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Parking in Sherbourne separated bike lane: will parking attitudes evolve?

A friend took a photo of a UPS courier blocking the entire separated bike lane on Sherbourne. I posted it to Twitter and got a lot of response. Some people related their own sightings of vehicles blocking the lane, including a school bus (@andyinkster : @biketo @CDL_TO I see your truck, I raise you a school bus, leaving Sherb #biketo lane http://twitpic.com/ayyv7q) and a line of taxis in front of the Phoenix. Lots of cyclists were hassling the taxis that night.

Blocking a bike lane, whether separated or not, is a major problem in Toronto. It is endemic among taxi drivers and courier drivers. Can this behaviour change? Will they get used to the idea that a barrier means they should stay out of it? A similar issue arises in areas where cars use the sidewalk to park. Thus part of the problem is a culture among drives that they have the privilege of using any part of the road or sidewalk.

While most people were angry with vehicles blocking the bike lane, one cyclist @ErinForks took the position that we should expect the lanes to be blocked now and then:

@biketo where exactly did you want him to park? R you saying bike lanes are to be clear all the time? Life isn't perfect either...

‏@r0607ninja responded:

@ErinForks @biketo That's pretty much the point of having physically separated lanes

It might look like the separated bike lanes aren't working, but perhaps the barrier is already having an effect, since it's not clear just how bad the bike lane blocking was prior to the installation. The rounded curb still allow cyclists to cross over into the next lane to pass the obstruction. It might not be as easy as without the curb, but from Twitter my sense is that most cyclists would see that as a trade-off they can live with.

Perhaps the to-be-adopted new by-laws for cycle tracks with a $150 fine for blocking will help change the attitude. Toronto could also look towards other cities to see how they've dealt with the issue with cycle tracks. It's clearly not a Toronto-centric problem. From what I understand part of the cycle track on Sherbourne will be raised which may both provide a better psychological barrier for drivers while also making it easier for cyclists to pass blockages. This may be a possible solution.

Side note: for a happier view of the bike lane jnyyz posted Critical Mass photos. Here's them riding down Sherbourne:

P9283461

First chance to ride Sherbourne cycle track

P1060542 Sherbourne 'Separated' Bike Lane

The Sherbourne cycle track (aka separated bike lanes) is one step closer to being completed. Tino has photos for us of the first section close to completion.

Cycling in the Annex: Public Meeting Oct 2

On Oct 2 at Miles Nadal, the Annex Residents Association is holding a public meeting on cycling in the Annex.

The topics:

  • 30 km/hr speed limits on Annex roads
  • bike lanes on Bloor from Bathurst to Avenue Rd
  • additional cycling safety measures
  • results from Clean Air Partnership / TCAT's Business and Cycling Survey

Details:

7pm, Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012
Miles Nadal JCC (Bloor and Spadina SW corner)
Room 318

Cyclists and Councillor Adam Vaughan: a rocky but productive relationship on separated lanes

In terms of downtown councillors who say they support cycling and who actually follow through, Councillor Adam Vaughan is often of the latter. Councillor Vaughan may have strong opinions on what cycling infrastructure should look like, but he is still supportive nonetheless.

Councillor Vaughan has not always seen eye to eye with Cycle Toronto and the local Ward 20 group. He has been generally supportive of many cycling initiatives, but he had strong opinions of what projects he figured should be a priority and he had produced his own document of the routes he felt were a priority and possible. These didn't always jive with the priorities of Cycle Toronto, but may be valuable additions to the bikeway network if and when they are implemented.

Initially when Cycle Toronto supported the separated bike lane network through downtown, Councillor Vaughan saw it as a barrier to getting a couple other plans implemented, namely a pedestrianized John Street and a one-way to two-way conversion on Richmond/Adelaide. He was also sceptical of the benefits of creating the separation.

Councillor Vaughan, however, has come around and has provided support for some of the key sections that go through Ward 20. Here is where Vaughan has grown to support separated bike lanes:

  1. Wellesley-Hoskin. When the separated bike lanes on Hoskin-Wellesley came up for public consultation, Vaughan gave his unconditional support for separated lanes on Hoskin. Given the traditional approach of councillors (both on the right and left) to protect on-street parking, this is a commendable move.
  2. Beverley-Peter-Simcoe. Councillor Vaughan also announced his public support of separated bike lanes on Beverley to Peter at a Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meetting this last year when he worked out a deal with Councillor Minnan-Wong to support the John Street EA that would turn it into a pedestrian mall with some vehicle access.
  3. Sherbourne. Vaughan criticized that the Sherbourne separated lanes didn't provide enough separation: "not a pronounced enough separation.... Unless you make it physically risky to put a car in that spot, you will get cars in that spot. You'll have taxis, you'll have couriers, you'll have vendors."
  4. Richmond/Adelaide. More recently Councillor Vaughan has been more supportive of separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide. It's not clear yet if he will fully support them even if it means his proposal of two-way streets can't go forward in order to achieve them. But one can be hopeful.
  5. University. Under the previous mayor, David Miller, he helped push for separated bike lanes down the median of University Avenue. It never happened (because of a mistaken vote and a mayor who focused much more on transit than cycling) but it still could. Separated University bike lanes would work well with the connection between Wellesley and Hoskin ensuring that new cyclists could transition easily from Hoskin or Wellesley and go downtown along University. This concept, however, may have to wait until a new mayor comes along or political support builds enough to revive it.

It's commendable that Councillor Vaughan has been vocal in promoting a bike plan for Ward 20. We should be encouraging other councillors to draft up bike plans for their wards (in the current vacuum of the now-expired city-wide bike plan) so long as they are drafted with consultation with local and city-wide cycling advocacy organizations.

In the next year Vaughan as the councillor for Ward 20 will be in a pivotal position to assist the completion of the downtown network. A series of major cycling infrastructure initiatives all centred on Councillor Vaughan's ward will be proceeding within the next 12 months. We need Councillor Vaughan to support these projects to help make them a reality.

  1. The downtown traffic study's recommendations will be forthcoming which may address
    (i) separated bicycle lanes on Peter Street and Simcoe Street and, (ii) resolve the safe crossing of Queen Street West between University Avenue and Spadina Avenue; by addressing improvements to the crossing for cyclists at Simcoe, and at Soho/Peter. It will replace the existing route on John Street which will probably be lost in the longer term due to the John Street Pedestrian Plaza.
  2. The Hoskins Harbord separated bike lanes consultation and implementation process from St. George to Ossington may proceed. Wellesley Hoskins separated lanes between St George and Parliament are scheduled to be constructed in 2013.
  3. An environmental assessment process for separated bike lanes on Richmond Adelaide is commencing this fall.
  4. The proposal for separated lanes on Beverley Street which was adopted by Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in 2011 may proceed in 2013.

Based on his record at City Hall I think we can count on Councillor Vaughan but his constituents who are reading this blog need to give him their support to help him respond to the NIMBYism that surrounds all public initiatives in urban areas. Let Councillor Vaughan and PWIC know that you support a prioritized implementation timeline. Email PWIC, Councillor Vaughan and Councillor Minnan-Wong (avaughan@toronto.ca, councillor_minnan-wong@toronto.ca, pwic@toronto.ca). There are a number of balls to juggle in order to complete the square (Harbord-Wellesley, Sherbourne, St. George/Beverley/Peter, Richmond/Adelaide), and it would be nice that we can get it completed in a timely manner with no holes to be filled in at an undetermined later date.

Bicycle licensing is impractical, hurts the economy, and is punitive

Every once and a while the subject of bicycle licensing (whatever that means) comes up. In this case, it was Forum Research, a polling firm that decided to include it as one of their questions. There's no better way to raise the profile of a polling firm by addressing controversial topics and then get the results printed in a newspaper.

In a leading question, they asked “Do you approve or disapprove of licensing bicyclists so that traffic laws can be enforced with them?” The whole "so that" at the end makes the listener think that the only options are licensing or lawless chaos, sweeping away thoughts of cyclists already getting ticketed in yearly blitzes.

The Star panned their own article on bicycle licensing by reaching out to wonky folks like Cycle Toronto and yours truly (never one to give up a chance of self-promotion). The gist, bicycle licensing is confusing, impractical, punitive and would hurt tourism and the economy. Licensing hasn't prevented drivers from getting in crashes, so it's not clear how it solves things.

Bicycle licensing are a favourite of right-wing, suburban, driving politicians who find cyclists as a handy urban scapegoat, while mandatory helmets are a favourite of left-wing politicians who see cycling as a dangerous past time and that cyclists need to be saved from themselves. Neither group understands cycling or its potential to transform cities for the better.

“Bad poll. Wrong message. Bike licensing doesn’t work. Police have powers of enforcement. Go w(ith) education instead,” tweeted Cycle Toronto.

Of the 834 respondents, 65 percent approved. But the question didn’t make much sense to some people who pointed out that cyclists are already subject to the Highway Traffic Act. (Although the act does apply to cyclists, Police Chief Bill Blair told the police services board in 2011 that licensing would “create a certain accountability that would assist us in enforcement.”)

The issue of licensing comes up so frequently that the City of Toronto has a website devoted to its history, and Cycle Toronto has a statement online. The group opposes the idea on the grounds that creates unnecessary and costly red tape, when legislation already exists. Also, it discourages cycling.

The city investigated the idea of licensing cyclists in 1984, 1992 and 1996. The city’s manager of cycling infrastructure and programs says it is not currently being studied and doesn’t have much merit.

“This notion that if people have a licence they’d be better cyclists, that hasn’t stopped drivers from crashing into each other,” said Daniel Egan.

Another question in the Forum survey asked if licensing would be a fair trade for European style bike infrastructure.

“There’s a presumption that cyclists aren’t paying for anything, and don’t deserve anything, as if we don’t pay property taxes,” says I Bike Toronto blogger Herb van den Dool.

Since cyclists can already be stopped by police, van den Dool says licensing seems to be a way to collectively punish cyclists “because somehow there’s been a general sentiment created that we’re getting away with murder.”

Even further, it is an impractical idea that would hamper tourism efforts like the Bixi program, he said.

Eleanor McMahon, founder of Share the Road, says many people assume that a licence is a way to “control or change behaviour.”

“That hasn’t necessarily been the case with licensing cars,” she said.

Please attend! Wellesley-Hoskin Cycle Tracks 2nd Open House on Sept 11

The second open house for the Wellesley-Hoskin cycle tracks (aka separated bike lanes) is next Tuesday, September 11 from 4:30 pm to 7:30 pm at Seeley Hall - Trinity College, 6 Hoskin Avenue (on the U of T campus, north side of the street).

It's important that we have a good showing from the public. It's clear from surveys that Torontonians are much more likely to consider cycling if they have some separation from car traffic. Wellesley to Harbord is one of the only feasible routes through the core (I enumerated the reasons previously). Still, we have to overcome the digging-in of heels by Councillor Wong-Tam, who seems to want to indefinitely delay the installation but has provided zero alternatives for safe cycling routes in her ward despite claiming to be a cycling-friendly councillor. Councillors Vaughan and McConnell are both supportive of the cycle track. Please consider thanking Vaughan and McConnell (and Councillor Minnan-Wong if he attends) for supporting the separation; while at the same time letting Councillor Wong-Tam that you support cycle tracks on Wellesley (talking points below).

The second open house will explore options for more detailed designs, based on input from the first open house. From the input received so far, staff have identified some key trends:

  • The majority of respondents are positive about improvements to the bicycle lanes to increase safety for cyclists.
  • Some residents are concerned about the potential negative motor vehicle traffic impacts which may result from the removal of all left turn lanes from Wellesley St.
  • So far, few concerns about the removal of on-street parking have been expressed; staff continue to investigate loading and delivery concerns.
  • Park users and cyclists would prefer a dedicated on-street cycling facility around Queens Park, to avoid conflicts which may result from heavy cycling traffic mixing with pedestrians using the Queens Park Multi-Use Path.

It's encouraging to see that the proposal is not raising a lot of opposition from residents.

Update: Talking points for the Open House

I'm providing some handy responses to some of the criticisms brought up by Councillor Wong-Tam. You could consider using them if they are brought up at the open house by her or others.

1. The proposal is rushed.

It's been a slow process, hardly rushed. City Council approved it July of 2011. It has been now delayed to 2013 when installation might begin. This is the second open house. Toronto is only now installing its first cycle track. New York City managed to install many more miles at a faster pace.

Far from being rushed Toronto is far behind other major cities in North America including New York, Vancouver, Montreal, San Francisco, Ottawa, Portland, all of which have started separating on-road bicycle lanes from traffic.

2. If we don’t get it right we might not get a second chance.

Toronto transportation staff are professional and competent and have studied how other cities have implemented cycle tracks. The plans they've shown so far show how they've learned from European and American cities.

3. There has been a lack of consultation.

The Wellesley-Hoskin cycle tracks have been raised at two Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) meetings (June 2011, May 2012). The first public open house was in June and this is the second.

A number of residents associations have discussed and support the cycle tracks.

The Bay Cloverhill Community Association supports the separated lanes (so long as it goes around Queen's Park instead of on the paths). The ABC Residents Association (Yorkville ) and the Moore Park Residents Association, both Ward 27 residents groups, have both written to Councillor Wong Tam requesting her support of the cycle tracks. The Church Wellesley Neighbourhood Associaton discussed and provisionally supported the cycle tracks.

4. Complete Streets need to be implemented.

"Complete Streets" is a vague term. Still, the changes to Wellesley are easily implemented and removed and involve temporary curbs installed in the road allowance. Changes can still be made to the road later on.

If by "complete streets" it means no separated bike lanes then we don't support this interpretation. Wellesley is the only street in the area with no streetcar tracks or significant on-street parking or retail.

5. Cycle tracks take space from pedestrians.

Cycle tracks reduce pedestrian injuries on streets where they have been installed. They provide a buffer for pedestrians. Pedestrian safety should be the priority, not just an analysis of the physical amount of space allocated to different road users.

6. Left hand turns need to be maintained.

Make a point of saying that you want as few left turns as possible.

All road users are safer - pedestrians, cyclists and motorists - when there are fewer left turns. There are fewer points of potential conflict. Transit will move faster. In downtown Toronto cyclists and pedestrians should have priority not automobiles with single occupants. There are already a number of intersections in downtown that prohibit left turns, let's make it safer here as well.

7. Loss of street vehicle parking.

There is almost on street metered parking on Wellesley. There are lots of commercial parking garages and on street pay parking in the vicinity, with more being installed.

We need to move away from prioritizing motorist convenience over cyclist safety.

8. Reduced access for retail businesses and hurting redevelopment of condos on Wellesley.

Obviously separated bicycle lanes make access more difficult to businesses and properties on Wellesley. Sidewalks for pedestrians do the same thing but no one questions that outcome. We have to have some streets where cycling trumps other modes of transportation. The car trumps everything everywhere else.

Why we need Wellesley-Hoskin separated bike lane and it needs political support

“Eventually you have to make some investments in cycling infrastructure and you can’t wait until there’s so many people demanding cycling. You have to take a lead in it and that way you’ll induce more people to cycle when they think it’s safer.”
-- Brandin O'Connor, Osgoode student, at the Wellesley-Hoskin first open house

The second public meeting for the Wellesley-Hoskin cycle track / separated bike lane project is coming up on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 from 4:30 to 7:30 PM, at Seeley Hall, Trinity College, 6 Hoskin Avenue. It's just west of Queens Park circle (apropos since it's one of the difficult and confusing areas to navigate).

Much of the criticism on Wellesley falls into the nitpicky category; we can easily lose track of the bigger picture. There are a number of good reasons why Wellesley-Hoskin is our best, realistic option for separated bike lanes. Let's debate the whole package. I do hope our councillors "take a lead" in building better bicycle infrastructure instead of their myopic "my ward is doing its own thing" view. Roads were never approved or debated on a ward-by-ward basis, it's not clear why, other than historical accident, that we do it with bike lanes.

Why Wellesley is the best choice for separated bike lanes:

  • There are no alternatives. Bloor is politically unattainable for the foreseeable and would only be possible then in short sections with pro-cycling councillors and retail owners. Mayor Miller only gave us a study of Bloor, nothing more. Councillor Wong-Tam for all her opposition, has suggested no alternative route.
  • It is linked to quite a few bike lanes. It helps improve the network.
  • It's long. From Parliament to Ossington if we get our way.
  • Queen's Park intersections are barriers. The intersection is dangerous on the west side of the park. Going eastbound from Wellesley to Hoskin is confusing. In fact there is no obvious route other than through the park where bikes are not technically allowed.
  • Wellesley-Hoskin is what's on the table. Even if there was a better option, if we don't approve this, there will be no other proposals for some time.
  • It will fill in the Harbord gap This plan will help us complete the route. Staff promised to fill it in 2010 but didn't deliver.
  • There is limited retail and limited parking. Makes it much easier to remove remaining.
  • There are no streetcar tracks. All the other long east-west streets around there, other than Bloor have streetcars and have little room for bike lane as is.
  • Goes through the university. Lots of students cycle.
  • Removing left turn lanes makes the street safer for everyone. If they remove left turn lanes to install the cycle tracks, the street will be safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and even drivers.
  • Removes the dangerous door zone. By removing parked cars we'll have fewer injuries and deaths from drivers opening car doors into cyclists paths.
  • Cycle Toronto is fully behind it. Cyclists need to squeeze benefits regardless of the politician. It's not like the progressive politicians got us a whole lot. We hear pro-cycling talk from downtown politicians but little action.
  • The Bike Plan is dead. The Bike Plan was a political document and it expired last year. We need to do what is politically feasible.
  • Cycle tracks are popular. They encourage many more people to cycle more regularly.
  • Cycle tracks are safer. Studies in Vancouver, Montreal and New York are showing that cycle tracks are safer.
  • The bike lane widths can increase. Most will become much wider than our typical painted bike lanes, with no interference from car doors.

Wellesley, unfortunately, may end up being one of the easier. But getting it means getting cycle tracks on streets like Bloor Street much more likely.

So let's build it already. (But first go to the September open house).

Cycling on Toronto streetcar streets: the typical scenario

Where do you ride on a streetcar street? Do you ride next to the parked cars, or do you truck along between the tracks of the centre lane? If you're like the vast majority of people you ride like in the image above, in the left part of the curb lane. I recently took a video on Dundas West to see how cyclists act in the wild (apologies for the sloppy phone video).

Toronto, unusual for North America, has a lot of streets with streetcar tracks. It's hard to avoid them or ride them safely. I taught Can-Bike cycling courses and took participants on downtown routes for years. I would show diagrams of a "regular" width lane where a bike and a car could easily share side-by-side (keeping 1 metre from curb), and a "narrow" width lane, too narrow to share. I taught the participants to take the lane but reality was more complicated. The theory didn't translate so well to streetcar streets.

In theory cyclists should ride in the centre of the centre lane on a streetcar street because the curb lane was usually blocked with parked cars and the centre lane is too narrow to share. As a group we would ride down the centre of the streetcar tracks. It looked impressive, but it wasn't very practical, especially when impatient motorists felt we were blocking them. We would do our best to ignore the yelling and honking but some would closely pass the entire group given half a chance.

Instead of encouraging participants to take the lane, it did the reverse. Numerous participants would tell me that on their own they would never take the lane on these streets. I couldn't blame them since I didn't ride like that myself except when making a left or if I had no choice and then only for a short stretch. It is too stressful. There are times when taking the lane does make sense such as when I wait behind the turning car in the video.

Comfort and Stress
Comfort and stress are mostly ignored in the theory. When it comes down to it, taking the lane can be very stressful and very few people would feel comfortable doing it on a streetcar street with parked cars. And it's not just the cars but also the streetcars breathing down your neck. Given the choice between being constantly under stress from cars approaching from behind and an elevation of risk of opening car doors, most people choose the risk they can't directly experience over the first-hand stress. People don't experience risk, we aren't good at assessing the riskiness of a situation, but we do experience discomfort.

Practicality
Taking the lane is often impractical on these streets. Bicycles have the advantage of being much narrower than cars and trucks. When approaching a long line of backed-up traffic the majority of cyclists will filter up to the front, much like I do at the end of the video. This can be done in a safe manner so long as the traffic is stopped. It's not practical to teach people to take the lane when filtering would get them further ahead. The trick is to give some pointers on when it's a good idea to filter and when it's not.

Minimize risk
We don't really know all the relative risks when riding on a streetcar street, nor how to rank them. There's the risk of opening car doors; the risk of being sideswiped; of a car turning in front of you; and the risk of being rear-ended. We also don't know the risk of being side swiped by an angry driver who passes as closely as possible, or threatens a cyclist. We have very little data, to help us decide if sharing the lane or taking the lane increases danger (I covered this in my previous post). In the moment you can only rely on your judgement and your skills.

How I try to reduce my stress and risk

  • When there are parked cars on the right, I try to stay far enough away to avoid any opening car doors.
  • I try to be vigilant for any people in cars and keep my hands on my brakes in case they open their doors.
  • By riding near the white line I try to avoid stressful conflicts with drivers. That will typically provide enough space for drivers to pass. It also reduces the number of unpredictable and potentially dangerous conflicts with drivers.
  • When there are gaps between parked cars I ride predictably in a straight line instead of swerving towards the curb. This helps me keep my place in the flow of traffic.

I wish some more practicality ended up in these cycling courses instead of sticking to dogma. If you agree, you may appreciate The Art of Urban Cycling, which takes a much less dogmatic approach to the business of safer cycling.

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