Another summer where cyclists lose John Street with no safe alternative

There is an open house today at Metro Hall for the John Street "pedestrian improvements". There's a new councillor, Joe Cressy, but the same old plan which gives all the space over to either cars or patios, leaving cyclists to a small space between the cars and the planters separating the patios from traffic.

There is still no safe crossing of Queen Street between Spadina and University, which is incredible given the amount of bike traffic. There is still no other solution that works as well as John Street which is in essence being taken away from cyclists. Cyclists at Soho/Peter still have to make a jog to cross the streetcar tracks at an odd angle, a risky move for many.

Urbane Cyclist is moving their store from John to Spadina. Is it possible that this decision was influenced by the lack of support by the City for this cycling route? It might have played a part.

I've addressed John and Soho/Peter a few times, but since little has changed even with a new councillor it is worth retreading what I've covered before:

The best improvement to John would be for the City to make them one way for car traffic to provide enough room for bike lanes and patios. But if the City insists on giving John Street over just to cars and patios, there needs to be a proper plan in place to accommodate cyclists on Peter and Soho. The City has moved the traffic lights, but cyclists are still required to cross the streetcar tracks an odd and unsafe angle. Soho and Peter looking south:

Instead of the jog we could have something more like this:

Apparently Mountain Equipment Co-op is now moving to the northwest corner and it would be awesome if they were open to allowing a bike lane to go through their property. Or a compromise like that proposed by former Councillor Adam Vaughan where the corner is shaved to make the crossing more direct.

Why is Councillor Wong-Tam calling for a review of the protected bike lanes?

buckley-buffered bike lanes are blocked

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is calling for a "review" of the recently installed—and extensively consulted—cycle tracks of Wards 27 and 28. She is asking Transportation Services to investigate two contradictory concerns: "the improper parking of delivery and passenger vehicles in bike lanes; and access concerns raised by persons with medical issues, disabilities and the elderly who can no longer directly access their homes or medical services and facilities". (Photo by Ian Flett)

I'm suspicious of Councillor Wong-Tam's intentions given her previous interactions with cycling infrastructure. So what'll it be? Shall we make holes in the cycle tracks for legitimate concern X? And how shall we prevent everyone else from also stopping there?

It's telling that Wong-Tam is the only signatory on this letter. A constituent has told me that office of Ward 28 Councillor Pam McConnell provided feedback on the letter but for some unknown (to us) reason, she didn't sign it. This is interesting given that at least half of the cycle tracks are in McConnell's ward.

This isn't the first time Wong-Tam has written Transportation staff asking them to review cycle tracks. She wrote staff asking them to make the Sherbourne cycle tracks a "pilot" rather than permanent. McConnell didn't sign the letter that time either.

The timing of the letter is odd. Her letter is dated February, 2015 and requested a report back from staff for May. But she won't get a report for September of this year, which will likely be after the road work is completed on the lower half of Sherbourne. Too late to make any changes there.

The community, including the disabled, was extensively consulted prior to the installation. I recall staff telling me how they went building by building alerting residents, businesses and requested their feedback. They met extensively with BIAs and RAs. So why now?

Coincidence?

I heard something interesting from a city planner soon after I was alerted to Wong-Tam's letter. I don't have any proof that this is related to her letter but it might be a clue.

The planner mentioned that 24 Wellesley, a condo tower, has requested curb cuts into the cycle track curbs so that their residents can be dropped off at the front door. Planner said they wanted it for Wheel-Trans, but really, there's no way of stopping anyone from using it.

The funny thing is is that 24 Wellesley has minor streets on all three sides with plenty of places to stop! So it seems a bit greedy that they also want holes in the cycle track as well. And you'll notice that there are a number of businesses also in that building that presumably aren't happy with losing the stopping space in front of their stores.

And this isn't the only condo tower. Apparently there are others who also want to poke holes into the cycle track. Is Wong-Tam helping to push these requests?

Here's what Wong-Tam wants reviewed:

  1. Locations of frequent parking in bike lanes and separation conditions (bollards and their spacing or curb type)
  2. Locations where Wheel-Trans and accessibility taxis cannot serve persons living with disabilities and where the City may not be meeting the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
  3. Locations where parking obstructions force cyclists to merge unsafely with automotive traffic
  4. Locations where residents feel they are forced to park or be dropped off that are unsafe, due to traffic conditions or poor visibility
  5. Solutions and recommendations to remedy the conflicts to ensure safer street conditions for all bike lane and road users.

I hope Wong-Tam realizes that nothing is ever going to satisfy everyone. Her concerns contradict each other: if she identifies a problem with car drivers parking in the bike lanes, that is, there isn't enough physical separation, then why also call for a solution to residents and Wheel-Trans? If we increase the physical separation (which is what most cyclists want) then it's going to inevitably put some noses out of joint. That can't be fixed. And if they instead allow for gaps in the separation, we can't pretend that only Wheel-Trans or residents will use them. That gap is available to everyone.

So before we know it, the entire cycle track will be riddled with gaps where people can stop to pick up their coffee or wait with their engines idling because "it'll just be a minute". A route that is so easily blocked is no longer a safe or effective cycling route.

In whose interests is Councillor Wong-Tam fighting for? She also fought for off-hours on-street parking on Yonge and Bay, which increases the chances of injuries due to dooring for cyclists (and cancels out the benefit of bike lanes!) and makes public transit less efficient (by removing the priority lane for buses).

It makes me wary that Wong-Tam really has the best interests of cyclists at heart. If nothing else, we need to hear from her that she actually does support physically separated bike lanes. And that she will push for improvements to accessibility for the disabled that won't create gaps in the cycle tracks that will be used to make cycling more dangerous. That's the least she could do.

Slightly more original myths...

NOW magazine published an issue on cycling. In addition to some well thought out proposals from Cycle Toronto, they included the usual set of shop-worn "myths" motorists and cyclists supposedly have about each other.

I have read most of these supposed "myths" before, in fact many times and in many articles. I consider many of the supposed "facts" provided by Now as flat out wrong as the so-called "myths". To try and make a positive contribution to the discussion, I propose a series of "myth-fact" pairs that I haven't read quite so often before.

Do we need a Vulnerable Road User Law in Ontario?

Did you know that Canadian provinces are falling behind many of our American cousins who have been creating Vulnerable Road User Laws, that is laws that provide additional legal protection for those who are more likely to be injured on the road?

(Aren't we all vulnerable road users at some point every day? Everyone takes crosswalks and sidewalks. Many people cycle at least some time of year. This applies to us all.)

Patrick Brown, a lawyer for Mcleish Orlando, a law firm that specializes in litigating on behalf of people with critical injuries, including injured cyclists, has been arguing that Ontario should have such a Vulnerable Road User Law here. Fellow lawyer and cycling activist Albert Koehl and Brown were both involved in the Coroner's Report on cyclist deaths.

They approached the coroner in 2011 about holding an inquest into cycling fatalities — one of the hottest political buttons in Toronto — and a rash of 14 pedestrian deaths in 14 dark days of January 2010. That run of fatalities wasn’t so different from the spate of deaths in recent months in Toronto.

Since then Brown has been motivated to help address the plight of vulnerable road users through provincial legislation:

Vulnerable Road Users [VRU] account for a quarter of traffic fatalities in Canada. While the rate of emergency department visits in 2012 for road traffic injury in Ontario has decreased overall, this is not the case for pedestrians and bicyclists based on a report released by Public Health Ontario.

Since we know that pedestrians and cyclists injuries are not dropping at the same rate as overall road traffic injuries, Brown asks that the government consider a law to protect vulnerable road users.

On behalf of Cycle Toronto, Brown investigated the typical punishments dealt out by the police and courts to drivers "who hit, maimed and killed pedestrians and cyclists".

When I reviewed just what was in my cabinet, I was alarmed to find that many go unpunished or only get a slap on the wrist. For those who are punished, most of the fines being paid are less than $100.00. The Coroners Review also showed a very low percentage of charges being laid after a pedestrian or cyclist is killed due to driver behaviour.

Even worse Brown says that when victims go to court to read their Victim's Impact Statement, drivers are typically not even present to hear it. Victims have the alternative of a civil case to claim monetary compensation. But civil cases are just not enough deterrent and don't hold drivers accountable. This is how the proposed law would work (similar to eight US states where similar laws exist):

When a Vulnerable User is struck by a reckless driver, the legislation would require the court to impose greater penalties against the driver which reflect the fact that the driver struck a vulnerable road. This legislation would provide general deterrence and require the driving public to take greater care when travelling near pedestrians, cyclists and other at risk road users. The legislation would also make it mandatory for the careless driver to attend personally in court at the time of sentencing. The penalties when a driver has seriously injured or killed a VRU would require the court to consider increased monetary fines, suspension of licences, and jail if necessary.

The current Liberal government seems to be more open to new legislation for improving road safety. Let's see if we can get the ball rolling.

Local designer helps us visualize what protected intersection can look like in Toronto context

I've spoken about protected intersections before. They're really common in the Netherlands and some other parts of Europe. The concept is catching on in the United States (tested on a street in Minneapolis but no permanent installations yet as far as I can tell).

Iain Campbell, Cycle Toronto volunteer and designer, has created a way for us to visualize how a protected intersection would work where Richmond and Peter streets intersect.

Peter and Richmond would be a perfect test case (Cycle Toronto agrees). The intersection is much wider than it needs to be and it allows cars to make turns at high speed. Since there are plans for bike lanes on Peter and protected bike lanes on Richmond the two can be configured to improve the ways motor vehicles and bicycles will intersect.

Protected intersections provide an alternative to the "disappearing bike lane" approach of most North American intersection planning:

In North America, planners figure the best option is to let the cyclists and drivers "intermingle". The big downside is that a cyclist is only as safe as the least safe portion of their trip. Most injuries and collisions happen at intersections. The forced intermingling at intersections is challenging and stressful situation for cyclists. And I daresay it is also less safe given that the Netherlands has worked steadily in removing these types of intersections. A disappearing bike lane creates uncertainty for all road users: motor vehicles don’t know whether to wait for cyclists to pass on the right, or proceed, potentially cutting off cyclists.

Nick Falbo of Alta Planning, borrowed the concept from the Netherlands and is promoting the "Protected Intersection" as a safer alternative. The protected intersection slows drivers down because of the tighter turning radii. When the driver does cross the cycle track they are better able to look straight ahead to see if a cyclist is there (as opposed to straining to look over one's right shoulder around a blind spot). The cyclists are more visible. And it provides a clearer cue to who has the right of way, just as pedestrians have the right of way in the crosswalk.

I hope City planners will take the opportunity of the pilot project on Richmond and Adelaide to try out this really innovative idea; an idea that already has widespread positive data in other countries. Here's our chance to lead in at least one thing in North America.

Does Toronto deserve its silver ranking as a Bicycle Friendly Community?

A few days ago I posted this photo on Twitter after coming across the sign last weekend in the Rouge Valley in Scarborough.

The organization who gave this silver award to Toronto, Share the Road, defended their program. The majority of the people responded, however, were not convinced. The average person in Toronto would probably be surprised that Toronto got a silver rating as a Bicycle Friendly Community.

The average person will probably think of sports medals of gold, silver, bronze and all those who didn't podium. A silver, in many minds, is just one step away from being awesome; best in the world. Most Torontonians, however, will never bike in most parts of Toronto, because cycling is perceived as dangerous. This is not surprising even the almost complete lack of cycling infrastructure in most parts of the city. So the silver award is very incongruous to the facts on the ground.

The fact, remains that it's very easy to travel between most destinations in Toronto and not see any cycling infrastructure. Even downtown the majority of our arterial roads have little to no bike lanes. And even the ones that have bike lanes are discontinuous. A bike lane that ends is not much more useful than nothing at all, and sometimes it hurts since it raises the expectations of safety for the cyclist and then just leaves them for the wolves.

The Share the Road program is derived from the League of American Bicyclists' program which operates nation-wide in the US. While the LAB program openly publishes its ranking criteria, Share the Road says theirs is "proprietary" so we don't really know how they rank.


NOT Share the Road's. Theirs is mostly a mystery.

If we go by LAB's criteria it would highly unlikely that Toronto could meet a silver rating. It falls behind in modeshare (less than 2%); number of bike staff per 70,000 residents, and the ratio of bicycle network to roads. (Though I suspect that in the latter category they probably allow for roads where all it takes is slapping up a sign that says "Bike Route".) But we'll never know for sure since Share the Road neither publishes their criteria and grading, nor published a report card of how Toronto has met or not met the criteria. Meanwhile LAB publishes report cards for many American cities, such as this one for Seattle, which breaks down Seattle's ranking into each category and also describes what the city can do to reach Platinum level. Looks like Seattle needs to do a lot.

I'm not a fan of LAB's ranking system either, but compared to LAB, Share the Road's program looks amateurish and looks more like just giving out gold stars to everyone who wants them. #goldstarsforeveryone Perhaps that's not true, but Share the Road has its work cut out to convince me otherwise.

A peek at the end of winter: Allo Vélo showing off Danish cargo bikes at Toronto Bike Show

Allo Vélo will be at the upcoming Toronto Bike Show (March 6-8, booth 650 at the Better Living Centre at the Ex) showing off the Danish cargo bikes they carry, namely, Triobike, Bullitt and Butchers & Bicycles. Allo Vélo, unless you count my wife, is the biggest sponsor of this blog. Thanks!

Lamar Timmins of the Montreal-based bike shop, has been working hard to expand their distribution beyond Montreal (thus willing to advertise on this blog). Given the small (but growing) market for cargo bikes, it makes sense to work on online retail since there are many potential customers in other cities where bike shops are not carrying cargo bikes. It's difficult for bike shops to sell cargo bikes; they are typically much lower turnover than regular bikes and take up much more space.

Anyway, Allo carries a few Danish cargo bike brands—the family-oriented trikes from Triobike, the courier-favourite, speedy and light Bullitt, and Butchers & Bicycles. Lamar will be showing off the "MK1 tilt-action" cargo trike, which you can see in action in this video.

I look forward to trying out the MK1; I haven't had a chance to see it yet. Stability is the biggest reason to get a trike, but the biggest drawback of trikes is putting up with slow turns and having to fight centrifugal force that is otherwise easy with a two-wheeled bike. By tilting, the MK1 seems to help provide a more enjoyable ride on a trike.

New Liberty Street but the same old crappy car-centric traffic engineering

Ugh. Toronto is building new roads, but despite all the talk about making the city more pedestrian and cycling friendly, cyclists and pedestrians are still second-class citizens.

We usually focus on old streets and making them more bike friendly by slapping on some paint where expedient, or physical barriers if we really care. It's rare that an old city like Toronto builds new roads, but as it fills in its former industrial lands with condos, a handful of new roads are being designed and built. In the Cherry Street extension in the Don Lands. In each case—even though the City is serving tens of thousands of people who would prefer to travel by transit, foot or bike—it seems that the City refuses to get out of a car-centric frame of mind. In the Don Lands, for example, the City built an extension to Cherry Street that could have easily included proper physical separation, but they pretended that we still lived in the 90s and defaulted to paint. And in Liberty Village, it's even worse, there's no cycling infrastructure at all.

Over a decade ago as Liberty Village was first being filled in with condos, the City took a decidedly suburban, car-centric approach for such a population dense neighbourhood. This has resulted in a neighbourhood that is effectively trapped by railway lines and heavy car traffic. It's now quite uncomfortable to walk or bike into and out of Liberty Village. The main east-west street, East Liberty street has no bike lanes and is always jammed full of cars.

Toronto is undergoing an environmental assessment for New Liberty Street which will be just to the south of East Liberty. But even here, their old-school traffic engineering prioritized on-street parking over safe cycling. The City's proposed plan is to build a multi-use path that vanishes 300m from Strachan Ave. Multi-use paths are already a compromise, since they force two different travel modes that want to go at much different speeds to intermingle. And then to add insult to injury, the planners decided that at the intersection that it'll be all given over to cars.

Connectivity is crucial.

So states Antony Hilliard, ward captain of Cycle Toronto Ward group 19, who along with other Cycle Toronto ward groups and the Liberty Village Residents Association have been pressuring City staff and councillors to change an awful plan. Antony recently gave me a report they sent to the City detailing the problem and their suggested solutions:

Figure 1 shows how the New Liberty study area could connect to the:

  • Existing Strachan Ave. overpass painted bicycle lanes
  • Existing Martin Goodman waterfront trail, at bottom-right
  • Pilot Richmond-Adelaide cycle tracks
  • Planned phase II of the West Toronto Railpath to Wellington
  • Planned Fort York walking/cycling bridge

Cycling infrastructure in Liberty Village should provide safe, family-friendly links between:

  • Liberty Village Employment areas
  • Exhibition GO Station
  • Downtown employment / residential areas
  • Liberty Village Residential areas (including Garrison Point)
  • Nearby schools

It's not like this is just a cycling minority calling for proper cycling infrastructure here. The City's consultation in 2011, “New Street should have bike lanes”. And at the next consultation meeting, “Enhance pedestrian / bike access to GO station” was also strongly agreed, the 2nd highest after “heritage buildings”.

The groups have suggested changes to New Liberty Street so that cyclists can safely connect to Strachan and thus get out of the urban prison that is Liberty Village.

Instead of the proposed design for New Liberty St., shown as ALIGNMENT OPTION C(ia) drawing 8860WF23-13 as shown in Figure 2, the groups are presenting their alternative in Figure 3 below.

Some of the detailed problems with the City's plan, as detailed by the groups:

  1. Motor vehicle lanes widen to 4.1m and the multi-use path vanishes at the private road. Without connectivity, the multi-use path is useless to children / parents / seniors.
  2. New Liberty doesn't connect for northbound Strachan or eastbound Ordnance cycling traffic, and north-south parking garage access streets nor East Liberty St. have no bicycle accommodation.
  3. Two 5.5% grades are introduced at the private road. Such slopes are difficult for children / seniors to climb, especially without any safe right-of-way to balance in.
  4. The highway off ramp-like New Liberty / Strachan intersection introduces three bicycle-car turning conflicts, has poor sight lines.
  5. The turning radii for car lanes at the New Liberty / Strachan and East Liberty / Strachan intersection encourage fast car turns through conflicts. Normalizing at 11m radius is sufficient.

The bicycle mode share for Ward 19 is an incredible 12% considering the generally poor parking-door zone streets and the lack of bike lanes. Downtown is already completely car congested. An effort to eke out a fractional greater car capacity into and out of Liberty Village is myopic and a waste of time. A properly physically separated bicycle infrastructure would much more efficiently increase the transportation capacity.

Considering that the City is working on a Complete Streets plan, this makes this project seem like it's the last gasp of outdated, wrong-headed engineering. Or at least I hope it is.

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