Union Station might make it more difficult to reach by bike

[Update: PWIC accepted the Front Street EA Report with an amendment: "The Public Works and Infrastructure Committee requested the Downtown Design Review Panel to meet with the Acting General Manager, Transportation Services, the Director, Community Planning, Toronto and East York District, and the Chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to review the report on the Front Street West Reconfiguration - Environmental Assessment Study and provide comments to be forwarded to the March 5, 2012, meeting of City Council."

PWIC basically recognized there were some strong concerns about the lack of cycling infrastructure. Hopefully something improved can be figured out in time for the City Council meeting.]

Union Station is the busiest transportation hub in the country. For some time it's been known that something needed to be improved for the stream of people walking in and out of the station across Front Street. Today there is a meeting of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to look at the Front Street Environmental Assessment Report. It looks like a big improvement for pedestrians and as someone who occasionally uses Union, I will appreciate that cars will have more deference to me walking across. I continue to be flummoxed why cyclists' safety is being sacrificed to get there while motor vehicles will still get plenty of room. I ask the planners to imagine an 8 year old or an 80 year old on a bike navigate this section of Front.

Union Station would constitute a ”mobility hub” under Metrolinx’s mobility hub guidelines, which calls for "Balanced Access to and from Transit Stations":

  • Create safe and direct pedestrian and cycling routes to rapid transit stations from major destinations and regional cycling and pedestrian networks.
  • Provide secure and plentiful bicycle parking at station entrances with additional cycling amenities at high volume locations.
  • Provide clearly marked and protected access for pedestrians and cyclists at station areas to minimize conflicts, particularly at passenger pick-up and drop-offs (PPUDO), bus facilities, and parking access points.

The Toronto Official Plan also states that an effort must be made to make all streets more bicycle friendly. The City has a responsibility to provide infrastructure for all road users, including cyclists.

This report is not meeting any of these guidelines meant to provide balanced access for cyclists. It is outrageous that this plan may actually make conditions worse for cyclists than what we currently have on Front. The roads will be narrowed to make it harder for cyclists to fit side by side with motor vehicles; all the bike stands have been moved off of Union Station entirely; all Bixi stands have been moved elsewhere; and no bike lane is planned to provide a measure of safety for cyclists of all ability and age.

Recommendations in the report include the existing two travel lanes in each direction being reduced to one wider travel lane in each direction, marked with sharrows; expanded sidewalks, with lay-by parking for taxis, buses, etc.; new mid-block pedestrian crossing; and bike parking rings on the north side of Front Street (moved from the south side of street). The report also recommends that BIXI docking stations be placed immediately east of Bay Street and west of York Street on newly expanded sidewalks.

As great as the pedestrian realm is going to be, this plan is not a Complete Street. The planners have virtually shoved cyclists aside left us to our own devices. Unlike European train stations where it's officially acknowledged that people of all ages and abilities will want to arrive by bike and are accommodated (such as all the train stations I visited in the Netherlands), here it's not taken seriously. Rather it seems to be actively discouraged despite official noises otherwise.


I'm not optimistic that this is going to improve east-west cycling on Front, which is a real shame. I don't see why those widened sidewalks at York and Bay couldn't actually have bike channels cut into them, for example, or why there needs to be quite so much taxi parking when idle taxis are already a major contribution to congestion there. I have heard, however, that the city's Bicycle Station will ultimately be moved to the Front St side of Union Station, but I don't know how accessible or convenient it will be.

After being all Negative Nellie about John on your post from today, I'm going to go to the other side and agree with you on this one: there is no reason why they can't have the pedestrian priority crossing and not have a suitable area for bikes to get by here. It would be as simple as having painted lanes across the pedestrian "hump" or whatever they are doing with this stretch, or even differently coloured stone work to allot motor vehicle and bike space through the crossing. So simple.

Actually, come to think of it... why couldn't they do this on John? If you just used different coloured bricks, allotting some car space, some bike space, and the level sidewalk area, it would mentally place people into appropriate spaces, while still allowing for the flexibility of the used space without having a full-on painted lane.

Whenever I am out driving, or walking, or riding my Bike, I always find myself being becoming hyper-aware whenever there is a taxi-cab anywhere near me. This is because the rest of the street users do their best to follow one common set of rules, but cab drivers seem to use a completely different set of rules; the behaviour of Taxi drivers is seemingly random in comparison.

The rest of us have to pull our vehicles to the curb to load or discharge passengers, Cabs will load/unload from any lane at any time. We have rules that govern where/when U-Turns are allowed, Cabs will make U-Turns anywhere, even in areas where it is forbidden to the rest of us. More Taxis will be found waiting for a fare than would otherwise fit into Taxi waiting areas.

We have laws that govern how long you can keep your engine running while stopped, but Taxi Drivers will routinely keep their engines running non-stop, even when they are waiting long periods for a fare.

We force other modes to use stations and terminals at points of congregation, but only the Taxis Industry insist on solely using our public spaces.

Our pubic spaces are publicly funded, that we all pay for them for them to be used by Everybody. This includes our streets, which which pay for and upkeep through the taxes we pay to the city. Taxis, make their profit by using our public space. The costs of their use of our public space is brought somewhat to balance by the licencing fees we charge them to allow them this privilege. But this doesn't mean that all of our streets belong exclusively to them. Any priority that they have because of their payment of fees to use our streets should and must end end when the safety of other legitimate street users is threatened.

The bike lanes on Queens Quay are not continuous because of a "Taxi Rebellion". For a very brief period of time in front of the Harbour Castle we once had bike lanes, The Taxi Drivers weren't happy about losing their choice spot in front of the Hotel. So the Taxis Drivers took over the Harbour Castle's driveway and kept their engines running while there. Ordinary guests could not use the driveway to access the front doors. And the running engines lead to so much exhaust accumulating in the lobby that one could not help from choking on the fumes when entering. Rather than forcing the Taxi Drivers to behave in a sane way, we lost the bike lanes on that section of Queens Quay to the taxi stand that still exists there to this day..Cyclists lost the safety of the bike lane in section not just because of the Taxi Stand, but because the taxi drivers behaved badly until hey got their way.

And now the Taxi industry wants to formalize it's rule breaking and U-Turning dangerous ways on Front Street in front of Union Station, and a city to cowardly to keep the Taxis in line. Worse still: cycling access has been completely dropped from the plan.

What we should, instead, be doing is finding the space, like we have done with the Union Bus Depot,, to make it easier for those who wish to arrive or leave the station by Taxi. We built the bus facility with public money, but the bus companies are responsible for operational and maintenance costs. We really ought to doing something like with the Taxi Industry. How they pay for operation and maintenance costs can be worked out; perhaps a small premium on fares to/from Union - or perhaps the costs are distributed across all taxis as part of their licencing fees, or the costs could be buried in the fees, or some combination, or perhaps even something else entirely that the city and the taxi industry works out as being fair. We shouldn't mind our tax dollars being used to build the facility, especially when the benefit are improved taxi access as well as an improved public realm.

But the proposal that we saw go to PWIC is the worst. And I really meant it when I called the proposed plan "Evil" at the meeting!

That the Taxi industry would demand places to make U-Turns the way that they have goes to show how much they feel that they truly are the owners of our roads. U-Turns are amongst the most dangerous of manoeuvres that we allow on our streets, if not outright so. We discourage this manoeuvre by teaching drivers two-point turns. Or encourage people to drive around the block. We outright ban U-Turns in many locations, but only Taxis will routinely ignore these bans, as I witnessed myself yesterday on Front Street where a Taxi made a U-Turn -- right beside a sign forbidding U-Turns!

I expect any group to behave in the manner which best suits themselves, and also to advocate for the rules to be changed in their own favour. I do nothing less myself. I am a little mad at the Taxi Industry for doing this because it has been to mostly (if not exclusively) to the detriment of cyclists. But I most angry at the city for being so willingly complicit with the Taxi Industry in excluding cyclist's interests and removing access to important cycling routes because of Taxi Stands.

While there may be voices in our city who want to licence bike their riders so we can punish cyclists for (often small) transgressions, the city does not use the powers it has with the licences of Taxi Drivers to punish them for their transgressions. Worse, we have encouraged the dangerous behaviours that Taxi Drivers use because we have never reigned them in.

Worse, Toronto treats Taxis with a certain sanctity that it won't give anyone else. Which is why the rules that apply to the rest of us on our streets don't apply to them.
Like when they use a newly installed bike lane as taxi stand: there were zero repercussions the Licence owners for this bad behaviour! And from what I saw there myself yesterday, this is still an ongoing issue!!

Every single time that there has been a battle between Taxis and Cyclists, the cyclists have lost. And I don't want that to happen this time. In fact Union Station is too important a location to let it happen again.

The Toronto Bike Plan, Metrolinx's plans, and the Toronto Official Plan all call for more connectivity of cycling with "Mobility Hubs" (aka public transportation stations & routes). In addition, the Official plan calls for improving access from the Core to our waterfront. Nothing is more "core" in Toronto's core than Union Station. And Canada's busiest train station is nothing less than the most important "Mobility Hub" that there is!. We need to be asking for bike lanes on Front Street to connect the Bike lanes on Yonge Street and the Bike lanes on Lower Simcoe streets with Union Station, and later, connections with the rest of the city.

In addition, the Toronto Official Plan also calls for the reduction of Car dependency. The last time I checked, Taxis are still cars with all of the limitations and problems that cars bring with them.

But I'm not advocating for the outright removal of Taxis from Union Station, but rather to move them to their own, clearly marked and connected area, like what we've done for buses -- or like what we've done at Pearson Airport. And like how the taxi there help to pay for the facilities at Pearson through their licencing arrangement with the GTAA, I am suggesting that Taxi's (and their fares) pay for this through some fair means that they negotiate with the city. Taxis absolutely do provide a useful ambassador and guide service to visitors (and residents) and Taxis contribute to our successful transportation system.

Bicycles are also part of our transportation system. Bicycles have the added benefits of moving more people in the same space as cars, and they are far less likely to kill or injure people than cars. As well, bicycles are also far less expensive to provide facilities to than for motorized transport. We need to move a lot of people into and out of Union Station, while walking is the best way, bicycles are the second best way to do this.

Nor am I advocating that the Royal York loses access to it's driveway, nor would I advocate that cars should never have access to the Hotel's front doors. I can appreciate and see the need during special events and/or special VIP guests to use their Limousines at the front doors of the Hotel. If we came up with a great design that keeps full time access for motor vehicles in front of the Hotel, than I can be cool with that, too.

But I'm not cool with the proposals we've seen so far. And nor should you be, even if you aren't a user of Union Station (by bike or otherwise) today.

I agree with pretty much everything you've said. Taxi drivers exhibit a particular disregard for everyone else on the road and for their own vehicles. Several times I've seen them being ticketed outside Union Station for such things as having bald tires. They also clog up the street there for hours on end due to oversupply.

Front Street is stuffed with vehicles during the rush hours, and biking along it during these times is a real challenge. Further compressing that traffic in front of Union Station is going to make a bad situation worse from a cyclists perspective.

Were other options to expand pedestrian access given serious consideration?

What about enclosing, or partially enclosing the below grade parking & rental car area that is visible from the existing sidewalk. It measures about 1000 square metres. I think the most expensive real-estate in the country ought to be more efficiently designed.

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This problem has been addresses already to proper authorities. By now, they should have plans and projects already to attend to this need of infrastructures for pedestrians and cyclists. Also, there should be strict implementation of the rules so that drivers will comply with the laws and regulations. If this would not be given immediate attention, the problem will result to violence, accidents, and worst, loss of lives.

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