Ontario Liberals promised bike infrastructure fund a drop in bucket

The Ontario Liberals promised $25 million towards cycling infrastructure this year. While this is certainly better than zero dollars and while cycling organizations such as Share the Road did good to get excited about it, I'm going to look at the gift horse in the mouth. I'm here to provide the horse droppings on the parade (or some such metaphor).

For the 2013-14 fiscal year Ontario dedicated about $6 billion towards transit and highways. The $25 million for cycling infrastructure is over three years and spread out across a population of 13.5 million. That comes out to 60 cents a person per year. Compare that to $450 per person per year for transit and highways!

The Ontario government loves cycling about 0.1% as much as they love big transit and highway projects.

I'm well aware that province-wide that cycling rates are low (though they do increase quite a bit when we include all the recreational cycling), the rate is still an order of magnitude higher than 0.1%. Toronto as a whole is around 2% but there are parts of central Toronto that are almost 20%.

While the announcement is certainly good news, it is just barely so. It will have a minor impact on transportation choices in this province. The best thing the government could do would be to pick just 2-3 big projects in cities where there is a sweet spot of a high impact on bike mode share and a willing city government to quickly implement the change. Otherwise the money might be spread too thinly to even be noticeable.

Perhaps if cyclists across this province went around our neighbourhoods and asked for 60 cents from all our neighbours we could double this tiny fund in no time.

The good news, as cycling advocates have pointed out, is that Ontario will now incorporate cycling infrastructure into all provincial highway and bridge work.

“The experience of jurisdictions where they do that is it actually doesn’t cost you any more because… you basically integrate it. You can see it on Highway 7 in Toronto: You’ll see the Viva (bus) lines, you’ll see a sidewalk and you’ll see a roadway with several lanes on it and you’ll see a cycling trail. From now on, we’ll just simply build it in like we build sidewalks unless there’s a cost reason,” he said.

The exception will be where it doesn’t make sense, such as in Brampton, where there are sidewalks along highways that aren’t being used. Those are being re-purposed as active transportation corridors.

This will have a longer term impact even though the changes will be slow to be seen since it doesn't involve actual retrofitting of highways that don't have other work scheduled. And it doesn't seem to include any policy directive for municipalities to do the same for their own infrastructure projects. Neither has the province promised to make implementing cycling infrastructure easier. Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong has been frustrated--as have most cyclists--that the implementation of protected bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide has dragged on for years, partly because of the onerous environmental assessment process:

The public, he said, doesn’t understand the “convoluted” environmental assessment process that means it can take four or five years to realize a project.

Let me pat you on the back Minister Glen Murray, but we've only just started.

Ask City today to properly protect cyclists on Harbord and Hoskin

Today is one of your last chances to tell city staff that their revised plan for Harbord and Hoskin falls short of providing good protection for cyclists. (Photo of Sam James coffee shop on Harbord by Tino)

Their latest plan will continue to put cyclists next to the door zone, allow cars to park in bike lanes at their convenience and continue to fall short of what City Council asked of them to build.

Today, Thursday, March 27, 2014 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m you can drop in at Kensington Gardens, 45 Brunswick Ave. North Building, Multi-Purpose Room, to explain to them you want something better.

City Council asked for protected bike lanes (aka cycle tracks). Staff are now offering something that falls short. While their proposal helps fill in the gap in the Harbord bike lane, their proposal is basically a bike lane with a wider painted strip.

City would be letting down families and students who might only bike if they felt that they had separation from car traffic.

  • Cyclists will still ride right next to car traffic that speeds on a road that is forgiving for high speeds and not for new cyclists.
  • Car drivers will still park in the bike lane whenever they feel like it.
  • The bike lanes will get no special treatment regarding snow clearing, unlike Sherbourne.
  • Cars will park right next to the bike lane continuing to put cyclists in the door zone.

In short, cyclists will continue to be treated like peppercorns in the pepper grinder of car-centric traffic planning. It's like bike planners expect cyclists to act as traffic calming with our own bodies.

City staff were too timid to propose removing all the car parking along Harbord, which is why they had proposed the bidirectional in the first place. But now that they've done a questionable traffic study, they've backed away and can only fit in a unidirectional painted bike lane. Business as usual.

The fact is, staff do not really know if their proposed unidirectional plan is safer than the previous bidirectional plan. They just figured they'd choose the option that meant less traffic delays. They mention turning movement conflicts in the case of bidirectional, which they try to mitigate in the study, but they haven't been able to put it in the context of conflicts of regular bike lanes: dooring, collisions from behind, sideswipes from cars entering/exiting parking. We don't really know which is more dangerous. All we have to go on are the existing scientific studies that have suggested that bidirectional protected bike lanes work and are safe in places such as Montreal.

Staff have been unable to confirm with me that the model they used can accurately reflect reality. Has anyone who has used this model and then built some bike lanes gone back to measure the traffic speed to see if the model made a solid prediction?

And they haven't even been able to confirm if they know what the margin of error is. That is, if the traffic study states that in a scenario traffic will be slowed by 5%, the margin of error could be higher than 5% for all we know. This is something basic that we see in every poll ever done so we have an idea of the significance of the numbers. Meanwhile, with their traffic study, we have no idea of the significance of the numbers, nor do we know if it has a track record of accuracy. So why should we put any faith in at all unless staff can tell us this?

Finally, what's so bad about slowing down traffic? In one of the traffic study's scenarios cyclists got an advanced green to give them a head start over car traffic. That actually sounds really great! Why not implement that for all our key cycling routes?

This traffic study did not study all the options out there for improving the safety of cyclists at intersections. It only looked at the status quo intersections. For instance, it could have looked at protected intersections like they install in the Netherlands.

So this is what we could ask of staff:

  • Go with fully protected bike lanes, either the original bidirectional plan or unidirectional (which likely requires taking out all the parking but isn't that a small price to pay for safety?)
  • Install protected intersections
  • Install advanced greens for cyclists on major cycling routes: Harbord, Wellesley, St. George/Beverley, Richmond/Adelaide, College, Sherbourne.
  • Stop proposing milquetoast plans!

Contraflow plans crossing Dufferin are dangerous, argue West end ward groups

The City had planned the Florence/Argyle and Lindsey/Dewson contraflow plans as a "quick win" back in 2008 as part of a west end bikeways plan. That was before everything got shelved due to (self-imposed) "contraflow legal purgatory". Now City staff are working hard to get the backlog of routes approved and painted, but local cycling groups are arguing that in the hurry they're leaving out the safe crossing bit.

Original 2008 West End Bikeways plan

The west end ward groups of Cycle Toronto—18, 19 and 14—have identified two bike routes where they cross Dufferin at Florence/Argyle and Lindsey/Dewson routes, in particular, as dangerous. In each case they were told that the crossings were too close to other traffic lights, so the staff won't put in additional lights. (Though it boggles my mind that it's perfectly acceptable for Loblaws to get a traffic light merely one block away from Church just for their parking garage, but it's unacceptable for safer bike routes. Clearly Loblaws has a lot of pull with the City. The City has lost the moral high ground on that point.)

Enough of my babbling, the ward groups say it better:

Specifically, we have serious concerns about the proposal to install these bike routes without providing for safe bike crossings at Dufferin Street in either case. While we understand that there is pressure to “get the lanes painted” as soon as possible, we believe that it is irresponsible to proceed with installation without addressing the route deficiencies at Dufferin. We have waited five years for these routes to be installed and, after all this time, it seems reasonable to expect that the designs incorporate safe, signalized crossings for cyclists travelling in both directions at Dufferin. Indeed, this issue was highlighted when City staff engaged in a walking tour of the Argyle contra-flow route with Ward 19 and 18 cyclists in March 2013.

Allow us to put these two routes in the context of what cyclists have actually sought by way of safe cycling routes in Toronto’s west end. Recall that these side-street routes were approved as “quick wins” to be installed after a 2008 public consultation that clearly demonstrated a preference for bike infrastructure on uninterrupted streets with signalized intersections, such as Dundas and Queen.

Florence to Argyle

Always looks easy when looking from above. Lindsey to Dewson

Where Florence meets Dufferin there is a pedestrian-activated crosswalk and a school on the east side with a path going through the school grounds. At Lindsey there is nothing. I expect that many people crossing at Florence will bike through the crosswalk—after activating the light—and then either bike down the sidewalk or through the school grounds. While not ideal, it's workable and we can fully blame the City for forcing this situation. And by City I don't mean to pick just on cycling planners, but the forces that be in Transportation Services that hold back more appropriate cycling infrastructure in favour of their golden calf, automobile throughput.

All hail the Holy Car.

Staff take out protection from Harbord-Hoskin protected bike lane plan

The City, with its just announced revision to the Harbord-Hoskin plan, continues to be unwilling to take radical steps to protect cyclists, nor to ensure that there are certain routes where cycling safety is paramount. Instead they would prefer to not disturb the god-given rights of car drivers to convenient parking.

City staff, when asked by City Council to build protected bike lanes on Harbord, Hoskin and Wellesley, had originally responded with a bidirectional bike lane for Harbord and Hoskin. It was a compromise that would allow businesses to keep some on-street parking between Spadina and Bathurst. But after studying they've decided that the bidirectional leads to too much delay for all traffic users. So instead they're coming back with a stripped down option that is going to be just paint with no protection at all. Luckily they got the TTC to agree to lane widths similar to those on Wellesley otherwise it would have been even worse.

...the City completed a comprehensive traffic study to measure the effects of bi-directional cycle tracks operations at signalized and un-signalized intersections. This study showed it would not be possible to safely accommodate bi-directional separated bike lanes, without unacceptable delays to all road users.

I would have preferred the City to actually do a pilot project of a bi-directional bike lane. A computer model is a very poor substitute for the real thing and can't possibly capture all the possible tweaks or substitute for actual safety data. In fact, it is difficult to establish safety conclusions with even actual injury data. I can imagine a model would be quite poor in predictive powers.

Note that the City didn't say that bi-directional is "unsafe". Any infrastructure must be studied relative to other options including the status quo. Bidirectional works elsewhere, such as Montreal. It's just that the City was unwilling to accept the tradeoff of delays for a bidirectional bike lane.

Anyway this is what they now have planned for Harbord:

There are not even plastic bollards, though staff do suggest that it might be possible for the side without car parking (bollards would otherwise interfere with cars existing). But on Hoskin (east side of Spadina) the road is wider and there's room to put the bike lane between the curb and the parking. This is the preferred arrangement and is how saner cities like Copenhagen do it.

City's proposed cross-section of Hoskin

The TTC doesn't want the parked cars to be too close to their buses. The mirrors of the buses will overhang the lane widths. I guess the TTC would rather that cyclists' heads serve as a buffer. The City is unwilling to either force this option on the TTC or to take out the parking in the narrow sections so that there is enough room for this protection.

Toronto already has many bike lanes right next to parked cars, so it may seem unimportant that Harbord also have the same setup. It does seem that there is a bit of buffer to keep cyclists away from opening car doors. But research has shown that a bike lane next to parked cars is not as safe as a major road with zero on-street parking at all.

In short, on-street car parking poses a danger to cyclists and the City is unwilling to take measures to protect cyclists even on prime cycling routes like Harbord.

This is what I propose for Harbord: let the TTC "suffer". There is room for the buses and they can just drive more slowly. It's just Harbord, not one of the major transit routes. I made it on streetmix.

Or take out all the parking, at least between Spadina and Bathurst (streetmix). The amzing thing about this option is just how much room we've got to play with. We can even widen the sidewalks, which would certainly be a great option for the businesses along that stretch:

Just look at all that added space! And I bet without cars getting into and out of parking spots all traffic will move faster. This is the sanest option if people will just get past their prejudices.

A smart redesign idea Soho and Queen by Vaughan

The idea for redesigning the Soho Queen intersection has been floated around for a few years. I've been bringing it up ad nauseum. The City had been largely silent about it, and when staff finally mentioned it presented their own very basic plan as a fait accompli.

Turns out that Councillor Vaughan must have been thinking about how the intersection could be remade for some time. All this time we figured that Soho would need to be redirected through the empty lot on the west side of Soho, like in the following photo.

But there might be an easier solution. The possible solution came from Councillor Vaughan. Fellow Cycle Toronto volunteer Iain asked Councillor Vaughan last week about this intersection at the public consultation for Soho/Phoebe. The photo at the top is of what Vaughan proposed.

The property line for the parking lot on the west side of Soho, which is apparently owned by three "disinterested" dentists in Hong Kong, is quite far back. The street can be moved back quite a bit without affecting the property. This way no negotiations need to take place with any absentee landowners. This would also allow for an larger patio on the east side of Soho, which Vaughan sees as a big plus.

This is a great idea!

But why hadn't Vaughan presented this idea already? Vaughan's been working on the John Street pedestrianization for a few years. Methinks he could have saved himself some trouble if he had presented better ideas for making Soho, Peter and Simcoe better cycling routes.

Vaughan may have actually been trying to work out a deal with the landowners, which seems to have gone nowhere due to their lack of interest in developing the lot. From what I understand, making a deal with them hinged on them actually wanting to build something on this lot.

The alternative, as I was told by a lawyer, is where the city would identify a road widening of Soho Street on the west side of the road allowance and amend the Official Plan to show the road widening. When the parking lot is redeveloped the city can require at no cost that the developer give the city the land identified for free. [Corrected. Got a more accurate picture from a lawyer.]

But looks like Vaughan didn't want to go that route for whatever reason. I think that most politicians prefer not going "Robert Moses" for cyclists if they can help it.

Am I too harsh on Vaughan? A reader recently sent me a "threatening" note to lay off Vaughan:

I am a cycling enthusiast, but I am sick of your constant bashing of Adam Vaughan. He is one of the good city councilors [sic]. Just because he doesn't want to put bike lanes on every single street doesn't make him a bad guy. At least he's one of the few councilors [sic] with the guts to stick up against our crack-smokin mayor. I will stop reading your blog if you continue to bash him. Stick to cycling and avoid the politics over [sic] you've lost me as a reader.

For his own health I think it best this reader stop reading this blog. I'm not about to give politicians free passes when it comes to making Toronto a good cycling city.

I'll give Vaughan a check mark for coming up with an innovative solution for Soho and Queen. But he still gets an X for lack of follow through on his idea. And Vaughan and Transportation Services still get a failing grade on Simcoe, which will still be largely unusable as a bike route even with bike lanes due to the complete lack of a plan for how cyclists will safely cross major streets like Queen and Richmond.

City finally proposes Peter/Beverley connection and, meh, they can do better

There will finally be a public meeting to look at the City's planned connections of Peter Street to Beverley bike lanes. It really should have been part of the main public consultation for Richmond and Adelaide--in fact, the City promised it would--but it's only now quickly been announced as a separate meeting, just one week before the actual time.

Staff are frustratingly proposing just one option for connecting the two streets, and it's not the best option (the best would have been John St). They propose installing a contra-flow bike lane and move the traffic light at Queen to the other side of Soho, but won't consider changing the configuration of the roadway (such as the great example imagined by Dave Meslin a while back).

So staff are proposing the easy option:

I made the image a while back to show that Peter was inferior to John (the streets, that is).

They could have been creative with this (I don't know if they seriously considered it):

Can staff get away with offering just one option? I thought it was part of the Richmond-Adelaide Environmental Assessment, which would require the City to consider various configurations, including the "do nothing" one. Maybe staff decided it was easier to just pretend that it isn't.

So here are the details:

Thursday, March 6, 2014. 4 to 9 p.m.
Alexandra Park Community Centre,
105 Grange Crt. (follow Grange Ave. west of Spadina Ave.)

And this is what they're proposing:

Phoebe Street

  • Installation of a westbound-only contra-flow bicycle lane on the north side of the street, from Soho Street to Beverley Street, to allow the street to function in both directions for cyclists.
  • The existing one- way operation of the street will be maintained for motorists.

Soho Street / Peter Street / Queen Street Intersection

  • Painting of northbound and southbound shared lane pavement markings (sharrows) on Soho Street to connect Pheobe Street to Queen Street.
  • Traffic signal modifications to the Peter-Queen Street signal, to incorporate Soho Street into the intersection, which will function as a combined signalized intersection (no changes to roadway alignment are proposed).

I do like that they're also proposing a contra-flow for Stephanie which will still help cyclists get to/from John, but after this announcement they revised their proposal and shortened the contra-flow so it ends at John instead of McCaul in order to protect--you guessed it--precious parking.

Stephanie Street

  • Installation of a westbound-only contra-flow bicycle lane on the north side of the street, to allow the street to function in both directions for cyclists.
  • The existing one-way operation of the street will be maintained for motorists.

I'll accept it if this is the best we can get, but I do think we still have time to get something better. Ask the staff to consider moving the roadbed through the empty parking lot to meet up with Peter straight on. Get them to continue the Stephanie contra-flow the whole way. And demand that we also get Simcoe protected and connected (with traffic lights) all the way from Dundas to the waterfront. It's the only direct route in the area.

There's still time to get something better.

Council votes to allow e-bikes in Toronto bike lanes

In a controversial decision City Council has voted to allow e-bikes--both the regular-bike-looking and the e-scooter with vestigial pedals--in the bike lanes of Toronto. Council overturned the decision by PWIC which declined to allow the electric scooters in the bike lane. E-bikes are still banned from using trails and protected bike lanes. (Photo by Martin Reis)

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong's surprise motion barely passed with 21-18 votes. A few councillors were absent but it wasn't clear which way they would vote. Cycle Toronto, which had taken a strong stance on the e-bikes by stating that only "pedelec" should be allowed in the bike lanes, was caught off-guard by the motion.

A pedelec is similar to bikes in terms of speed and bulk, whereas an e-scooter is similar to a moped.

E-bikes is a controversial topic with people falling on either side of Cycle Toronto's stance, saying it was either too harsh or not strong enough. I trust my readers will not disappoint by being just as diverse. This is what Cycle Toronto said:

  • We’re supportive of e-bikes as an alternative to larger, less environmentally friendly motor vehicles, especially for people with impaired mobility.
  • We welcome Recommendation 1 to allow power-assisted bicycles which weigh less than 40kg and require pedaling for propulsion (“pedelecs”) in multi-use trails, cycle tracks and bicycle lanes.
  • But we’re concerned about Recommendation 2, which would allow electric scooters in all painted bicycle lanes across the City.
  • We support the MTO and Transport Canada addressing Recommendation 4, to split the existing power-assisted bicycles vehicle category into e-scooter and pedelec type vehicles, before the City considers the recommendation to allow them to drive in bicycle lanes.

Even though there is no crash data on e-bike/bike collisions, it's a valid concern. On the bright side, e-bikers, though still few in number, are potential allies in a fight for better cycling infrastructure. I'm not sure if that will make this decision palatable for most bicyclists.

Winter gives cyclists the middle finger. Show it who is boss

After a few milder winters, this winter has been particularly tough. A hardy few bike throughout the winter but even they have limits. As I write this the snow is thickly falling and only a few brave souls can be seen biking or walking.

The cold is actually manageable; bundle up and you'll do well. But the thick snow turning into ice on the sidewalks and roads makes it dangerous. This winter has been especially tricky with a freeze-thaw-freeze cycle that has turned much snow into hidden ice. Avoiding this ice buildup, I believe, is possible. If only the City cared enough.

When it snows the City usually lets people continue to park their cars at the curb on most of our major arterials. The result is a whole stretch of snow that isn't being plowed now does it have a chance to melt from the sun.

I took the picture on a day after a snow event. The snow fall was manageable and much of it melted with an application of salt and sun. Yet stubborn bits hung on for existence under parked cars and soon turned to ice.

During rush hour the lane is clear but the ice forced all cyclists into a lose-lose situation; either ride over the ice and risk life and limb or ride far to the left where the drivers get confused and angry. Dealing with the latter is probably safer but it still forces cyclists to deal with some drivers trying to make a "point" by cutting in as closely as possible. One friend got clipped by a mirror by such a driver. I try my best to just listen to a podcast and try to ignore them.

What can the City do about it? Banning winter would be great (climate change?) but unworkable. City Council has directed staff to "report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on the creation of a network of snow routes for Toronto's bikeway that receives priority clearing and that this report recommend what changes, if any, should be made to route signage."

That's a start, but many streets, such as Queen, King, Dundas, aren't officially part of Toronto's bikeway but still have many people biking.

What might help those people is a recently passed change in the City's by-laws. In December City Council passed a snow clearance plan, which grants the General Manager of Transportation Services—currently Stephen Buckley—the right to prohibit parking on designated "Snow Routes" (map) throughout the City during "major snow storm conditions". Most major downtown streets are designated "Snow Routes", some have bike lanes, many have streetcar tracks. The ability to prohibit parking on snow routes previously only rested in the Mayor.

The by-law Municipal Code Chapter 950, Traffic and Parking specifies that when 5cm of snow falls the General Manager or the Mayor may declare a major snow storm condition and prohibit on-street parking for up to 72 hours.

The City of Ottawa already had a bans overnight on-street parking when the forecast predicts 7cm+ of snow. I think they ban it overnight to give snowplows a chance to clear the roads. Even better is Toronto's approach of prohibiting parking day and night. In practice, I imagine the staff are quite reluctant to enforce this rule, which explains why we've still got problems like the photo above.

Maybe today is a great day to test this new power, Mr. Buckley.

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