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Bike lanes and quiet streets make cycling safer, but the safest of all are cycle tracks: study finds

The Cycling in Cities program at the University of British Columbia has published the results of their ambitious study and revealed that bike lanes and quiet streets make cycling safer, but that separated bike lanes (cycle tracks) provide the most safety. In their study of 690 injured cyclists in Toronto and Vancouver who ended up in emergency rooms, they've found that bicycle infrastructure had a positive effect on cycling safety. Not surprisingly people prefer bike lanes, bike paths and quiet streets to just regular roads (as discovered their earlier study).

The researchers also found that major streets with on-street parking were the riskiest streets for cyclists, and particularly for Toronto cyclists, major streets with on-street parking and streetcar tracks.

We found that route infrastructure does affect the risk of cycling injuries. The most commonly observed route type was major streets with parked cars and no bike infrastructure. It had the highest risk. In comparison, the following route types had lower risks (starting with the safest route type):

  • cycle tracks (bike lanes physically separated from motor vehicle traffic) alongside major streets (about 1/10 the risk)
  • residential street bike routes (about 1/2 the risk)
  • major streets with bike lanes and no parked cars (about 1/2 the risk)
  • off-street bike paths (about 6/10 the risk)

The following infrastructure features had increased risk:

  • streetcar or train tracks (about 3 times higher than no tracks)
  • downhill grades (about 2 times higher than flat routes)
  • construction (about 2 times higher than no construction)

The Toronto Star's story focused exclusively on the danger of streetcar tracks, but they missed the bigger story that it's not just the streetcar tracks but parked cars that make things particularly dangerous for cycling. Not only does Toronto have few alternatives to streetcar streets downtown, almost all of them allow car parking for most of the day, thus providing only a very narrow comfortable space between parked cars and streetcar tracks. Even though streetcar tracks are involved in a third of cycling injuries, half of those injuries were the result of parked cars:

Motor vehicles were involved in many injury events beyond direct crashes. For example, nearly half of crashes involving streetcar tracks involved maneuvers to avoid double-parked cars or cars moving in or out of parking spots.

It's highly possible that the danger of streetcar tracks can be mitigated in Toronto by removing on-street parking and providing bike lanes (or at the least sharrows). The researchers may have found much different results if that were the case.

The same researchers are applying their research to improving cycling education. For instance, no cycling courses currently cover route selection even though studies have shown that bicycle infrastructure make people safer. They also recommend that cycling education begin to cover the circumstances when motor vehicles are likely to pass closely. Their recommendations were to:

Include information about the relative safety of route types and route characteristics to help cyclists plan their routes, in particular:

  • decreased risk associated with bike-specific route types, including cycle tracks, bike lanes, and bike paths,
  • decreased risk associated with routes with low traffic volumes, including residential street bike routes,
  • increased risk associated with roundabouts or traffic circles at intersections, and
  • increased risk after dark on routes without streetlights.

Include information about motor vehicle passing distances, so cyclists understand circumstances when motor vehicles are likely to pass closer to them, in particular:

  • where motor vehicle speeds and traffic are high,
  • where there is motor vehicle traffic in the opposing direction, and
  • when the passing vehicle is a heavy vehicle such as a truck or bus

Calgary politician stands up for bike lanes with business opposition: will Toronto politicians do the same?

Calgary is installing a couple downtown bike lanes next year, and local alderman Brian Piincott isn't caving into local business pressure to stop them.

The bike lanes will remove parking on one side of the street, and this concerns the Calgary Downtown Business Association's Maggie Schofield. Schofield claims that “we already know from other jurisdictions that there's a huge potential for loss of business and so that's why we asked for an economic impact study and a current state assessment."

Alderman Brian Pincott said the new lanes are meant to create a safer environment for cycling and that there's still plenty of parking downtown. “I don't see a single business suffering at lunchtime on Stephen Avenue because there are no cars and no parking on Stephen Avenue.”

Meanwhile in Toronto, the Harbord Village BIA, and in particular, the Harbord Bakery, is convinced that filling in the gap in the bike lanes from Brunswick to Spadina will hurt business. Councillor Vaughan has done little to dissuade this notion. Instead last year he even sent out a letter to residents warning of the "problems" posed by separated bike lanes on Harbord:

If approved, the proposed lanes would require half the commercial parking to be eliminated. Since the morning rush hour has the most intense traffic flow, it is likely that the parking on the south side of the street would be lost.

Vaughan could have told the BIA that he would take their parking concerns into account and work on finding additional off-street parking in exchange for a safer cycling route. He missed that opportunity.

More recently, however, Vaughan approved of the separated bike lanes on Hoskin to St. George, putting it within spitting distance of the standoff at Spadina. Vaughan said that he didn't feel there needed to be any public consultation along this stretch. Given that it's dominated by the university where many bike, it makes sense.

What doesn't make sense is the opposition from retail along that tiny stretch of Harbord, and why politicians have been so wary to step on any toes there. The internationally-known study of retail and cycling on Bloor in the Annex showed us that business owners overestimate the percentage of customers who arrive by car and underestimate the percentage of cash that cycling customers are bringing in. (Thankfully, the BIA and residents association along Bloor between Bathurst and Spadina are now in support of bike lanes.)

Anyone who bikes along Harbord notices the constant stream of cyclists during rush hour (backed up by this 2010 Bike Cordon Count). Recently I did an informal count while drinking coffee at Sam James. I found that bikes comprised about 50% of all the peak direction (eastbound) traffic from 8 to 9 am! If there's anywhere in this city where we need a complete and separated bike lane, it is Harbord.

What we need is a politician with the guts of Pincott.

Established non-profit DIY bike shop CBN looking for a new home

Community Bicycle Network (CBN), the non-profit organization dedicated to improving communities through cycling and recycling is need of a new place to spin its wheels. The church on Queen Street West where Community Bicycle Network has been tucked away for the last number of years has been purchased by a developer and all tenants are required to leave as of December 31, 2012.

So far, the group has a few potential locations on the table but, with the clock ticking, CBN is now calling on the people it has served for almost 20 years, and its supporters, to help it find just the right place to set up shop. CBN needs about 1000 sq ft with a store front, preferably in an underserved community / priority neighbourhood in Toronto, accessible by walking, cycling, public transit and driving.

Board member Eric Tchao noted that a free, subsidized or below market rent would be a valuable asset to the organization.

Since 1993, both CBN staff mechanics and DIYers have repaired thousands of bicycles and diverted salvageable frames and parts from the landfill for reuse or recycling. As a social enterprise CBN has played an important role over two decades in making cycling accessible to Torontonians and a new location will enable us to continue serving the community.

The organization is asking anyone who knows of an available space that could suit CBN’s needs to contact Board Chair Adrian Currie by phone on 416-504-2918 or email via info@communitybicyclenetwork.org.

You can drop by the shop currently located at 761 Queen Street West, lower level.

Jarvis bike lanes to be removed: Council motions fail

The Jarvis bike lanes are going to be removed in a few weeks.

The council motions presented by Councillors Wong-Tam, Matlow and Cho failed to stop or delay the Jarvis bike lane removals. In a few weeks they will be removed, even before the Sherbourne separated bike lane is completed (which was sort of how it was originally spun). As a sop to the left, Councillor Minnan-Wong passed a motion that the money should come out of the general transportation budget and not the cycling budget.

This is a terrible precedent.

“Every time someone gets hit to the concrete from a door, or breaks a leg or an arm as they get cut off, you’ll be the ones to blame,” Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) told colleagues during heated debate. “Every time someone dies as a result of a bike accident on Jarvis, you’ll need to explain to those families why it was so necessary for us to remove these lanes.”

I am left wondering what happened to the centrist councillors who could have safely voted to keep the lanes. Where were their heads? Councillor Colle and Berardinetti had both previously stated the lanes removal was a waste of money and had insinuated they would vote to keep them.

Councillor Bailao, of all people, voted against the motion to keep them. This from a councillor which has one of the highest bike mode shares in the city; a ward which has hundreds of Cycle Toronto members. Bailao certainly figured that she would be safe from a backlash from people who want safer cycling. I hope she feels some heat over this. If we are having centrist councillors vote to remove bike lanes then we should start with persuading them before moving to the right of the spectrum.

Email her office. Call her office. 416-392-7012

UPDATE: Peter Low pointed out to me that Ana Bailao originally clarified her position on the Jarvis bike lanes to the Ward 18 group. She specifically said that "The decision to remove the Jarvis Street bike lanes was premature and a significant step backwards for safe cycling in the City of Toronto. I opposed the removal of these bike lanes and supported the motion and amendments of the local Councillor to save these lanes."

How odd then, when the vote was just about saving those lanes, she now clearly thinks they should be removed.

Again, she needs to wear this albatross and it's up to her residents to take her to task.

Still some hope to save Jarvis bike lanes

There is still a chance that the Jarvis bike lanes will be given a reprieve at the upcoming City Council meeting. Councillor who want to keep the lanes will work some procedural magic to get a vote on the agenda.

There are number of reasons to keep the Jarvis bike lanes. Dave Meslin in the Sunday Star listed eight of them. For me, the main reason to keep the lanes is that they reduce collisions. Overall collisions dropped by 23 percent and, amazingly pedestrian-motor vehicle collisions (where a car hits a pedestrian, not vice-versa) dropped by 89 percent. (This might be the first time that the City has produced clear results of the before-after collision rate of bike lanes.)

The only reason given for keeping the lanes by Councillor Minnan-Wong, is that they will increase the throughput of motorists. The bike lanes had minimal impact on driving time, which makes sense since both the top and the bottom of Jarvis act as bottlenecks for drivers, squeezing them through a smaller space.

Cycle Toronto is asking people to call or email their Councillor to get their support in saving them. You can find your ward here and then email your Councillor here.

Photo: Martin Reis

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:

First chance to ride Sherbourne cycle track

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

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