

On the other hand, Toronto has no facilities on suburban roads which would strongly qualify for the red zone (why red??). For example, The Queensway in Etobicoke sees close to 20,000 cars and 60-80 km/h traffic. Mind you, that's six lanes.

The watermarks are far too high here. Alta and Velo Quebec both know much better, so I assume there must have been another level of input that skewed this towards nonsense. Copenhagenize's similar graph make much more sense and demonstrates why riding a bike is notably safer in Copenhagen.

It's helpful to have the link/study, thanks, though absolutely it's less helpful, this being Ontcario and North Americar.

One quick note from a brief scan p. 22/36 - "A bicycle facility with greater separation may appear to be 'safer' but result in more conflicts at intersections and driveways, especially if the separations make the cyclists less visible to the motorist."

The alternative of vehicular cycling is a non-starter. This would mean standing still, right behind a car, and right ahead of another car, until basically rush hour clears.

A non-starter? On the contrary. The first rule of sharing the road is don't be a dick. If traffic is moving slower than walking pace then get off your bike and walk it; if it isn't, then be a mensch and follow the rules.

Right?

Walking my bike for fifteen minutes on a crowded downtown sidewalk with everyone else scurrying to make their GO train, and me in my falling-apart biking shoes, doesn't seem productive.

Sucking it up and sitting behind cars stuck behind other cars stuck at intersections blocked by other cars is ludicrous.

Maybe I'm a dick, but the alternative to trying to get past all this traffic is, for me, saying the hell with it and taking the streetcar. It doesn't move any quicker but at least I can read a book.

Of course if there were some bike lanes in the downtown core, things would be a lot easeir. However, both Yonge and Simcoe lanes are available only south of Front, while there's nothing east-west except for Shuter, which is nice if you're going east from Yonge or Victoria but not useful going west.

The worst part of the core is that all the east-west streets are completely backed up with cars, between about Victoria and Simcoe. The fact that Queen's Quay, Front, Richmond, and for a while Queen, were severely restricted due to construction, just made it worse. And this is light "summer season" traffic.

To add a bit:

I don't see any cyclists, hardcore or softcore or nocore, who wait patiently in the queues of cars downtown. And the few riders I see walking their bikes on the sidewalk seem to be making their way to a building or a locking ring. So, if every cyclist in the core is "being a dick" by squeezing between cars, maybe that suggests that bicycles don't belong in the core. Or maybe it suggests that the core is extremely unfriendly to bicycles and we need infrastructure so we aren't forced to ride in a very unsafe manner.

Sometimes I dream of how my commute so much nicer if I could leave my bicycle somewhere by the end of the Martin Goodman trail so I didn't have to ride through the traffic and construction chaos of downtown. The dream breaks down when I realise that we haven't invented teleportation yet, so how am I going to avoid those last couple of kilometres?

I invite anyone, including Kivi, to join me at Victoria and Queen at 5:30ish one day on my commute home. We can explore how and where to go. If you want to come with me all the way home, I'll gladly pay your fare to get back via TTC (bike rack equipped buses running to Kipling) or GO train from Long Branch. But make it quick; my contract expires in a couple of weeks. When I'm on EI, I won't need to be riding downtown--woo hoo!

I guess you've never seen me then, or the other cyclists I've chatted with in traffic. Or maybe you're too focused on the 30cm gap between the cars and the curb.

Sorry, I don't follow the meaning of this heated curb debate.

In my perception, "passing other vehicles on the right that are stopped before a light" is just a tool in my kit. I use it when appropriate. I judge when it's safe to do so, the move is legal in Ontario, it's legal in the City of Toronto and even CANBIKE classes acknowledge it as safe when judged right.

Again, what's the issue?

Simplicius,

  1. It's not about just passing on the right. I would say that every block cyclists switch from travelling to the right of stopped cars to the left of the cars. This is what I call "lane splitting", as cyclists wind up riding on the white stripes separating lanes (and stopped cars). This happens because there simply isn't room to ride to the right of the cars. (Narrow lanes.)
  2. Plus, approaching many intersections, there'll be a backup where about 80% of the cars in the curb lane are waiting to turn. I don't want to be passing to the right of a right-turning car (nor to the left of a left-turning car on a one-way street).
  3. The vehicles "stopped for a light" are in fact filling the entire block. It's not like Queen St. west where you pass by a few cars at the light. It's basically the entire distance of your ride along streets such as Richmond, Bay, King, or Yonge in the core at rush hour.

Now, if you ease up to the right of the cars, and then pull out, take the lane, and pedal along at 15 km/h, then that is pretty rude. Heck, there are cyclists that I have passed some distance back who squeeze past me when I'm waiting at a red light, and I have to try to get around them again when the light turns green. If these people are driving a car, I suppose they're the ones who constantly creep into the intersection while the light is clearly red and is not changing soon....and then snooze for ten seconds when the light finally does turn green.

Catch the TV series "Don't Drive Here" on the Discovery channel. Then see how much better off Toronto cyclists and drivers are really like.

Plus, approaching many intersections, there'll be a backup where about 80% of the cars in the curb lane are waiting to turn. I don't want to be passing to the right of a right-turning car (nor to the left of a left-turning car on a one-way street).
The vehicles "stopped for a light" are in fact filling the entire block. It's not like Queen St. west where you pass by a few cars at the light. It's basically the entire distance of your ride along streets such as Richmond, Bay, King, or Yonge in the core at rush hour

You describe a common situation which I'd call it a traffic jam - i.e. traffic that ain't moving. At this point I suggest that cycling folks have abandoned all considerations of vehicular vs whatever cycling and they move as they see fit by their own safety standard - a standard which is different from yours and mine, by definition. Maybe you get upset (as I guess from your wording that followed) but I know that drivers are a lot more mad - because they observe that those filtering cyclists make better progress than they do. I myself can't get too upset since I might be on either side of that discussion...

Is there a point to be made relating to the new manual at the top of this posting, or are we just shoot'n the breeze...?

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Ed, I really appreciate the invitation and I wish my schedule permitted it. I hope someone else is able to take you up on the offer though!