A packhorse of bicycles

I got a new bike. It can carry lots of stuff.

Heavy stuff. Like a chainsaw.

I got the Workcycles "Fr8" from the great tiny country of the Netherlands. I admit that it's kind of a (pre)mid-life crisis bike but instead of sports car, I've gone with a much cheaper option of just about the most robust and practical bike you can buy.

Workcycles is actually run by an American, Henry Cutler. The Fr8 is pretty great: comfy, upright ride, sturdy, two big racks (the front rack is fixed to the frame not the fork for greater stability). It's a versatile tank; an SUV of bicycles.

I've had bikey friends try it out—friends that normally ride more crouched over on one-speed fixies—and loved the comfortable ride.

Full chain guard (naturally, for a Dutch bike)

The front and rear lights are powered off a hub generator

One of the most unique features: remove the triangle to change tubes. With enclosed chains it can be a real pain in the ass to change tubes and tires.

Notice too the seat tube that actually meets in front of the bottom bracket. This odd feature means that the bike is a better fit for both short and tall people. By moving the seat further or closer at a faster rate than regular frames it keeps a better distance between the seat and handlebars for most people.

A lot of thought went into the use of this bike for everyday life, which I appreciate a lot.

I imported the Workcycles but you can also buy similar sturdy Dutch-style bikes from local sources. Urkai in Burlington imports Azur from the Netherlands; such as the Transporter or the Industrial Bike. Or Curbside in Toronto which imports the Belgian Achielle. Or even the British Pashley bikes, available at Hoopdriver, though they don't have front racks. Or you can go even more "hardcore" with cargo bikes: bakfietsen (box bikes), longtails and so on. Luckily it's becoming a lot easier to find such bikes in Canada now.

John Street could be good for pedestrians and cyclists

Ian bikes down John Street regularly. He recently captured the chaos that is John because of the road space given over to patios and muskoka chairs.

John Street has become uncomfortable and less safe for cyclists. But instead of fighting against improvements for pedestrians, we need to focus on how we can reduce the motorized traffic by making it harder for cars to use John as a direct route.

My attempt at capturing the mess.

The problem is the cars NOT the people

Some people misunderstand the issue here. The issue at heart is not about making John Street more pedestrian-friendly. Myself and others who have a problem with the City's actions thus far is not to try to preserve the car-centric John Street of yore.

Nor do I believe that the City has rid itself of any responsibility to cyclists on John by moving the traffic light on Queen at Soho/Peter. It was the absolute minimum that the City could have done but still not enough to entice most cyclists from taking John.

The problem at heart is that the City is being half-assed about John Street. There is NO plan to reduce car traffic on John Street.

So the pilot project has installed some planters to create a hard barrier between people sitting in chairs and the cars and cyclists. For the short term this has created a squeeze of cars and cyclists who are now forced to fill in the little gaps left by the cars and trucks. There was no effort to try to divert cars and trucks away from John so the traffic is as heavy as ever. It's torture for cyclists and hardly friendly to pedestrians.

But even the final design which City staff are working on right now has no plans to deal with car traffic. With all the talk about "cultural corridor" and "pedestrian priority route" there is nothing about diverting car traffic. Instead it talks about fuzzy things like gently sloping curbs, new paving materials and new trees. But for anyone who ever visits Kensington Market you'll know that this is hardly enough to create a "pedestrian priority route" even though Kensington has a much greater pedestrian traffic than John. Kensington is as choked as ever with cars and trucks.

So instead I'm on the same page as Jared Kolb of Cycle Toronto who is calling for the City to create true Bicycle Boulevards and not the half-assed cycling routes. A key feature of bicycle boulevards that's relevant here is motorized traffic diversion.

An example of a traffic diversion with cycling bypass on Health St E and Inglewood Dr in Toronto.

From Wikipedia:

Bicycle boulevards discourage cut-through motor-vehicle traffic but allow local motor-vehicle traffic. They are designed to give priority to bicyclists as through-going traffic. They are intended to improve bicyclist comfort and/or safety.

On a "cultural corridor" and "pedestrian priority route" like John Street, wouldn't it be in the interests of people—whether they are pedestrians, merchants or cyclists—to discourage cut-through motorized traffic? I believe we can all win if the City just woke up to this option.

Better to block a cyclist than a car driver

Last week City staff removed the cycle track curb in front of 24 Wellesley. Yesterday we already started seeing this:

Twitter: liz goddard

I had raised suspicion about Councillor Wong-Tam's call for a review of cycle tracks and dealing with Wheel-Trans, emergency vehicles and that it would start poking holes into the protected bike lanes all over the network. It turned out that the review was completely unnecessary since Cycling staff are quite willing to remove a cycle track curb in front of 24 Wellesley without full public consultation.

It's clearly important that Wheel-Trans and EMS be able to access the building. EMS can always jump any curb but Wheel-Trans needs a place to load/offload wheelchairs so they needed someplace flat. Stopping in the car lane on Wellesley was an option—a typical Wheel-Trans stop lasts 7 minutes. Another option is one of the three laneways around 24 Wellesley, though staff seemed to only have considered one of the laneways and determined it was too narrow. Yet another option was to raise the cycle track bed much like is done at bus stops on Sherbourne, but staff stated there was a problem with drainage.

So it seems that given the choice between blocking the car lane versus blocking the protected bike lane, access for a car driver wins out over access and safety for a cyclist.

At least we know where the City's priorities lie

Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, the new Cycling Unit manager, states that the "adjacent vehicle lane will be narrowed so cyclists can ride around a Wheel-Trans vehicle without entering traffic."

It's a substandard solution since cyclists have still lost the curb separating them from motorized traffic. Gulati claims that “the site-specific access concern really impacted the people who lived in that building, while the impact on cyclists is very minor." We don't have any idea of what Gulati is comparing here: is it access for residents versus safety and comfort of cyclists? I would hope the City staff would try a bit harder so they don't have to trade these off.

Residents of 24 Wellesley were lobbying politicians and staff to remove the cycle track:

Councillor Wong-Tam claims she didn't know about the removal, but surely she must have received complaints from residents and have heard from staff. Perhaps she knew all about the issue but didn't know cycling staff were going to go ahead with the removal before public consultation in the summer.

Regardless, this is a bad precedence for safe cycling infrastructure in Toronto. I'm sure we'll hear about more calls by businesses, residents to remove cycle tracks. It takes years of public consultation to get safe cycling infrastructure but mere weeks of no public consultation to rip them out.

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?


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.

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