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.

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.

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