Yonge Street can easily accommodate protected bike lanes if we want

Previously on this blog I had panned a redesign of Yonge Street by young landscape architect Richard Valenzona, but which was given the prestigious NXT City Prize by a panel of judges which includes our Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmat.

As Schrödinger's Cat had pointed out, Valenzona's design was suspiciously similar to the Exhibition Place, London design which looks now like this:

Not exactly pedestrian and cyclist friendly. Pedestrians are still afraid of crossing the roadway and cyclists have no space of their own.

But to stray from just being negative I'd like to describe an alternative vision, which would balance the needs of cyclists with those of pedestrians and drivers. I believe there is enough space to protect cyclists while also providing more space to pedestrians.

My design is approximate since the roadway width varies along Yonge's extent. But if we follow Valenzona's cue that we can reduce car lanes by half that would mean we could dedicate about one car lane to a bidirectional protected bike lane and the other to expanding the sidewalks.

Since we're putting in a bidirectional bike lane we should probably also make the other lanes one way for cars, which makes intersections safer for everyone. Urbanists, don't get your underwear in a knot about one-way roads. Netherlands, one of the world's safest country for transportation is full of them; so is NYC. If done in combination of reducing speeds and lane widths and providing bike lanes and wider sidewalks it is a safe and friendly solution.

Maybe I'll enter my design into next year's NXT City Prize. But first I have to choose some nice looking brick if I want a chance of winning.

Use the Cycling App enough and you could win!

If you're using the City's cycling app to track your routes (or even if you haven't started yet), here's some added incentive:

PRIZES!

I asked for this very thing when I reviewed the app. You're welcome.

The contest runs from Oct 6 (yes that was two days ago but I just got the email so get off my back) to Nov 31. So you've got just under two months to amass a contest-worthy number of trips. Then you actually have until Dec 3 to send in your entry.

This is how it works: there are three contest levels for which you can be eligible depending on how many trips you do. The app itself will let you know if you're gold, silver or bronze worthy. You then send in a screen capture of your trips page to the City: email bikeplan@toronto.ca, or hashtag #TorontoCyclingApp via Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Open up the app now to My Trips (or install it now if you haven't yet). You'll see that gold, silver and bronze match up to 50, 35 and 20 trips. The length of the trip doesn't matter. So that's doable right? Plus there are some nice prizes, including a new bike.

I'm only at 9 trips so I've got to start using this myself.

Designing nice streets is easy when we pretend cars do not exist

Young urban planner Richard Valenzona just won the $5000 NXT City Prize for his project YONGE-REDUX A New Vision of Yonge Street. Valenzona's entry pleased the judges by showing how he'd expand Yonge's "pedestrian access and transforming the street’s visual appearance". This is how he imagined it:

Toronto's chief planner, Jennifer Keesmat, thought it was a great idea. "This is an idea that would actually work in this location in part because it's an area where there are vastly more pedestrians than cars," said Keesmat.

I say it sucks.

I don't want to pick on Valenzona, who I'm sure is a smart, young man with a bright future in planning and picked some pleasing elements for his design here. No, my problem is that Valenzona's design is representative of a growing planning movement that could be considered quasi-"shared space".

Valenzona's design, which the judges were so pleased with, exists in a fairy land where downtown car traffic has virtually disappeared. So I took the liberty of fixing Valenzona's design by putting the cars back in:

Instead of that idyllic picture of pedestrians meandering on wide sidewalks and cyclists weaving to and fro on empty streets, the finished product will look more like another recent "shared space" mess in Poynton, England that did nothing to reduce car traffic and told cyclists to go screw themselves.

This is Poynton now:

I assume there's nice brick under all those cars.

Valenzona also received another $10,000 to continue working on his design. "Over the next year, Richard will work closely with Distl and a team of industry mentors to implement his vision and improve one of Toronto’s most famous public ultimately transforming it into a globally recognized street spaces."

You can add as much fancy brick as you like but you can't make traffic disappear. And if your solution for cyclists is to force them to sit behind heavy traffic and breath in heavy fumes, in ride in front of angry drivers forced to travel at bike speed, then your solution is actually worse than what we have right now on Yonge.

With no space for cyclists, and faced with the only option of sitting in car traffic, cyclists will probably do what this man ends up doing in Poynton: take to the expansive space set aside for pedestrians.

Will Yonge be yet another project like John Street or Front Street where designers decide to ignore all the concerns of cyclists? Is this what Toronto will interpret as a "complete street"? I guess we'll find out.

A new traffic light for cyclists at Lakeshore and Strachan

It only took twenty years from when Nancy Smith Lea first asked then-councillor Joe Pantalone to make the Lakeshore/Strachan intersection safer for cyclists, but finally, thanks to the advocacy work of Cycle Toronto's Ward 19 group, we've got a traffic light for northbound cyclists; liberating cyclists from taking the crosswalks in two stages.

This blog post is more about the power of strategic advocacy than about just one traffic light, so I'll be digging into the history of the advocacy around this one, simple improvement to the Lakeshore/Strachan intersection.

Smith Lea, local citizen, director of Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, and fastidious recordkeeper, recounted to me how she had notes about "conversation I had with [Councillor Joe Pantalone] from 1996 where he told me that a new road (Remembrance Drive) had just been approved to provide direct access to Ontario Place and once that was finished they were going to "clean up" the Strachan/Martin Goodman intersection for peds/cyclists. "

Well, that never happened. So ten years later (!), in 2006, Smith Lea sent another email to Pantalone who replied:

Hi Nancy
Thank you for writing to me. I understand and sympathize with the frustration that you are feeling with regards to bike lanes on Strachan Avenue and in the City.

Firstly, as part of the Princes' Gates area revitalization, which I led, the area to the east of the Gates was transformed from a "no go" area for pedestrians and bicyclists to an attractive place for both. Furthermore, again as part of this approval, a detailed plan to have dedicated bike lanes all the way to King St West (from Lakeshore) was also approved and I am told by Dan Egan that it will be in place before the end of 2006.

Despite, the above mentioned improvements, the Lakeshore/Strachan Ave/Marting Goodman Trail intersections were not part of this plan and need addressing. The good news is that the Toronto Waterfront Corporation (TWRC) has just completed the rejuvenation of the Trail from Marylin Bell Park going west AND the next section to be done is the section between Ontario Place and Exhibition Place. I am hopeful that TWRC will address the Strachan/Lakeshore intersection so that it will work better for cyclists and pedestrians (by copy of this e mail I am making aware the TWRC'S K Jenkins and Dan Egan, of the points you raise and with which I agree).

For such a low-risk project—one that we can safely assume would elicit zero public outcry and burn zero political capital but at the same time is such a key improvement—it's amazing that nobody at the City made it a priority in twenty years! It would have been such an easy win.

In the end what it took was an advocacy group, Cycle Toronto's Ward 19 advocacy group, and a bike-friendly councillor, Mike Layton to shepherd the proposal through the public works committee and City Council. Only then was it made a priority for transportation planners and made reality.

Three years ago, the Ward 19 group (at the time, I was the ward captain of this great bunch of volunteers) wrote a succinct report on Strachan, detailing six items that we thought should be fixed immediately. Of those six, two have now been addressed—a new traffic light at Strachan and East Liberty and the northbound light at Lakeshore—and one will be addressed when the Railpath phase two is installed: a four-way stop at Douro/Wellington. (The other three involve a southbound light at Queen, and improvements to the bike lanes on Strachan).

The lesson for all of us, I believe, is that the ingredients for getting small improvements to cycling will often require:

  1. A politician willing to propose and shepherd the project.
  2. A succinct and understandable proposal that the politician can easily craft into a motion.
  3. Local support from neighbourhood groups who aren't necessarily cyclists.
  4. An advocacy group that is willing to doggedly keep at.
  5. And an increase in population and cyclists putting pressure on the existing substandard infrastructure.

Nancy Smith Lea was definitely determined and, even had the friendly ears of the councillor, but the project failed to have any traction—in my opinion—because neither the councillor nor transportation planners made it a priority. Councillor Pantalone had "hope" that it would be addressed but ultimately didn't shepherd it and left it up to staff to make it a priority (or not). Thus resulting in nothing happening for years and years.

A toast to the determination of Nancy and the other cycling advocates over the years. Cycle Toronto and its ward groups have now picked up the torch and has become better at rallying and organizing for cycling improvements small and large.

Finally bollards on Adelaide as cycling trips soar

I got wind from the Twitter yesterday that contractors were going to start installing bollards on Adelaide last night so I made a quick detour this morning. As predicted it appeared that most of the bollards have now been installed between Bathurst and Spadina (video)

I was blown away by the shear numbers of people already biking along it. And the bollards seemed to be doing their job quite well: discouraging errant car blocking and providing some comfort to cyclists. It's nice to do a happy story now and then.

As I was taking a video of me getting lapped by cyclists rushing off to work, I saw cycling planner Lukasz Pawlowski chatting next to someone from the iconic Rotblott's Discount Warehouse. I stopped to talk to Lukasz and look in awe at the waves of cyclists passing us.

A few weeks ago, Lukasz mentioned, the Cycling Unit had done a count on Adelaide that pegged the daily number of bike trips at about 1700. And looked like it has increased even more since then. In their 2010 count at Spadina and Adelaide that number was 640. That's a roughly 300% percent increase for a bike lane pilot that only goes to Simcoe for now and up until today didn't have any protection.

Compare that to roughly 4000 daily trips for Harbord in both directions (number from Lukasz). Lukasz said he was aware there was a lot of latent demand along this corridor but was still surprised to see just how many people and how quickly people took up the route.

In my informal counts I've seen how cycling numbers were higher on Queen than on Bloor Street. As much as I'd also like to have bike lanes on Bloor, we've often glossed over the importance of bike lanes along Queen or King, perhaps because of the difficulty of installing them. But providing a continuous east-west route that incorporates Richmond and Adelaide is a huge release valve.

I encourage Jared of Cycle Toronto to take the mayoral candidates out for a ride along Adelaide and Richmond during rush hour so they can grasp just how important these protected bike lanes are to a downtown network.

Ride line 9

(cross-posted from Open Hand/Open Eye)

A high pressure petroleum pipeline known as "line 9" runs through Toronto, roughly parallel to Finch Avenue for most of its length. Historically, the pipeline has carried crude oil from terminals on the East coast to the refineries in Sarnia. Enbridge, the owner of the pipeline, proposes to reverse the flow and have the pipeline carry diluted bitumen, tar sand, from Alberta to refine on the East Coast.

We know that the Earth's mineral resources will not sustain the kind of high energy, high consumption culture and lifestyle symbolized and enabled by the private automobile for much longer. Trying to keep on with business as usual, squeezing the last oil out of our planet, will come at a high cost to the world, to the living things on it, and to us and our cities. Line 9 goes right through some of the most ecologically sensitive and the most heavily settled part of Ontario. As the energy industry wrings the last drops of fossil energy from this planet, pipes such as line 9 carry more and more dangerous and corrosive substances.

Amazing Sherbourne cycling numbers should convince Buckley that painted lines are not enough

Stephen Buckley, Toronto's transportation chief, has been very reluctant thus far to install protection on the separated bike lanes approved by City Council. Numbers coming from his own City Cycling Department (@TO_Cycling) should convince him to give up that reluctance if he has any desire to increase the number and diversity of people cycling in Toronto. This tweet presented the bike counts on Sherbourne, before and after the installation of cycle tracks:

Bicycle traffic averages on Sherbourne were 955/day in 2011 bike lane, they are now 2,827/day in Cycle Track #biketo

That's almost a 300% increase!!

Even with all its warts (not enough protection from car incursion, bike lanes not wide enough), Sherbourne cycle tracks are demonstrably popular.

On Facebook, Christine Bouchard of the City compared this to the expectations around motor vehicle traffic and road capacity:

In order for a street to be classified as a "local" street by the City of Toronto, it must carry less than 2,500 motor vehicles/day.

Since the Sherbourne Cycle Tracks are carrying an average 2,827 cyclists a day, this means that in the summer months these lanes are actually carrying more traffic than the 3,291km of local roads, in Toronto's 5,359 km road network.

Bouchard demonstrates well how cycling infrastructure is way, way more efficient in moving people for local trips than moving big metal boxes on wide roads.

Some of the increase in bike traffic can be attributed to Jarvis no longer having bike lanes. But even during the brief period when there were bike lanes, the number of cyclists was relatively low compared to Sherbourne; in the range of 890 per day and 290 before the bike lanes (some of the increase was attributed to the bike share launch). Even if all the people (technically, trips) who started biking on Jarvis because of bike lanes (around 600 per day) started biking on Sherbourne (unlikely that they all would) it would still only account for 1/3 of the Sherbourne increase.

Another reason to be confident that the cycle tracks are working (even though the City still needs to improve the separation on the bottom section) is that this bicycle count nicely correlates with a recent study of protected bike lanes in US major cities which found that bicycle traffic jumped quite a bit in the first year after installation. Bike Portland summarizes the main points:

  • Over a quarter of riders indicated they are riding more in general because of the protected bike lanes.
  • In its first year alone, a protected bike lane increases bike traffic on a street by an average of 72%
  • 96% of people riding in protected bike lanes felt safer on the street because of the lanes
  • 76% of people living near protected bike lanes support the facilities in additional locations, whether they use them or not
  • Drivers thought traffic became more predictable after protected lanes were installed. Most drivers said congestion and drive time didn’t change.
  • Parking is a key issue when street space is reassigned and cities. The impact to parking was the most negative perception, with about 30-55% of residents indicating the impacts to parking were negative, even in cases where a minimal amount of parking was removed, or parking was increased.
  • In the 144 hours of video analyzed for safety, studying nearly 12,900 bicycles through the intersections, no collisions or near collisions were observed. This included both intersections with turn lanes and those with signals for bicycles.
  • Over half the residents surveyed (56%) felt that the street works better for “all people” due to the protected bike lanes, while only 26% felt the street works less well.
  • Nearly three times as many residents felt that the protected bike lanes had led to an increase in the desirability of living in their neighborhood, as opposed to a decrease in desirability (43% vs 14%).

Protected bike lanes are demonstrably popular and safer. This should be enough to convince Buckley that painted lines—including the double painted lines they like to pretend are "buffers"—are not enough. But will it be enough?

(In other news, while Toronto's cycle tracks project on Richmond and Adelaide drags on for years and years in an EA and can't even get proper protection during the pilot phase, Hamilton amazingly has almost completed the installation of a two-way protected bike lane on Cannon Street after approving it just this year! And they didn't even do an EA or a pilot, which isn't required by provincial law despite what Toronto might claim.)

How (NOT) to run a red light

Like most cyclists, I do not make a fetish of the traffic laws. When certain interpretations of parts of the highway traffic act would require me to put myself in danger for the convenience of motorists, I choose to say safe. Better judged by twelve than carried by six. That said, many traffic laws serve to keep cyclists and other vulnerable road users safe. As I have written before on this and other web logs, most of the time it makes practical sense to follow the traffic laws, to return courtesy for courtesy with motorists. Cyclists, in my opinion, have only two actual ethical responsibilities: take all possible care to come home safely, if only for the sake of the people who love you, and do not hurt any other vulnerable road users.

This video shows a pair of cyclists running a red light, and taking what I consider an unethical risk with pedestrians in the crosswalk as they do so. The red light has no magic quality that makes it important, but the pedestrians matter: their lives matter to them as much as mine matters to me. The riding show on this video is wrong. Full stop. It puts other people in danger; nobody on any vehicle has any business doing that.

We can do better.

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