Avid cyclists as policy makers are going extinct and they've no one else to blame

At the recent Toronto Bike Awards, Dr. Monica Campbell won the TCAT Active Transportation Champion of the Year. Monica worked in Toronto Public Health to put a "health lens" on transportation planning.

Monica is a leader in cycling issues but she is not an "avid cyclist". She only started cycling after BIXI Toronto launched. She has the perspective of someone who is interested in cycling but uncomfortable in heavy, fast traffic. In this way, Monica reflects an ongoing evolution of leadership in cycling infrastructure.

Who are "avid cyclists"? Here's a clue:

Some surviving avid cyclists (source), the three on left are members of the obscure but semi-powerful National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Bicycle Technical Committee (John Schubert, John Allen and John Ciccarelli, members of NCUTCDBTC, and New York bicycling advocate and planner Steve Faust), critiquing New York's cycling infrastructure. I don't think NYC asked the committee for permission before building those protected bike lanes. So if these guys are no longer driving the agenda, I guess that makes them backseat drivers.

Such avid cyclists—many of whom can often be seen wearing cycling-specific gear and can be heard saying phrases like "Take The Lane" and "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles"—are increasingly being surpassed by a different breed in policy circles.

The NCUTCDBTC, for their part, have approved a handful of bike symbols to be used on roads (like bike boxes that cities were building anyway) but for the most part have disapproved of the strong push for protected bike lanes and more "European" cycling infrastructure.

By the nature of their minimal-intervention philosophy that appeals to only a tiny minority of the population, the avid cycling leaders are putting themselves out of a job. Instead, it's people like this who are changing the game:

Mia Birk as Portland Bicycle Program Manager led a transformation of Portland into one of the bike-friendly cities in the United States. She's now a principal at Alta Planning & Design, a leading bicycle planning firm that also happens to operate many of the bikesharing programs that have mushroomed across North America.

And also...

Janette Sadik Khan is the current head of NYDOT who revolutionized bicycle and pedestrian planning in New York and helped to spur on a nationwide push for better bicycle infrastructure (Photo: Momentum Magazine). She also was one of the key leaders in creating a new nationwide NACTO bike planning guide for transportation planners. They had decided if they couldn't change the highway planning agencies from the inside, they'd just set up their own. There were no transportation planning guides or committees in the US that permitted protected bike lanes, so the NACTO guide is now a competing guide in North America and one which the more ambitious cities will first turn to for advice.

Sadik-Khan, seen here with former US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, launching the NACTO guide.

Evolution in local leaders

Increasingly these policy makers are not the gear heads, "avid" cyclists and the road warriors - the survivors when everyone else stopped cycling. I'll happily put myself in the category of a reforming avid cyclist.

Instead the leaders are increasingly women and men who are intensely interested in making cycling (and walking) safer for their families. In Dr. Campbell's case, she had only taken up cycling when BIXI Toronto was launched. And after being hit while using BIXI, has worked to make cycling safer. The result is that Toronto Public Health is now starting to "invade" the domain of the male-dominated Transportation Services by getting them to consider safety. Duh. To the average person as well as to Public Health it doesn't make sense why this isn't already a prime concern for the engineers.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there are actually a handful of female cycling planners who have also done great work in upsetting the applecart.)

I think there is a clear correlation of the increase in cycling, increase in safer cycling infrastructure and that the policy makers and leaders are increasingly women. And the avid cyclists/road warriors are making themselves extinct.

Corrections: Sadik-Khan is the soon to be the former head of NYCDOT. In the top photo only the left three are committee members. I made the source of the top photo more explicit and added the names of the people in the photo, instead of just linking "avid cyclists" to the source. And yes, not all avid cyclists have new bike gear, just the majority. I've removed this line "I don't imagine she's got the gear: no special shoes, padded shorts, stretchy fabric." because I think it's just a distraction from my message.

The Hammer to get bikesharing too but it's not BIXI

Hamilton is getting bikesharing by next year, reports Raise the Hammer. Instead of BIXI, the system that has been installed in all the major North American cities with bikesharing, the winning bidder was a new kid on the block, Social Bicycles. Apparently BIXI was disqualified on a technicality, but that doesn't necessarily mean that Social Bicycles wouldn't have won. Hamilton is purchasing the system with funds from Metrolinx.

Unlike BIXI and similar systems like Velib in Paris where there are stations that contain the "brains" of the operations, Social Bicycles worked to squeeze all the brains (GPS, pin pad and batteries) onto the bike. In some ways it harkens back to an older model of bikesharing, Call a Bike in Germany (but a lot less ugly). They claim that it's a cheaper way to operate and that since the bike can be locked up anywhere that people won't be stuck with a full station.

There are potential drawbacks in my mind. It's probably harder to find a bike. They've mitigated that by having a smartphone app and by providing financial incentives for people to lock up in a zone instead of just anywhere. And I'd be interested to see if the bikes are as durable as BIXI's.

So far they've only operated on a small scale in a handful of medium-sized cities like Tampa Bay, Buffalo. Hamilton's system of 650 bikes will be a major test of its viability.

It'll be interesting to compare it to Toronto's BIXI. Will it be easier to expand and operate Social Bicycles?

Half-assed connections for downtown lanes

Staff seem to be half-hearted in ensuring that Peter and Simcoe (and Richmond and Adelaide for that matter) are properly connected to the wider network.

Don't get me wrong, the east-west routes look to be awesome. And north-south they've done a half-decent job of trying to make sure there's separation. The big issue is that the staff seem to have decided that they don't find it important to design the lanes so people can safely get into them or off of them (their proposals, booklet). The pinch points:

  • Crossing Bathurst will still be a pain. The map just punts the crossings to the "future".
  • They've been unclear if they'll include a connection between Peter and Beverley. The map above says "future connection" but staff also said they reviewing modifying the Queen St intersection and connecting via Soho and Phoebe.
  • They have no plans to make it easy to cross Queen at Simcoe. Traffic lights are probably the only thing that will make it easy to cross. If we don't get that people just won't use it.
  • On the south end the bike lanes just end at Wellington and Peter. And on Simcoe cyclists must continue on unprotected bike lanes for the rest of the trip to the lake.

The interesting thing is that Peter and Simcoe were part of the "Ward 20 bike plan" that Councillor Adam Vaughan presented a few years ago:

The staff need to feel a bit of heat. And it wouldn't hurt to email Councillor Vaughan and let him know you support his proposals for Peter and Simcoe.

And, oh, let the staff know you're not pleased with their pilot project plan. The risk is that a pilot will endanger a permanent installation. The pilot as it stands is likely both too small and too temporary (just 3 months or so) to provide good results to let us know if the lanes will be popular. If they go forward with a pilot they should be doing a lot of promotional work and provide good connections to make sure cyclists know about it and are willing to use it.

See jnyzz's blog post for more commentary.

BIXI saved and City finally willing to see it as public transit

In the midst of the craziness caused by our crack-smoking, bike-hating mayor, City Council overwhelmingly voted to save BIXI Toronto. The details are still confidential but it's understood that the deal likely involved purchasing the debt of BIXI and the unlocking of expansion funding that was waiting for this deal to be settled. (Photo: Martin Reis)

Toilets for bikes swap

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong can be thanked for coming up with a unique funding plan. It involves a deal with Astral Media who was contractually obliged to build some automated self-cleaning toilets, which turned out to be quite difficult to place. Instead of building the toilets Astral will now pay the City a fixed amount of money which will be used to pay the outstanding debt of BIXI Toronto and purchase it from the Montreal head company PBSC. As a result of this BIXI Toronto will no longer have to finance the debt. I was told by BIXI's manager that they were quite capable of operating efficiently if it weren't for the approximately $3.5 million in debt that had to be financed.

If it were just up to the mayor, BIXI would have been already scrapped as a "failure". Instead it looks like the opposite is happening.

Expansion

Additionally, the deal means that BIXI will now have access to money allocated by Metrolinx for improving transportation for the Pan-Am Games and also about a million dollars in development funds that were acquired in deals that Councillors Kristyn Wong-Tam and Mike Layton made with condo developers in their wards. In the deals the developers were allowed to reduce the number of required parking spots in exchange for funds to purchase BIXI stations.

It's definitely a good start to an expansion plan with approximately one million dollars. But in order to build up the system to even the original plan of 3000 bikes would require more dedicated capital funding. Part of that may come from formalizing funding through new developments - the City is revising the parking standards.

BIXI Toronto will be run under the Toronto Parking Authority, much like Montreal's BIXI is owned by their parking authority. I believe that the third-party operator they are considering is probably Alta Bikeshare, which is already operating New York's Citibike, Chicago's Divvy and many others.

Advocacy was key

Cycle Toronto once again was key to a successful campaign. Its campaign got us BIXI three years ago when it almost died under Mayor Miller. And it now channelled the existing support of individuals and businesses into success. A lot of businesses sent letters of support via Cycle Toronto. And Cycle Toronto's Jared Kolb negotiated with a few politicians to get this deal signed and delivered.

A lot of people were sentimental about BIXI but without a firm strategy it would probably all come to naught.

Bikesharing as public transit

Minnan-Wong told the Atlantic Cities that bikesharing has to be recognized as a form of public transit that will require a subsidy to operate, just like any other public transit system.

Still, Minnan-Wong said that the program has proven popular both with the public and many Toronto lawmakers. “There’s a real appetite on our council to keep Bixi,” he says. But the business model, he says, is broken. “It has to be recognized as a form of transit,” he says. “And as we know, no form of transit breaks even. It requires a subsidy.”

That is quite a positive statement coming from a right-wing politician who was formerly quite skeptical of supporting BIXI financially. This bodes well. Even with a subsidy bikesharing doesn't get much cheaper as far as transportation goes.

BIXI will now not only survive our crack-smoking mayor but thrive.

Bike lanes on Richmond-Adelaide: a win for Cycle Toronto. Now improve plan for Simcoe and Peter

The preferred configuration for Richmond and Adelaide looks like it will be one-way protected bike lanes on both streets. The Wellington option was dropped as inferior. This is a great win for Cycle Toronto which has been campaigning for this exact configuration. And it's in no small part due to public works chair Minnan-Wong championing it for the last few years. It's ironic that it took a (former) ally of Mayor Ford to get this essential project completed.

While the east-west route is shaping up well - really, it will be awesome - Cycle Toronto has some issues with the north-south connections that the City staff are recommending. The staff seem to have left out any specific recommendations of how to fix the Peter/Queen intersection so that cyclists can safely connect to the Beverley bike lanes. And the Simcoe contraflow lane stops a bit short at Richmond instead of connecting to Queen.

There will be an open house next week Monday, November 18, and
Tuesday, November 19, 2013. There will be a presentation Monday at 6pm and from 9am to 9pm both days the materials will be on display at the Metro Hall Rotunda, 55 John Street. If you can't attend then you can email your comments to CyclingRichmondAdelaide@toronto.ca and copy info@cycleto.ca.

You can read the booklet handed out at the last stakeholders workshop to get an idea of the current recommendations.

So please attend the public consultation; please, please thank the staff for all their hard work and give them some feedback on how they can provide better protection for Simcoe and Peter. Thank you.

North/south connections

As for further details on the north-south connections, Cycle Toronto is asking people to make these requests to improve the plan:

  • Fully protected lanes on Peter St & Simcoe St (staff are currently proposing painted lanes on the southbound lane on Simcoe St between King St and Front St).
  • Realignment of the Soho St / Peter St intersection to promote a smooth north / south transition between Beverley St, Phoebe St, Soho St and Peter St.
  • Additional traffic signals on Simcoe St from Queen St south to Front St to increase safety for cyclists.
  • Contraflow lanes on Phoebe St and fully protected lanes on Simcoe St from Front St to the lake!

The City and Councillor Vaughan have been aware of the problem at Peter and Queen for a few years now. A creative solution was even offered a couple years ago by Dave Meslin on how to cross Queen:

Councillor Vaughan told me that his office was looking at solutions for the intersection when I spoke with him at the last stakeholders meeting. I'm a bit surprised that nothing concrete has come out yet. Not even a possible solution of moving the lights.

It's a pretty good plan with some key places where improvements can be made if staff are serious about improving the protection for cyclists. It has yet to be built but I'm getting more optimistic that we will see some big improvements downtown because of this plan.

Two-way cycle tracks are fine, just look to Montreal

Rue Berri cycle tracks

Are two-way (or bidirectional if you prefer) protected bike lanes "dangerous"? Some of the opposition to the Harbord proposal are fomenting fear and doubt by claiming as much. There's even a "No Danger Lanes" facebook page decrying the bidirectional for Harbord.

Let's put this question a different way. Has there been an uproar in Montreal about death and destruction because of their plentiful bidirectional bike lanes? Has there been a bloodbath that we've been ignoring?

I might have missed something but I think not. Montrealers seem to be plenty angry at their corrupt mayors but when it comes to their bidirectional cycle tracks (aka protected bike lanes), the overwhelming majority of people seem to be happy and there's been no outcry of cyclists getting injured on them in great numbers.

And Montreal isn't alone. Cycling nirvanas like Amsterdam also have bidirectional cycle tracks and the people seem to be happy with them, or at the very least accepted them.


A bi-directional path. Photo: Mikael Colville-Andersen.

So let's use some common sense. Two-way cycle tracks are not dangerous. They are safe and people are comfortable with them.

Is this a bloodbath you were looking for?

You might say, "Well that's all well and good but what about this Montreal blogger who seems to have discovered the dangers of Montreal bidirectional?"

Let's take a look.

This Montreal blogger is David Beitel who made a claim that the cycle tracks in Montreal have an "elevated risk" of cycling accidents. He pointed out that two of the cycle tracks had the second and third highest number of accidents between cyclists and drivers in Montreal out of all streets.

You might exclaim: holy crap, why are all these cyclists getting injured on cycling infrastructure? Let's rip it all out!

But let's not get carried away. Beitel falls for a common error: he provides absolutely no context to the data; no denominator to put his data into proper perspective. The denominator we need here is the number of people cycling on each street.

Without a denominator of the cycling traffic volume, we might as well just conclude that riding on a highway like the Gardiner Expressway is the safest. Highways typically have very few cycling crashes. But they also usually have next to zero cyclists using them. Because it's illegal.

Beitel's approach cannot avoid absurd conclusions.

When we take into account cycling traffic volumes we would find that the cycle tracks in Montreal, such as De Maisonneuve and Berri, are actually not dangerous at all. When cycling traffic increases we will typically see some uptick in the number of car-bike collisions. And we realize that even though a highway may have zero cyclist colliding with drivers, it might be because there were no cyclists there.

So Beitel's conclusions are junk and anyone here in Toronto who references Beitel as "proof" of the danger of bidirectional is plain wrong. If you're curious you can read a bit more about this in the Evidence Training Guide created for cycling educators by the Cycling in Cities group at the University of British Columbia (particularly pages 2, 3 and 43 in the sidebar).

Bidirectional cycle tracks are probably safer

Of the scientific evidence we do have, we could make a safe bet that 1) bidirectional cycle tracks are probably safer than riding on the road and 2) cycle tracks in general are safer than bike lanes.

In a study headed up by Harvard's Dr. Lusk, it found that Montreal's two-way cycle tracks were shown to be "either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions".

Lusk found that Rue Berri (as pictured above) had a lower risk (0.48) than the reference street of Denis. Reference streets are always considered to be 1 for comparison purposes. Being below one means a street is safer than the reference.

Overall, the study found that the cycle tracks they studied (all of which were bidirectional) had a 28% lower injury rate. Lusk concluded that their "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."

Cycle tracks (one and two-way) are safer than the road

Cycle tracks in general are safer than both riding on the road or even riding in a painted bike lane. The following diagram from UBC's study of injuries and bike infrastructure describes it well:

Cycle tracks beat all the other options for on-road infrastructure by a mile.

Where possible, build unidirectional otherwise bidirectional works

This all being said, the cycling infrastructure guides are now usually recommending unidirectional over bidirectional. Vélo Québec's Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists, for instance, says (p. 80):

"On-road bike paths should preferably be unidirectional. Bi-directional paths offer effective safety between intersections but complicate traffic at intersections. In fact, they increase the number of conflict points between bicycles and turning vehicles."

"Preferable" but not always possible.

This is fine in an ideal world. But we live in a world with physical and political constraints. We don't have the political sway to force politicians to ignore merchants and take out all the parking on any of our major arterials. Bidirectional is seen as a compromise: cyclists get something safer, more comfortable and merchants get to keep some on-street parking. For instance, Councillor Vaughan has publicly stated that on Harbord it is bidirectional or nothing:

“The bi-directional protects the parking that is needed,” says Vaughan. When asked for specific numbers his assistant helps out: “Right now there are 48 parkings spots – and with the bi-directional plan, we are trying to salvage 95 to 98 per cent of parking.” The unidirectional plan would take out all of the on-street parking.

“If the choice is bi-directional or nothing then bi-directional is safer,” says Vaughan.

So we are fighting for bidirectional on Harbord and possibly on more streets in the future with similar constraints. And we will work with traffic planners and the community to make them as safe as possible. There are number of tools at the planners' disposal: separate light phases, improved sightlines, markings through the intersections, signage, bump-outs and so on.

References

A business that understands bike parking is good for biz

Stone Canoe, an advertising agency on Richmond St. West, understands the need for good bike parking. Most of its employees bike to work. But instead of just buying a commodity bike rack they instead used their creative juices to build their own. The result was impressive: a quite functional bike rack that also represents the company's brand (a stone canoe no less). (Image: Jacques Gallant)

Stone Canoe commissioned a half-ton piece of artwork geared to give cyclists in the area a beautiful place to park their bicycles. The bike rack, reminiscent of a stone canoe, has been installed on the northwest corner of Walnut Ave. and Richmond St. West. The Toronto Stone Canoe team worked closely with Montreal jewellery designer, Pilar Agueci (pilaragueci.com), and Montreal metalsmith, Jacques Gallant (solutionsgallant.com), who designed and built the rack. It serves as a functional roadside attraction, and an indication of the boutique advertising agency’s commitment to creativity, and standing out.

Drivers still liable even if they hit sidewalk cyclists

A reader sent this question to me:

Hi,

I started commuting by bike this year around Vaughan and the North Toronto Area. Given the lack of bike lanes on my commute and the speed of traffic on the roads I use the sidewalks for some of my commute. I have noticed that drivers pulling out of driveways or turning at intersections rarely stop at the sidewalks or intersections to check for pedestrians as required by the Highway Traffic Act (HTA). I realise that I also violate the HTA by riding on the sidewalk, but I would like to know if I am ever hit because a driver did not check for pedestrian traffic when pulling out of a driveway, do I have any rights as a cyclist or am I fully to blame for riding on the side walk?

Thank you,
Tom

I'm no lawyer so I passed the question on to Patrick Brown of Mcleish Orlando, who has represented a lot of cyclists involved in collisions. Turns out that even if you're riding on the sidewalk a driver will likely still be largely liable for damages in a civil suit.

Here's what Patrick said:

I have had cases involving both situations: 1) where the cyclist is on the sidewalk and is hit by a car on a driveway leading to the road, and 2) where the cyclist is on the sidewalk and rides on to the roadway at an intersection. In each case, the lion share of liability has been found against the driver of the car regardless of the fact that the person was riding on the sidewalk.

In a civil case, whenever a cyclist or pedestrian is struck down by a car, there is a reverse onus applied to the driver.

Section 193 of Highway Traffic Act imposes a reverse onus on the driver who strikes a pedestrian/cyclist. The Defendant driver is presumed to have been negligent unless he/she can prove otherwise. The courts have repeatedly indicated that “the defendant cannot discharge the onus on him/her by showing that the plaintiff’s loss or damage was caused in part by the negligence of the plaintiff. That can only be done by the defendant showing that there was no negligence or misconduct on his part.” (Shapiro v. Wikinson, [1943] O.J. No. 806 (Ont. C.A.), aff’d by [1944] S.C.R. 443 (S.C.C.) . The courts have therefore found that the duty owed by the driver is to “take proper precautions to guard against risks that might reasonably be anticipated to arise.”

In many cases, the driver is responsible to look for pedestrians and other users of the sidewalk. The fact that a person is on a bike does not remove this responsibility from the driver and does not give the driver to hit the person. therefore, in the majority of instances, the driver of the car will be held to be at fault unless they can show that they took reasonable steps to look and see what was there.

In these cases, the driver’s insurance defence lawyer will assert contributory negligence against the cyclist. Depending on the nature of the collision, the cyclist may have a portion of fault attributed to him or her. For example, if the cyclist was at a standstill or moving slowly when struck, the fact they were on the sidewalk with a bike would be immaterial, since they were there to be seen. In those circumstances, the driver would likely be found 100 percent to blame. If, however, the cyclist was riding at a quick pace and they were difficult to see due to obstructions, a portion of fault may be found against them. Once fault is determined, the driver of the car is responsible to pay damages based on their percentage of fault.

Therefore, even though you are riding on a sidewalk and a car hits you, you can still successfully sue for damages. In the majority of circumstances, the larger share [and in many cases 100% share] will fall on the driver.

Some people will want me to take a firm stance against sidewalk cycling. I think it's more complicated than that. It's not surprising that people choose to ride on the sidewalk in the suburbs. The roads are simply scary, even for experienced cyclists like myself (and more so the older I get). I usually take the road but sometimes will only carefully take the sidewalk if the road is too scary (hello Highway 7).

I've given some tips before on how to safely and respectfully ride on the sidewalk. Since we teach our children to ride on the sidewalk safely and respectfully, perhaps we should also teach adults who are not able to navigate fast suburban traffic how to use the sidewalks as well (legality aside).

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