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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.

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.

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