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Two-way cycle tracks are fine, just look to Montreal

Rue Berri cycle tracks

Are two-way (or bidirectional if you prefer) protected bike lanes "dangerous"? Some of the opposition to the Harbord proposal are fomenting fear and doubt by claiming as much. There's even a "No Danger Lanes" facebook page decrying the bidirectional for Harbord.

Let's put this question a different way. Has there been an uproar in Montreal about death and destruction because of their plentiful bidirectional bike lanes? Has there been a bloodbath that we've been ignoring?

I might have missed something but I think not. Montrealers seem to be plenty angry at their corrupt mayors but when it comes to their bidirectional cycle tracks (aka protected bike lanes), the overwhelming majority of people seem to be happy and there's been no outcry of cyclists getting injured on them in great numbers.

And Montreal isn't alone. Cycling nirvanas like Amsterdam also have bidirectional cycle tracks and the people seem to be happy with them, or at the very least accepted them.


A bi-directional path. Photo: Mikael Colville-Andersen.

So let's use some common sense. Two-way cycle tracks are not dangerous. They are safe and people are comfortable with them.

Is this a bloodbath you were looking for?

You might say, "Well that's all well and good but what about this Montreal blogger who seems to have discovered the dangers of Montreal bidirectional?"

Let's take a look.

This Montreal blogger is David Beitel who made a claim that the cycle tracks in Montreal have an "elevated risk" of cycling accidents. He pointed out that two of the cycle tracks had the second and third highest number of accidents between cyclists and drivers in Montreal out of all streets.

You might exclaim: holy crap, why are all these cyclists getting injured on cycling infrastructure? Let's rip it all out!

But let's not get carried away. Beitel falls for a common error: he provides absolutely no context to the data; no denominator to put his data into proper perspective. The denominator we need here is the number of people cycling on each street.

Without a denominator of the cycling traffic volume, we might as well just conclude that riding on a highway like the Gardiner Expressway is the safest. Highways typically have very few cycling crashes. But they also usually have next to zero cyclists using them. Because it's illegal.

Beitel's approach cannot avoid absurd conclusions.

When we take into account cycling traffic volumes we would find that the cycle tracks in Montreal, such as De Maisonneuve and Berri, are actually not dangerous at all. When cycling traffic increases we will typically see some uptick in the number of car-bike collisions. And we realize that even though a highway may have zero cyclist colliding with drivers, it might be because there were no cyclists there.

So Beitel's conclusions are junk and anyone here in Toronto who references Beitel as "proof" of the danger of bidirectional is plain wrong. If you're curious you can read a bit more about this in the Evidence Training Guide created for cycling educators by the Cycling in Cities group at the University of British Columbia (particularly pages 2, 3 and 43 in the sidebar).

Bidirectional cycle tracks are probably safer

Of the scientific evidence we do have, we could make a safe bet that 1) bidirectional cycle tracks are probably safer than riding on the road and 2) cycle tracks in general are safer than bike lanes.

In a study headed up by Harvard's Dr. Lusk, it found that Montreal's two-way cycle tracks were shown to be "either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions".

Lusk found that Rue Berri (as pictured above) had a lower risk (0.48) than the reference street of Denis. Reference streets are always considered to be 1 for comparison purposes. Being below one means a street is safer than the reference.

Overall, the study found that the cycle tracks they studied (all of which were bidirectional) had a 28% lower injury rate. Lusk concluded that their "results suggest that two-way cycle tracks on one side of the road have either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions. This lowered risk is also in spite of the less-than-ideal design of the Montreal cycle tracks, such as lacking parking setbacks at intersections, a recommended practice."

Cycle tracks (one and two-way) are safer than the road

Cycle tracks in general are safer than both riding on the road or even riding in a painted bike lane. The following diagram from UBC's study of injuries and bike infrastructure describes it well:

Cycle tracks beat all the other options for on-road infrastructure by a mile.

Where possible, build unidirectional otherwise bidirectional works

This all being said, the cycling infrastructure guides are now usually recommending unidirectional over bidirectional. Vélo Québec's Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists, for instance, says (p. 80):

"On-road bike paths should preferably be unidirectional. Bi-directional paths offer effective safety between intersections but complicate traffic at intersections. In fact, they increase the number of conflict points between bicycles and turning vehicles."

"Preferable" but not always possible.

This is fine in an ideal world. But we live in a world with physical and political constraints. We don't have the political sway to force politicians to ignore merchants and take out all the parking on any of our major arterials. Bidirectional is seen as a compromise: cyclists get something safer, more comfortable and merchants get to keep some on-street parking. For instance, Councillor Vaughan has publicly stated that on Harbord it is bidirectional or nothing:

“The bi-directional protects the parking that is needed,” says Vaughan. When asked for specific numbers his assistant helps out: “Right now there are 48 parkings spots – and with the bi-directional plan, we are trying to salvage 95 to 98 per cent of parking.” The unidirectional plan would take out all of the on-street parking.

“If the choice is bi-directional or nothing then bi-directional is safer,” says Vaughan.

So we are fighting for bidirectional on Harbord and possibly on more streets in the future with similar constraints. And we will work with traffic planners and the community to make them as safe as possible. There are number of tools at the planners' disposal: separate light phases, improved sightlines, markings through the intersections, signage, bump-outs and so on.

References

A business that understands bike parking is good for biz

Stone Canoe, an advertising agency on Richmond St. West, understands the need for good bike parking. Most of its employees bike to work. But instead of just buying a commodity bike rack they instead used their creative juices to build their own. The result was impressive: a quite functional bike rack that also represents the company's brand (a stone canoe no less). (Image: Jacques Gallant)

Stone Canoe commissioned a half-ton piece of artwork geared to give cyclists in the area a beautiful place to park their bicycles. The bike rack, reminiscent of a stone canoe, has been installed on the northwest corner of Walnut Ave. and Richmond St. West. The Toronto Stone Canoe team worked closely with Montreal jewellery designer, Pilar Agueci (pilaragueci.com), and Montreal metalsmith, Jacques Gallant (solutionsgallant.com), who designed and built the rack. It serves as a functional roadside attraction, and an indication of the boutique advertising agency’s commitment to creativity, and standing out.

Drivers still liable even if they hit sidewalk cyclists

A reader sent this question to me:

Hi,

I started commuting by bike this year around Vaughan and the North Toronto Area. Given the lack of bike lanes on my commute and the speed of traffic on the roads I use the sidewalks for some of my commute. I have noticed that drivers pulling out of driveways or turning at intersections rarely stop at the sidewalks or intersections to check for pedestrians as required by the Highway Traffic Act (HTA). I realise that I also violate the HTA by riding on the sidewalk, but I would like to know if I am ever hit because a driver did not check for pedestrian traffic when pulling out of a driveway, do I have any rights as a cyclist or am I fully to blame for riding on the side walk?

Thank you,
Tom

I'm no lawyer so I passed the question on to Patrick Brown of Mcleish Orlando, who has represented a lot of cyclists involved in collisions. Turns out that even if you're riding on the sidewalk a driver will likely still be largely liable for damages in a civil suit.

Here's what Patrick said:

I have had cases involving both situations: 1) where the cyclist is on the sidewalk and is hit by a car on a driveway leading to the road, and 2) where the cyclist is on the sidewalk and rides on to the roadway at an intersection. In each case, the lion share of liability has been found against the driver of the car regardless of the fact that the person was riding on the sidewalk.

In a civil case, whenever a cyclist or pedestrian is struck down by a car, there is a reverse onus applied to the driver.

Section 193 of Highway Traffic Act imposes a reverse onus on the driver who strikes a pedestrian/cyclist. The Defendant driver is presumed to have been negligent unless he/she can prove otherwise. The courts have repeatedly indicated that “the defendant cannot discharge the onus on him/her by showing that the plaintiff’s loss or damage was caused in part by the negligence of the plaintiff. That can only be done by the defendant showing that there was no negligence or misconduct on his part.” (Shapiro v. Wikinson, [1943] O.J. No. 806 (Ont. C.A.), aff’d by [1944] S.C.R. 443 (S.C.C.) . The courts have therefore found that the duty owed by the driver is to “take proper precautions to guard against risks that might reasonably be anticipated to arise.”

In many cases, the driver is responsible to look for pedestrians and other users of the sidewalk. The fact that a person is on a bike does not remove this responsibility from the driver and does not give the driver to hit the person. therefore, in the majority of instances, the driver of the car will be held to be at fault unless they can show that they took reasonable steps to look and see what was there.

In these cases, the driver’s insurance defence lawyer will assert contributory negligence against the cyclist. Depending on the nature of the collision, the cyclist may have a portion of fault attributed to him or her. For example, if the cyclist was at a standstill or moving slowly when struck, the fact they were on the sidewalk with a bike would be immaterial, since they were there to be seen. In those circumstances, the driver would likely be found 100 percent to blame. If, however, the cyclist was riding at a quick pace and they were difficult to see due to obstructions, a portion of fault may be found against them. Once fault is determined, the driver of the car is responsible to pay damages based on their percentage of fault.

Therefore, even though you are riding on a sidewalk and a car hits you, you can still successfully sue for damages. In the majority of circumstances, the larger share [and in many cases 100% share] will fall on the driver.

Some people will want me to take a firm stance against sidewalk cycling. I think it's more complicated than that. It's not surprising that people choose to ride on the sidewalk in the suburbs. The roads are simply scary, even for experienced cyclists like myself (and more so the older I get). I usually take the road but sometimes will only carefully take the sidewalk if the road is too scary (hello Highway 7).

I've given some tips before on how to safely and respectfully ride on the sidewalk. Since we teach our children to ride on the sidewalk safely and respectfully, perhaps we should also teach adults who are not able to navigate fast suburban traffic how to use the sidewalks as well (legality aside).

We got a study of Bloor bike lanes, but was it set up to fail?

So we got the Bloor Environmental Assessment restarted, thanks to the efforts of Albert Koehl, founder of Bells on Bloor, and Cycle Toronto's ward groups along Bloor. There are a couple reasons, however, that make activists believe that the politicians are committed more to the appearance of being progressive rather than actually building bike lanes on Bloor. They can claim a victory that they've restarted a study on the idea of Bloor bike lanes while avoiding the possible repercussions from merchants.

The first reason is that their request for a pilot project was ignored. The lack of a firm commitment to a pilot project has made Koehl cynical about the outcome. Koehl noted to me that some kind of pilot was being discussed behind the scenes but nothing concrete came before the Public Works committee. So we don't have much reason to believe a pilot will happen (though I'll post the info if I find out more).

Running pilot projects has worked wonders for New York where DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan revolutionized bike lane building by quickly building bike lanes that can easily be tweaked (or even removed) later on. A pilot project would provide instant feedback both to planners and to the community. In Toronto, however, councillors were unwilling to take such an important step.

The second reason is that the EA has been crafted so that it will study just the feasibility of bike lanes on Bloor rather than the best way to implement bike lanes. In a normal situation, the workflow would be like this: let's say a nuclear power plant is proposed to be built by the government. An environmental assessment kicks in by law to help guide the process of how it will be built, understand the negative effects and how to mitigate them. But the Bloor EA is being done ahead of any commitment to Bloor bike lanes. Councillors have not committed to building a bike lane on Bloor, just the feasibility.

And even more annoying is that the EA is not required by law for a bike lane. Recall that the City has happily built all of our other bike lanes without an EA (except for Richmond and Adelaide). An EA makes bike lanes look expensive.

Compare this to the Richmond-Adelaide EA. Here City Council had already voted to build bike lanes and the EA exists to help build it.

We can blame former Mayor Miller for starting this EA treadmill. The Bloor EA provided some cover to show that he was doing something for cyclists rather than show results. It wasn't a commitment to build anything then it was cancelled by Mayor Ford.

It would be easy to just give up at this point, but I suggest that we hold the feet of our politicians to the fire, whether they be progressive or not. Let's build what is possible now (Harbord, Wellesley, Richmond, Adelaide) and push the Bloor councillors to make an actual commitment to a pilot on Bloor.

Bloor study likely to piggyback on Dupont EA, but actual infrastructure still some years away

The public works committee has passed a motion for a combined environmental assessment for Bloor and Dupont streets. The motion still needs to pass City Council. Public works was probably the main hurdle, it being dominated by Ford's appointees, and that passing the EA at Council will be easier.

Councillor Janet Davis' amendment to extend the EA to the Danforth failed. There was also nothing in the motion approving a pilot project for Bloor. It's not clear if City staff can implement a pilot without Council approval, though it doesn't seem likely since staff probably won't take any risks on such a high-profile corridor. Councillors along the corridor will be very careful not to upset local merchants.

It seems odd to combine Dupont and Bloor in one EA. This is probably a strategic move in order to facilitate it getting passed by Council. The Dupont EA was already going to start next year so it seems that it was more politically palatable to include Bloor in that EA rather than try to create a separate EA with its own budget requirements.

Interestingly, Berardinetti, Grimes and Parker voted down Davis' motion, but Councillor Minnan-Wong voted for it. But on the final vote for a Bloor EA without the Danforth, everyone but Minnan-Wong voted for it. It's not a secret that Minnan-Wong would likely not vote for it, but it's interesting that some councillors would not want to extend it to the Danforth. For some of them it would be too close to their own backyard, even though a Danforth bike lane would be less disruptive to car traffic than on Bloor.

Timeline

Even in a best case scenario, actual implementation is some years away. The EA will likely start in 2014 and would probably go for at least a year. Any actual construction, if the EA recommends bike lanes and if Council approves it, would likely not begin until 2016, if the current EA for Richmond-Adelaide is any indication. And even then it's still completely possible that the new Toronto Council will get cold feet and delay or shelve any implementation.

There are some idealists (a minority if this blog's comments are to be trusted) who think that we can prioritize Bloor Street ahead of any other project (such as Harbord) and only complete Harbord after Bloor is "done". Given the likely timeline for Bloor, if these idealists got their way, we would have no new bike lanes from this administration and likely for even longer.

I think few cyclists would agree to such a deal. Something is usually better than nothing.

Cycling staff want your opinion on new parking on Queen West. Hold the panic and rage

The City recently installed a number of bike stands along Queen Street from Gladstone to Markham. Brian Park, Toronto Urban Fellow at the Cycling Unit, told me about their survey of the bike parking, asking that people fill it out:

Transportation Services is installing new bike parking infrastructure between Markham St and Gladstone Ave on Queen St W as part of a special study being conducted by Transportation's Cycling Infrastructure and Programs Unit. We recently updated our webpage - please take a look.

Please be nice be nice in your comments. It's amazing how jerky people can get. The City has already been forced to take remedial action on one installation because of a panicked response from some people.

Pylons repurposed as doomsday signs. Conveniently you'd have to dismount to read them.

This bike rack was installed at the southeast end of Trinity Bellwoods. Brian happened to be there when a furious Dorian approached him, outraged at the bike rack placement and that it would cause disaster and mayhem to rain down on people using the park path. Dorian was kind enough to record the interaction on the Facebook page for City of Toronto Cycling for posterity:

Dorian commanded Brian to "remove it today" preceded by a nice "F you". It appears that Brian did neither, thankfully. Dorian then followed up with his threat to put up signs and create a petition. It appears that Dorian managed to sign up enough panicked people to get City staff to trim the hedges to increase the sight lines around the corner. The bike rack is still there and being used last I looked. I also haven't heard of any tragic deaths due to bike rack impalement. So that's good news.

It doesn't seem to have concerned Dorian that this path exits out onto a sidewalk. If it wasn't a bike rack there it could just as easily have been a child or your grandma. Maybe the path is badly placed but until that gets fixed (not any time soon) only a jerk would take that corner at full speed.

Anyway, space is precious in this City what with businesses generally trying to keep all their sacred curbside parking so putting in bike racks anywhere is tough. It's encouraging enough that City staff are finding parking spots and boulevard space to place some bike racks. So I encourage you to go fill out the survey to help us get more of them. Just be nice about it.

Reluctantly thankful Toronto cyclist

It's easy to be negative. I've often had interactions with people who seem to have little to offer but criticism about the (lack of or poor quality) bike infrastructure in Toronto but also the City staff, politicians and even the volunteer activists. Heck, I'm often quite critical myself given the slow progress and occasional backwards steps. But it's healthy to focus on our blessings now and then. This is the day after all when Canadians are supposed to do count them up. So here goes. (Photo: Thank You letter from student to Mike Layton regarding Shaw Street)

I'm grateful that a lot of people have decided to use bicycles in Toronto for everyday transportation, particularly in downtown where some parts have up to 16% of people commuting to work by bicycle (according to Statscan's 2011 National Household Survey). According to recent counts by some Cycle Toronto volunteers, there are times of the day where cyclists make up about half (50%!) of all traffic on College Street during rush hour (see for yourself). Nearby streets such as Harbord and Queen have traffic mode shares that are above 40% and 30% respectively at rush hour.

Clearly there's a lot of latent demand for better cycling infrastructure.

I'm grateful that we finally might get a good east-west route through Toronto's core on Richmond and Adelaide. The environmental assessment is finishing by January and we'll hopefully get it approved and installed in 2014/15. Likewise, things are moving along on Harbord-Hoskin-Wellesley to provide a second safe cycling route through downtown. We'll finally be able to fill in the gap, have a showcase protected bike lane and provide a safe crossing at Queen's Park. And maybe we'll actually get the environmental assessment restarted for Bloor Street! (Word is that staff are suggesting it get rolled into the Dupont EA).

I'm grateful that even though it has been tough to convince enough politicians to support cycling (it's even been quite hard to get some so-called progressive councillors to override business fetish for curbside parking), we have a couple key bureaucrats who are quite supportive of cycling infrastructure. The General Manager of Transportation Services Stephen Buckley came from Philadelphia where he oversaw a number of new bike lanes. And Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmat understands the importance of safe, connected infrastructure and has fully supported protected bike lanes. She was key, for instance, in getting protected bike lanes on Eglinton for the LRT project.

We're even getting in some bike infrastructure right now. The contraflow bike lane is almost finished on Shaw Street. The bike trails on the Finch hydro corridor are being completed. Bike racks are being installed all along Queen Street between Gladstone and Manning as part of the City's pilot of intensifying available bike parking in key areas. And protected bike lanes on Wellesley will be built this year. It's more than nothing, it's something and it's useful.

(Photo by Tino of College Street bike parking that looks kinda like a car just to taunt those motorheads)

We've got bike tours of art in Art Spin and music fest in the Bicycle Music Festical. And we've even got a big Ai Wei-wei sculpture of bikes at City Hall. Lots of art and bike stuff going on.

The thing that makes me the most hopeful, however, is that cyclists are finally getting organized and becoming vocal. I'm grateful for all the people who put in lots of time to create a strong organization, Cycle Toronto (ne Toronto Cyclists Union). And I'm really grateful to my GF who spent years building the organization up, ensuring that it wasn't just a bunch of complaining cyclists but a savvy, strategic and well-organized group. Which brings me back to my original point. Cyclists who can also focus on the wins, big or small, are also healthier.

Bloor-Annex BIA Chair says We want bike lanes on Bloor

Video by Albert Koehl of the Annex Residents Association. (Thanks Nancy for tip.)

At 2:43, Wade McCallum, Chair of the Bloor-Annex BIA says: "We've made an official stance 'we want bike lanes on Bloor.' We are more than willing to lose the parking and replace them with bike lanes. We’ve talked to the business owners, we had a town hall last year... everybody is in favour of trading parking for bike lanes. So it’s unanimous.“

Now if we can just get the rest of the BIAs on board we can make some real changes in this city.

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