Why unidirectional cycle tracks will likely work better on Richmond and Adelaide

Richmond and Adelaide unidirectional bike lanes

If all goes well Richmond and Adelaide will have protected cycle tracks by the end of next year. We don't get many chances like this in Toronto where we missed our Bike Plan's targets by a wide margin. Bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide are in the Bike Plan, which means it's been over twelve years!

There is some risk that we won't get them. Councillor Vaughan, for instance, still won't commit to supporting the bike lanes (I'll delve more into what Vaughan thinks in my next post) and who knows what will happen after the 2014 municipal election if the lanes are delayed. So I think it's imperative to build them efficiently, while still getting a result that is safer and cost-effective. As I'll argue below, I think it's justified for us to get nit-picky and traffic-planning geeky here. I think you should support unidirectional protected bike lanes as the best kind of protected bike lanes for this project.

First, let's get the definitions right. A unidirectional cycle track has one way bike traffic. Cycle tracks in New York are mostly unidirectional (the photo above shows a unidirectional cycle track as imagined on Richmond by Dave Meslin). Good examples of bidirectional bike traffic can be seen on the Martin Goodman Trail, or the cycle tracks in Montreal. On bidirectional cycle tracks or bike paths bike traffic goes in both directions.

One of the main things going for a bidirectional cycle track is that it doesn't require as much width and typically allows for more on-street parking to remain. Such might be the compromise on Harbord/Hoskin where the Cycling Unit staff prefer a bidirectional cycle track. Hoskin and Harbord are considered good candidates for bidirectional because there are few major intersections -- only Bathurst and Spadina -- unlike Richmond and Adelaide.

However, there are more reasons to consider unidirectional cycle tracks for Richmond and Adelaide as the preferred option:

  1. Makes it easier to extend the bike facilities west of Bathurst to Strachan and perhaps connecting to the West Toronto Railpath extension through the CAMH grounds to Sudbury.
  2. Is less expensive because it doesn't require new traffic lights. Thus less likely to be shelved because of cost.
  3. Results in less waiting at intersections for all traffic because there would be fewer light phases.
  4. Is generally the preferred, safer option where it is possible to install unidirectional (according to traffic experts in Denmark and Netherlands).
  5. Makes it more likely that the bike lanes are installed before the election. We don't know if a new Council will still have the willpower to install them.
  6. Allows for more predictable traffic movements at major intersections, of which Richmond and Adelaide have a few (Bathurst, Spadina, University, Bay, Yonge, Church and Jarvis).

Danish researchers Ekman and Kronborg found that unidirectional tracks were typically safer than bidirectional because they allow for merging of traffic at intersections:

Ekman and Kronborg (1995) conducted an extensive literature review and interviewed bicycle safety and traffic-engineering experts across Scandinavia and in the Netherlands to compare the merits of unidirectional versus bidirectional bicycle tracks. They found that bidirectional tracks on one side of the road are cheaper to build than two unidirectional paths on opposite sides of the road but that the former are less safe. Bidirectional paths are less safe, they argued, because they do not allow cyclists to merge with traffic lanes when near intersections. Merging with traffic lanes reduces the risk of being struck by turning vehicles. [Ekman, L. & Kronborg, P. (1995). Traffic safety for pedestrians and cyclists at signal-controlled intersections. Report 1995: 4E. TFK. Lund.]

Note that they say that bidirectional is cheaper than unidirectional but they are assuming both options are on the same street. We have a unique opportunity to build on separate streets with unidirectional which would likely preclude installing whole new traffic signals. Thus believe unidirectional would be cheaper for Richmond and Adelaide. I'm interested to see if the EA will confirm that.

We've waited long enough
I think there's a recognition by many people that we've been waiting too long for good cycling infrastructure. As of this writing the groups who've officially supported the protected bike lanes, with many also specifying unidirectional, include Hot Docs, MEC, Annex Residents Association, Moore Park Residents Association, Liberty Village Residents Association, and West Queen West BIA. See the letters of support on Cycle Toronto's site.

Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein of Chicago, noted at a recent talk in Toronto, that Toronto has gotten a lot of things right - streetcars, sidewalks, condos sprouting up all over. But the one glaring hole is a lack of cycling infrastructure. Toronto is exceptional among North American cities in that it has a significant cycling population but it has fallen way behind in providing protected bike lanes. While Chicago zooms ahead in installing hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes, cycling activists in Toronto are struggling to get just one cycle track that was promised years ago. So it's no wonder people are getting impatient.


I've been lukewarm to negative on some other separated bike lane proposals, but finally putting bike lanes on Richmond/Adelaide is Really Needed, and it's verging on destructive that local Councillor Vaughan isn't being supportive given the great needs for a single, straight, E/W route in the core (along with Bloor St. of course).

Being focussed on somehow returning these two roads to a two-way route ignores how greatly TO has grown in the last century: it's not a village any longer, and the failure to provide real and smart transit options - which Cnclr Vaughan knows pretty well and is at times doing a great job in rubbing noses in that failure - means that until we get better transit we can't monkey with the roads all that much (though GO has just expanded their service, yes, that's true). The Front St. transitway would have allowed that re-imagination; and while not yet totally occluded by buildings and ramp supports for pedestrian bridges etc. we need to have better transit first, and that could include transitways.

One failure of Vaughan and the City in this issue tho is the new sidewalk on the north side of the 401 Richmond St. building that reduces the lanes to 3 lanes. Yes, a sidewalk was overdue. But by planting trees in the remnant part of the lane - when these trees are on the north side and won't do so well in a carterial/poisoned carridor - means that it's a waste of the half-lane that could provide a more normal-style painted bike lane along Richmond through a pinch point to get to Spadina.

And then go westwards because Queen St. has been too dangerous for cyclists for too long, and it is not our fault that the Queen St. subway wasn't built, thus easing the car-restrictions.

Mywardopia is a real bad problem when it comes to bike lanes and Mr. Vaughan has been long on the blah-blah but where are the lanes? Including on John St., or the inferior route that made it into the Bike Plan, but not yet into reality. While Mr. Vaughan's been doing a lot of great work in an intense situation/ward, quality bike stuff is feeble to non-existent, and I've just noticed a Very Problematic paving problem in fresh pavement in his ward on Queen St. westbound that could totally throw someone to their death.

There is to be a supportive ride this coming Sat. meeting at noon at the St. James park. It'd be great to have a larger crowd to support this overdue piece of infrastructure, and if it comes to money - how cheaply can we do this? Can we just paint the concrete curbs yellow and plant some bollards in them, and use paint instead of costly concrete? Having costly separated bike lanes plays into the Fords schemes for cyclists - which is to claim great $upport whilst denying safety on 99% of the streets. Eg. it's only $200,000 to repaint 8kms of Bloor from Sherbourne to High Park vs. is it $1M a km of Sherbourne that isn't working all that well?

With the Richmond - Adelaide bike lanes Toronto has a choice to make: 1) align itself with most large modern cities, OR 2) digress into an ignorant delusion.

Despite the overwhelming number of cities in North America and around the World that are now actively supporting cycling as a mode of urban transit, Toronto has, through deliberate and calculating means, demonstrated its preference for a transportation policy of the 1960's.

Cycle track whether two/one way can get the greatest safety gain by being paired with pathed roundabouts--or any roundabout versus a signal...that is what Swedish and Dutch research shows. Roundabouts overall cut serious injuries by 90 percent...and pathing th roundabout or on/off ramping switching to walk mode from cycle track gives users of all skills the ability to choose the bike mode. As a two-year Bixi veteran of Montreal was not surprised to see Bixi fail from the higher speed, poor bike infrastructure of Toronto. Cycle track and roundabouts are the ticket to ride...

Tony Redington
blog. TonyRVT.blogspot.com