The good, the bad (of Toronto) and the bicycle: a Montrealer's view

Filmed last summer, Les bons, les méchants et la bicyclette by Mediatique of Montreal gives an outsiders view of cycling in Toronto with a clear lens of the madness that we just get used to living in this large city.

The film, in French, appeared on Radio-Canada television in September:

on présente un documentaire sur la vie des cyclistes torontois. Sous le titre, Les bons, les méchants et la bicyclette, le journaliste, écrivain et humoriste Josh Freed nous convie à une virée à vélo à travers les rues de la ville reine.

Translated as: "presents a documentary on the life of Toronto cyclists. Under the title, The good, the bad and the bicycle, journalist, writer and humorist Josh Freed takes us on a bike ride through the streets of the Queen City. [links mine]"

Huh, "Queen City"? That's an interesting nickname for this city I haven't heard yet.

Josh Freed, an anglophone, who lives in Montreal, helps provide an interesting outsider's view of what it's like to bike in Toronto. Even if your French is rusty you'll probably like it.

Frankly it makes me feel a bit embarrassed on behalf of our citizenry.

Is it really that time? Bike lanes on Bloor pilot

It's been a long, long time since bike lanes for Bloor Street had been first proposed. Just ask Albert Koehl, lawyer and cycling advocate, who detailed the history—first proposed in 1977! (Or Hamish Wilson, who for many years carried the torch despite the "Bloored vision" of City Hall—tip of my hat to Hamish's famous turn of phrases for Caronto). Well, today we've finally got an Open House proposing pilot bike lanes for Bloor Street (Trinity St. Paul's 427 Bloor Street West).

Now's our chance. The stars are aligning. A critical mass businesses and politicians seems to be building (and screw the rest). Let's show up in force.

Please note that not all the proposed bike lanes will be fully protected. For some reason in some diagrams they are proposing just paint on one side of the street and bollards on the other. If we're going to build bike lanes, let's do it right! I think the vast majority of people are sick of those drivers that like to park wherever they feel like it thus rendering the bike lane useless.

Not to mention that the BICE study long showed that protected bike lanes are much safer than just paint (and much preferred).

I noticed that they left the car lane widths at 3.3m, despite Transpo chief Buckley stating that 3m is the new minimum width (if my memory serves me well). That means we've got .6m to play with to add another buffer.

Pumpkins protect Harbord cyclists where City fails them

Pumpkin separated bike lanes on Harbord

The Urban Repair Squad has improved the buffered bike lane on Harbord with a row of jack-o-lanterns. (Photo: Tino) I'm a bit late to this story but I wanted to highlight how cyclists are asking for so little yet how hard it can be get that even on streets with large numbers.

In the City's original plan for improving the safety of Harbord for cyclists, there was going to be a physical barrier between cyclists and car traffic. It was going to be a bidirectional bike lane on one side of the street. Transportation planners reneged on that plan for various reasons (none of which were that compelling to me) and instead put in a wider painted buffer and only physically separated a handful of blocks on Hoskin which got separation with flexiposts and parked cars.

With some imagination (and willingness to annoy the car lobby), I believe the transportation planners could have come up with protected bike lanes that worked for Harbord. For instance, by adopting the Dutch innovation of protected intersections (like Salt Lake City has of all places) they might have been able to make the bidirectional bike path work. Their study, however, only looked at old-school options like timing the lights. And in the end they decided that the delay was not worth the extra protection.

The pumpkins only work on the side where the bike lane is adjacent to the sidewalk. The other side has cars parked between them, which means the cars have to cross the bike lane. That's rather unfortunate but even here it might have been possible to switch the two, but the TTC was opposed to the idea because they want to be able to speed along with their buses without having to worry about drivers getting out of their parked cars.

I'm no transportation planner, but it seems to me that cycling safety has always been given a lower priority to issues that don't actually involve life and death decisions. Sure, the concerns of drivers parking and TTC bus drivers need to be dealt with but do they trump the safety of someone else? No.

Anyway. Happy Halloween! If we all put out our pumpkins as barriers maybe we'll start a trend.

My Richmond/Adelaide bike count: people love protected bike lanes as bike traffic surges

Because I'm nerdy I've rolled a bike count into my neighbourhood walk. I've now done three counts on Richmond and Adelaide on the western end of the protected bike lanes to get a sense of the breakdown in traffic. Here are my results.


52% cyclists! Richmond at Bathurst, 5-5:30 Sept 24. Sunny and warm.

25% bikes. (108 cars, 35 bikes) 10pm Oct 1. Cool, dark but dry. (No screenshot)


48% bikes on Adelaide near Portland. 8:30 am Oct 2. Sunny but cool. For this count I used the Counterpoint App on the suggestion of a someone on Twitter. The data gets shared so anyone can download and do fancy stuff with it.

It's a huge jump from before the cycle tracks. In the City's one and only cordon count of who travels by bike into and out of downtown, Adelaide and Richmond were very low. The count, which took place on late September 2010, counted 160 bikes over an entire hour at 8am on Adelaide. If I used my count this morning as an average for the hour, we have seen a 450% increase to 700 bikes!

On Richmond the jump is even higher, from 85 bikes per hour at 5pm to 900! That's over 1000% increase!

This is what it looks like now:


(No, I didn't add a sound track. I was sitting outside a cafe with some "calming" electronic music.)

Next step: get an estimate of the 7am to 7pm bike count so I can compare the volume over the day to the 2010 cordon count.

City extending Richmond-Adelaide cycle track pilot from Parliament to Sherbourne

I've noticed the City has started painting the bike lane extension along Richmond from Parliament. They've almost made it to Sherbourne. Like the existing pilot west of University the bike lanes take over an existing full lane.

No flexiposts nor planters yet for the pilot.

In the City's press release they didn't mention that there will still be two gaps in the protected bike lanes between York and Yonge.

One exception to the no stopping and separated design is a short segment between York Street and Yonge Street where two existing high demand "courier delivery zones" must be maintained to service the unique high volume truck delivery needs of First Canadian Place, Scotia Plaza and many business in the underground Path. This one section of street is already reduced to two lanes because of ongoing tower construction occupying the north side. Enhanced pavement markings will be provided to guide cyclists around these "courier delivery zones". If the cycle tracks are approved for permanent installation, alternative design solutions could be possible in this section in the future.

I don't like the sound of "alternative design solutions".

Where Toronto plans to build bike lanes and where we bike sometimes intersect

The Cycling Unit at the City of Toronto has been collecting data of people's cycling routes. They've been collecting it via a phone app that collects GPS data while cycling. I recently got a copy of the City's preliminary map of cycling densities from that app thanks to John Taranu.

The City Core is interesting (we already know that the suburban cycling volumes are low). I'm going to assume that a lot of the people using the app were probably the less casual type; they're more passionate about cycling. They probably used the app mostly on their work commutes. Given that, it looks like that from the east most commutes are channelled into Danforth or Dundas East. From the west people end up skipping Bloor and going down to College, Harbord or Dundas. Or all the way down to Queen and then Adelaide/Richmond.

It makes me think that getting cycle tracks on Adelaide and Richmond was a huge win. Probably the biggest in the last couple decades. And I will say arguably, more important than Bloor bike lanes.

Next let's look at another map. This is from the recent survey of draft proposed routes from the City's ten year bike plan. Thanks again to John Taranu, this time for combining the two maps the Cycling Unit staff presented in the survey.

It's unfortunate that they decided to use the same green line regardless of whether it's a bike lane, cycle track or just a "signed route". The narrow green line means it's already installed; wide green that it's approved. The red lines are proposed and are more likely to be included in the bike plan.

There are some nice solid additions, including Bloor, Yonge and Kingston Road. But again looking at the core shows that despite having by far the highest volume of cyclists in the city that staff have decided to wimp out and do little. Sure we'll get Bloor and an extension of the Railpath (but not plowed in winter), but looking at the traffic volume map and it shows that all the cyclists on College, Dundas or the ones trying to connect to the new cycle tracks on Richmond and Adelaide will get next to no relief. Parkdale and further west is mostly out of luck.

Staff are taking the politically expedient route by ignoring the gaps on College in particular. College has the highest cycling traffic volumes in Toronto! College was one of the first to get bike lanes but looks like we'll have to wait at least another decade before anything improves there. For shame.

Is it wrong to think that we should be prioritizing where people are already cycling and making it safer and more enjoyable for them?

Can a bike be parked in curb parking on the roadway?

I recently got this excellent question about parking a cargo bike on a residential street's parking.

Hi,
My primary source of transportation is a bakfiats, and I've just moved to a new house where I don't have parking for it, and I've been parking it on the street (the back wheel has a wheel lock) during the day, then my husband helps me carry it up on to our front yard at night (because permit parking starts at midnight). I've just had a neighbour come and complain that I can't park a bike on the street. Do you happen to know anything about bylaws that would hinder a bike from being parked on the street during the day if no permit is required?
Thanks,
Angelique

Angelique told me that she had also followed up with Councillor Paula Fletcher's office and her assistant Erica Wood investigated:

Dear Angelique,

This has proved to be quite an interesting question that bounced from Permit Parking to Transportation Services to the Cycling division. As you can see in the response below, Jacquelyn Hawyard Gulati of the Cycling Infrastructure & Programs division has indicated that bike parking is legal when the bicycle is parked parallel to the curb.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Sincerely,

Erica

Jacquelyn said that Chapter 950 of the Municipal Code actually does allow "bicycles to be parked on the street, parallel to the curb". Section 950-201 B:

"No person shall leave a bicycle on a highway except in such a manner as to cause the least possible obstruction to pedestrian or vehicular traffic."

Now we know. Thank you Angelique for raising the question!

So, in terms of getting a permit, it would exclude bicycles under Chapter 925-4 D but Angelique was just hoping to park her bike during the non-permit hours. So looks like we're free to park where we want during those open times.

Mind you, it's still annoying that we can't just purchase a parking permit for our bicycles. Or even better, a permit to place a semi-moveable bike rack next to the curb so we can lock up a few bikes.

Union Station's Front Street reveals a total lack of knowledge of traffic dynamics

The new Front Street design is based on vague planning ideas about "shared space" as if some fancy brick on its own would solve traffic problems between drivers, taxis, pedestrians and cyclists. At least as pedestrians we got some solid bollards, revealing that the City didn't really believe in the magic. Meanwhile as cyclists we get nothing but a few sharrows and a narrow strip between moving cars and the door zone of cabs. Photo: Cycle Toronto

How is this any different from all the other downtown streets that are urban hells for cyclists? Anyone who rides on Queen is very acquainted with the feeling of fear being squeezed from the left and worrying about the day when their number is called and a door suddenly swings open in front of them.

It's even worse that the "shared space" fairy dust is being advanced by the "progressive" planners. They're doing it with a distinct sparsity of data and in contradiction of other jurisdictions that have put specific limits on where shared streets makes sense and where they don't make sense.

Toronto's Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, has been enthusiastic about the space, and seems unconcerned about the implications for cycling:

Toronto's first 'shared' space - a mid-block 'welcome mat' for all in front of #UnionStation #TOpoli pic.twitter.com/rohBSqUBZI HT @haroldmadi

Some welcome mat. More like the door got slammed in cyclists face (the City even ignored recommendations from Metrolinx that better cycling infrastructure be considered).

Harold Madi, by the way, is the guy who led this design as well as the controversial changes on John Street. This is how they imagined this urban utopia in the EA:

Remarkably different from what we see now that it's finally reality.

We need rules for shared space!

The best example of sensible restrictions on shared space are just south of the border in New York City where their Street Design Manual spells it out clearly:

Consider on narrower streets (at most two moving lanes), or outer roadways of boulevard–type streets, with little or no through–traffic, and which are not major vehicular or bicyclist through–routes or designated truck routes.

Front Street, and even John Street for that matter, do not meet these criteria! There is lots of through-traffic and it is a major vehicular route. At least with John we still have the opportunity to take different measures for traffic calming and diversion (such as making sure only local traffic will use the street by diverting cars from going through the entire street). But Front Street is supposed to be a through street and is therefore is a completely unsuitable candidate for shared street.

That is, if we use New York's guidelines. We've got nothing else to go on.

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