Toilets for BIXI

A plan for saving BIXI Toronto seems to be shaping up. Councillor Minnan-Wong may be on to something with an idea to scrap the expensive self-cleaning toilet contract with Astral Media in exchange for Astral Media paying down BIXI Toronto's outstanding loan. Even Councillor Vaughan thinks it's a good idea. The self-cleaning toilets seemed to be a great idea during Miller's term but it turns out that they aren't nearly as popular as BIXI.

Astral Media made a deal with the City a few years ago, promising to pay for street furniture in exchange for plastering its ads around Toronto. There was a marginal but expensive self-cleaning toilet project that has been having trouble finding locations. Turns out toilets are not as popular as BIXI bikes.

From the Toronto Star

The 20-year Astral contract allows the city to “cash out” of the toilets after 10 years — that is, force Astral to pay the city a certain amount of money in exchange for the right to not build the majestic thrones. Minnan-Wong’s proposal: persuade the company to allow the city to cash out now, four years early, and funnel the proceeds to the Bixi debt.

“It’s an initiative that the details have to be worked out on. But there is a synergy and an interest on everybody’s part,” said Minnan-Wong, a North York conservative. “The public wants to save Bixi. The city wants to save Bixi. The city is not so interested in the toilets. And Astral is willing to help out.”

It seems that the City also got some interest from companies in purchasing or just operating BIXI. The most promising is Alta Bikeshare, which is already operating a number of BIXI Toronto's sister systems, including in New York and Chicago. They are willing to assume the debt servicing but only if they can reduce costs and increase revenues slightly (read increase prices). It's unclear if the City will be pursuing private operators in addition to paying off the debt by scrapping toilets. It might be a good way to clean the slate and let an operator and the City invest in a much needed expansion. We'll find out more today as BIXI goes back to Exec Committee.

Update: The Exec Committee item provides some more details but no mention of the toilet deal.

None of the six respondents to the RFI were of the view that the BIXI Toronto operation could be assumed by a private operator/owner without some level of City subsidy; however there appears that there could be some potential to reduce the City's financial risk, to some extent, through a new arrangement with a private sector firm.

The six respondents:

  • Alta Bicycle Share (operates other large BIXI systems and likely has the best chance of running BIXI Toronto in my estimation)
  • B-cycle (operates its own bikesharing system in smaller American markets. Would it want to replace BIXI bikes with its own clunky model?)
  • CycleHop (site offline but claims to be involved in bikesharing management. small potatoes)
  • Four Square Integrated Transportation Planning (has done some bikesharing planning for Capital Bikeshare)
  • StartUpNorth (if it's this site, it seems to have no experience with managing such systems)
  • Toole Design Group (transportation planning)

The respondents were able to provide some useful comments (p.4):

There was a general consensus among the RFI respondents that bike share programs cannot fund the start-up capital equipment costs through membership and usage fees and sponsorship contributions. Bike share programs generally require some form of funding for the initial capital investment, either through municipal funding, government grants or a large title (i.e. naming rights) sponsorship.

How BIXI Toronto compares to other systems - performing well in some areas, poor in others:

  • Has reasonable operating costs;
  • Has a low number of members per bicycle compared to other systems;
  • Is generating a large number of trips per bicycle;
  • Has a cost-recovery, through membership and usage fees, that is generally in line with other comparable systems;
  • Appears to have a lower than expected level of sponsorship revenue on a per bike basis; and
  • Could increase membership, stimulate usage and generate sponsorship opportunities by expanding the system.

Have your say on Richmond and Adelaide today and on Harbord tomorrow

The first open house for Richmond and Adelaide cycle tracks is happening today (hurry!) at City Hall until 9pm and for Harbord (the Wellesley/Hoskin section was already approved) tomorrow at Kensington Gardens, Multi-Purpose Room 25 Brunswick Avenue from 4 to 8pm.

There's a booklet to explain all the details for Richmond and Adelaide. I first saw this informative document at the stakeholders meeting two weeks ago.

Speaking of which, the meeting was quite interesting. There were a lot of people there who were excited in some kind of separated bike lane. Even the head of the taxi union/federation had previously lived in the Netherlands and "got it" when it came to safe cycling infrastructure.

I was approached by Councillor Adam Vaughan afterwards. That's a whole blog post in itself. He was quite concerned that I had painted him in a negative light (as being indifferent, or at worst, against the separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide). So he wanted to set the record straight. I can't say I came away from the chat thinking that he'd drastically changed his mind, though he seems less likely to block the bike lanes in favour of his configuration. On Harbord, Councillor Vaughan was much more clear: he supports separated bike lanes there because it's got community support. Let's hope Vaughan can be convinced too that the prime concern of many is that there is a safe, protected bike route on Richmond, Adelaide, Peter and Simcoe. We want more bicycle highways.

American bicycle culture and infra from the perspective of a Dutchman

A Dutch "anthropological" look at American bicycle culture by Mark Wagenbuur of BicycleDutch. Much the same for Canada. Glimmers of change, but we're still so much in a car-fetishizing culture with space dominated by cars.

Infographic: how cyclists will go out of their way to travel on comfortable bike lanes

Thanks to Iain Campbell for this great infographic "Two Wheeled Traffic, or why bike lanes work"! It shows the bike traffic volume relative to the size of the road. Thus a street like St. George has only two car lanes but carries many more cyclists than nearby Queen's Park/University with its 8 lanes. Iain's data came from the City's 2010 Bike Cordon Count, which counted bike traffic into and out of downtown over 24 hours.

Iain's infographic provides a strong visual of how bike lanes are a much stronger magnet for cyclists than the importance of a road for car traffic. It strongly suggests that people will go out of their way to travel on a more comfortable, less stressful street with bike lanes. This is why I believe that separated bike lanes on Richmond and/or Adelaide will be a big draw for people of all ages, shapes and sizes.

There's more than one way to stop a bike lane

Bike Lane Closed by Tino

Councillor Vaughan said that he has never voted against a bike lane. Though that might be true, there are many ways to stop a bike lane. (Photo credit: Tino)

The obvious way to stop a bike lane is to vote against it. An example is University when the opposition to Mayor Miller passed an amendment to remove University from the bike lane plan that year.

The most egregious way to stop a bike lane, for which Toronto has become world famous, is to rip out existing ones. Thanks to spiteful Mayor Ford, Councillor Minnan-Wong and Councillor Berardinetti we are now three bike lanes fewer.

Those are the methods that get the most public attention. But even before a bike lane reaches a vote or is built, a bike lane can be stopped. John Street is a favoured north-south route for cyclists. Councillor Vaughan led a drive to turn it into a "pedestrian priority zone" (as well as a patio zone from what I can tell of the plans). The environmental assessment, which ended last year, resulted in a solution with no bike lanes. It didn't help to build trust in the process when the consultants largely ignored cyclists in the official count. Dave Meslin revealed the fudge of their recorded flatlined 2% bike mode share by conducting his own count (along with some help from yours truly and other volunteers) showing a much higher number during peak hours.

According to the EA, however, the bike mode share didn't matter since they were directed to create a pedestrian priority zone (which also happened to include motor vehicles, large and small). As a palliative, Vaughan had pointed out that Peter would become the alternative route, though we've yet to see much movement among staff or councillor to create that solution. Thus I'll hazard to say that the entire process was configured so that bike lanes would be excluded and never come to a vote.

Another way to stop a bike lane is to build local opposition. The current Vaughan says he supports separated bike lanes, but the older Vaughan actually blasted them as "barricaded". That doesn't sound like someone who supported separated bike lanes, but instead like someone who's trying to build local opposition to them.

Yet another way to stop a bike lane is to call for more community consultation or to make it a pilot project. Councillor Wong-Tam took these tactics with the Sherbourne protected bike lanes. The City's Cycling Unit staff went door to door along Sherbourne, consulted with businesses and residents groups, and held public consultation meetings for Sherbourne (where the majority of attendees supported the lanes). I was told by a staffperson at the time that Councillor Wong-Tam provided next to no help in making her constituents aware of the project. It all suggested an attempt at stopping the bike lanes by studying it to death.

It's easy to point out the idiocy of politicians who rip out bike lanes, but it's good to keep in mind that there are more subtle ways out there to kill a bike lane while trying to keep the "progressive" label.

Cycling Gotham

Humber Woods Park

[I'd like to introduce a new blogger to I Bike TO, Ian Slater. Ian is a father, husband and professor at York University. And as a guy on a bike, he'll be providing us with an interesting perspective of the long-distance commuter. Welcome Ian! -- Herb]

I was driving my son home from class one night on a poorly lit side street in Toronto when a cyclist, with no helmet, no lights, no reflectors and in dark clothing flew off the sidewalk and cut me off. I saw him at the last second and braked. He then pulled over to the side up ahead, adjusting something on his belt. I drove by, rolled down my window and told him, “I can’t see you brother, you’re completely invisible in the dark, I almost hit you.”, to which he replied:

“I can see you”, and rode off into the night.

My son asked me, “what did he mean by that?”

I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the answer to that question. What did he mean by that? Surely this guy is smart enough to realize that he is hard to see in the dark without any sort of lights and wearing light non-reflective clothing. And no helmet too, what does this tell me? Well, maybe he’s overconfident, that would explain his comment. Or perhaps he thinks that you are just as likely to run him over if he’s visible as when he’s not, so why bother?

The longer I listen to the public dialogue around cars and bikes in Toronto the more I favour the latter explanation. I think many cyclists are both overconfident and convinced that motorists would just as soon run them over as pass them by. I have seen many, many verbal fights break out between cyclists and motorists as I commute. They are rarely pretty. It’s all “war on the bike” and “war on the car”, I want a better model, war is ugly and, to be frank, if we’re at war the bikes are going to lose.

The level of mutual animosity in all this finally pushed me to start blogging. I think it’s time to dive in to the public dialogue.

Toronto occupies a very interesting position, a large metropolitan center with an international population, a strained transit system and an increasing number of cyclists. Or so it seems from what I see on the roads. Toronto has been cited as having the worst commute times from a sample of international cities, 80 min a day (that includes to and from work).

The TTC is strained and expanding, the city is growing. Air quality is impacted by an increased number of cars, I breathe the difference every time I ride. I see the wistful look on motorist’s faces when I wheel by them in a traffic jam.
We are ripe for a cycling revolution, but the mutual animosity makes this difficult.

I’ll be posting here regularly, giving my thoughts on current issues around cycling in TO, and hopefully pointing out some useful information for those who are thinking of long distance urban cycle commuting. What works for the short hop rider doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.

I hope I can bring a fresh perspective on things, and possibly get a few people who have been thinking about cycling to give it a go. The weather right now is fantastic for riding, cool and sunny, and everything is in full bloom, giving almost every street in the city a roiling green canopy, there’s never been a better time to be on something moving at a speed that allows you to see what’s all around you. The fresh air on your face, the ability to pass bumper to bumper traffic.

You know you want it.

I have also been taking pictures of Toronto cycling routes for 5 years or so, all on my phone camera and while moving. I’ll post a pic here regularly too, maybe it will inspire you to try out a new trail, with all the focus on bike lanes, we forget that Toronto has a wealth of urban cycling trails.

The pic at the top is from Humber Woods Park in North West Toronto.

Cheers,

Ian

Councillor Vaughan will not support "bicycle highways," in and of themselves, on Richmond and Adelaide

Dunsmuir cycle track - Paul Krueger

No matter which way you look at it, Councillor Vaughan has never said "I unreservedly support separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide". Instead he has caveats and reservations. Vaughan is willing to sacrifice protected bike lanes, and the safety of cyclists, on Richmond and Adelaide if he doesn't get his beautification list. On their own, in and of themselves, protected bike lanes have little value to Vaughan. This much I have parsed from his words. (Photo: Dunsmuir bike lane. Credit: Paul Krueger.)

Councillor Vaughan told me he supports bike lanes. In an email, he replied "Separated bike lanes, integrated with a stronger pedestrian realm is a must." He was visiting Vancouver at the time, exclaiming "great bike lanes here!" But here's his qualifier: "If all we build is a bike lane then all we will have accomplished is building a by-pass." An "isolated gesture". Just "bicycle highways". So is that a maybe? Why is a well-informed politician, who has a strong opinion on almost every area of city building, caging his words on separated bike lanes?

By the way, Councillor McConnell didn't put any restrictions on her support for protected bike lanes on the portions of Richmond and Adelaide that run through her ward. She supports them. Period.

Isolated gestures

Vaughan celebrates Vancouver bike lanes, but does he know that the outstanding protected bike lanes on Dunsmuir and Hornby streets were done as "isolated gestures"? Mayor Gregor Robertson of Vancouver took leadership in pushing for them even against some local opposition. The primary focus was bike lanes. Sure they put in planters but they weren't deal breakers. For free, Vancouver got even further separation of car traffic from traffic on the foot highway (like in the photo above).

The protected bike lanes, in fact, would be an isolated but major gesture for a ward where little has been done to install and advance protected cycling infrastructure. Politicians and traffic planners alike have mostly ignored cycling safety for so long that in order to get anything built, bike lanes are, by nature, "isolated". It seems as if bike lanes in downtown are constantly being pushed off the table, whether it be Yorkville, in front of Union Station, John Street and now the Annex. In each case the politicians and traffic planners have figured that people on bikes will just have to fight it out with cars.

Vaughan had a perfect opportunity to get protected bike lanes in Ward 20 when he was a close ally of former Mayor David Miller. During this administration's 6 years not one protected bike lane was built. The closest we came was a failed vote on a protected bike lane for University. People tend to focus on Councillor Paula Fletcher's mistaken vote, but the Mayor wasn't even present for the vote. It wasn't important enough for the mayor.

What does he want
Vaughan has described protected bike lanes at various times as "bicycle highways", "single use and isolated gestures", "barricaded", "by-passes". So why is he holding up progress on bicycle infrastructure? What are these other things he wants? From his comments I've gathered these requirements: "Stronger pedestrian realm" aka fancier "foot highways." Planters. Bike parking. "Connectivity". Two-way streets. "Complete streets"

Foot highways? Last I looked there were foot highways on both sides of the street. And they're bidirectional!

Planters? Well here you go:

But is he going to try to block the bike lanes if he can't get planters?

Bike Parking? Nope. Is he seriously considering this a requirement for his support?

Connectivity? Done. It already connects with Beverley bike lanes and Sherbourne! And can be extended to Eastern bike lanes and to the Railpath. (Richmond and Adelaide are certainly more connected than Vaughan's preference for Wellington).

Two-way streets? Come on, you can do better. New York is full of one-way vibrant streets as "destinations".

Complete streets Sorry, Vaughan's definition sucks: "accommodate choice in as safe and as beautiful a way as possible". So far as I can tell, no jurisdiction that has a complete streets policy has put "beauty" on par with safety. No one's going to say they hate beauty but who would sacrifice safety for it? (Other than an artist). Instead, Toronto's City Planning says complete streets is the "safe and adequate accommodation, in all phases of project planning and development, of all users of the transportation system." Let's use their definition.

Fast forward to now
We have a plan to build awesome, connected protected bike lanes across downtown. There are zero alternatives. So far, Councillor Vaughan is unwilling to lend his support. Is he just trying to squeeze some concessions, or his he willing to let the plan die if he doesn't get his way?

We'll see. This bike lanes will represent, I think, a turning point. Either we'll begin down the bicycle highway towards emulating cities like Chicago, Vancouver and New York, or we'll hit a deep pothole and stall safe cycling in this city.

Footnotes: quoting Vaughan on bike lanes
For those interested in the history of Vaughan's quotes on bicycle highways, read on.

Last year (2012) at a joint ward meeting that I attended with Cycle Toronto's representing wards 19, 20, 27, and 28 Councillor Vaughan had suggested that he was against "bicycle highways":

"...to create a bike highway through the downtown is as serious a piece of bad planning as a car highway."

He had also said at that meeting that "creating a single use capacity will not solve the problem".

Also last year (2012) at a meeting organized by the Harbord Village Residents Association on bike lanes for Harbord Vaughan had said:

When we build bike lanes they must be separated. Painted lanes are good but aren't safe enough. My son, who bikes, needs the separation to be safe.

People in this neighbourhood cycle but they don't do it safely. We don't accept it for drivers, nor for pedestrians, but we accept lack of safety for cyclists. We need to change that.

And in January of this year (2013) Councillor Vaughan had said to the Toronto Star that he remained undecided regarding bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide.

It’s crucial that any bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide be considered in the larger context of pedestrian traffic, cars and transit, said Councillor Adam Vaughan (Trinity-Spadina). Although he’s willing to consider bike lanes, he hasn’t made up his mind. The entertainment district needs to be considered as a destination, not just a series of thoroughfares, he said.

In 2011 in a letter to his residents Vaughan had called them "barricaded bike lanes".

From Vaughan's response from last week:

We have set aside funding for streetscape improvements. Bike lanes, bike parking, plantings and connectivity are all important components of a good plan.

I support exploring these issues specifically, and separated bike lanes generally. They are a critical component of the future for the street. But they must form part of a comprehensive re-thinking of the streets and not just a single use and isolated gesture.

If all we build is a bike lane then all we will have accomplished is building a by-pass. This is not good planning nor will it serve riders well. It should never be about getting from a to b. It should be about building complete streets that accommodate choice in as safe and as beautiful a way as possible. ...

Why unidirectional cycle tracks will likely work better on Richmond and Adelaide

Richmond and Adelaide unidirectional bike lanes

If all goes well Richmond and Adelaide will have protected cycle tracks by the end of next year. We don't get many chances like this in Toronto where we missed our Bike Plan's targets by a wide margin. Bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide are in the Bike Plan, which means it's been over twelve years!

There is some risk that we won't get them. Councillor Vaughan, for instance, still won't commit to supporting the bike lanes (I'll delve more into what Vaughan thinks in my next post) and who knows what will happen after the 2014 municipal election if the lanes are delayed. So I think it's imperative to build them efficiently, while still getting a result that is safer and cost-effective. As I'll argue below, I think it's justified for us to get nit-picky and traffic-planning geeky here. I think you should support unidirectional protected bike lanes as the best kind of protected bike lanes for this project.

First, let's get the definitions right. A unidirectional cycle track has one way bike traffic. Cycle tracks in New York are mostly unidirectional (the photo above shows a unidirectional cycle track as imagined on Richmond by Dave Meslin). Good examples of bidirectional bike traffic can be seen on the Martin Goodman Trail, or the cycle tracks in Montreal. On bidirectional cycle tracks or bike paths bike traffic goes in both directions.

One of the main things going for a bidirectional cycle track is that it doesn't require as much width and typically allows for more on-street parking to remain. Such might be the compromise on Harbord/Hoskin where the Cycling Unit staff prefer a bidirectional cycle track. Hoskin and Harbord are considered good candidates for bidirectional because there are few major intersections -- only Bathurst and Spadina -- unlike Richmond and Adelaide.

However, there are more reasons to consider unidirectional cycle tracks for Richmond and Adelaide as the preferred option:

  1. Makes it easier to extend the bike facilities west of Bathurst to Strachan and perhaps connecting to the West Toronto Railpath extension through the CAMH grounds to Sudbury.
  2. Is less expensive because it doesn't require new traffic lights. Thus less likely to be shelved because of cost.
  3. Results in less waiting at intersections for all traffic because there would be fewer light phases.
  4. Is generally the preferred, safer option where it is possible to install unidirectional (according to traffic experts in Denmark and Netherlands).
  5. Makes it more likely that the bike lanes are installed before the election. We don't know if a new Council will still have the willpower to install them.
  6. Allows for more predictable traffic movements at major intersections, of which Richmond and Adelaide have a few (Bathurst, Spadina, University, Bay, Yonge, Church and Jarvis).

Danish researchers Ekman and Kronborg found that unidirectional tracks were typically safer than bidirectional because they allow for merging of traffic at intersections:

Ekman and Kronborg (1995) conducted an extensive literature review and interviewed bicycle safety and traffic-engineering experts across Scandinavia and in the Netherlands to compare the merits of unidirectional versus bidirectional bicycle tracks. They found that bidirectional tracks on one side of the road are cheaper to build than two unidirectional paths on opposite sides of the road but that the former are less safe. Bidirectional paths are less safe, they argued, because they do not allow cyclists to merge with traffic lanes when near intersections. Merging with traffic lanes reduces the risk of being struck by turning vehicles. [Ekman, L. & Kronborg, P. (1995). Traffic safety for pedestrians and cyclists at signal-controlled intersections. Report 1995: 4E. TFK. Lund.]

Note that they say that bidirectional is cheaper than unidirectional but they are assuming both options are on the same street. We have a unique opportunity to build on separate streets with unidirectional which would likely preclude installing whole new traffic signals. Thus believe unidirectional would be cheaper for Richmond and Adelaide. I'm interested to see if the EA will confirm that.

We've waited long enough
I think there's a recognition by many people that we've been waiting too long for good cycling infrastructure. As of this writing the groups who've officially supported the protected bike lanes, with many also specifying unidirectional, include Hot Docs, MEC, Annex Residents Association, Moore Park Residents Association, Liberty Village Residents Association, and West Queen West BIA. See the letters of support on Cycle Toronto's site.

Transportation Commissioner Gabe Klein of Chicago, noted at a recent talk in Toronto, that Toronto has gotten a lot of things right - streetcars, sidewalks, condos sprouting up all over. But the one glaring hole is a lack of cycling infrastructure. Toronto is exceptional among North American cities in that it has a significant cycling population but it has fallen way behind in providing protected bike lanes. While Chicago zooms ahead in installing hundreds of miles of protected bike lanes, cycling activists in Toronto are struggling to get just one cycle track that was promised years ago. So it's no wonder people are getting impatient.

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