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.

Harbord cycle tracks will not be for the hardcore but for the rest of us

Weak cycling infrastructure on Harbord

The Harbord and Hoskin bike route as it currently exists is not good enough to convince a large percentage of people to bike. For that to happen, as many other cities have found out, physically separated bike facilities make cycling much more popular as well as safer.

Even though Harbord and Hoskin is a popular bike route (partly by funneling people from other streets), its painted bike lanes and sharrows only attract a small portion of Torontonians. Being just paint makes it easy for motorists to park in, and sharrows do nothing to prevent cyclists from having to struggle and squeeze between car doors and fast moving traffic.

We've now got an opportunity to showcase a new, better way of building bike infrastructure. Harbord to Wellesley, if all goes well, from Ossington to Parliament will have protected bike lanes along its entire length by the end of 2014.

Toronto is hardly being radical by building protected bike lanes. Heck, even Lincoln Nebraska is building a bidirectional cycle track!

Lincoln, Nebraska gets its own cycle tracks

Attracting the "interested but concerned"

The Portland Bureau of Transportation in a survey found a "interested but concerned" group of potential cyclists that made up 60% of the population. This is a group that is willing to bike (unlike the 30% who would never consider cycling) but have been turned down by the poor state of infrastructure. Compare that 60% to the 1% of the strong and fearless and the 7% of the enthused and confident and it makes me think how vocal cyclists now often fail to think of how different things would be if even half the potential cyclists could be converted.

For the interested but concerned person, this is what is needed to convince them to hop on a bike on busy urban roads - separation from motor vehicles. These are people - young, old and unsure - who are uncomfortable riding in busy traffic and will only consider cycling as a regular activity if they get more infrastructure.

This group of potential cyclists rank separation from traffic higher than existing cyclists. The preference study at UBC's Cycling in Cities showed that for potential cyclists, having separated bike lanes or quiet bike boulevards was important and were unwilling to ride on major streets with parked cars and just painted bike lanes. It's interesting to note that even regular cyclists ranked cycle tracks highly but were much more comfortable riding on major streets with painted bike lanes.

Where hardcore cyclists are comfortable riding in mixed traffic next to large trucks and car doors (though even this changes as we get older), the potential cyclists are most comfortable on recreational bike paths and with clear separation from motorized traffic. While hardcore cyclists tend to be dominated by men, potential cyclists represent the larger population in gender, age and ability.

The City still tends to listen primarily to the 2% hardcore cyclists when building new bike facilities. The idea for protected bike lanes on Harbord (and Sherbourne and Richmond/Adelaide), however, came from outside the hardcore group. It was borne of people who had seen cities like Amsterdam or New York and saw the potential in Toronto. It was a major push to get City cycling staff and cycling advocates to think beyond painted bike lanes that provide next to no comfort or protection and focus more on the concerns the 60% and come up with strategies for building what is needed.

Protected bike lanes on Harbord and Hoskin will help provide a mind-shift among Torontonians, improving infrastructure for the majority.

Harbord/Hoskins needs more than just paint

Some preliminary drawing and figures were presented at the recent open house.

From Queens Park to St. George

From St. George to Ossington

Harbord and Hoskins cycle tracks will be a great improvement for those streets where speeding along stretches is still common, drivers routinely park in the bike lanes, and where a large stretch doesn't even have bike lanes.

Protected bike lanes are safer

But it's not just that people prefer more separation on streets like Harbord, it has also been shown to be safer than just painted bike lanes. After NYCDOT build cycle tracks on Prospect Park in Brooklyn they found a number of benefits, more so than what a painted bike lane would provide:

  • Speeding is down
  • Sidewalk cycling is down
  • Crashes are down
  • More cyclists of all ages are using it

The protected bike lanes will also provide specific benefits of vastly improving the intersection at Queens Park and Hoskin. What is currently an uncomfortable and unsafe intersection where cyclists and pedestrians have to deal with high speed traffic will be redesigned so cyclists can avoid having to try to cross multiple lanes of fast traffic.

And let's not forget that we finally have the political will to fill in the missing bike lane along Harbord, where cyclists have nothing but a narrow space between the doors and moving traffic. This requires politicians willing to risk the wrath of merchants.

Both Councillors Layton and Vaughan have come out supporting the Harbord separated bike lanes. Along with public works Chair Minnan-Wong, the support for Harbord is across the political spectrum. This is pretty rare in cycling advocacy. Even Mayor Miller missed his chance to build major bike lanes. Politics is the art of the possible and if this opportunity is not taken, it will be much harder to build another chance.

With such broad support the chance of getting protected bike lanes along the longest bike route through central Toronto just might be possible.

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.

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