Blogs

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.

Queens Quay's a work in progress but cycling will get better (except for the detours)

Detour on west end of Queens Quay

Queens Quay is undergoing a lot of street construction but the result should be beautiful. Even with the upheaval, construction, noise, and traffic people are still coming to enjoy themselves. As did I this last weekend when I joined in on a Jane's Walk hosted by some staff from Waterfront Toronto. On their Queens Quay walk they explained the undergoing work on the street and how it will be transformed into a much nicer boulevard, closer to Barcelona's waterfront promenade than it's current car-choked frustration.

For people on bikes, the Martin Goodman Trail (MGT) will be much improved with a fully separated bike path and a walking path to take over the southern two lanes of car traffic. That cyclists are treated so well may be due in no small part to the fact that the firm that won the design bid, West 8, is based in the Netherlands.

I was disappointed, however, to find out that the eastern end of Queens Quay - east of Jarvis - will have to wait until the government commits to funding a streetcar extension to Parliament and eventually the Portlands. Christopher Glaisek, VP Planning and Design of Waterfront Toronto, and one of the speakers on the walk explained that they are avoiding having to do the work twice. The streetcar extension price has climbed up to $370 million (something about maintaining access to the Hyatt so the streetcar has to be underground for a longer stretch).

In the meantime Waterfront Toronto got a bit of extra funding to extend the sidewalk and create interim cycle tracks from Yonge to Jarvis which should be open by June. I think this might be the second official cycle track built in Toronto!

East of Jarvis the cycle tracks end and eastbound cyclists are directed back onto the roadway. They travel in some freshly paved bike lanes until they merge again with the Martin Goodman Trail at Parliament. Going westbound by bike is a bit trickier. At Parliament they will be asking cyclists to cross at the lights and then take the bike lane along the road until they get to the Jarvis crosswalk where they will then again merge into the cycle tracks. Currently there is no indication that cyclists should do this so most people are choosing the obvious direct route, an asphalt "sidewalk" that replaced the MGT that was previously longer.

They kindly put some "No bicycles. Pedestrians only" stencils but from what I saw many people either ignored or didn't notice them. Another problem with this sidewalk, as Jelle Therry, Design Manager for Queens Quay, West 8+DTAH, pointed out to me, is that the sidewalk speaks a double language: the sign may say no bicycles but the asphalt says "Bike here!"

So why did they stop the cycle tracks at Jarvis?

According to Chris, they stopped at Jarvis because it would have required lights at the intersections, which would have required re-installation when the street is rebuilt for the streetcars. At least that's what I think he said. It doesn't make any sense to me. They didn't install lights for the cycle track from Yonge to Jarvis. And didn't the old Martin Goodman Trail that this sidewalk replaced take the exact same route? All the intersections are glorified driveways so I can't imagine that temporary cycle tracks couldn't have been worked out.

While the stretch of Queens Quay from Lower Spadina to Jarvis is going to be awesome, the rest of QQ leaves me frustrated. Why didn't they just leave the MGT where it was and connect it to the new cycle tracks at Jarvis? And why are they leaving the section from Spadina to Bathurst as is where cyclists will be forced to cross the street yet again?

Bypassing the Construction

Making things nicer unfortunately means some necessary headache but they City has been trying to ease things for everyone. There's a marked bypass route for cyclists so that they can avoid the construction mess. Interestingly the detour follows a forgotten section of the MGT - you can still see the distinctive blue/green markings. I believe that it fell into disuse when condos encroached on it years ago. It may also have been too far out of the way, when most people would have preferred Queens Quay's much nicer scenery.

Detour signage is an issue. I had a hard time finding the signage for the detour when I was travelling back from the Jane's Walk. It was only by testing a couple side streets that I found the detour and I was actively looking for it. Most people won't even know it exists. I backtracked and saw a small detour sign that was easily missed. The signage on the west side of the construction wasn't much more visible and I saw a number of people just biking onto the sidewalk since it was the obvious choice.

Most people seemed to be more than happy to bike at a walking pace down the sidewalk.

The new Queens Quay will be a big improvement for cycling but there are still some glaring issues. Putting in better signage for the detour seems to be an easy fix, though making the east end work better for cycling will take more work and perhaps a different mindset by Transportation Services that seems to ignore human behaviour by trying to get people to cross a wide road twice over a short distance. And I didn't hear anybody talk about any plans for west of Lower Spadina. It's going to be good but could have been done better.

Bells on Bloor: a pedal powered parade for bike lanes

Bells on Bloor is a group ride along Bloor Street for bike lanes. A lot of people come out to it, because it's fun! It's taking place Saturday May 11 at noon. Meet at the Bloor Street High Park gate and ride along Bloor Street to Queen's Park.

Bloor Street would make a great bike route - a good place for cycle tracks given that there are no streetcar tracks and the subway runs underneath. It's starting to look like it's possible, at least along the Annex BIA's section where the local BIA seems to be warm to the idea. For the rest of Bloor, it seems to me there is still more work to be done. Bells on Bloor helps make cyclists voices be heard.

The family-friendly rides and walks begin from various parts of the city and converge at Queen’s Park for a 2 pm rally for safer roads. The second annual Cycle and Sole (www.cycleandsole.com) event includes groups such as Walk Toronto, Bells on Danforth, Bells on Bloor and others.

The groups are also calling on the provincial Minister of Transportation and the Minister of Municipal Affairs and Housing to implement recommendations recently made by the Chief Coroner for Ontario. Those recommendations included a Complete Streets approach to planning that would include lower speed limits in residential areas, more mid-block pedestrian crossings, and more bicycle lanes. Similar recommendations have been made by Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health.

The rise of Motordom and how we learned to blame the victim

Privileged Sport in Puck

Recently, as I was once again honked at with no place to move, I thought of the recent 99 Percent Invisible podcast on The Modern Moloch. In it Roman Mars interviews Peter Norton who describes how the powerful forces behind the automobile aka "Motordom" had a major public relations victory as it convinced us that the person responsible for safety was the victim rather than the operator of the vehicle. Today it's considered normal (at least in North America) that streets are for motor vehicles primarily and that people are only tolerated at best. (Photo credit: Privileged Sport, Puck. Library of Congress, The Invention of Jay-walking.)

In the early 1900s, before the advent of mass usage of the automobile, things were quite different. Nothing went faster than 10 miles per hour. People crossed the street wherever they wanted because it was easy to avoid collisions in slow moving traffic. Like in this early film of Market Street in San Francisco:

The arrival of cars changed this and people were outraged by the children and adults being killed. It's hard to believe it but there were calls to ban or put tight controls on automobiles. There were even comparisons of automobiles to Moloch, the god to which the Ammonites sacrificed their children. And reminiscent of modern ghost bike memorial rides for killed cyclists, "cities held parades and built monuments in memory of children who had been struck and killed by cars" (link)

But powerful forces behind automobiles (which called themselves "Motordom") created a shift in public consciousness through some crafty public relations. "Don’t blame cars, blame human recklessness." As Mars notes, "this subtle shift allowed for streets to be re-imagined as a place where cars belonged, and where people didn’t." So this is where the term "Jay Walking" went from being applied to a country bumpkin to being "rebranded it as a legal term to mean someone who crossed the street at the wrong place or time".

The industry lobbied to change the law, promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of "jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law. (The Atlantic Cities)

Putting people first
We are now looking at this from the opposite end. Advocates are attempting to kick the car off its pedestal. The two pronged tactic involves changing mindsets on the one hand, and changing the infrastructure on the other.

Streetsblog has been working long to change mindsets with their regular online feature Weekly Carnage which shines a light on car crashes and traffic deaths/injuries. Inevitably very few drivers are changed. Transportation Alternatives of NYC also has an ongoing "Vision Zero NYC" campaign that wants the simple goals of zero deaths, zero injuries, zero fear of traffic. Like Motordom's PR campaign to blame the victim, the Vision Zero campaign is most powerful in changing peoples' mindsets. And in many cities, including Toronto, there are memorial rides whenever a cyclist is killed by a motorist.

The mindset isn't enough. Just as Motordom successfully rebuilt our cities around the automobile, now nothing less than a major restructuring is necessary to take back some space. That includes proper cycling infrastructure, better sidewalks and calmed streets so kids can once again go play in the middle of them.

The Financial Case for Bicycle Parking at City Hall

Doug Ford calls the proposed bike parking station in the City Hall parking lot "gravy". That makes him precisely wrong. Bicycle infrastructure offers the cheapest solution to two very difficult problems that threaten Toronto's future prosperity: the increasing cost of health care, and transportation gridlock in the GTA.

Will City Council finally invest in a BIXI Toronto expansion?

Denzil Minnan-Wong on BIXI

"Reaching the milestone of one million BIXI trips in 18 months is a significant achievement," said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), chair of the City's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. "This is proof of the popularity of BIXI as a convenient, safe and practical option for traveling in the downtown core." (City News Release, Oct 2012. Image of Denzil Minnan-Wong from National Post)

BIXI opened 2 years ago with 1000 bikes. Montreal, on the other hand, launched with 3,000 bicycles in 2009 and expanded to 5,000 bicycles in the same year. Even more exciting, New York City's Citi Bike bikesharing system will open this spring with 10,000 bikes. Toronto’s system originally called for 3000 bicycles distributed between Dupont Street to the north, Lake Ontario to the south, Broadview Avenue to the east and High Park to the west.

Jared Kolb of Cycle Toronto notes that City data shows “the highest rates of use are on the periphery. If you’re going to make a proper investment, you have to have a larger network.” To that end Cycle Toronto launched a petition to Toronto businesses to have them express their support for a BIXI expansion. Many businesses see this as an easy win. Make it easier for customers or employees to get to their stores and they benefit.

But BIXI almost didn't open at all. Some City bureaucrats had advised Mayor Miller that BIXI would fail and weren't willing to recommend its eligibility for a loan guarantee. Miller eventually over-ruled those concerns when the cycling community made some noise.

BIXI Toronto operates on a shoestring. One only needs to compare the price tags among public transit options to see how cheaply BIXI provides flexibility to urban transportation, all without any real subsidy. The TTC capital expenses are 100% covered by the public purse. One subway train alone costs around $8.6 million (Star), which is more than the entire capital cost of the current BIXI Toronto system ($4.8 million). Yet BIXI Toronto has to pay all of its capital expansion costs, with only a small break in interest payments through the loan guarantee.

Toronto has made no expansion plans since BIXI's launch. The right wing administration is reluctant to support an expansion of BIXI. Denzil Minnan-Wong, the conservative chair of the public works committee, has been a reluctant champion of BIXI by posing for photo-ops when BIXI launched, saying "But now that it's here, you've gotta support it". Minnan-Wong more recently told Torontoist that “You want to get your finances done right. It may be more incremental, but what we want to do is ensure BIXI’s success, and that may require smaller steps than big leaps.” He noted that Montreal's BIXI ran into financial difficulties even with three times the number of bikes. “We don’t have a lot of extra money to put into any projects right now,” he added, citing a transportation department backlog “north of $300 million.”

What Councillor Minnan-Wong fails to mention, however, is that Transportation Services is actually incapable of spending the capital budget it is already allocated in any year. This is not intuitive so let me explain. The City has a capital budget for Transportation Services and the City will pay interest on that funding whether it gets spent or not for that year. The City, however, doesn't have enough planners, engineers and other staff to plan and carry out all the capital projects. So the money just sits there costing us interest. Why don't we, I ask, make good use of that funding to support BIXI expansion? As a turnkey operation it could quickly be expanded, would use existing capital budget thus wouldn't cost taxpayers anything extra. And it would pay dividends down the road by reducing transportation costs across the board.

BIXI is growing to be a key part of our urban transportation mix, extending the usefulness of public transit. Councillor Layton notes when traffic is heavy, riding his bike along King Street West is faster than going by car or streetcar. “I think if I park a BIXI next to these streetcar stops, people will get fed up and hop on a BIXI,” Layton said. “Then within six months they will have purchased a bike.” The investment hasn't matched that potential.

Staff have been working hard to find ways to expand BIXI short of coming hat in hand to City Council. They've been investigating "creative funding tools" (Torontoist) including corporate sponsorships and Section 37 development funds as Councillor Mike Layton has recently accomplished with a development in his ward 19. Staff are working on a report to City Council that "will flesh out details on funding models and an expansion strategy, and include specific recommendations to city council for next steps."

Cycle Toronto hopes that City Council will become convinced of the economic benefits of BIXI and will listen to the many businesses that want it to extend to their neighbourhoods as quickly as possible. We need to get beyond saving our pennies to try to expand the system piecemeal when the potential economic benefit is so large.

Public works chair pushing Complete Streets policy, integrating walking, cycling, trees, urban design

A mockup of Danforth

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong has gotten the ball rolling on an official Complete Streets policy for Toronto, by recommending that a policy be developed that integrates a variety of by-laws and strategies such as the Walking Strategy, Bike Plan, Urban Design Guidelines, Toronto Street Trees Guide and current best practices for urban street design guidelines. The recommendation will go to the public works committee next week, then staff will report back with their guidelines. If the report from staff is accepted by City Council we'll see a more coherent policy for livable streets for all road users, and one step closer to more comprehensive improvements. Image of redesigned Danforth from TCAT.

"Complete streets" is a relatively new term that quite simply describes streets that have been designed with all users in mind; the motorists, street car and bus riders, cyclists, pedestrians and those with disabilities. A complete street is therefore, one where a variety of policies, bylaws and infrastructure have come together to make the public right-of-way fully multi-modal wherever possible. While it may not be possible to accommodate every type of user on every street, the goal should be to build a city where every user group has a well-functioning network so that people can travel easily and safely.

It's interesting and exciting to see this come forward. There are a bunch of actors behind the scenes working on a Complete Streets policy for Toronto, including the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, the new Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, and the new Transportation Services Manager Stephen Buckley. But advocates and bureaucrats need political champions as well and this is where the chair of the public works committee comes in.

As we're all well aware, this is the same Minnan-Wong who pushed the removal of bike lanes on Jarvis. The Jarvis bike lanes removal was a calculated move and so is this complete streets policy proposal. This will surely help him to regain a bit of downtown political capital. Jarvis may have pleased some of the Rosedale driving crowd but it generated a lot of negative press for Minnan-Wong. There are people who are more interested in punishing someone for past misdeeds, but it may be more interesting and useful to see where this goes. Besides, unless Minnan-Wong runs for mayor, it would be hard to punish him. He is pretty safe in his North York ward. Positions on promoting active transportation don't always break according to party line. While Minnan-Wong was rightfully pilloried over Jarvis, when he does something right to move the ball forward on safer, more livable streets he should be congratulated.

I can't help but wonder what a Complete Streets policy would recommend for Jarvis?

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