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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.

Like Wychwood, let's make it safer to cross streetcar tracks on busy cycle routes like Queen and John or Peter

This week a man died when his wheel got caught in some unused streetcar tracks on a residential street near the Wychwood Barns, just south of St. Clair. There has been some public outcry to remove these streetcar tracks to make the street safer. In fact, Councillors Layton and Mihevc are going to propose that the City remove the streetcar tracks on Wychwood Ave.

That will make it safer on Wychwood. What if our councillors put their attention and energy also on making the separated bike lane network crossing at Queen and Soho/Peter safer? If we are going to start building out a network of separated lanes we also need to think of how they will cross streetcar tracks.

Many cyclists use Beverley and John Street to get to and from downtown and they cross Queen at right angles. However, the needs of cyclists were largely ignored on John Street with the John Street EA, and we were told that cyclists would instead use Peter and Soho to cross Queen. The problem is is that the City hasn't made any plans to improve it yet. The average cyclist can't easily negotiate two quick turns across streetcar tracks especially in a mix of car traffic.

Cycle Toronto is still trying to ensure that John Street has adequate cycling infrastructure for cyclists. If that is just not possible, then it would be next best that politicians ensure that Peter and Soho are aligned so that cyclists can cross the streetcar tracks at safe right angles.

Aligning seems increasingly unlikely since the corner parking lot will soon be developed; it requires Councillor Vaughan and City Council to intervene by putting a hold on development. We don't know if Vaughan would support this. We are running out of safe options.

Councillors Perks and Layton voted on the Public Works committee to accept the John Street EA which would largely end it as a cycling route. If they are concerned with improving the safety of cyclists on streetcar tracks, I believe they could also take a much stronger stance on asking that the separated bike lane network has safe crossings. Let's use the opportunity of this media focus on streetcar tracks.

Crossing streetcar tracks: some tips on a tricky manoeuvre

Streetcar tracks are tricky and someone can get injured (or worse as in the case of yesterday's crash) if someone gets their wheels stuck in them. NOW Toronto covered the potential danger of streetcar tracks last week. But I'd like to just provide some basics of how you can deal with them better. It's making the best of a bad situation.

The key guideline is taking them as close to 90 degrees (at right angles) as possible so as to minimize the chance that your front wheel gets caught.

It's more difficult when you're riding alongside the streetcar tracks and need to cross them. Often it's because the right lane is blocked or the cyclist is trying to turn left. I will even turn a little away from the tracks first and then I can make a sharper turn across them. Make sure you slow down, signal and shoulder check first.

Or you can make an indirect left turn and avoid the stressful situations where you'd be trying to cross the tracks and watch out for fast cars behind you and coming towards you. It allows you to cross tracks at closer to 90.

Practice on a quieter street if you're uncomfortable. Toronto will have streetcars for a long time so it's best to focus both on education as well as on improvements to make them safer.

Taking the lane: when simplistic advice can make things worse

Taking the lane in theory

Take the Lane!

You may have been advised that the best way to be safe is to take the lane. Everyone from public space advocates to CAN-BIKE instructors to the League of American Bicyclists and CyclingSavvy promote taking the lane when a cyclist can't safely share the lane with a car. While taking the lane can be an effective strategy as a cyclist, it should not be taken as helpful in all situations. In fact, in many cases it may cause more problems than it supposedly solves.

Lane Position on a Wide Road

All the main North American cycling courses discuss lane position and largely agree that when lanes are wide enough the cyclist can easily share the lane with a motorist, so long as the cyclist rides far enough from the curb (about 1 metre out). The League of American Bicyclists states that a cyclist should:

  • Ride in the right third of the right-most lane that goes in the direction you are going
  • Take the entire lane if traveling the same speed as traffic or in a narrow lane

According to my CAN-BIKE handbook, the general rule is to "maintain one metre from the curb or from parked cars". But that rule only applies when there is enough room for the car and bike side by side. "If the lane is too narrow or there is an obstruction that narrows the lane then take the whole lane."

CyclingSavvy is more dogmatic in insisting that the lane be at least 14 feet wide in order to safely share. Very few lanes in Toronto meet this criteria. By any of the courses criteria, a cyclist would find themselves on a road that the courses would advise them to take the lane. But there's a problem with that simplistic prescription.

When taking the lane won't work

In the top diagram (I used the icons from the Toronto Cycling Map) we see how taking the lane is supposed to work. The lane is too narrow to share so the cyclist takes the lane. This, according to the courses, sends a message to the traffic behind that they should safely pass in the next lane instead of squeezing the cyclist into the curb. When practised in a large city like Toronto, results will be mixed. There will be drivers who willingly wait behind until it is safe to pass. In my experience, however, it is just as likely that the driver is impatient or annoyed. And, once in a while, we will even encounter an enraged driver.

The cyclist, particularly if they are young or elderly, will feel intimidated or be threatened by drivers behind them. Most of the drivers will keep calm and even if they are annoyed are willing to wait. But it's a crap shoot if we'll meet a driver who openly threatens by driving closely, swearing at the cyclist, revving their engine or honking, or even passing as closely as possible to "teach the cyclist a lesson". It's those situations that can leave even seasoned cyclists shaking, stressed or even injured if the driver manages to sideswipe. In those cases, any safety benefit of taking the lane is lost.

These drivers are not evil people out to get cyclists. Rather, annoyance builds up to such an extent from frustrating downtown traffic that they are more likely to get road rage and take it out on someone on a bike. Particularly if they've been conditioned to see cyclists as not having a "right" to the road and see them as blocking their path. Road rage can cause people to take risks that they wouldn't normally take when they are calm. It's not a medical condition per se, but Wikipedia mentions there is a link to "Intermittent explosive disorder", which is listed as a medical condition under impulse control disorder.

You can create your own experiment on the stretch of Shaw Street from Dundas to Queen. The lane is too narrow between the parked cars and the central meridian to share. According to the theory the best thing the cyclist can do is take the lane. Having ridden this stretch many times I have come to dread the sound of an approaching car behind me. Mostly the driver will wait, but a high number of them will start honking or even find any gap in the parking to try to make a quick pass.

Very few people would never get stressed or have some fear building up. Can we read the mind of the motorist? The only evidence of their intentions is by their actions. If they start honking or revving their engines they might be trying to just intimidate but who knows. It's a crap shoot.

In this situation we would best deal with it by pulling over and quickly getting out of the way of the driver, hoping that they'll just move on instead of also stopping to harass us.

Toronto's not exceptional in having frustrated drivers. As Easy as Riding a Bike notes that "[n]o-one seems to have told U.K. drivers about it. Putting yourself out in the middle [of the] road can, in my experience, appear to some drivers as an act of deliberate provocation. They don’t have a clue what you are doing." And Volespeed goes even further, stating that Taking the Lane, or "primary position", embodies a dishonesty.

The phrase, I believe, originally came from motorcycle training. But as applied to cycling, it doesn't make the same sense as it does in motorcycling. The "primary position" cannot be the primary position for cyclists on roads where the speeds are almost always far in excess of most people's top cycling speed. Some fit, young cyclists can cycle at 20 mph on the flat, but few of our roads have a 20mph limit, and in the more normal 30-limit urban areas, typical speeds are up to 45, in reality, where the roads can take it. So even fast cyclists stand little chance of maintaining the primary position most of the time. A more normal cycling speed, even with the current cadre of cyclists, would be 10–15mph. For them, in being sold this "primary position" theory, they are clearly being sold a lie. And this is to say nothing of the currently largely-excluded groups that we want to get on bikes: children, the unfit and the elderly, who are not going to do more than about 8 mph.

Fast suburban but narrow lanes
In Toronto's suburbs most arterial streets have high average speeds of greater than 60 km/h. Many of these suburban arterial lanes are narrow. It rarely make sense to take the lane on these streets. The high speeds and the fact that no driver is expecting to see a slow cyclist means that taking the lane can be inviting danger. In fact, CAN-BIKE teaches that on fast arterial streets that cyclists should actually ride close to the curb - 1/3 metre instead of the typical 1 metre.

Crowded downtown streets
In downtown Toronto the situation is different. We have arterial roads with on-street parking, narrow lanes, lots of traffic and often streetcar tracks. Streets like King, Queen, Dundas, Ossington, Dovercourt, College and Bloor. It would be quite hard for the typical Toronto cyclist to avoid these streets completely. What cycling courses don't teach is how the average cyclist can best deal with these streets. In theory, it would seem that taking the lane is the best and only option. The sanest approach to riding such streets is often to ride somewhere between the parked cars and the middle travel lane.

The above diagram is a typical streetcar street outside of rush hour: parking on both sides of the street and the middle travel lane is busy. Using the Take the Lane principle the best and only correct position would be A. This would be the best way to both avoid opening car doors and overtaking cars. In theory. In reality very few cyclists can ride fast enough to keep up with the peak speeds of cars. Cyclists may be able to easily keep up with motorists because cars often get stuck behind other cars, but when there is open road in front, all too often a cyclist who is taking the lane is seen by motorists as trying to deliberately anger them by blocking their path. These drivers will soon be itching to pass and will often pass quickly and unsafely. Riding out in the middle in front of a line of frustrated drivers is emotionally stressful. The average person can only handle so much intimidation from drivers.

Even if you're one of the very rare persons with an exceptionally thick skin that can take all matter of verbal abuse and threatening behaviour, you'll soon feel like a schmuck as you get stuck behind backed up car traffic while the rest of the cyclists filter up in the right lane.

99% (give or take) of all downtown cyclists ride in position B most of the time. It is a position that makes the best of a bad situation. I find that the best position is on the left edge of the right lane, as far as possible from opening car doors with enough room on the left for cars to pass in the left lane. It's not ideal but such is life living in a car-centric town.

Which position is safer?

Some educators claim that taking the lane is safer than staying to the side. The claim is that a cyclist is more likely to be side swiped than struck from behind. There are two issues with this conclusion: one, the statistics don't back this up, and two, even if there was evidence of this, the studies don't report what position the cyclist had taken on the roadway prior to their crash. From the available evidence we can't conclude that cyclists out in the middle of the lane are less likely to be struck than those on the side.

One of the best-known and comprehensive cycling safety studies was done in 1994 by Alan Wachtel and Diana Lewiston. They noted that being struck from behind accounted for only 5 of the 314 (1.6%) bicycle-motor vehicle collisions they studied. But side swipes were also only at 8 out of 314 (2.5%). It's not clear if either number is statistically significant., though given that most cyclists I've observed tend to stick to the curb, it doesn't seem to be a high number at all.

There is a further problem with trying to using Wachtel-Lewiston study to support taking the lane. The study doesn't report the position in the lane of the cyclist before they struck, only if they were on the roadway or sidewalk. Thus it's unclear if taking the lane will make any difference in either being struck from behind or in being side swiped.

I have had close calls being close to the curb as well as while trying to take the lane, for different reasons. The cyclist does not have complete control over the reaction of the driver. By being close to the curb a driver may see it as an opening and squeeze the cyclist to the edge. But by taking the lane a frustrated/enraged driver may find the first opportunity to pass and then pass as closely as possible so as to teach the cyclist a lesson. I've experienced both.

Two other studies are not much help either. The Toronto car-bike collision study 2003 and the major 1977 Kenneth Cross study (clearly getting a bit dated) only reported on collisions where the motorists were overtaking, and did not differentiating between "side swipes" and struck from behind. We can't draw a conclusion from either study that we're better off taking the lane. In the Toronto study the top three collisions downtown in terms of severity of injury were 'Motorists Overtaking', ‘Dooring,’ and 'Motorist Left-Turn Facing Cyclist'. Being more visible can likely decrease the risk of any of these, though it's unclear how far out a cyclist should ride. In the case of dooring, riding far enough out to be able to quickly avoid opening car doors is a good idea.

Holding to the dogma

Cycling education in North America still doggedly sticks to the take the lane philosophy with varying degrees of exceptions. These courses are mostly based on a cookie-cutter "vehicular cycling" philosophy that was developed in the 1970s by mostly fit, young people (the "father" of this movement was John Forester). Courses like CAN-BIKE or Cycling Savvy owe their roots to this movement, and continue to mostly stick to a worldview that is not always based on the best evidence. Instead there is a lot of the anecdotal evidence of a sub-group of people who were at the top of their faculties and fitness (obviously they're all elderly now). That these courses continue to hold whole-heartedly to this worldview does a large disservice to all the people who don't fit into that sub-group, particularly to those who are not in the prime of their life or fitness, or are too young.

There aren't hard and fast rules to cycling safely; there are many Toronto streets downtown and in the suburbs that defy the simple lessons taught in the cycling courses. Cycling educators have also tended to ignore or dismiss cycling infrastructure that makes it easier for different traffic modes to coexist. I have found a course like CAN-BIKE useful, and in fact, I had taught CAN-BIKE for a number of years. But I think it's time for CAN-BIKE to be rebuilt taking into account the wealth of knowledge coming out of Europe and increasingly in North America as young and old, able and disabled start cycling in our cities.

Cycling education shouldn't be about going fast, and safety should be available to the slow and fast, young and old. Education is also an alternative to improved cycling infrastructure. Really, we want both.

I hope to be looking at other cycling education themes in future posts and look at how we can think beyond a pure "vehicular cycling", one that acknowledges the inadequate infrastructure and that cyclists need to find a way to make good of a bad situation until things improve in our cities.

Cycle training with great infrastructure: the false dichotomy of education versus infrastructure

In the Netherlands, children have cycle training in school as part of the regular curriculum. Many of them bike to school so need good training in order to be independent. Most adults in the Netherlands know how to ride a bike, though increasingly there is training for adults as well, particularly for those coming from other countries. [Thanks to David Hembrow of A view from the cycle path]

The history of cycling advocacy in North America has been dominated by a debate on education versus infrastructure. Though increasingly passe as cities begin to improve their bicycle infrastructure, the debate had served a purpose of allowing policy makers to focus on doing nothing; even just focusing on helmets as if that is enough to get people comfortable with cycling. We now know that is just not enough.

In the Netherlands there is a sort of social compact, that the government will provide safe and comfortable cycling infrastructure and this will allow people to see cycling as a normal and safe part of everyday life. I believe that motorists, cyclist and pedestrians will all "behave" more sanely when cyclists are seen as a normal part of the equation instead of as "pests" or "outlaws".

A cyclist with iPod hears better than a motorist driving

The Ride On magazine of Australia has found that cyclists listening to music or podcasts with headphones hear more ambient noise than motorists who don't have their radios on (photo above is courtesy of Ride On). This innovative investigation by Ride On revealed that the reality if contrary to a popular misconception - commonly held by police and insurance companies with no evidence - that cyclists are riding dangerously if they wear headphones.

Ride On used a synthetic "ear" to measure the volume inside and outside the car.

"With the ear-bud in our synthetic ear but not playing music, we measured the ambient traffic noise at 79dB. With the in-ear earphones, the traffic noise was 71dB," found Ride On. The volume was set to a "reasonable" level, about 3 clicks below full volume on the iPod, which they measured to be 87 dB. They then had a cyclist call out "Passing" and ring a bell. The tester outside the car with headphones on playing music heard the call, whereas the tester in the car with the motor running and the stereo on at a moderate level (69 dB) did not.

We quickly established that cars are remarkably soundproof. We measured the average peak of ambient traffic noise inside the car (with the motor running) to be 54dB, which is 26dB quieter than outside the car. We rang a bike bell right outside an open car window and measured it from in the car at 105dB. With the window closed, the same bell registered just 57dB.

The decibel is a logarithmic unit, which means that the difference increases as the decibels are higher. On the decibel scale, the smallest audible sound (near total silence) is 0 dB. A sound 10 times more powerful is 10 dB. A sound 100 times more powerful than near total silence is 20 dB. A sound 1,000 times more powerful than near total silence is 30 dB. Normal conversation is around 60 dB and a lawn mower around 90 dB. Thus ambient sound inside the car is about 100,000 times that of silence and the ambient sounds outside the car, even with headphones, are about 10 million times.

There are two things I take away from this: one, that riding with headphones are fine so long as the volume is reasonable, and, two, a cyclist is better off being prepared to stop or serve rather than ring a bell at a motorist with their window closed.

If Councillor Wong-Tam cares about cycling safety she has a funny way of showing it: Wellesley open house for cycle tracks

In the first of two open house meetings, a good showing of the public got an initial look at the proposal for separated bike lanes (also known as cycle tracks) on Wellesley and Hoskin, part of a larger project approved by City Council last year to create a network of separated bike lanes that improve safety and comfort for cyclists. Wellesley will eventually connect to Harbord to create a continuous cycle track from Ossington to Parliament.

I dropped by and took a look at the panels explaining the initial planning and provided my feedback. I also got a chance to speak with Councillor Wong-Tam, the only councillor attending. But it's not what you think; Councillor Wong-Tam didn't attend because she was so keen on the public consultation process and wanted to ensure that it went smoothly. Instead, most of her comments to me and other interested citizens were to criticize the consultation process and to point out her problems with separated bike lanes and the priority of the project. In fact, the councillor appears ready to call the public consultation process dead on arrival.

Attendees at the open house: Courtesy of Cycle TorontoAttendees at the open house: Courtesy of Cycle Toronto

Why is Councillor Wong-Tam so eager to attend the public consultation so as to slam it? It's not entirely clear, but from her comments it appears as if she is more concerned for condo developers, businesses and drivers and how the bike lanes will impact them than she is interested in making some bold moves to improve conditions for cyclists on this major cycling route. She displayed a similar reticence over separated bike lanes on Sherbourne before she backed down and agreed it should go ahead.

In order to convert the regular bike lanes on Hoskin-Wellesley to separated bike lanes (also known as cycle tracks), staff determined that left turn lanes and on-street parking between Bay and Parliament would likely need to be removed. This can be controversial but so far there have only been a smattering of complaints to staff. This first open house was the first opportunity for citizens to provide feedback to inform the design process. The more detailed plans will then be presented at the second open house in September. During the consultation process businesses, resident groups, property owners / managers have the opportunity to have a site meeting with City staff, to discuss their concerns and possible solutions. Staff will also involve City agencies and divisions - TTC bus service, Wheel-Trans pick-up/drop-off, fire and emergency access, curb-side waste collection, and snow removal and street cleaning - in the design process.

Why improve these bike lanes? Separated bike lanes are popular (77% of all Torontonians); they increase safety by providing some separation between cars and bikes; and they encourage a lot more people who might otherwise not bike to try it out. Cycle Toronto has pushed for the separated bike lane network. Harbord/Hoskin and Wellesley streets in particular are prime candidates as they form a major cycling backbone in Toronto, a popular and rare east-west cycling route that doesn't have streetcar tracks and is fairly continuous. Adding separated bike lanes to this route will add some much needed safety to help reduce crashes and injuries and to increase ridership.

The City provided a good summary of how Toronto is playing catch-up to many cities in Europe and North America who have been bringing their cycling facilities up to a higher standard (most recently Chicago):

In Canada cycle track type bike lanes, separate from motor vehicle traffic, have been built in Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Guelph. Cycle track bicycle lane designs which help to keep
cyclists and cars separate are also popular in hundreds of other cities around the world. Lessons learned from these leading cities can help Toronto enhance its own bike facilities. Better bike facilities can create an environment that is safer for Toronto's existing population of cyclists. Cycle Track type facilities can also create an environment that is more accessible for people who do not yet cycle, residents riding in their golden years, and children. The goal of improving cycling facilities is to make cycling in the City, where you are near to motor vehicles, less intimidating.

Read more on the new standard for separated bike lanes in the United States on the NACTO site (National Association of City Transportation Officials)

Here's where the network of separated bike lanes is planned for Toronto:

View Downtown Bikeway Upgrades in a larger map

In comments to me and to Novae Res Urbis, a Toronto development industry newsletter, Councillor Wong-Tam made a number of comments that seemed designed to undermine both the process and the reasons for installing separated bike lanes in general.

At least 12 new projects are in the pipeline along Wellesley,” Wong-Tam said. “If you don’t factor in where those new buildings will have their egress and access points then I fear that we’re going to spend all this money and then tear it up later on.”

Wong-Tam would also like to see better coordination with property owners along the street who may have servicing or loading concerns, adding that “removing the bulk of the on- street parking isn’t necessarily going to be great for our main streets.”

Is Wong-Tam suggesting that this project be stopped until all 12 new projects are finalized? And what if yet more condo projects are proposed? Shall cyclists wait until those are done too?

Given that the City has explicitly noted how this process includes the opportunity for site meetings for stakeholders, it's unclear how Wong-Tam's criticism here has any traction. It appears as if her prime concern is with property owners and condo developers. Is this public consultation process not enough or would like them to have special access to the planning process?

“It’s a very expensive exercise to get wrong,” Wong-Tam said. “We can rush to a conclusion, build it out and [have it] not functioning the way we need to have it function then have residents upset that separated bike lanes don’t work. And then you will have a really hard time, if you mess up Wellesley and you mess up Sherbourne, of ever getting a complete network of cycling infrastructure. Which is why I’m advocating for a complete streets strategy, better coordinating with planning [and] a template that will ensure that the programming works for everyone.”

It's hard to understand her concern when City staff have already said that this is not a major project: they are not ripping up the street or changing the road width. They are proposing rolled curbs, bolted to the pavement such as they are doing north of Gerrard on Sherbourne, and changing the painted lines. City staff are “looking for some kind of temporary design that will be less costly but also something that we can remove when the street does get reconstructed and replaced with something permanent.” (Novae Res Urbis, June 29).

Councillor Wong-Tam is presenting her "complete streets" process as alternative to this process but it seems to be more of a case of doing nothing. A "complete streets" approach is sufficiently vague to mean anything in this context. If Wong-Tam wants better lighting on the street (which she mentioned to me) then bike lanes aren't holding that up. That can happen at any time and won't be covered under the cycling budget at any rate. If she is advocating for major road changes such as wider sidewalks (which she hasn't explicitly said) then it would likely involve a whole environmental assessment process and would actually be more disruptive for existing businesses. This just isn't going to happen any time soon.

Councillor Wong-Tam is throwing terminology around like complete streets to suggest she has an alternative that is equally satisfactory to cyclists, when, at best, it seems to be an empty term used to stall this process, and, at worst, is being used to keep the status quo of on-street parking for businesses and left turns for motorists.

Do left lanes and on-street parking convenience trump cyclist safety? Wong-Tam didn't make it clear that she would stand up for cycle tracks and take heat if there was opposition. But it's not even clear if there would be much opposition. Staff mentioned to me that they didn't think that removing parking would be that contentious since there isn't much currently and alternative locations exist. Removing left turn lanes will be a bigger issue, but even here I can't imagine a concerted effort to oppose it. I didn't see or hear any substantial opposition at this public open house and there are already many intersections downtown where left turns are prohibited.

Wong-Tam complained to me about the short notice for the meeting and how she didn't know what was being proposed until she arrived that night. I do not believe she is being genuine. Councillor McConnell had requested separate public meetings for each ward, which was likely to help Wong-Tam as well. This demand which was met, but ultimately the meetings were combined. Councillors were fully aware of the timing. Citizens first found about it three weeks ago from a Cycle Toronto notice on June 8. Information about the project was available on the City's website around June 8. The Ward 20 Cycle Toronto group on June 5th had emailed City staff and councillors Vaughan, Wong-Tam, McConnell and Minnan-Wong requesting that a date be set in a timely manner. There was ample opportunity to be abreast of the matter in her own ward.

Councillor Wong-Tam, however, told me that she hadn't publicized the open house in her ward. No newsletter went out explaining to interested citizens and stakeholders about the project and how they could provide comments. The same isn't true for a recent town hall Wong-Tam hosted on Jarvis Street as a Cultural Corridor. The councillor mentioned to me that she had made sure that all her constituents, particularly those in the northern part of her ward such as Rosedale, knew about it.

Wong-Tam could have put in the same effort for the Wellesley separated bike lane open house. If she felt certain groups were underrepresented they could have been invited. She could have used her office's resources which are larger than Cycle Toronto's. Was Councillor Wong-Tam hoping to discredit the public consultation by not publicizing it?

(The Jarvis town hall, by the way, had no explicit mention about the Jarvis bike lanes, but rather heritage and culture of Jarvis Street. Cycle Toronto did a call-out for cyclists to mention the bike lanes as important to the street. Councillor Wong-Tam mentioned to me after the open house how she was pleased with the resulting 'alliance' between heritage proponents and bike lane advocates. Was she crafting this outcome or did it appear as a sideshow? It's not clear how central Wong-Tam was to that relationship.)

Even though Wellesley runs through Wards 20, 27 and 28, only Wong-Tam appears to be against the process and project. This is quite surprising given her caché in the cycling community about being a pro-cycling councillor. I even saw her bike off down Wellesley after the meeting. Don't get me wrong, I think it's awesome that she bikes but it doesn't make a difference if a politician isn't supportive of what most cycling activists are fighting for. Councillors McConnell and Vaughan weren't present at the open house, yet it's clearer that they are supportive. McConnell has made it clear to constituents that she is supportive of the cycle tracks and Vaughan had even emailed me to express that he "totally support[s] seperated bike lanes to St George along Hoskin west of Queen's Park. No more consultation is needed."

Councillor Wong-Tam also brought up the Bike Plan as if this project could easily morph into installing some other bike lane somewhere else in the City.

“I’m disappointed that we’re actually not installing new bike lanes, more bike lanes, as in there’s not a single metre of new bike lanes being put into this entire project,” Wong-Tam said. “So that’s rather disappointing considering all the time and effort and resources being tossed into this.”

If Wong-Tam is not pleased about separated bike lanes on Wellesley she didn't offer any alternative bike plan for her ward. Instead she talked about completing the bike plan, how suburban cyclists need bike lanes too. Bringing up the Bike Plan is a red herring. It's not as if, for instance, the Pharmacy bike lanes will be brought back from the dead if the Wellesley separated bike lane project is stopped. The wheels of City Hall do not turn quickly and if this project is stopped here it won't be revived any time soon nor will it quickly result in bike lanes elsewhere. Besides, since the Bike Plan was drafted in 2001, cities the world over have advanced their understanding of bike lanes and cycle tracks. We should hold our bike lanes to higher standards, particularly are best used ones.

Councillor Wong-Tam even seemed to agree with a suggestion made by someone at the open house that there are machinations at City Hall that are setting up this project for failure. Supposedly so that bike lanes in general can be discredited. In this theory, the right wing with Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Chair Councillor Minnan-Wong at the helm want this to fail and so are forging ahead in such a way as to ensure that end. We know that Minnan-Wong is against bike lanes on Jarvis, but it is an entirely different matter to think that the right wing also wants the separated bike lane network to die. I'm not sure how it serves Minnan-Wong to be the main Council backer of a failed project.

Another idea floated by Councillor Wong-Tam at the open house was to suggest that this is a plan to get cyclists off the roads. I'm sure that this is front and center in the minds of some suburban politicians. A proposal to get cyclists off Toronto streets was last seriously proposed in the 1970s and it failed then. Today is a much different environment with many more people cycling and the urgent need to reduce traffic congestion. It is even less likely to pass.

Can we also accuse councillors Perks and Layton, who voted for Wellesley and Sherbourne at PWIC, of being part of the conspiracy? And councillors Vaughan and McConnell, who are supportive of the project in their wards? And why does the largest cycling advocacy organization in Toronto, Cycle Toronto, continue to push for separated bike lanes? Is Wong-Tam suggesting they are dupes to some nefarious plan?

I still hold out hope that Councillor Wong-Tam can be convinced of the need for this project and to get it installed in a timely fashion. Despite cycling herself Councillor Wong-Tam doesn't seem to be aware of where North American cities are headed and how she seems to be actively preventing Toronto from joining this modern world of being safer and more comfortable for all age groups and abilities. Cycle tracks aren't just a benefit for people cycling but for all road users. I encourage Councillor Wong-Tam to support cycle tracks on Wellesley.

City ignores regional transit authority Metrolinx on Front Street

In February Metrolinx submitted its reservations regarding the Front Street Environmental Assessment in front of Union Station which excluded any specific bicycle infrastructure. Yet the City chose to ignore it when making its decision at City Council. Cycle Toronto has asked the City and Province to rethink Front Street (as well as John and Jarvis).

Metrolinx's letter, however, didn't seem to have much affect on City Council's decision on Front Street. City Council did not delay the decision even though the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee had asked staff to consider changes to the plan. Staff came back with nothing, claiming to be unable to arrange the appropriate meetings. It's not clear if they knew about the Metrolinx letter. The Front Street EA went to City Council with no input on improvements for cyclists.

It's strange that Metrolinx, the provincial transit authority, seemed to have no effect on City Council's decision. Metrolinx is clearly concerned that the EA had ignored Metrolinx's key "mobility hub" objectives, prioritizing pedestrian and bicycle access to transit stations. Union Station is the largest and most important of hubs and close to some of the highest mode shares for walking and cycling in Ontario. The Metrolinx letter, written by Leslie Woo, Vice President of Policy, Planning and Innovation:

As the busiest transportation hub in Canada, Union Station plays a critical role in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area rapid transit network, serving more than 200,000 passengers daily. Planning for the station and surrounding area should reflect this importance, and emphasize seamless integration of all modes of transportation.

In 2011, Metrolinx released Mobility Hub Guidelines to clearly communicate the mobility hub concept and provide guidance on developing mobility hub plans and incorporating mobility hub objectives into other planning activities, including environmental assessments. A key objective of the Mobility Hub Guidelines is to prioritize pedestrian and bicycle access to stations, including the provision of a range of bicycle parking options and bicycle sharing in proximity to station entrances.

It is encouraging to see an emphasis in the EA on pedestrian priority and safety; however, I would encourage the City to consider this opportunity to concurrently improve access to Union Station for cyclists. In particular, the preferred concept identified through the EA provides minimal dedicated on-road space for cyclists. With the introduction of a greater number of taxi and loading zones, there may be a greater number of points of conflict between cyclists, pedestrians, and motorized vehicles. On Front Street, the consideration of on-street bike lanes or dedicated cycling facilities may help to reduce conflicts, especially in high activity areas, such as adjacent to taxi stands and loading zones.

I understand that BIXI station locations are currently planned for the north-east corner of Front and Bay Streets and the north-west corner of Front and York Streets. These stations are relatively far from station entrances, and do not provide clear and short connections for Union Station customers using BIXI. Providing additional BIXI bicycles in the plaza directly in front of Union Station would provide better access and visibility, creating a seamless connection between transit and bicycle sharing. In addition, the City should consider providing more bike parking directly adjacent to the station building itself and its entrances. Locating additional post-and-ring facilities on the north side of Front Street does not provide bicycle parking close to station entrances, and reduces convenience to station users arriving by bicycle.

I would like to comment the City for their work through this environmental assessment to improve pedestrian access to Union Station. The suggestions offered here provide greater consideration for cyclists using the station, and to provide more balanced access to the station by a wider variety of modes. Thank you for your consideration of these suggestions.

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