Constant vigilance: no need for protected bike lanes if police stakeout every bike lane in the city 24/7

The paint on the Simcoe "cycle tracks" has dried but city staff are holding off on adding barriers (what makes a cycle track a cycle track) because Transportation Services believes enforcement and signage will do the job. They firmly hope that this will be enough to "stop to illegal bike lane parking once and for all" (and ignore other good reasons for barriers).

But reality crashed the party.

Dan Egan, Manager of the Cycling Unit, telling a driver that the fine is $150 for stopping in the bike lane.

East side of Simcoe, south of King: in front of St Andrews Church. I see a sign telling drivers that stopping is verboten. But where's Dan to explain the finer details?

Car blocking the southbound Simcoe traffic lane right next to available parking. Seriously, they could have just parked right next to it and it would have been totally legal. But with no physical separation I can understand why the driver is confused.

Transportation Services would rather not have to deal with bollards: they wear out, get banged up and have to be replaced. And they make it necessary to use smaller snow plows to keep the bike lane clear. They'd rather not put in the extra work to keep cyclists safer. So they want to run an experiment (and be the only city in the world with cycle tracks protected with nothing but paint):

“We’ll be taking a good accounting of what level of enforcement it takes, what resources, what time, and what number of tickets are given out. We’ve always had anecdotal evidence, but we’ve never had anything scientific.”

Nothing scientific? What about the last twenty five years of bike lanes? Is that not enough to convince you that enforcement doesn't work? Every year the cops would conduct a ticket blitz in the spring. Didn't make one iota of difference in driver behaviour.

“There’s some people who think we don’t always need to put physical separation, that a higher fine and better markings and enforcement will do the job,” Egan said. “We may gradually add other separation devices, but we want to see how this works first.”

"Some people"? Were they born yesterday? It would either take diverting cops from other areas or hiring more cops; cops dedicated to bike lane enforcement. About as likely as Rob Ford going cold turkey.

Toronto's failed shared space experiments exclude the vulnerable

Some influential Toronto planners and politicians have been dabbling in "shared space" and "cultural corridors" for the last few years. They like to talk about "destinations" rather than "through-traffic". These are innocuous terms but the results are far from harmless and might end up infecting our approach to "Complete Streets".

When planners and politicians in Toronto talk about "destinations" and "cultural corridors", this is the kind of mistake that results:

Bikes were purposefully excluded from Bloor Street at Yorkville during the major, BIA-funded remake of the street. In 2008 former Councillor Kyle Rae told City Council that he didn't think bike lanes were appropriate for Bloor Street at Yorkville because that area is a "destination" with lots of retail. That looks a lot like four lanes of "through traffic" to me.

Or this mistake:

John Street with some planters to keep out the cyclists and cars. (Planners had infamously produced a cyclist count that made it appear cycling numbers were negligible. Meanwhile cycling activists did a separate bike count with numbers up to 50% at peak commuter times.)

Note to planners: it's not "shared space" if cyclists are forced to dismount. A person walking a bike is just a pedestrian.

Former Councillor Vaughan claimed in an email to me that the delineated space was required for pedestrians:

Its part of a pilot project to implement the john st corridor. The pedestrian flow is spilling into the street further down the street. Chock-a-block side walk induce safety issues. We are trying to find a balance and determine the right lanes widths for different modes.

It's hard to align this claim that pedestrians are spilling off the sidewalk with a plan that allows the BIA to then block the pedestrian space with tables. Tables that seem to be an extension of the restaurants next to them.

Just how do tables help pedestrian flow?

Coordinated with the redevelopment of Union Station, the planners in charge of the Front Street EA marginalized vulnerable cyclists as well by dismissing bike lanes. Planner Harold Madi made it clear to the National Post that bike lanes wouldn't be part of the plan: “this isn’t about through-traffic; it’s about a destination." Yet here too "destination" seems to be more an excuse to ignore bike lanes than to be a way to stop through-traffic. (Madi is now in charge of Toronto's Complete Streets guidelines. More on that below).

This is how the planners imagine Front Street will function. The cyclist ends up riding the meridian because taxis are weaving in and out of the taxi bay. I'm surprised how realistic the artist was in how chaotic an environment it will actually be. Vulnerable-feeling cyclists won't bother to take this route.

Blinders to traffic

Toronto is weird and likes to do things in its own messed-up way. But the results of shared space have been little better elsewhere. The Shared Space movement aims to bring about harmony between road users by seeking "to minimise demarcations between vehicle traffic and pedestrians, often by removing features such as curbs, road surface markings, traffic signs, and regulations."

Even other celebrated examples such as in Poynton, UK, designed by the preeminent shared use pioneer Ben Hamilton-Baillie have improved a demarcated pedestrian space but has utterly failed to deal with the heavy traffic volume and forces cyclists to intermingle with large trucks and fumes.

Blogger Mark Treasure, who documented his attempts at cycling in Poynton, notes:

The biggest (unresolved) problem - and one which is perhaps unfair to tie together with the redesign, since no redesign can deal with this problem – is the extraordinary volume of motor traffic passing through the town.

With all the extra space given over to sidewalks, cyclists, if they wish to follow the rules, are forced to wait in the fumes of backed-up traffic (Photo: Treasure).

That empty sidewalk is very inviting and feels a lot safer than the road (Photo: Treasure).

I will more forcefully argue that the planners could have dealt with the heavy traffic by more clearly demarcating space for cyclists and pedestrians and by putting restrictions on motor vehicles. This is the successful approach taken by cities such as Groningen, Netherlands where cyclists can make direct, fast trips between points in town and motor vehicles are forced to take slower, indirect routes. This helped to make Groningen number one in terms of cycling mode share in the world.

Photo: The Urban Country

Yet it doesn't appear that this is being considered by shared space advocates. Instead they cling to naive notions that these spaces will somehow work by throwing all the road users into an anarchic stew that will result in some sort of utopia that springs sui generis without any fussy, burdensome government interference. This isn't even a caricature. Shared space proponent, Martin Cassini, in his comment on the Poynton post betrays a philosophical approach borrowed heavily from a naive libertarian viewpoint:

Yes, shared space is a form of anarchy – peaceful anarchy – showing the great advantages of self-regulation over state control, and no, it instils a sense that might is wrong.

The greatest sin of Cassini's and other shared space proponents is—in my mind—that they prefer to plan based on a vague utopian agenda rather than choose tried and true real-world examples from such places as Denmark and Netherlands.

Ignoring the vulnerable

A shared street does "not serve the vulnerable. Rather, it prioritises the powerful". Even in the Netherlands there are a handful of shared space experiments. In footage taken by blogger David Hembrow, Hembrow points out how the vulnerable--the elderly, mothers, children--end up intimidated by the heavy car traffic (in 2008 and 2014, ending up just giving up their right of way in return for a greater sense of security.

The elderly often end up walking their bikes because they're too intimidated to take their right of way across car traffic. The Fietsberaad experts noticed the same issue in their investigation of the shared space intersection of De Kaden in Drachten, NL:

"[p]art of the cyclists does not dare demand the right of way. They dismount and wait for the right of way to be clearly given. Then they walk or ride to the other side. A problem may be that halfway across cyclists are met by cars from the other direction having to be kind enough to yield informally. Due to low speeds and the defensive behaviour of these cyclists this crossing strategy need not be unsafe by itself, but it most certainly is not convenient."

Photo: Fietsberaad

A majority of the cyclists, Fietsberaad noted, end up using the pedestrian crosswalk for understandable reasons: "[c]yclists probably prefer this to the chaos in the middle of the square (with cars queueing from three different directions). In addition they are given (or demand) the right of way on the pedestrian crossing, although formally they are not entitled to this."

Complete Streets should not ignore these concerns of "Subjective Safety" if they truly want to encourage more people to abandon the car for their daily trips.

"Incomplete Streets"?

Coincidentally or not, the new Directory of Urban Design for the City of Toronto, Harold Madi, was a major planner in each of the failed "shared space" projects (including the still under-construction Front Street) and is a big supporter of shared space. Madi is now well placed to influence the new Complete Streets guidelines.

Madi, I've got a message for you: a "shared" street is not "complete" street if it ignores the safety and vulnerability of our young, elderly and disabled who ride bicycles on our choked, busy streets. If you need to know how to plan for true complete streets, just imagine your own mother (or grandmother or child) cycling on these routes. Then build them so your mother will happily choose cycle on these streets. If you have to "convince" her that it's actually safer than she feels, you've failed. (Plus you end up being just a Vehicular Cyclist dogmatist of a different flavour).

Update: Duncan H pointed out this post by Mark Treasure where he invents the brilliantly pithy term, "placefaking". This is exactly what I'm talking about:

in the UK we seem to developed a curious alternative strategy that, as in the title of this post, I’m going to dub ‘placefaking’. It involves dressing up streets that have continue to have a serious movement function as a ‘place’, and attempting to persuade us that these roads and streets are now ‘places’, despite the fact that they continue to carry significant volumes of motor traffic.

Christian Chan: our new cycling-friendly Ward 20 caretaker councillor?

Christian Chan is a young urban planner. I crossed paths with Chan last week and he told me he's thrown his hat into the ring to be interim councillor in Ward 20; to replace Councillor Adam Vaughan who just won the Trinity-Spadina seat for the federal Liberals.

Ceta Ramkhalawasingh, Honorary President of the Grange Community Association, is also in the running for the Ward 20 position, and is rumoured to be a hand-picked successor to Vaughan.

Both candidates would probably do a decent job on other Ward 20 issues, but there's a big difference in how each of them approaches safety improvements for cyclists. How do these candidates rank when it comes to cycling issues? Let's take a look:

Ramkhalawasingh:

  • opposed bike lanes on John Street because it would be "pedestrianized" (we've seen how that turned out)
  • opposed protected bike lanes on Beverley.
  • wanted bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide only if they were turned into two-way (she must have been aware that this excluded the possibility of protection on those bike lanes).

Chan:

Chan looks much better than Ramkhalawasingh when it comes to cycling issues in Ward 20.

Chan is on the Downtown Committee of Adjustment, on the Board of Directors for the Annex Resident's Association, and has a private practice as an urban planner that has given him a deep understanding of how City Hall functions. And having worked with Chan personally on cycling issues I've seen how he takes a level-headed and fact-driven approach to his work and advocacy.

As caretaker councillor there wouldn't be much time between now and the election to get much done. But it sets a positive tone if a cycling- and people-friendly councillor is appointed by city council and not someone who has consistently opposed better infrastructure for cyclists. For that reason (and for what it's worth as a small-time blogger) I'm going to support Christian Chan for interim councillor of Ward 20.

And if you agree, you could consider writing to Deputy Mayor Norm Kelly and Members of Council via clerk@toronto.ca. At July 7th's Council meeting councillors will be considering the Ward 20 Councillor Appointment. So you'll need to get an email in quite soon.

Jekyll and Hyde approach to cyclists on sidewalks versus multi-use paths

It is taboo to ride a bike on a sidewalk—especially when there are children and elderly walking on it—but when it comes to "multi-use" paths, such as the Lakeshore path, it is officially okay. A multi-use path is at heart just a sidewalk on steroids.

Sharing on the sidewalk is verboten:


Source: Toronto Star

But sharing a narrow multi-use path or bridge is perfectly fine—and officially promoted:

Bottleneck on new Portland Street Bridge.

In fact, (many) planners and architects happily propose and design new multi-use paths that force meandering walkers to interact uncomfortably close with commuting and recreational cyclists. The result is a trail that serves neither group well: parents have to constantly keep their children in check lest they make a beeline across a cyclists path; and cyclists have to slow down to a walking pace, or swerve around meandering pedestrians walking side-by-side. Hardly the best use of this most efficient machine (No joke: "In fact cycling is more efficient than any other method of travel--including walking!"). Yet our planners, for most of their off-road projects, continue to just squeeze bikes into this shared space.

A multi-use path is not a bike path. It is a glorified sidewalk.

Guy in Blue Jays cap makes video about cycling, Toronto-style

I don't normally post videos like this, since I'm both old and unhip, and I naturally gravitate to blogging about "serious" topics only. But my wife said I should post the video, if only because he's wearing a Blue Jays cap (Let's Go Jays!). Though it is a catchy tune/ditty too:

Visit for for more of the artist known as @Advice416

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.

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