Harbord Bakery, you're right. One-way protected bike lanes are better. So let's build them and remove all the parking

You know what? One-way protected bike lanes are probably better than two-way for Harbord. Thanks Harbord Bakery for bringing up the issue. But the Harbord Bakery failed to offer any alternative so I will: let's build one-way protected bike lanes on Harbord.

While bidirectional is the best way to accommodate some curbside parking while also providing safe protected bike lanes, this option has been obviously rejected by the Harbord Bakery (and their allies) as "dangerous". So that just leaves one-way (unidirectional) protected bike lanes as the best remaining option.

While bidirectional is certainly not dangerous, it is safer than nothing at all1, I will agree that unidirectional is even better2 for Harbord.

Everyone is safer with separation
As in the above diagram you can see that a protected bike lane on each side of the street provides a nice buffer for both cyclists and pedestrians, improving safety for everyone. Protected bicycle lanes have been shown to reduce injuries for all street users - pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. In New York City the protected bike lane install at Prospect Park led to a 21% reduction in injuries across the board; no pedestrian injuries during the 6 months between the installation and the study and a huge drop in sidewalk cycling.

This all results from providing dedicated space for cyclists on a major street. Motorists no longer have to worry about cyclists swerving in front of them; cyclists don't have to worry about cars blocking their path or swerving into their lane; and pedestrians don't need to worry about a bike coming down the sidewalk. A win-win-win situation.

Parking
It's unfortunate but necessary that it requires removing all the curbside parking, but isn't that a small price to pay for saving people's lives? The Harbord Bakery is not important enough to sacrifice cyclist and pedestrian safety anymore.

Adjustments can be made: off-street parking exists or extra can be built3. Suburbanites can still drive in and get their bagels. It's just that we'll no longer consider their convenience as more important than our lives.

We need a safe continuous route
Harbord is the second busiest cycling route in the city. Cycling represents up to 40% of all traffic during peak hours. Right now Harbord is our only real chance for a continuous, unbroken cycling route through the downtown. Completing a safe cycling route on Harbord would be a major boon for both street users and for businesses along the route.

If you agree you could consider sending a note to the Harbord Bakery to let them know, whatever it looks like, we prefer protected bike lanes to no bike lanes. Even if it means taking out all the curbside parking. We're not trying to punish anyone. We just want to be safe.

Footnotes:
1. Though bidirectional separated bike lanes are still safer than nothing at all. The research backs it up (as I mentioned in my previous post).
2. Veló Quebec recommends one-way cycle tracks over two-way when there are many cross streets. The new Ontario Bicycle Facilities guide lays out some mitigation measures including a dedicated signal phase; improving the sightlines by moving parking and street furniture away from intersections; clearly marking the intersections and banning turning if needed. Montreal, Vancouver and Dutch cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam still have lots of bidirectional cycle tracks that work well enough.
3. Parking can be accommodated off-street. Where there's a will, there are means. At Hoskin and Spadina there are two parking lots on the east side of Spadina (U of T Graduate House). At Bordon and Harbord there is a large school parking lot. I'm sure the school board could be enticed to create public parking there as an additional revenue source.

Strange bedfellows and petitions galore!

anti-bike lane petition

In a funny twist, a handful of Harbord businesses have become bedfellows with a couple of activists, including one who previously fought for Harbord bike lanes, and are now trying to stop separated bidirectional bike lanes on Harbord. Meanwhile activist group Cycle Toronto has launched their own petition buttressing support for the lanes.

We the undersigned

On the anti petition side we've got a guy named Marko and a self-described "carmudgenly" cycling activist, Hamish Wilson. Their petition asks Councillors Layton and Vaughan to halt the plan for bidirectional separated bike lanes on Harbord, calling them "dangerous", citing Transport Canada (1). A reader sent me the photo above of the petition displayed prominently at Harbord Bakery and said they saw about 100 signatures (and there might be another hundred or so signatures captured elsewhere).

Meanwhile Cycle Toronto's petition in support of the separated bike lanes has over 220 signatures (here and in paper versions going around).

But even this isn't the only petition. In 2010, a petition for the separated bike lane network was sent to the public works committee and included the call to "complete and separate the Wellesley/Harbord bicycle lanes system and end the gaps in the system at Queens Park and on Harbord." It has about 150 signatures on it. A number of organizations and groups also sent letters of support at that time which if we counted all the people involved in those groups would add up to thousands of people (2).

Both councillors for Ward 19 and 20, Councillor Mike Layton and Councillor Adam Vaughan, have stated publicly that they support the separated bike lanes on Harbord. We'll see what these petitions mean for their continued support.

The centre of the battle

This is what it looks like near the Harbord Bakery currently: squeezing between moving and parked cars, and token sharrows. And where there are bike lanes they are typically treated by motorists as free parking.

I'm not alone in that estimation. People who signed the Cycle Toronto petition had similar comments. From Bradley:

I frequently bike on Harbord, and although it is a very good street for cycling, I don't believe Sharrows do anything to help cyclists, and separated lanes are the way to go to improve cycling in Toronto today and in the future. Bidirectional lanes are my preferred option for both safety and ease of movement, allowing easier passing and a mix of cyclists of different skill and comfort levels.

And from Jennifer:

I live in the West end and commute by bicycle daily along Harbord to the downtown core. Harbord/Hoskins is a well used biking route. While the current painted lines offer cyclists some amount of protection, the fact that cyclists must ride in between parked cars (which are often pulling out into traffic) and the busy roadway, and the busyness of the bike lanes, makes this route a perfect option for separated bidirectional lanes. I also use the Sherbourne Street bike route on occasion and the painted separated route makes cycling much more visible and predictable for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

These responses are typical of people who are not "hardcore" cyclists used to mixing it up with the elephant herd. Most people, studies have shown, prefer separation.

Running with the elephants by bikeyface.com

I don't think the anti group has clarified that they are fighting for a street that is already frustrating, unsafe and not even connected. Is that the kind of street they think most cyclists prefer? If so they're deluded.

Strange bedfellows

The businesses opposed to this plan seem to be led by the owners of the Harbord Bakery and Neil Wright, Chair of the Harbord BIA. They've been vocally opposed to bike lanes for decades. In the 1990s they fought off bike lanes in their domain and managed to do it again a few years ago.

I had thought that this opposition had softened when I attended a public meeting last fall organized by Councillor Vaughan, writing in my blog post that it was a mostly positive, albeit lukewarm, response from business. In fact, the owner of the Harbord Bakery even stood up to announce they have always been pro-bike, they had been one of first to install a bike rack! Alas, it was not to be. Instead a strange alliance formed to oppose the proposal.

Hamish Wilson was a key person in fighting for a complete Harbord bike lane in the 1990s. Wilson and a number of other activists worked doggedly for the bike lane. They measured out the street width to ensure that bike lanes could fit, talked to merchants, worked with City staff. But in the end City staff caved in to business concerns about losing some curbside parking and left two disjointed bike lanes to the east and west. And now the activist is fighting against bike lanes.

Why the opposition?

The BIA Chair and the Harbord Bakery seem to be dead set against bike lanes in any form, perhaps thinking that the bike lanes will hurt their businesses. But with New York City and elsewhere experiencing booming business revenues where bike lanes were built (revenues up 49% compared to 3% elsewhere), this has become more of an outdated notion. We now know that cyclists have more disposable income and shop more often).

It's easy to imagine why the Harbord businesses are opposed even though misguided, but I can't really understand the passion with which Marko and Hamish are fighting against this proposal. Perhaps it's fear of the unknown. In cities where bidirectional has been built I have found no such outcry.

Risky game

What the petition writers gloss over is that risk is always relative risk. We can't just label something "dangerous" and something else "safe". Is climbing a ladder "dangerous" or "safe"? It doesn't make sense to ask it that way. Instead we should be comparing the risk to something else. For instance, is climbing a ladder more or less risky than taking a shower? Likewise is a bidirectional separated bike lane riskier than riding next to the threat of car doors opening? To answer that question we need real data, not just opinion.

The UBC Cycling in Cities studies, for instance, are helpful in that they have shown that separated bike lanes are significantly safer than bike lanes next to parked cars. And Dr. Lusk's studies of separated bike lanes in Montreal showed that not only is cycling on bidirectional separated bike lanes more popular, they are** safer** than streets without any bicycle provisions (3). And this is despite the fact that Montreal's bike lanes lack many of the measures now used to make them even safer: green markings through intersections, set back car parking and so on.

The petition writers are just bullshitting if they claim they know a bidirectional bike lane is more dangerous than what we have currently on Harbord. They don't have the evidence to make such a claim. Transport Canada references a Danish study but no link to the study. We don't know the context, when it is relevant, how to compare it to other dangers, or how various cities have made modifications to make them better.

Furthermore, their claim of "danger lanes" begs the question, if they're so dangerous why do numerous cities still have bidirectional bike lanes and continue to build them? Montreal, New York, Vancouver, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and other cities all have bidirectional with no evidence of cyclists dropping like flies so far as I tell.

Bidirectional versus unidirectional - either is fine so long as we get them

Funnily, the anti petition could perhaps hurt the anti cause. The petition says they are "in favour of keeping Harbord's current unidirectional bike lane setup".

The bidirectional bike lanes remove fewer parking spots than a unidirectional bike lane. That's one main reason why City staff are proposing bidirectional: to save some parking. If some people are against the bidirectional, perhaps we should all push for unidirectional. If it means taking out all the parking between Bathurst and Spadina so be it. Isn't that a small price to pay for increased safety?

I wonder what would happen to the unholy alliance in that case?

The world has moved on

Meanwhile, we could have had this already (photo by Paul Krueger):

While we're still fighting old fights in Toronto the world has moved on. In the last few years we've seen North American cities move far beyond painted bike lanes by installing separated bike lanes all over their downtowns. New York, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Chicago and other cities are all building separated bike lanes. City officials have official guides. Studies show that separation is both safer and more popular. Dutch and Danish cities have had them for decades.

It seems to me that by teaming up with anti-bike lane businesses the petition writers are playing a dangerous game (or should I say risky?) that is going to make it harder to build bike lanes of any kind anywhere in this city whether it stops the bidirectional lanes or not.

Footnotes:
1. The petition claims "According to research conducted by Transport Canada, experts conclude that bidirectional bike lanes are more dangerous than unidirectional bike lanes." I didn't receive any additional information, though I believe it's this link, which includes a reference to a Danish report that recommended unidirectional over bidirectional separated bike lanes saying bidirectional could create more conflicts at intersections. What the reference does not say is if the Danish compared bidirectional to painted or even no bike lanes at all.
2. Letters of support from: Cycle Toronto, the York Quay Neighbourhood Association, The U of T Graduate Student’s Union, University of Toronto Faculty Association, the Toronto Island Community Association, the St Lawrence Neighbourhood Association, the ABC (Yorkville) Residents Association, the Palmerston Residents Association, the Bay Cloverhill Residents Association, the Parkdale Resident Association, South Rosedale Residents Association, the Moore Park Residents Association, the Oak Street Housing Coop Inc., and Mountain Equipment Co-op.
*3. The study states: "our results suggest that two-way cycle tracks on one side of the road have either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions. This lowered risk is also in spite of the less-than-ideal design of the Montreal cycle tracks, such as lacking parking setbacks at intersections, a recommended practice."

Bike mechanics may finally get some respect: Ontario working on a certified apprentice program

derailleur close-up

Bicycle mechanics get little respect yet we demand much of them. Everybody wants their bikes in perfect running order but we typically under value the complexity of the mechanics, at least in North America. Thus bicycle mechanics get paid little and many accomplished mechanics I know have talked about moving into other technical trades where the pay is higher and where there is more respect. (Photo by backonthebus)

That might be changing as Ontario is working on a provincial apprentice program for bicycle mechanics. The apprentice program is currently hanging in limbo as different departments work to approve it. The province has invited potential bicycle mechanics apprentices to participate in a 45 day waiting period before it becomes official. Roy Berger, a bicycle mechanic from Brantford, ON, was one of those invited. Yet Berger told me that the province has yet to start the waiting period.

Between March 2013 and April 2013 the Ontario Ministry of Training Colleges and Universities made a Training Agreement with 113 Bicycle Mechanic Apprentices in Ontario and provided a 30 page Schedule of Training.

For the longest time bicycle mechanics has been undervalued as only fit for teenagers and people who can't get a real mechanical job. The low pay has matched that expectation. With an apprentice program bike mechanics might finally become a respected profession which might also result in better pay, conditions and also safer repairing, maintaining and building of bikes. Or as Berger told me:

Papers, if you got papers, you like papers. People covet trade papers in all countries. I see this trade paper in the same category as a certificate for a gastronomical chef. You don't have to hire the guy but you figure that fellow is up to a certain minimum standard. It begins to set a bar and perhaps some day form a trade association same as chefs, hair dressers and other trades that require skill, dedication and interest. This one, our thing, is in the public interest. It's good for little Johnny, Susan and Mohammad. It's good for baby polar bears and tiger cubs. It's all about reinforcing the green and saving the planet. It's a decent moral trade. Now we have a real opportunity to step up to it. We've been wanting this for decades.

Currently Berger and other bike mechanics are just waiting. Berger received a apprentice card in the mail but now is just waiting on the government. The provincial ministry has designated bicycle mechanic as a new apprenticeship program but is hanging in limbo by another act. As explained by a ministry spokesperson:

The trade of Bicycle Mechanic was designated as a new apprenticeship program under the Apprenticeship and Certification Act, 1998 (ACA) in 2012. However, the trade is yet to be prescribed (named) under the Ontario College of Trades and Apprenticeship Act, 2009 (the Act).

When the new Act came into effect on April 8, 2013, the previous apprenticeship legislation and regulations governing apprenticeship programs, including the ACA, were revoked.

Before the Ministry can name the trade in a regulation under the Act, a 45-day consultation period with industry and training stakeholders will be required to confirm support for Bicycle Mechanic to be named as a trade under the Act.

Once support is confirmed the following events will need to occur:
· the trade will need to be named in Ontario Regulation 175/11 (Prescribed Trades and Related Matters);
· the College will need to develop the scopes of practice in regulation (O. Reg. 278/11 – Scope of Practice - Trades in the Service Sector); and
· the College of Trades Board of Governors will need to establish a panel review to determine compulsory or voluntary designation.

As of April 8, 2013 and until these events occur, no new training agreements can be registered for the trade of Bicycle Mechanic.

Active training agreements with existing apprentices will continue to be honoured; they continue to be registered apprentices with the Ministry until such time as the trade is designated or not. Please note these apprentices cannot be members of the Ontario College of Trades until the trade is named under the Act.

Once the apprenticeship program is running it will require the apprentice to put in 2000 hours of time which is followed by an exam with both practical and written components "at an institution and with an instructor yet to be named". Those who pass are certified but it will still be up to the bike shop to choose someone who is certified.

So here's crossing our fingers for bike mechanics. I know I like having the people who work on my bicycle to be good at their jobs. My life depends on it.

Counting door crashes: if you don't count it, you can't manage it

The Toronto Star recently alerted us that Toronto Police were no longer recording doorings - cyclists that are hit by the car doors of stationary cars would no longer be reported. The police claim it's because of a recent clarification by the province of what is considered a "collision". Apparently a collision is defined as “the contact resulting from the motion of a motor vehicle or streetcar or its load that produces property damage, injury, or death.”

Apparently a parked car is not in motion and a bicycle is not a motor vehicle. Well, it's not a motor vehicle, but should that matter when counting collisions?

Maybe it's out of the hands of Toronto Police. Or maybe not. Either way, Traffic Services rep Constable Clint Stibbe told the Star, “realistically, there’s no reason for us to track it, because it doesn’t meet the criteria of collision. If you said how many days a week is it sunny, we’re not going to track that".

And that's that. No apology. No "we think it's important to track dooring and will follow up with the province to ensure we have the right tools for making cyclists safer". Just justifications.

And Stibbe is supposed their PR representative. He even writes for a Traffic Services blog called "Reduce Collisions, Injury and Death in Toronto". He posted in his blog a particularly bland copy and paste job masquerading as an explanation. I suppose one way to reduce collisions is to just stop counting them.

Previous to this decision police had recorded an average of 144 doorings a year (from 2007-2011).

Okay, let's step back for a second. Stibbe wrote a follow-up post this week explaining how his interview with the Star reporter was taken out of context and how there are intricacies to the reporting process of these "personal injury collisions". Even though a "Motor Vehicle Collision Report" isn't recorded, an officer may decide to make an incident report and filed in their database. Charges may be laid. An incident report, however, isn't identified or catalogued by a specific event such as bicycle versus car. (Seemingly the police use the most primitive of databases, which makes me wonder how they are able to track down anything.)

In short, they might report it but even if they report they have no way of actually analyzing it. That's pretty much the same as saying they're not counting dooring.

Meanwhile Toronto Police Services Board chair Alok Mukherjee wants police to begin recording them again.

“Dooring, as the numbers show, is something that happens in quite a large number of cases,” Mukherjee said in an interview. “So I think it’s appropriate for us to track them as a way for us to then decide what kinds of safety measures can be taken.”

For Mukherjee, the matter is personal: a few years ago, his wife fractured her right knee after being doored in Toronto.

Years before, the police board chair himself got the “door prize,” a sarcastic term cyclists often use for the accident.

“It was a long time ago, on King St. east of Yonge,” Mukherjee said. “I was going to a meeting and someone opened a car door without checking and I fell and fractured my thumb. I needed a cast for six weeks.”

We've got no one at the top - mayor or police chief - willing to tell the cops to smarten up. So they've fallen back into their default mode of circling the wagons and trying to make this someone else's problem.

It's unbelievable that instead of us focusing on ways to reduce doorings and injuries we now have to fight to even just be recognized in the statistics. This is shameful and the Toronto Police and the province should own up to their responsibility.

In the meanwhile I encourage you to donate to the efforts of Justin Bull (of MyBikeLane.TO fame) to create a dooring database for Canadians. And listen to the discussion on Metro Morning with Matt Galloway. Matt himself is a regular cyclist so the topic is close to home.

What I did on my summer vacation: cycling around Vancouver amongst the sporty set

On my summer vacation we got a chance to visit Vancouver for a few days on our West Coast trip, borrowing a couple folding bikes from friendly Momentum Magazine folks. Vancouver is quickly jumping into the lead of great cycling infrastructure. Soon they'll have their own BIXI program. It's all great except for the pesky helmet law.

Vancouver is getting great cycling infrastructure (top photo: Burrard bridge). Cycling there is so much less stressful than Toronto. If there's anything "wrong" with Vancouver cycling is that it is still heavily dominated by the "sporty", white, middle class set compared to Toronto. Is it a cultural difference or is it BC's helmet law that is excluding non-sporty people away from picking up a bike? It will be interesting to see how the bikesharing program will be hurt by this or will change it.

Chris Bruntlett of Hush Magazine, as pointed out by James of the excellent The Urban Country blog, made a recent trip in the opposite direction of myself and made some insightful comparisons of Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal cycling habits. While Toronto really sucks for safer cycling infrastructure compared to Montreal and Vancouver, the one thing going for it is no helmet law. The helmet law in Vancouver, Chris contends, just serves to drive people away from cycling:

It achieves little, except deterring the most casual cyclists, who also happen to be the slowest and safest ones on the road. Shaming and/or fining those who take this relatively minor risk isn’t going to get them in a plastic hat: it’s going to stop them to stop cycling.

Vancouver, we'll take your cycling facilities but you can keep your spandex and helmets. Funnily even with a helmet law it seemed that about one quarter of people didn't bother to wear one. Perhaps this is because repercussions are relatively rare: a local friend noted that there were thousands of outstanding helmet fines. Still just having to stand there and be publicly shamed while a cop writes a ticket would be enough to turn off many. The helmet law has done a good job of making people think that cycling is a dangerous sport even if just riding a few blocks to the corner store. Which is a real shame since Vancouver is actually quite enjoyable by bike.

Anyway, for us outsiders I was most interested in the cycle tracks and bike boulevards, and I snapped a few photos.

Tenth Avenue bike boulevard intersection. Characteristics include restrictions of through traffic to bicycles only - motor vehicles can make right turns only - and light activation buttons accessible at bike level.

Hornby cycle tracks - bidirectional bike lanes separated from Hornby streets. They are actually narrower than what is planned for Harbord. No one complained about the inability to pass (a problem which some hardcore cyclists here have invented before the cycle tracks are installed).

Great Northern Greenway - a cycle track alongside the major street. This would be comparable to Lakeshore East bike path.

Downtown cycle tracks with bike racks. I forget which street this was on, but it was relaxing and peaceful and had easy access to parking.

Bike valet offered at the local farmers market. Cycle Toronto: make note of the efficient way to hang the bikes by the seats.

Ontario's new bicycle facilities manual: a little bit closer but still far to go

The Ontario Traffic Council has produced a new Bicycle Facilities guide. It was produced with help from Vélo Québec, which has the experience of Québec's extensive cycling facilities, and Alta Planning and Design which has been at the forefront of a new generation of protected bicycle facilities in North America. It is a promising document, but it still falls short of high water mark that is Dutch bicycle facilities standards. This much we learn from David Hembrow of A view from the cycle path, who explained how even this updated Ontario standard falls short of Dutch expectations for their own facilities. It reveals that even though the concept of providing protected facilities that appeal to all ages and abilities is now here, it has yet to fully permeate planning.

The language of the document is slippery. Some of it sounds quite reasonable on an initial reading, but when you look closely it becomes obvious that the authors have rather low aspirations for cycling. There is an expectation that cyclists can share the roadway when both speeds and traffic volumes are at higher levels than we would experience. The authors think that it is only necessary to "consider" building an on-road cycle lane even speeds of up to 100 km/h. The language of the document betrays the lack of ambition for cycling.

From the graph streets like Richmond and Adelaide would "qualify" for protected bicycle facilities, but just barely because the traffic is quite high. This graph might exclude a lot of streets that in Europe they would consider excellent candidates for separated facilities. These decisions are mostly arbitrary so perhaps the traffic planners could err on the side of making streets more comfortable.

The manual is not particularly innovative but reflects the state of the art in North America, not surprising given the consultants come from across the continent. For those of us doing cycling advocacy in North America it's good to have an outside critique to help us keep an eye on a distant goal. We are mindful that we want to celebrate our wins, big and small, lest we come off as ungrateful, something with which Hembrow doesn't have to concern himself. By being the first Ontario document to explicitly allow for protected bicycle lanes this is a real step forward. But Hembrow's excellently placed skewer of North American traffic planners blind spots shows just how far we still have to go.

Motorist impunity and the fear of cycling

Memorial banner

As the Toronto Star reports, Initial reports of the crash that killed Tom Samson indicated that he had run a red light. The police and prosecutors have now stated they do not believe Samson ran a red light; instead, they believe he had stopped, properly, to make a left turn when a van hit him from behind. The Star reports, quote, "It’s unclear what prompted the change."

The history and circumstances of bike facilities in Toronto and Montreal: TCAT video

From TCAT, a video that explores the history and circumstances of bike facilities in Toronto and Montreal. Also available in French and Spanish. As a bike advocacy nerd, I think it's a bit short but it's probably just right for the wider public to get a decent understanding.

It's interesting to see how things develop differently in Canadian cities, having just come back from Vancouver and tried out their extensive bike network of cycle tracks and bike boulevards.

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