An accidental protected bike lane on John Street

Max snapped this photo one morning a few weeks ago at John and Queen, looking north. I was completely flabbergasted at first. As many of my readers might now, there was a long extended fight with Councillor Vaughan and a bunch of planners who were trying to plan cyclists out of the picture and create a pedestrian arcade (but with cars) out of John Street. This seemed like a complete 180 where cyclists were actually given their own space instead of treated like pariahs.

But, no, it was not to be. Instead this is a pilot project until October to carve out a much larger pedestrian zone with a row of planters. Instead of being a protected bike lane much like I've seen in Vancouver, it's a "pedestrian" zone that seems most of the time to have few pedestrians (perhaps a bit heavier next to the restaurants which had overtaken much of the public space for their patios).

Cyclists don't know what to do with the space. Some people are still using it as a bike lane while other cyclists choose to squeeze next to a multi-block long line of cars (photo by Michal). This is what I saw:

While the whole John Street Cultural Corridor project is currently unfunded, the EA was completed and left out cyclists. Or, to be more accurate, they assumed cyclists would just nicely mix in with car traffic like we're forced to everywhere else.

But compared to the EA, this row of planters is even worse for cyclists. At least in the EA the plan was to have a "flexible boulevard" and a "non-barrier" curb to blur the line between the pedestrian space and the road. People on bikes would have more options in going around traffic jams of cars. In the EA they said:

A continuous non-barrier curb on both sides of the street to enable a seamless transition into a pedestrian-only space for events; for vehicles to mount the flexible boulevard for deliveries or drop-offs; and, to accommodate additional vehicular and cycling maneuvering on either side of the road in emergencies.

Or like this real-world example at the Prince's Gate at the Ex:

But instead, this design seems to have imposed purgatory for anyone on a bike.

What are the lessons here?

One, we can't just expect bikes to disappear, no matter how much we're in love with "pedestrianizing" the John Street Corridor. Did you expect the cyclists to nicely wait behind the truck? Good luck with trying to re-engineer human nature.

Two, by doing things half-ass, by trying to increase the pedestrian space while letting cars still rule the streets, we are making the space worse. Planners should have made it much more inconvenient for drivers to choose John Street as a through-street. John could be made for local vehicles only, much like a bicycle boulevard, which would greatly reduce the traffic while still allowing cars to exist there.

Getting better data: trying out the new Toronto cycling trips app

I've been trying out the new Toronto cycling app that allows you to track your trips on your phone (if it's an iPhone or Android). While it has some nominally useful features of showing calories burned and CO2 averted (by comparing it to a car trip I imagine) the main purpose of the app (at least in this iteration) is to help the City gather data on how people cycle now, the characteristics of those people and of the trip, and how the trips change based on changes to the infrastructure.

I took it for a spin the other day on my trip to and from the dentist.

At the very least, the planners can see the kinds of routes cyclists stitch together to avoid riding on major arterials. On my trip back from the dentist I treated myself to a short section of single track (on my crappy one-speed mountain bike turned city bike) down a hill to a path alongside the Rosehill Reservoir. That got me to Mt. Pleasant (not bike-friendly) and then to Wellesley (quick stop to see the bollards); through King's College Circle; College, Shaw and some alleyways and side streets (contra-flow rulz!) to back home. A route that someone would take only with experience and practice.

You might be wondering why the City didn't just use Strava's datasets. Hamish aka "If-it-ain't-bloor-bike-lanes-it's-a-waste-of-money" Wilson, Toronto's resident "carmudgeon", asked this very question in an email rant. Good question. The short answer is that this app isn't geared towards just fredly-types on Cervelos but will also track characteristics of the type of ride (recreational, errand, commute) and of the cyclist (gender, income, comfort-level) while still keeping the data anonymous. But even aside from that, the City can't use or store data out of the country and has extra requirements with privacy laws on the security of the servers.

The Oregon Department of Transportation recently went the Strava route by purchasing a dataset that they're using in making design decisions. Their choice has been roundly criticized for using data that is not representative of most cyclists. This is perhaps where the Toronto Cycling app will do a better job of getting representative data. By having information about the people cycling they can weight the trip data based on other cycling survey.

A researcher noted in her blog, echo in the city (thanks Hamish for the link), that it's okay for ODOT to use nonrepresentative samples so long as there is transparency, "justify decisions and choices about sampling, and use the results responsibly." But, this researcher (I'll call her echo), points out that in the case of ODOT the problem is that the Strava dataset is not that it's a small sample (only 2.5% of all commuters) but that it's likely an "inappropriate sample to address the project goals". Even then, echo notes, the project can be saved. At $20,000 it's cheap so far surveys go, and could be a "great pilot to test how to go about studying cyclists’ behavior using GPS–both in terms of its strengths and limitations as an approach". It appears to me that the Toronto Cycling app will do a better job here.

But that's not to say there can't be improvements to the app or the data collection. One major one is to encourage more people to use it. I'm admittedly a bike nerd and went out of my way to install the app and remember to turn it on for every short/long trip. The City should consider offering a raffle to everyone who records X number of trips in a season, where X could be low enough to make it easy for casual cyclists to achieve. This would hopefully increase the types of cyclists that would use it. And the City should not see this as a substitute for surveys but rather a supplement.

I have high hopes that this project will prove to be useful. The developers, Brisk Synergies, are focused on technology for transportation (equitable transportation, in fact). Luis F. Miranda-Moreno, chief scientist for Brisk, has done a lot of work on cycling and pedestrian transportation, including a Montreal study with Anne Lusk on its cycle tracks: “Risk of injury for bicycling on cycle tracks versus in the street”.

I think the Toronto Cycling app—while needing some improvements—can be a useful tool for improving cycling infrastructure. While my argument is unlikely to convince Hamish, perhaps it's enough for you, my dear reader?

Protected intersections: guerilla street safety in Hamilton

Toronto would benefit from some Hamilton-style activism. Hamilton activists, frustrated with inaction from the bureaucracy, took it upon themselves last year by installing a bump-out/neckdown with just some cheap traffic cones and screws. Tactical urbanism, it's called: quick and effective urban interventions to make the city more livable and equitable.

Image: Raise the Hammer

Where before there was an intersection at which children felt unsafe when crossing to school, now they have a shorter distance to cross. Cars are forced to turn more slowly, which increases the chance of these children surviving if hit and gives the drivers more time to stop. The local crossing guard loved it. Win-win I would say.

But the result upset Hamilton's grinch, Public Works General Manager Gerry Davis, who circulated a memo calling the actions "illegal, potentially unsafe and adding to the City's costs of maintenance and repair." Right, if Mr. Davis really cared about safety before why has his city always prioritized car throughput over safety? Luckily other forces in the city among the councillors and staff thought this was a worthy effort and managed to make it an official pilot project. Hamilton has since made the bump outs more permanent and installed cross-walks on a number of similar intersections.

Image: Raise the Hammer

I think they could have gone further. It would be awesome if someone built protected Intersections for cyclists and pedestrians.

The bump-outs are islands at the corners which allow for more protection for cyclists when crossing the street while also putting cars further away from pedestrians at the corners. It's a long-shot to make it official policy here; the owner of the website above is trying to get the protected intersection recognized in the US. It'll not happen anytime soon here. But one can hope and perhaps some guerrilla protected intersections would encourage city officials to be braver.

If you bike, conservative or not, John Tory does not want your vote

John Tory on the pilot project bike lanes for Adelaide and Richmond:

“My priority from day one as mayor is going to be to … keep traffic moving in this city, and I am in favour of making opportunities available for cyclists to get around the city too, because that will help, in its own way, to get traffic moving, too. But I want to look at the results of discussions that are going on today and other days and make sure that whatever we do, we are not putting additional obstructions in the way of people getting around in this city … “

In other words, "I am in favour of helping people getting around the city except when it gets in the way of people getting around the city".

Tory had also promised to cancel Eglinton Connects—a community-backed plan that even the BIA supports—that would have improved the streetscape and put in bike lanes in the space vacated from the removal of the bus-only lane. Tory has since retreated slightly. He claims that it was a press release error (though he was caught saying the same on video, thanks to a parody account) He now says he's for it if the funding is found. Somehow, I bet, that funding will never be found under Tory's watch.

It's funny that Tory has come out strong against bike lanes because of funding and congestion but has yet to take a stance on the island airport.

People seem to ignore that both the Eglinton bike lanes and Richmond/Adelaide were approved under a conservative mayor and a public works committee dominated by conservatives. While it has been hardly rainbows and unicorns under Mayor Ford, what with the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes, under Minnan-Wong's watch we've gotten a lot closer to building a cross-town protected bike lane route than we would have gotten under Miller. (In fact, Miller has specifically said that he preferred two-way R/A over bike lanes.)

There are other conservatives who actually knew that there was popular support for bike lanes and either promised or have been building them: Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, rides a bicycle everywhere and has expanded bicycle lanes and "Boris Bikes" the nickname for the bikesharing program throughout London (although the previous London mayor started the planning for bikesharing). Michael Bloomberg, billionaire founder of Bloomberg, the financial data services company, and former Mayor of New York, created in four short years a large network of separated bike lanes that is now the envy of many North American cities.

So John Tory, get with the program. People used to think of you as a "Red Tory" but on bikes you've decided to lead a loud—yet milquetoast—charge against bike lanes. What, were you worried that the bike haters would have otherwise jumped to Chow's camp?

Protected bike lanes up for vote: have your say

truck parked in Wellesley "protected" bike lane

I can hardly believe that it was at the start of Mayor Ford's terrible reign over this city that a protected bike lanes network was first approved by City Council. It was to be a large square network—Sherbourne, Richmond/Adelaide, St. George/Beverley, Harbord/Hoskin/Wellesley, and also Bloor East over the Don Valley. And now, four years later, with barely any progress, two key pieces of that infrastructure—Richmond/Adelaide and Harbord/Hoskin—are up for next-to-final approval at the public works committee on May 14th (agenda published on Friday).

Write that into your calendar's right now: Go to City Hall on May 14.

And if you can't make it send an email to public works: pwic@toronto.ca and let the politicians know how important it is to you that you get these protected bike lanes. Once the agenda is published you'll be able to reference the exact item number in your email. But in the meanwhile, it can't hurt to email all the councillors on the committee: Michelle Berardinetti, Janet Davis, Mark Grimes
Mike Layton, Denzil Minnan-Wong (Chair), and John Parker.

As it happens with most bike projects in this messed up city, these two projects have asterisks: Richmond/Adelaide will be a pilot project this year from Bathurst to York; and Harbord/Hoskin will be definitely an improvement but we won't see a completely protected bike lane—in fact, we haven't even got confirmation that staff will use bollards even where there is room (I talked here on how they could improve that one).

And, while they are finally installing bollards on Wellesley (photo above of truck parked in Wellesley "protected" bike lane), it won't be completed until after World Pride and they seem to have been spaced so far apart that any narcissistic driver would be quite willing and able to park there anyway. Which just begs the point of the whole enterprise.

And then there are the slapdash connections when the infrastructure ends. I've talked before about how the City can improve their proposals for the connections on Peter (re-align streets) and Simcoe (install lights!).

All the more reason to be loud and clear. The more politicians hear us, the safer they feel in taking risks and the more willing they are in dragging the city and staff into the 21st century.

With new mega-condo projects cycling is still just an afterthought

Antony Hilliard, on behalf of the Ward 19 Cycle Toronto group, attended the public consultation meeting for the large condo project happening at Strachan and Ordance, Garrison Point; just across the street from the other mini-city we like to call Liberty "Village". Again the City is willing to cram people into a small space and have failed to provide any coherent plan for how people will move around, except by car. There is so much opportunity here, noted Hilliard, for excellent cycling connections to the Waterfront, West Toronto Railpath, Richmond/Adelaide protected bike lanes. But it can all be easily squandered.

And it looks like the traffic planners are doing just that by not insisting that the developers treat cycling as a real transportation mode and not just a recreation activity. In the image above we see the Fort York bridge which will provide cycling and pedestrian access across the railway tracks. But the only access to the condos seems to be a sidewalk. So are the developers and traffic engineers expecting cyclists to just ride on the sidewalk?

No, actually they don't expect cyclists at all.

Since I attended the last public consultation for this development I know that the developers and the City are aware of this issue (having raised it with them), but it looks like the City isn't making any further demands and the developers decided to ignore the issue.

The developer will still be installing 1300 car parking spaces for the 1700 new units, "following Liberty Village minimums". And the crappy painted bike lanes on Strachan will continue to be unimproved in every way.

The Ward 19 group had made a number of recommendations to the City planners a few years ago on how to improve the Strachan bike lanes. So far the only thing the City is slowly moving on is putting in a bike light at the base of Strachan at Lakeshore. There's been no recognition from staff that on a street like Strachan most people think it's crazy to bike with just a painted line separating them from a speeding dump truck.

A painted bike lane is no longer good enough. Most cities have moved on.

This is really maddening given that this area that is already holding thousands of people will be holding yet thousands more; all with next-to-nothing for safe, protected cycling infrastructure (let alone good access to transit).

If we can't get the new projects right, how do you think we'll make progress on retrofitting our old streets?

Serious flaws in Copenhagen study that claims to show bike lanes are unsafe

We build bike lanes to make us safer and more comfortable while riding our bikes. Cities all over the world are building painted bike lanes and separated bike lanes. Knowing whether bike lanes are actually safer is important, to say the least. The science of the safety of bike lanes, however, is a bit behind.

The science doesn't have to be perfect in order for us to take some action, but it needs to be helpful. We need to understand how research was done and how the researcher came to their conclusions. When it comes to a Danish study by Danish researcher S. U. Jensen titled "Bicycle Tracks and Lanes: a Before-After Study" we probably should not trust its conclusions that bike lanes and separated bike lanes are unsafe. Or so argues Dr. Kay Teschke, with whom I corresponded by email last winter. (Photo of woman and girl cycling on Copenhagen street by Ian)

I'm looking at this study in particular because there are competing claims to what it actually proves. There are those who have argued that Jensen's study is proof that separated bike lanes (more commonly known as cycle tracks in Europe) are dangerous. But there are also those who have argued that when read properly the study actually shows that separated bike lanes are safe (see postscript below).

I decided to get to the bottom of this and contacted Dr. Kay Teschke of the University of British Columbia to find what an expert in epidemiological research--who also conducted a large research study on cycling safety--has to say about this study. I'm reaching out to Jensen as well and will post his response if I get one.

Jensen, in his Copenhagen study, came to the controversial conclusion that cycling on cycle tracks* is less safe than cycling on streets without any cycling infrastructure. Jensen concluded:

The safety effects of bicycle tracks in urban areas are an increase of about 10 percent in both crashes and injuries. The safety effects of bicycle lanes in urban areas are an increase of 5 percent in crashes and 15 percent in injuries. Bicyclists’ safety has worsened on roads, where bicycle facilities have been implemented.

Safety is worse with bike lanes? Jensen's conclusions are counter-intuitive and don't fit well with the results of a number of other studies, as was shown in a recent meta study of scientific studies of cycling and injuries. (Doing meta-analysis is common in epidemiology, where researchers compare different studies and look for patterns.) Given that Jensen's study comes to this irregular conclusion it would be easier to trust if we had a clear idea of how he arrived there. That, however, is one of the main problems with Jensen's paper: a lack of transparency.

Black box

The main issue with Jensen's study is that it's a black box; an algorithm that he never reveals. Jensen shows us the initial numbers that he measured, then puts them into his black box and out the other end comes the inverse.

Says Dr. Teschke:

Jensen did a very elaborate analysis with lots of adjustments. It is good to take into account factors that might bias unadjusted results, but usually the first analysis is the simple unadjusted one. Jensen does not present the unadjusted results, so I calculated them based on the data presented in his paper. On page 4, he indicates that the before and after periods studied were equally long. In Table 3 on page 9, he presents the observed before and after data on crashes and injuries. He also presents expected after data, based on all the adjustments. But let’s first look at the observed, before and after. In every row, except two (Crashes Property damage only and Intersections All crashes) the observed injuries or crashes after are lower than the observed before. On page 12, he indicates that there was a 20% increase in bicycle and moped traffic in the after period. So a calculation of crude relative risks (RR) for after vs. before:

  • Bicyclists and moped riders, all injuries total:
    RR = (injuries after/traffic after)/(injuries before/traffic before) = (406/1.2)/(574/1) = 0.59
  • Bicyclists and moped riders, intersection injuries:
    RR = (injuries after/traffic after)/(injuries before/traffic before) = (285/1.2)/(353/1) = 0.67
  • Bicyclists and moped riders, on links injuries:
    RR = (injuries after/traffic after)/(injuries before/traffic before) = (121/1.2)/(221/1) = 0.46

All three of the unadjusted results in the after vs. before comparison for bicyclists and moped riders show a reduction in risk (RR=1 means the same risk after and before, RR < 1 means lower risk after, RR > 1 means higher risk after). It is very strange not to report these results in the paper. They mean that over the period studied, the risk for cyclists and moped riders went down in the period after installation of the cycle tracks.

The question that should be answered with the adjustments is whether this reduction in risk is because of the cycle tracks or whether it is just a time trend - perhaps risk also went down on routes without new cycle tracks. If the comparison streets used for the adjustments were really comparable and if all the adjustment assumptions are unflawed, then the answer to that question would be “the reduction in risk is not from the cycle tracks”. But to take the conclusion further than that and say, after all these adjustments, cycle tracks are less safe (i.e., completely reversing the crude results)? This requires a level of trust in the adjustments that is very hard to justify in my view - especially given the difficult-to-follow description of the methodology and the many assumptions involved.

So can we trust Jensen's numbers? I don't think we can. Dr. Teschke's preliminary calculation of risk based on Jensen's numbers came to a Relative Risk of 0.59 compared to a higher risk of 1 for a street without bicycle facilities. In other words, Jensen's raw numbers support the conclusion that bicycle facilities reduce risk of injury. But it would be quite odd, Dr. Teschke explains, that the final, adjusted result would show the opposite of this. Yet when the final result comes out of Jensen's black box they are just that.

Science needs to be transparent and reproducible and this study falls short of that standard.

No one study can be the final word one way or the other. In the much more studied world of health and medicine, epidemiologists are looking for consensus among studies before coming to conclusions. The Copenhagen study has too many problems to serve as the final word on bike lane safety for policy makers.

Postscript

I wasn't the first blogger to question this study, I had also asked Dr. Teschke other questions about this study and how it related to what another statistician, Dr. Lon Roberts, had said about the study.

Another blogger from Texas, Jason Roberts, was also interested in understanding this controversial study better and had asked Dr. Lon Roberts for his opinion on the study. Jason linked to a simplified version of Jensen's study (called “Road safety and perceived risk of cycle facilities in Copenhagen”) that had even less information about Jensen's methodology and thus may have mislead Dr. Roberts. At least, that's my theory.

Dr. Roberts told Jason that "the Copenhagen study shows that the "likelihood an individual bicyclist will experience an accident goes down as the number of bicycle riders go up".

Furthermore Roberts says:

Using Soren’s percentages, here’s an example starting with the assumption that 10 bicyclists out of 10,000 will experience an accident over a certain period of time if there are no bike tracks:

On an individual basis, there’s a 10 out of 10,000 (or 0.1%) chance that an individual biker will experience an accident if there are no bike tracks
When the bike tracks were added, the accident rate increased by 9%. In other words, if there are 10 accidents without the tracks, the number of accidents increases 10.9 (or approximately 11). On the other hand, the number of bike riders increased by 18%, from 10,000 to 11,800. Therefore, on an individual basis the likelihood of an accident with the tracks added is now 11 out of 11,800, or 0.09%, as opposed to 0.1% without the lanes/tracks.

So Dr. Roberts is basically saying that Jensen had accounted for bicycle traffic volume when reporting the numbers (greater numbers of cyclists will always have some effect on increasing crashes/accidents). But Dr. Teschke seemed to be saying that Jensen had accounted for bike traffic. So I asked for more explanation.

I asked:

In your discussion paper you listed RR = 1.10 versus Jensen's estimates of expected injury rates. Does this mean that Jensen had taken into account bicycle traffic volume when he provides an estimate of injuries +10% (Table 3)? I'm assuming you added .10 to 1?

And if Jensen has already accounted for bicycle traffic in his estimate I'm confused about Roberts' calculation. Is Roberts' accounting for the denominator a second time?

Dr. Teschke responded:

Jensen’s formulas indicate that he did take bicycle and moped traffic into account - in more than one direction. He also took motor vehicle traffic into account. The reasoning for the latter is not clear to me. Perhaps he is saying that if MV traffic volumes went down after cycle tracks were installed, you would expect fewer crashes. But if lower MV traffic is one of the pathways to lower bike and moped crashes on cycle track routes, that is a good thing, not something to be adjusted out of the analysis.

You are right, I added .10 to 1.

Robert’s calculation is not very clear to me. It does seem to assume that Jensen did not take bicycle and moped traffic into account. The formulas in Jensen’s paper suggest he did.

But it is easy to be confused about what Jensen did. It is not clear what alpha and beta are, or how he chose the values for those parameters. He mentions “Danish crash prediction models” but does not provide a citation. Although he laid out the formulas for the traffic adjustments, he did not do the same for either the trend or regression-to-the-mean adjustments. When an adjustment method reverses the unadjusted result, it is important that the method be clear and highly defensible.

I also asked Dr. Teschke why Jensen's study wasn't included in their literature review.

Herb:

  1. Why was this one missed from the lit review? Did it not meet the criteria?

Dr. Teschke:

You are right, we didn’t include the Jensen study in our literature review, because it did not meet our criterion of being published in the peer-reviewed literature. It was published in conference proceedings not a peer-reviewed journal. After the review was published, many people noted that we did not include this study and, when we gave the reason, they argued that the reviews of the Transportation Research Board are more rigorous than those of many conferences, so it should be considered truly peer-reviewed.

We have referenced the Jensen study in subsequent publications, for example in the Discussion of our injury study.

I hope this is useful for some of you interested in connecting the dots between bike lanes, protected bike lanes and safety. It's not easy to dive into the data, but luckily scientists are taking subject matter more seriously.

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.

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