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Councillor Vaughan will not support "bicycle highways," in and of themselves, on Richmond and Adelaide

Dunsmuir cycle track - Paul Krueger

No matter which way you look at it, Councillor Vaughan has never said "I unreservedly support separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide". Instead he has caveats and reservations. Vaughan is willing to sacrifice protected bike lanes, and the safety of cyclists, on Richmond and Adelaide if he doesn't get his beautification list. On their own, in and of themselves, protected bike lanes have little value to Vaughan. This much I have parsed from his words. (Photo: Dunsmuir bike lane. Credit: Paul Krueger.)

Councillor Vaughan told me he supports bike lanes. In an email, he replied "Separated bike lanes, integrated with a stronger pedestrian realm is a must." He was visiting Vancouver at the time, exclaiming "great bike lanes here!" But here's his qualifier: "If all we build is a bike lane then all we will have accomplished is building a by-pass." An "isolated gesture". Just "bicycle highways". So is that a maybe? Why is a well-informed politician, who has a strong opinion on almost every area of city building, caging his words on separated bike lanes?

By the way, Councillor McConnell didn't put any restrictions on her support for protected bike lanes on the portions of Richmond and Adelaide that run through her ward. She supports them. Period.

Isolated gestures

Vaughan celebrates Vancouver bike lanes, but does he know that the outstanding protected bike lanes on Dunsmuir and Hornby streets were done as "isolated gestures"? Mayor Gregor Robertson of Vancouver took leadership in pushing for them even against some local opposition. The primary focus was bike lanes. Sure they put in planters but they weren't deal breakers. For free, Vancouver got even further separation of car traffic from traffic on the foot highway (like in the photo above).

The protected bike lanes, in fact, would be an isolated but major gesture for a ward where little has been done to install and advance protected cycling infrastructure. Politicians and traffic planners alike have mostly ignored cycling safety for so long that in order to get anything built, bike lanes are, by nature, "isolated". It seems as if bike lanes in downtown are constantly being pushed off the table, whether it be Yorkville, in front of Union Station, John Street and now the Annex. In each case the politicians and traffic planners have figured that people on bikes will just have to fight it out with cars.

Vaughan had a perfect opportunity to get protected bike lanes in Ward 20 when he was a close ally of former Mayor David Miller. During this administration's 6 years not one protected bike lane was built. The closest we came was a failed vote on a protected bike lane for University. People tend to focus on Councillor Paula Fletcher's mistaken vote, but the Mayor wasn't even present for the vote. It wasn't important enough for the mayor.

What does he want
Vaughan has described protected bike lanes at various times as "bicycle highways", "single use and isolated gestures", "barricaded", "by-passes". So why is he holding up progress on bicycle infrastructure? What are these other things he wants? From his comments I've gathered these requirements: "Stronger pedestrian realm" aka fancier "foot highways." Planters. Bike parking. "Connectivity". Two-way streets. "Complete streets"

Foot highways? Last I looked there were foot highways on both sides of the street. And they're bidirectional!

Planters? Well here you go:

But is he going to try to block the bike lanes if he can't get planters?

Bike Parking? Nope. Is he seriously considering this a requirement for his support?

Connectivity? Done. It already connects with Beverley bike lanes and Sherbourne! And can be extended to Eastern bike lanes and to the Railpath. (Richmond and Adelaide are certainly more connected than Vaughan's preference for Wellington).

Two-way streets? Come on, you can do better. New York is full of one-way vibrant streets as "destinations".

Complete streets Sorry, Vaughan's definition sucks: "accommodate choice in as safe and as beautiful a way as possible". So far as I can tell, no jurisdiction that has a complete streets policy has put "beauty" on par with safety. No one's going to say they hate beauty but who would sacrifice safety for it? (Other than an artist). Instead, Toronto's City Planning says complete streets is the "safe and adequate accommodation, in all phases of project planning and development, of all users of the transportation system." Let's use their definition.

Fast forward to now
We have a plan to build awesome, connected protected bike lanes across downtown. There are zero alternatives. So far, Councillor Vaughan is unwilling to lend his support. Is he just trying to squeeze some concessions, or his he willing to let the plan die if he doesn't get his way?

We'll see. This bike lanes will represent, I think, a turning point. Either we'll begin down the bicycle highway towards emulating cities like Chicago, Vancouver and New York, or we'll hit a deep pothole and stall safe cycling in this city.

Footnotes: quoting Vaughan on bike lanes
For those interested in the history of Vaughan's quotes on bicycle highways, read on.

Last year (2012) at a joint ward meeting that I attended with Cycle Toronto's representing wards 19, 20, 27, and 28 Councillor Vaughan had suggested that he was against "bicycle highways":

"...to create a bike highway through the downtown is as serious a piece of bad planning as a car highway."

He had also said at that meeting that "creating a single use capacity will not solve the problem".

Also last year (2012) at a meeting organized by the Harbord Village Residents Association on bike lanes for Harbord Vaughan had said:

When we build bike lanes they must be separated. Painted lanes are good but aren't safe enough. My son, who bikes, needs the separation to be safe.

People in this neighbourhood cycle but they don't do it safely. We don't accept it for drivers, nor for pedestrians, but we accept lack of safety for cyclists. We need to change that.

And in January of this year (2013) Councillor Vaughan had said to the Toronto Star that he remained undecided regarding bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide.

It’s crucial that any bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide be considered in the larger context of pedestrian traffic, cars and transit, said Councillor Adam Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina). Although he’s willing to consider bike lanes, he hasn’t made up his mind. The entertainment district needs to be considered as a destination, not just a series of thoroughfares, he said.

In 2011 in a letter to his residents Vaughan had called them "barricaded bike lanes".

From Vaughan's response from last week:

We have set aside funding for streetscape improvements. Bike lanes, bike parking, plantings and connectivity are all important components of a good plan.

I support exploring these issues specifically, and separated bike lanes generally. They are a critical component of the future for the street. But they must form part of a comprehensive re-thinking of the streets and not just a single use and isolated gesture.

If all we build is a bike lane then all we will have accomplished is building a by-pass. This is not good planning nor will it serve riders well. It should never be about getting from a to b. It should be about building complete streets that accommodate choice in as safe and as beautiful a way as possible. ...

Why unidirectional cycle tracks will likely work better on Richmond and Adelaide

Richmond and Adelaide unidirectional bike lanes

If all goes well Richmond and Adelaide will have protected cycle tracks by the end of next year. We don't get many chances like this in Toronto where we missed our Bike Plan's targets by a wide margin. Bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide are in the Bike Plan, which means it's been over twelve years!

There is some risk that we won't get them. Councillor Vaughan, for instance, still won't commit to supporting the bike lanes (I'll delve more into what Vaughan thinks in my next post) and who knows what will happen after the 2014 municipal election if the lanes are delayed. So I think it's imperative to build them efficiently, while still getting a result that is safer and cost-effective. As I'll argue below, I think it's justified for us to get nit-picky and traffic-planning geeky here. I think you should support unidirectional protected bike lanes as the best kind of protected bike lanes for this project.

First, let's get the definitions right. A unidirectional cycle track has one way bike traffic. Cycle tracks in New York are mostly unidirectional (the photo above shows a unidirectional cycle track as imagined on Richmond by Dave Meslin). Good examples of bidirectional bike traffic can be seen on the Martin Goodman Trail, or the cycle tracks in Montreal. On bidirectional cycle tracks or bike paths bike traffic goes in both directions.

One of the main things going for a bidirectional cycle track is that it doesn't require as much width and typically allows for more on-street parking to remain. Such might be the compromise on Harbord/Hoskin where the Cycling Unit staff prefer a bidirectional cycle track. Hoskin and Harbord are considered good candidates for bidirectional because there are few major intersections -- only Bathurst and Spadina -- unlike Richmond and Adelaide.

However, there are more reasons to consider unidirectional cycle tracks for Richmond and Adelaide as the preferred option:

  1. Makes it easier to extend the bike facilities west of Bathurst to Strachan and perhaps connecting to the West Toronto Railpath extension through the CAMH grounds to Sudbury.
  2. Is less expensive because it doesn't require new traffic lights. Thus less likely to be shelved because of cost.
  3. Results in less waiting at intersections for all traffic because there would be fewer light phases.
  4. Is generally the preferred, safer option where it is possible to install unidirectional (according to traffic experts in Denmark and Netherlands).
  5. Makes it more likely that the bike lanes are installed before the election. We don't know if a new Council will still have the willpower to install them.
  6. Allows for more predictable traffic movements at major intersections, of which Richmond and Adelaide have a few (Bathurst, Spadina, University, Bay, Yonge, Church and Jarvis).

Danish researchers Ekman and Kronborg found that unidirectional tracks were typically safer than bidirectional because they allow for merging of traffic at intersections:

Ekman and Kronborg (1995) conducted an extensive literature review and interviewed bicycle safety and traffic-engineering experts across Scandinavia and in the Netherlands to compare the merits of unidirectional versus bidirectional bicycle tracks. They found that bidirectional tracks on one side of the road are cheaper to build than two unidirectional paths on opposite sides of the road but that the former are less safe. Bidirectional paths are less safe, they argued, because they do not allow cyclists to merge with traffic lanes when near intersections. Merging with traffic lanes reduces the risk of being struck by turning vehicles. [Ekman, L. & Kronborg, P. (1995). Traffic safety for pedestrians and cyclists at signal-controlled intersections. Report 1995: 4E. TFK. Lund.]

Note that they say that bidirectional is cheaper than unidirectional but they are assuming both options are on the same street. We have a unique opportunity to build on separate streets with unidirectional which would likely preclude installing whole new traffic signals. Thus believe unidirectional would be cheaper for Richmond and Adelaide. I'm interested to see if the EA will confirm that.

We've waited long enough
I think there's a recognition by many people that we've been waiting too long for good cycling infrastructure. As of this writing the groups who've officially supported the protected bike lanes, with many also specifying unidirectional, include Hot Docs, MEC, Annex Residents Association, Moore Park Residents Association, Liberty Village Residents Association, and West Queen West BIA. See the letters of support on Cycle Toronto's site.

Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein of Chicago, noted at a recent talk in Toronto, that Toronto has gotten a lot of things right - streetcars, sidewalks, condos sprouting up all over. But the one glaring hole is a lack of cycling infrastructure. Toronto is exceptional among North American cities in that it has a significant cycling population but it has fallen way behind in providing protected bike lanes. While Chicago zooms ahead in installing hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes, cycling activists in Toronto are struggling to get just one cycle track that was promised years ago. So it's no wonder people are getting impatient.

Citi Bike launches in NYC while Toronto's BIXI struggles for political support

Yesterday was the first day of New York's new 6000 bike-strong bikesharing system, Citi Bike. Toronto was early into the bikesharing game, first with CBN's BikeShare and later with BIXI Toronto. Now as New York has come strong out of the gate, and as Chicago comes strong soon after with a 4000 bike Divvy Bike system, Toronto is stuck at about 1000 bikes while councillors dither on whether they should put any money at all into this very affordable (far more affordable than our subsidized roads and subways) public transportation system.

In July staff will report back to the Executive Committee on the Request for Interest for any private operators/buyers of BIXI Toronto. From my source, there has been some interest from the private sector, but so far only for companies that are interested in running BIXI Toronto, not owning it outright.

While the Executive Committee is leaning to find a private sector buyer they can dump the system on (and Ford's preference is for closing it down altogether), TTC Chair Councillor Karen Stintz passed a couple motions at last Friday's TTC Comission meeting for studying the feasibility of BIXI Toronto being absorbed into the TTC (the official minutes aren't out yet).

  1. That TTC staff be requested to prepare a report by the July 2013 TTC Board meeting on the feasibility and expected costs of integrating BIXI Toronto into the TTC: and
  2. Forward this decision to the City of Toronto Executive Committee, with a copy to the Deputy City Manager, Cluster B, with a request that any decision on the BIXI matter be deferred until the subject TTC report is referred by the TTC Board to the Executive Committee for consideration.

While the ownership questions are being debated in the political forum, there is developer Section 37 funds for 3 stations along King Street, as well as funding tied to the Pan-am Games for 50 stations that is sitting in limbo. One can only hope that Toronto's striving to become "world-class" will shame politicians into supporting BIXI Toronto properly. Doug Ford, you like Chicago so much? Why not emulate their roll out of bikesharing and hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes?

Let's break out of suburban islands by connecting our culs-de-sac with cycling/walking routes

Davis, California

Toronto, like many North American cities, will need to tackle the suburban challenge when trying to make cycling more accessible to the average person. One way would be to make more efficient use of our major arterial roads such as Kingston Road. Kingston Road has a wide pointless median that could be removed to make room for cycle tracks on the edges without sacrificing precious road space for cars. That, however isn't going to happen in the short-term. And we'll still be left with many suburban neighbourhoods that are difficult to navigate by bike because they were purposefully built to make for difficult driving. Unfortunately this also makes it very difficult to walk or bike directly.

In a previous iteration of my life I commuted to York University and I found out quickly how taking side streets was a frustrating exercise. It required stopping to look at a map to find out how I could navigate the culs-de-sac and t-intersections of North York when trying to avoid having to ride on Keele Street where bikes are neither welcome nor expected.

Toronto could be exploring easy wins for the suburbs. One idea is to connect our culs-de-sac so we can remove barriers to accessible, healthy transportation. If we're starting with a blank slate there are ways to encourage these connections:

...zoning codes and ordinances should encourage connecting culs-de-sac with other transportation and neighborhood destinations. In some cases utility easements or alleys abutting culs-de-sac can be designed for double duty as multi-use paths, creating cross-town connections.

One community that was designed around connected culs-de-sac with great success is Davis, California (as seen in the image above). Most neighbourhoods, remarkably, have culs-de-sac which are connected to "linear parks" so that non-car trips have quick, direct access even while car trips require a more circuitous route. Yet, Toronto proper, has been mostly built-out and other than some limited quick wins it is much more difficult to do this with existing neighbourhoods.

An existing suburb of Portland, Oregon, Tigard, undertook crowdsourcing the mapping of quick wins. They asked the public to submit their "desire paths" through their town to find existing informal paths with no formal public access that can be improved and formalized. They then plan to build 42 miles of these connection among the neighbourhoods. "The city and its contractor, Kittelson & Associates, established a wiki-based web site where residents could indicate on a map where such informal walkways were." It's not clear how successful they were but it provided an interesting example of how other cities could improve their networks.

By the way, if you're not sure what a desire path is, it doesn't take much to find examples of them around you. A desire path, as defined by Nancy Friedman, is a "term in landscape architecture used to describe a path that isn't designed but rather is worn casually away by people finding the shortest distance between two points." Any trodden path will fit the criteria. Transportation planners should pay close attention: desire paths often point to problems with the officially sanctioned routes or lack thereof.

"A close look at any city park or green will typically reveal footprints that break away from paved walks, trails that countless pedestrians have worn into the grass. Such a trail is a desire path: the route people have chosen to take across an open place, making a human pattern upon the landscape." (Citing Lan Samantha Chang , in Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape, edited by Barry Lopez and Debra Gwartney.)

In my previous commutes to North York and to Mississauga I had to work hard (with mixed results) to find these desire paths which would reduce my time on the main streets with speeding, polluting vehicles. If you use Google's bike directions you will discover a wealth of short established connections (such as here or here). But they are scattered, only locals are likely to know about them, and there is no guarantee that you can string enough together to complete your route. Instead Toronto would need to take stronger actions:

In this scenario, bicycle/pedestrian connections must be carved out of private properties, streets, and rights-of-way. Municipalities have had success purchasing one or more affected properties, constructing a sidewalk or multi-use path between two culs-de-sac, and then re-selling the property. The City of Phoenix, Arizona, purchased and demolished a derelict property and constructed a multi-use path connection into an adjacent neighborhood.

What a different city it would be if Toronto had a well-marked network of short paths and residential streets that connect to cycle tracks on main arterial roads. People, young and old, could easily bike or walk across neighbourhoods to school, work, shopping, the playground.

Allan Sheppard Sr says son denied a fair hearing but Crown says decision was made independently

Allan Sheppard Sr

Update: I've added info from the Crown's email on the independence and public record of the decision in the case. There has been little media coverage with both sides of the story so far.

We'll never know exactly what happened on the night four years ago that former Attorney General Michael Bryant and bike courier Darcy Allan Sheppard got into an on-street argument that resulted in Sheppard's tragic death. But Allan Sheppard Senior today made an impassioned and levelheaded statement that his son never received justice through a "robust prosecution". Sheppard Sr. and supporters have assembled documents that they acquired through freedom of information requests that they say raises questions about the decisions made by the prosecutor of the case. They claim that justice was not done when Special Prosecutor Richard Peck decided that there wasn't enough evidence for a trial, and that they have evidence "the Crown tweaked, massaged, and cherry-picked evidence and testimony, effectively to exonerate Mr. Bryant." (Photo: TVO)

The Crown has responded that an independent outside prosecutor handled the case and the reasons for his decision are public record. In an email from the Crown to Newstalk 1010 saying "on May 25, 2010, the independent outside prosecutor concluded that there was no reasonable prospect of conviction and withdrew the charges against the accused. The independent prosecutor put his reasons for this conclusion on the record in open court. As this was matter was handled by an independent outside prosecutor, the Ministry has no further comment to make on this matter." Peck was brought in from British Columbia as a prosecutor for the matter given that Michael Bryant was Attorney General of Ontario at the time.

From Sheppard Sr's statement today, Sheppard said that just like everyone deserves a robust defence, so every victim deserves a robust prosecution.

That does not mean the victim’s side of the story must prevail; only that it must be considered, presented, and argued as robustly as any defence.

In our common-law system, that argument must take place in an open, adversarial court that is designed and intended to find truth between robustly contested theories of a case.

That didn’t happen for my son.

Sheppard Sr said he didn't know what justice would look like in this case, nor does he think it was necessarily unjust to drop the charges. Instead, Sheppard Senr says that there was injustice in how the prosecutor explained the decision "in a way that exonerates Mr. Bryant of all responsibility and accountability and, in effect, justifies what he did to my son—without the transparency necessary to support such a conclusion." The Crown, it seems, considers the case closed and that a responsible decision was made. There wasn't any public comment from Special Prosecutor Peck that I could find as of this posting.

More evidence that Helmet Laws don't make us safer

Today we learned that U of T researcher Jessica Dennis found helmet laws do nothing to reduce rates of hospitalization for head injury. We can add this to the other studies that have successfully questioned the usefulness of helmet legislation.

There has been a lot of confusion between statistics that show that helmets reduce head injuries and helmet laws which are designed to force everyone on a bike to wear a helmet. While helmets arguably reduce head injuries (although even here there is some contra-evidence), the fallout of helmet laws have been unclear at best and negative at worst. Dennis' study focused on rates of hospitalization across Canadian provinces and compared provinces that implemented helmet laws to those that didn't with their relative hospitalization rates for head injuries. They found little evidence that helmet laws did much to reduce injuries across a population.

Rates of hospitalizations for any cycling-related injury decreased by 28% (95% CI 22.8-33.2) among individuals younger than 18 in provinces with helmet laws and by 22.3% (95% CI 15-29.6) in areas without the laws, "suggesting fewer young cyclists, improvements to cycling safety, or a change in hospital admission policies," according to the researchers.

Hospitalizations for any cycling injury among adults hovered around 10 per 100,000 person-years in provinces with and without the helmet laws, with no significant differences seen.

Despite these decreases, the segmented regression analysis found no "meaningful changes" on hospitalization for head injury.

This study had a narrow focus on just hospitalization and didn't take into account whether people were discouraged from cycling because of helmet legislation. The Ontario Coroner's report on cycling deaths, however, also noted that before implementing a helmet law that the negative effects on cycling need to be also taken into consideration. One problem they found in their review of deaths due to head injuries was that the rate of helmet wearing for young cyclists was much lower than for adults even though helmets are mandatory for under 18 cyclists!

Some research exists which suggest that the health benefits of helmets may be outweighed by the detrimental effects on overall health in the population through the decrease in cycling activity in jurisdictions where helmets have been made mandatory.

The Coroner stressed that because of the possible negative health effects of a helmet law that the Province undertake an evaluation that begins "with a critical appraisal of the existing literature from jurisdictions in which mandatory helmet legislation has been implemented, and the collection of high-quality baseline data on cycling activity in Ontario."

I'm a pragmatic person that thinks that helmet promoters and helmet pro-choicers can co-exist here. I'll happily not bug you for choosing to wear a helmet (or for not wearing one while driving) while taking for myself the freedom to choose when and where I'll wear a helmet. A helmet is like a talisman. It may provide some protection in a limited fashion to a small part of your body, but it has little to no usefulness when forced on a whole population.

What a close pass feels like

As the title on the video says: this video is not about blame. It's about what a close pass feels like on a bicycle. It's a plea for motorists to allow at least a meter when passing a cyclist. I think it may help to make a case for legislation, proposed in Ontario and enacted in a number of American states and elsewhere, to require motorists to give cyclists a meter, more or less, of space.

BIXI is public transit: Stintz proposes TTC take on BIXI for the public good

We might still get the City to treat BIXI as public transportation. TTC Chair Karen Stintz will make a motion at City Council this week asking city staff to see if it would make sense for the TTC to take over the financially troubled BIXI Toronto. (Photo credit: Ian Muttoo)

“I absolutely see BIXI as being an integral part of public transit in the city,” Stintz said in an interview Sunday evening. “We’re having a discussion next week about the future of BIXI and I intend to move a motion to request a review of whether the TTC could actually take over the BIXI portfolio.”

Stintz said doing so might allow more BIXI bike share stations to be added at TTC stations to complement the existing transit system.

Stintz's strong stance on BIXI as public transportation is a breath of fresh air. The Mayor has taken the knee-jerk reaction that he'll have nothing to do with BIXI. It's the only proposal thus far that suggests a long-term plan for BIXI. Montreal's public transit agency, STM, is interested in absorbing BIXI, and the City of Montreal is giving direct funding to expand and cover shortfalls.

It's good that Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is also offering some proposals, though they tend to center on getting small amounts of funding from the private sector (here and here), but it would be much better if she'd just show strong support for folding BIXI into the TTC. To look to developers to install a few stations here and there in underground parking as in Wong-Tam's proposal, will do little for BIXI's survival nor is it particularly practical. What BIXI needs for being viable is expansion on the scale of Montreal's BIXI.

Councillor Mike Layton had already managed to negotiate a deal with a developer for one station. But one new BIXI station a year would mean that it would take 350 years to reach Montreal's soon to be 450 stations! If BIXI Toronto were to reach 450 stations within the next five years (a reasonable hope in my mind) that means we'd need to make 70 deals with developers a year. It is unrealistic that we'd be able to do that, especially considering that only Layton has so far approached developers for BIXI stations.

It's a bit odd to see a left-winger look first to the private sector when a right-winger sees BIXI as an integral part of public transportation. BIXI could do a lot to relieve the pressure off of the crowded streetcars, subways and buses. It's good to see the TTC Chair take BIXI seriously and I hope that the centre and left of City Council can get behind Stintz's proposal. There's more hope for BIXI in the TTC than making small deals with developers.

UPDATE: A source has told me that Councillor Stintz will probably be making a motion at the next TTC meeting, May 24th, proposing that the TTC take over BIXI.

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