When I was leading my local Cycle Toronto ward group, Ward 19, we produced a report of six recommendations to the City to improve the cycling experience and safety on Strachan. Since then, amazingly, three of them have actually been implemented, thanks to support from Councillor Mike Layton. Local activist Nancy Smith Lea first got a promise from former Councillor Joe Pantalone almost twenty years ago to install a northbound traffic light for cyclists at Lakeshore and Strachan. When we asked Layton, it took only a couple years. It's amazing what happens when a local politician actually cares about the safety of people cycling.

Yet, there is still so much more we can do with Strachan to make it safer. I still wouldn't take my mother for a bike ride on Strachan. My mother grew up cycling long distances in the south of the Netherlands to visit relatives in other towns. As has been pointed out by many, the Netherlands actually puts a lot of effort into building properly protected bike lanes. Strachan, on the other hand, represents an antiquated mentality among North American planners that a little bit of paint is all that is needed. These planners have ignored people like my mother; someone who would love to bike around when she visits me but encounters streets with speed, unpredictable cars, large trucks. Strachan is by design unforgiving of any mistake by a cyclist; any wobble that my mother might make could potentially be fatal.

It would take a lot of effort to change streets like King and Queen. but I believe that we can right now easily make Strachan so much safer and forgiving. (I'm using forgiving in actually a technical sense since traffic planners have been trying to design roads to be forgiving to car drivers for decades, while ignoring people on foot or bike and usually making streets more dangerous for everyone else.)

Strachan at East Liberty looking north
Strachan at East Liberty looking north. Note the southbound cyclists have to stop between two rows of cars and the cyclist turning left is making a two step turn instead of going into the uncomfortable position of being in the left-turning lane. Source: Google Streetview

Strachan is an excellent candidate for transformation into a safe, comfortable cycling route. It doesn't have curb parking. It has wide lanes. It has painted bike lanes south of King. It is the only street with the potential to be a safe cycling connection for Liberty Village residents. Strachan is one of the few streets that connects to the lake where getting protected bike lanes would be easy. It's already being used by a lot of people with few other options. And the numbers prove it.

The Numbers

I went down to the corner of Strachan and Wellington last Sunday afternoon. From my half hour sample, there were 302 people on bikes per hour, and 928 cars and trucks. At least twenty-five percent of all traffic are bikes during a peak weekend afternoon, which is not nothing. In fact, this is pretty good when compared to other key cycling routes downtown (all bike count data comes from Transportation Services). On a weekday afternoon on Simcoe Street last year June—a street that has protected bike lanes—there were around 240 per hour people on bikes right at the peak at 5pm. I did another count on a Monday morning. When comparing the weekday morning commute, Simcoe comes out ahead, but Strachan is not that far behind (and probably would be much better if it had protected bike lanes).

Location Date Weather Bikes
Strachan Avenue at Wellington, both directions Sunday June 19, 2016 3-4pm Sunny and warm 302
Strachan Avenue at Wellington, both directions Monday June 20, 2016, 8-9am Sunny and warm 222
Simcoe Street at Adelaide, both directions Wednesday June 3, 2015, 5-6pm Sunny and warm 271
Simcoe Street at Adelaide, both directions Wednesday, June 3, 2016, 8-9am Sunny and warm 339

Simcoe has gotten a lot attention in terms of cycling infrastructure; Strachan has been overlooked. Strachan is substandard, has latent cycling demand and could potentially be a great street. This is a big frustration that City staff left Strachan out of the Bike Plan. We could have something nice (like on Richmond and Adelaide):

 Dylan Passmore)
Woman cycling on Richmond protected bike lane (Photo credit: Dylan Passmore)

We have so few opportunities to create a "grand boulevard" for cycling to the waterfront. Pretty much just Simcoe, Sherbourne and Strachan in the entire downtown. So let's not waste it.

 Dandyhorse
We've got a long way to go to Vision Zero. Source: Dandyhorse

Many people have placed the blame on Mayor John Tory for lowering the bar on Vision Zero so as to make it bland and mostly meaningless. (Vision Zero started in Sweden where they say: "Life and health can never be exchanged for other benefits within the society", which I love). While we rightfully put the political blame on the Mayor, it helps to also understand how this plan reflects the engineering culture of Transportation Services. This is Transpo GM Stephen Buckley's as much as it is Tory's.

I've been talking to people who were part of Transportation Services' process for drafting the "Road Safety Plan" (even the name is bland) and it's pretty clear that the transportation engineers played a big part in the blandness and low expectations. It's shameful to even use the term "Vision Zero" in this document and the transportation engineers share the blame with the politicians.

Instead of setting a goal of zero deaths and serious injuries with a decade, as has New York City or San Francisco, Transportation Services was happy to aim low. They decided to make the vision statement mention zero deaths and serious injuries, but made the goal a measly twenty percent reduction. Buckley defended the goal as realistic (in other words entirely unvisionary). Mayor Tory and Councillor Jaye Robinson presented this plan but then quickly caved when faced with strong criticism from the public and media. They said that they would make the goal zero deaths and injuries in five years (which is laughable in its own right considering the low funding for the plan).

This plan was politically stale even before it landed on the mayor's desk. While Buckley tried so hard to be realistic, he missed the point that this is about life and death, not about percentages. The public doesn't think about this the same way. Twenty percent is not only "realistic", it likely falls within the margin of error. It's possible the City could just twiddle their thumbs and still claim victory. Furthermore Buckley and Robinson forgot how their "partners" would respond to the plan. Even though outside stakeholders were included in the process of drafting the plan, they didn't get a chance to see the final report before it went out. It's galling, then, that the City claimed that it's partners were on board with the plan.

The reaction from stakeholders, the public and media is hardly surprising.

As many others have pointed out, the plan still stinks since the Mayor refuses to allocate any more funds. Toronto is dedicating just a fraction of resources compared to other cities:

Proposed 1-yr road safety spending, per 100,000 residents NYC: $1.34-million (US) San Fran: $4.07-million (US) Toronto: $0.19-milion (Cdn)

But don't lose sight that there still is a moral victory here for activists. The Mayor has officially recognized that Transportation Services has a new ambitious goal and a timeline. Yes, the goal is now ridiculously unrealistic in five years. But this is a goal nonetheless and one that's now been given much more prominence in our hearts and minds. Where previous goals focused on facilitating the quick and efficient movement of motorized vehicles, this one is about people's lives. And engineers and politicians are going to have a very hard time trying to come up with a calculus where we know how many people's lives are expendable for a certain level of convenience. Transportation engineers will no longer find it easy to just say "We're always attempting to balance the safety piece with the mobility piece". We start inching towards Sweden where there is no exchange between life and convenience.

Transportation Services can no longer claim victory for a half-assed reduction that might have been a random fluctuation because of weather or some other capricious event. We can hold their feet to the fire, year after dismal year from now on:

"How close are we this year, Mr. Mayor? Have you stopped people dying in traffic yet, like you promised? No?"

Traffic fatalities in Toronto 2005-2015
Not even close to Vision Zero. Source: presentation from Transpo GM

We certainly will have to hold their feet to the fire once you realize how slim the plan actually is. But I prefer that to claiming false victories ("Yay, only XX people died this year!")

I noticed some interesting, updated information in the background info for the Bloor Street Pilot Bike Lanes in regards to mode share and collisions for cycling. Collisions are higher where you'd expect them to be: where more people are cycling. But they don't match up cleanly. If they City is serious about reducing the number of cyclists killed and injured, focusing on the southeastern part of downtown.

First is updated statistics on the cycling mode share:

cycling mode share Toronto 2011
Cycling mode share Toronto 2011. They don't mention that the cyclind mode share of the other 30 wards is a paltry 0.8%. The green line is where the Bloor Street bike lane pilot goes. Source: Bicycle Mode Share by Ward Toronto 2011 (Data Source: DMG 2014, TTS 2011; Credit: G. Moloney, Toronto Cycling Think and Do Tank, School of Environment, University of Toronto)

Wow! My biggest takeaway is that downtown cycling is approaching 1 in 10 of all trips! (More if we are just looking at Ward 19).

And also a heatmap of cycling collisions in Toronto over a 10 year period:

Cycling collison rates in Toronto 2005-2014
Cycling collison rates in Toronto 2005-2014. Source: Traffic Safety Unit, Transportation Services, City of Toronto.

This is also quite interesting. The hotspots seem to be in the bottom of Ward 20 and top of Ward 28/bottom of Ward 27. Perhaps Richmond and Adelaide and some north/south streets. These results are over a ten year period from before the cycle track installations in the area. I mashed the two together to get a better idea of how they overlap.

Toronto cycling collisions 2005-2014 overlay on cycling modeshare 2011
Toronto cycling collisions 2005-2014 overlay on cycling modeshare 2011

These areas are also areas of much heavier cycling mode share than in other parts of the city which increases the size of "KSI" (Cyclist Killed and Major Injured) as well. But for some reason Ward 19 which is at 11.4% mode share has fewer and smaller hotspots than the bottom of Ward 20 at 8.6% and top of Ward 28 at 5.8%. It is entirely likely that cycling levels have flucuated differently in these wards but I'm willing to bet not a whole lot. So I presume that those two big hotspots are particular areas of concern. And it makes me extra happy that we now have cycle tracks on Richmond and Adelaide. Let's now make them permanent and reinforce them even more. But I'm sure there are other streets of concern in the area. We can't know unless we get better detailed maps or raw data from the City.