The rise of Motordom and how we learned to blame the victim

Privileged Sport in Puck

Recently, as I was once again honked at with no place to move, I thought of the recent 99 Percent Invisible podcast on The Modern Moloch. In it Roman Mars interviews Peter Norton who describes how the powerful forces behind the automobile aka "Motordom" had a major public relations victory as it convinced us that the person responsible for safety was the victim rather than the operator of the vehicle. Today it's considered normal (at least in North America) that streets are for motor vehicles primarily and that people are only tolerated at best. (Photo credit: Privileged Sport, Puck. Library of Congress, The Invention of Jay-walking.)

In the early 1900s, before the advent of mass usage of the automobile, things were quite different. Nothing went faster than 10 miles per hour. People crossed the street wherever they wanted because it was easy to avoid collisions in slow moving traffic. Like in this early film of Market Street in San Francisco:

The arrival of cars changed this and people were outraged by the children and adults being killed. It's hard to believe it but there were calls to ban or put tight controls on automobiles. There were even comparisons of automobiles to Moloch, the god to which the Ammonites sacrificed their children. And reminiscent of modern ghost bike memorial rides for killed cyclists, "cities held parades and built monuments in memory of children who had been struck and killed by cars" (link)

But powerful forces behind automobiles (which called themselves "Motordom") created a shift in public consciousness through some crafty public relations. "Don’t blame cars, blame human recklessness." As Mars notes, "this subtle shift allowed for streets to be re-imagined as a place where cars belonged, and where people didn’t." So this is where the term "Jay Walking" went from being applied to a country bumpkin to being "rebranded it as a legal term to mean someone who crossed the street at the wrong place or time".

The industry lobbied to change the law, promoting the adoption of traffic statutes to supplant common law. The statutes were designed to restrict pedestrian use of the street and give primacy to cars. The idea of "jaywalking” – a concept that had not really existed prior to 1920 – was enshrined in law. (The Atlantic Cities)

Putting people first
We are now looking at this from the opposite end. Advocates are attempting to kick the car off its pedestal. The two pronged tactic involves changing mindsets on the one hand, and changing the infrastructure on the other.

Streetsblog has been working long to change mindsets with their regular online feature Weekly Carnage which shines a light on car crashes and traffic deaths/injuries. Inevitably very few drivers are changed. Transportation Alternatives of NYC also has an ongoing "Vision Zero NYC" campaign that wants the simple goals of zero deaths, zero injuries, zero fear of traffic. Like Motordom's PR campaign to blame the victim, the Vision Zero campaign is most powerful in changing peoples' mindsets. And in many cities, including Toronto, there are memorial rides whenever a cyclist is killed by a motorist.

The mindset isn't enough. Just as Motordom successfully rebuilt our cities around the automobile, now nothing less than a major restructuring is necessary to take back some space. That includes proper cycling infrastructure, better sidewalks and calmed streets so kids can once again go play in the middle of them.

The Financial Case for Bicycle Parking at City Hall

Doug Ford calls the proposed bike parking station in the City Hall parking lot "gravy". That makes him precisely wrong. Bicycle infrastructure offers the cheapest solution to two very difficult problems that threaten Toronto's future prosperity: the increasing cost of health care, and transportation gridlock in the GTA.

Will City Council finally invest in a BIXI Toronto expansion?

Denzil Minnan-Wong on BIXI

"Reaching the milestone of one million BIXI trips in 18 months is a significant achievement," said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), chair of the City's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. "This is proof of the popularity of BIXI as a convenient, safe and practical option for traveling in the downtown core." (City News Release, Oct 2012. Image of Denzil Minnan-Wong from National Post)

BIXI opened 2 years ago with 1000 bikes. Montreal, on the other hand, launched with 3,000 bicycles in 2009 and expanded to 5,000 bicycles in the same year. Even more exciting, New York City's Citi Bike bikesharing system will open this spring with 10,000 bikes. Toronto’s system originally called for 3000 bicycles distributed between Dupont Street to the north, Lake Ontario to the south, Broadview Avenue to the east and High Park to the west.

Jared Kolb of Cycle Toronto notes that City data shows “the highest rates of use are on the periphery. If you’re going to make a proper investment, you have to have a larger network.” To that end Cycle Toronto launched a petition to Toronto businesses to have them express their support for a BIXI expansion. Many businesses see this as an easy win. Make it easier for customers or employees to get to their stores and they benefit.

But BIXI almost didn't open at all. Some City bureaucrats had advised Mayor Miller that BIXI would fail and weren't willing to recommend its eligibility for a loan guarantee. Miller eventually over-ruled those concerns when the cycling community made some noise.

BIXI Toronto operates on a shoestring. One only needs to compare the price tags among public transit options to see how cheaply BIXI provides flexibility to urban transportation, all without any real subsidy. The TTC capital expenses are 100% covered by the public purse. One subway train alone costs around $8.6 million (Star), which is more than the entire capital cost of the current BIXI Toronto system ($4.8 million). Yet BIXI Toronto has to pay all of its capital expansion costs, with only a small break in interest payments through the loan guarantee.

Toronto has made no expansion plans since BIXI's launch. The right wing administration is reluctant to support an expansion of BIXI. Denzil Minnan-Wong, the conservative chair of the public works committee, has been a reluctant champion of BIXI by posing for photo-ops when BIXI launched, saying "But now that it's here, you've gotta support it". Minnan-Wong more recently told Torontoist that “You want to get your finances done right. It may be more incremental, but what we want to do is ensure BIXI’s success, and that may require smaller steps than big leaps.” He noted that Montreal's BIXI ran into financial difficulties even with three times the number of bikes. “We don’t have a lot of extra money to put into any projects right now,” he added, citing a transportation department backlog “north of $300 million.”

What Councillor Minnan-Wong fails to mention, however, is that Transportation Services is actually incapable of spending the capital budget it is already allocated in any year. This is not intuitive so let me explain. The City has a capital budget for Transportation Services and the City will pay interest on that funding whether it gets spent or not for that year. The City, however, doesn't have enough planners, engineers and other staff to plan and carry out all the capital projects. So the money just sits there costing us interest. Why don't we, I ask, make good use of that funding to support BIXI expansion? As a turnkey operation it could quickly be expanded, would use existing capital budget thus wouldn't cost taxpayers anything extra. And it would pay dividends down the road by reducing transportation costs across the board.

BIXI is growing to be a key part of our urban transportation mix, extending the usefulness of public transit. Councillor Layton notes when traffic is heavy, riding his bike along King Street West is faster than going by car or streetcar. “I think if I park a BIXI next to these streetcar stops, people will get fed up and hop on a BIXI,” Layton said. “Then within six months they will have purchased a bike.” The investment hasn't matched that potential.

Staff have been working hard to find ways to expand BIXI short of coming hat in hand to City Council. They've been investigating "creative funding tools" (Torontoist) including corporate sponsorships and Section 37 development funds as Councillor Mike Layton has recently accomplished with a development in his ward 19. Staff are working on a report to City Council that "will flesh out details on funding models and an expansion strategy, and include specific recommendations to city council for next steps."

Cycle Toronto hopes that City Council will become convinced of the economic benefits of BIXI and will listen to the many businesses that want it to extend to their neighbourhoods as quickly as possible. We need to get beyond saving our pennies to try to expand the system piecemeal when the potential economic benefit is so large.

Public works chair pushing Complete Streets policy, integrating walking, cycling, trees, urban design

A mockup of Danforth

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong has gotten the ball rolling on an official Complete Streets policy for Toronto, by recommending that a policy be developed that integrates a variety of by-laws and strategies such as the Walking Strategy, Bike Plan, Urban Design Guidelines, Toronto Street Trees Guide and current best practices for urban street design guidelines. The recommendation will go to the public works committee next week, then staff will report back with their guidelines. If the report from staff is accepted by City Council we'll see a more coherent policy for livable streets for all road users, and one step closer to more comprehensive improvements. Image of redesigned Danforth from TCAT.

"Complete streets" is a relatively new term that quite simply describes streets that have been designed with all users in mind; the motorists, street car and bus riders, cyclists, pedestrians and those with disabilities. A complete street is therefore, one where a variety of policies, bylaws and infrastructure have come together to make the public right-of-way fully multi-modal wherever possible. While it may not be possible to accommodate every type of user on every street, the goal should be to build a city where every user group has a well-functioning network so that people can travel easily and safely.

It's interesting and exciting to see this come forward. There are a bunch of actors behind the scenes working on a Complete Streets policy for Toronto, including the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, the new Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, and the new Transportation Services Manager Stephen Buckley. But advocates and bureaucrats need political champions as well and this is where the chair of the public works committee comes in.

As we're all well aware, this is the same Minnan-Wong who pushed the removal of bike lanes on Jarvis. The Jarvis bike lanes removal was a calculated move and so is this complete streets policy proposal. This will surely help him to regain a bit of downtown political capital. Jarvis may have pleased some of the Rosedale driving crowd but it generated a lot of negative press for Minnan-Wong. There are people who are more interested in punishing someone for past misdeeds, but it may be more interesting and useful to see where this goes. Besides, unless Minnan-Wong runs for mayor, it would be hard to punish him. He is pretty safe in his North York ward. Positions on promoting active transportation don't always break according to party line. While Minnan-Wong was rightfully pilloried over Jarvis, when he does something right to move the ball forward on safer, more livable streets he should be congratulated.

I can't help but wonder what a Complete Streets policy would recommend for Jarvis?

City to soon allow side by side cycling

The motion still needs to be approved by Council but it looks like side by side cycling will soon be legal in Toronto, after a brief stint of it not. Photo by Tino.

Councillor Karen Stintz's motion last month at City Council was sent to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. Her motion was for the City to allow cyclists to ride double file in Toronto unless a faster vehicle needed to pass as specified in the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. Interestingly the City was just amalgamating by-laws and had previously decided to adopt Etobicoke's draconian law across the City.

The motion would delete the bill and would also direct the Manager of Transportation Services to recommend by-laws "to ensure the safe and equitable use of Toronto’s roadways by cyclists and other road users, as part of the by-law review process recommended by the Ontario Chief Coroner’s report on Cycling Deaths." It will take some time to see if anything comes of that but that is welcome news indeed.

Some drivers may disagree but there are many situations where cycling double file is quite safe. When traffic is light no traffic is being blocked. When a lane is narrow that a car would need to pass in the other lane at any rate then having two cyclists side-by-side wouldn't make any difference. Road racers are safer when they can ride in a pack.

It's nice to have it officially allowed when this practice is quite wide spread. My partner and I will often ride side by side since it allows us to talk like normal people instead of having to shout back and forth.

But even with it in place caution is a good thing. I once got a ticket for riding double file with a friend, an elderly gentleman, on Adelaide. If you know Adelaide the lanes are way too narrow to share with a car and there are other lanes to choose from. The cop, however, didn't see things that way and decided to write me up (but not my friend). The funny thing is that the cop gave me a ticket under the HTA for failing to turn out to the right to allow my friend to pass. I give him credit for being creative.

From the motion that was adopted at PWIC:

The introduction of Municipal Code Chapter 950, Section 950-201(A) would restrict all cyclists from riding in any configuration other than single file, at any time of day, on every Toronto street.

In certain cases it is possible for road users to reasonably share the road, without creating congestion or road safety issues:

• On residential, collector, or arterial roads where there are sufficient lanes for cyclists ride two abreast, such that faster vehicles may pass these road users using adjacent traffic lanes; and
• At times of day when the traffic volumes are low.

At times when these conditions are not in place, and the roadway must be shared by cyclists and other road users, the appropriate behaviours are legislated according to Section 148(1) of the Ontario Highway Traffic Act. This section of the Act requires cyclists to responsibly position themselves on the right side of the roadway when a faster vehicle approaches to pass. A charge may be laid for “failing to move right to be overtaken”. The fine for this charge is $85.

Cyclists are therefore legislated by the Highway Traffic Act to not block the roadway. An additional municipal By-law stipulating that cyclists must 'ride single file' in situations where they are not blocking or disrupting traffic around them is unnecessary, and may invite situations which are less safe for cyclists.

Pre-Amalgamation By-laws

Pre-amalgamation Etobicoke was the only former district to pass a By-law against single file riding on all streets (including residential streets), at all times. The fine for this Etobicoke Municipal Code 240 section 6(A)(2) is $85.

In the former Cities of Toronto, North York, Scarborough, East York and York, municipal By-laws did not stipulate that cyclists must ride single file on residential and most collector streets.

For all former districts, Metro Toronto By-law 32/92 Sec 14(2) they may be fined $3.75 if they are not riding single file on street which were maintained by Metro – this is to say on arterial roadways only.

By-law Consolidation Process

A process is currently underway to consolidate various pre-amalgamation By-laws which are still on the books from the former City of Toronto, Etobicoke, North York, Scarborough, East York, York, and Metropolitan Toronto. As part of this consolidation, By-laws which formerly were only in effect for certain former districts will become law for the entire amalgamated City of Toronto.

As a result of the By-law consolidation process of pre-amalgamation By-laws to develop Municipal Code Chapter 950, the Etobicoke Code 240 Sec 6(A)(2) requiring cyclists to ride single file on all streets, at all times, will now apply to all districts, including the former Cities of Toronto, Scarborough, North York, East York, and York, despite the fact that only the former City of Etobicoke had such a By-law, and the other City Councils of the former Cities did not pass such a By-law. The set fine application proposed for 950-201(A) is $60.

Chapter 950 was enacted by Council December 1, 2011, but is not yet enforceable. The By-laws will become enforceable the first Thursday following 45 days after set fine approval of the set fine order for Chapter 950.

Buy BIXI Toronto membership early and get a break

BIXI is offering a special rate for those who renew or purchase new memberships before the end of March (renewals extend from your original end date).

If you're an Autoshare member you'll get an additional 20% off. Note that BIXI operates year-round so you can start using it as soon as you purchase your membership. Or even get a day pass before committing to a year. The yearly membership is still below $100, which is peanuts compared to a monthly Metropass or even the average of $7000 a year that Canadians are sinking into their cars. You may even come out far ahead!

Spring is rolling our way (and none too soon) and BIXI Toronto is wheeling out its Early Season Special rate.

If you sign up for a new membership, or renew your current Annual Membership now, you'll get it at 2012 rates.

If you're already a member and your membership expires later in 2013, you can still benefit from this preferential rate.

For example, if your membership expires on July 15, 2013, if you renew now, the 2012 rate will be applied and your membership will be extended until July 15, 2014.

Simcoe bikes: a city bike designed in Toronto

Simcoe step through bike

Not since the halcyon days of CCM have everyday bikes been created in Toronto (excluding high end Cervelo road bikes and the custom-built Mariposa bikes). Fourth Floor, local bicycle distributor and spin-off of bike store, Curbside Cycles, has gotten into building their own city bike. The bikes are actually built in Taiwan (like most bikes) but they were designed in Toronto for Toronto-like conditions. This could be an interesting start to more home-grown options for people who bike everyday (keep an eye on Toronto's Gallant Bikes as well)

Fourth Floor's Simcoe Bicycles evoke classic European 3 speeds but created with modern parts. At first glance they are like classic Italian bikes such as Bella Ciao (German-owned company with Italian made frames) or Abici. Fourth Floor built something that is better built than the popular Linus or Public bikes - better components, tough powder-coated frame, fuller chainguard - but isn't as expensive as bikes imported from Europe by avoiding all the import costs of complete bikes. I took a couple of the prototypes for a spin recently. I only got to try them out for a short time but I liked them. The feel and geometry of the Roadster was much like my everyday bike, which was converted from an old Norco mountain bike. Simcoe's designs were in fact inspired as well by 80s mountain bike geometry.

David Anthony of Octto and Cycle Mondo consulted on design and networked with Taiwan factory to get everything just so, including hard-to-find powder coating. Anthony, prior to stepping out on his own, worked as a R&D manager for Cervelo. A bit unusual to have a guy that designed carbon fibre road racing bikes, design city bikes, but the result seems to be pleasing.

The Simcoe bike will be starting in the range of $750 and up, where a typical Linus ranges from $500 to $900.

The Simcoe has a number of subtle touches that make it stand out for a mass-production bike. It has nice-looking lugs on the fork and head tube but is otherwise welded much like most other bikes in its category. It has a quill stem that fits well with the classic look and provides for more height adjustments than threadless stems.

The chain rings could be steel instead of aluminium for greater durability but that isn't unusual for most bikes now.

The bike will be powder coated which will really help with chipping and rust. Not as good as the high level of protection most Dutch bikes have (such as on the WorkCycles) but much better than the standard "wet" paint on most low-end bikes that easily chip.

I know what I like and have tried out many different types of bikes. I like the idea of a new Toronto-centric city bike and the Simcoe bike matches my own preferences in a bike for everyday use. For other perspectives others have previewed the bikes Lovely Bikes and OSC Cross (winterwear company).

Simcoe Bikes
Brushed metal headbadge. I like the look, though I keep thinking it's upside down.

Simcoe Bikes
Full chainguards are really under-appreciated. Most city bikes now have fenders but this is the first line I've seen with a full chainguard on the pants-facing side. The chain may still get dirty and rusty but at least pants are saved.

Simcoe Bikes
The geometry is similar to my converted Norco Mountaineer MTB. Notice my chainguard from Velo Orange (worth every penny).

Simcoe Bikes
The Step Through model comes with a parallelogram that Fourth Floor is hoping appeals to all genders. The line starts with calliper brakes and 3 speeds and goes up to 8 (or was it 7?).

Simcoe Bikes
The grey Simcoes in Step Through and Roadster will include drum brakes for the front and back and higher speeds. Drum brakes can be more dependable than calliper, particularly in wet weather, and require less maintenance. If you've got lots of hills with heavy loads, drum brakes might not work as well as disc brakes. If you're looking for performance, this is the wrong bike.

Simcoe Bikes
The racks work well with my Ortlieb bag. The racks in the prototypes are higher than the final product.

Simcoe Bikes
Single kickstand. I'd upgrade this to a double kickstand since they're so much more convenient when loading groceries onto a bike. And the bike is less likely to be blown over by the wind.

Simcoe Bikes
Front hub with drum brakes on the grey Roadster. The bikes have double-walled aluminum wheels with quality Schwalbe tires. Wheel size, if I recall correctly, is 26 x 1 3/8, which is the size of many older 3 speeds from the last century (not to be confused with the 26" of mountain bikes which are slightly smaller).

Simcoe Bikes
Classic-looking metal fenders with some nice touches.

Simcoe Bikes
Panda portrait FTW

How cycling activists saved contraflow bike lanes from purgatory

Strathcona contraflow lane

In 2008 and 2009, the City of Toronto approved the installation of 13 contraflow lanes, most as a part of the West End Bikeways consultation. The contraflow lanes, however, have been stalled for almost 5 years, because the City of Toronto legal department was concerned that the provincial Highway Traffic Act does not allow contraflow lanes on designated one-way streets. With last week's consultation of a contraflow lane on Shaw Street, we have finally overcome that bureaucratic hurdle.

This was a made-in-Toronto problem. The City of Ottawa interpreted the Highway Traffic Act differently and continued to install contraflow bike lanes. Meanwhile in Toronto, a staff person in Transportation Services made an issue of contraflow bike lanes, effectively stopping the project from the inside (that's how I heard the story at least). Funnily, Toronto has existing contraflow lanes on Montrose and Strathcona streets that weren't an issue for anyone, not in their respective communities nor for the City (photo at the top is of Strathcona). I assume that only someone who is full of bile and spite and thought this would somehow being their small life meaning would raise a stink about contraflow lanes.

We would still be stuck in the purgatory of approved-but-cannot-install bike lanes if it weren't for the hard work of Cycle Toronto volunteers and staff working with provincial and city allies. John Taranu of Ward 22, Laura Pin of Ward 14 and others campaigned successfully to get this changed. The Cycle Toronto volunteers reached out to Councillor Mike Layton, Dr. Eric Hoskin, MPP for St. Paul, and Jonah Schein, MPP for Davenport to push for a change in the law or a clarification that would enable Toronto to continue building contraflow lanes.

Finally, this last fall the Minister of Transportation, Bob Chiarelli, announced that provincial staff would meet with City staff to come to a legal resolution. The result of that meeting, in short, is that Toronto can now make streets two-ways for bicycles, but one-way for other vehicles. In practice, this won't change the way contraflow lanes look or work from existing ones. A glass half-empty look on this would declare that we're back to square one, but I prefer to think that being on a much surer legal footing is better than square zero.

Since the public will see no real difference on the ground, it's probably not interesting to most people on how the City and provincial staff came to a resolution. For those who are, here's the longer explanation that I received from the Cycling Unit on how they reached a convoluted agreement on reading the Highway Traffic Act. The streets will become two way, with one way restricted to bicycles, which municipalities are allowed to do. They are also allowed to use the existing signage to reduce confusion.

What we negotiate will allow us to install the same markings and signage we have used for the City's existing contra-flow bicycle lanes. The on-street installation will be the same, only the back end legislation will change. The legal mechanism used to do this is the provision that the municipality may place restrictions on individual lanes.

The bicycle lane will be restricted for the use of bicycles only.
Bicycles will be restricted to travelling in one-direction only in that bicycle-only lane.
The adjacent lane has no vehicle class restriction, and may be used by all road users, however this lane will have a lane restriction in it, to govern the direction of travel for that lane.
In effect what this means is that instead of having a one way street with an exception for bicycles, the street will be a two way street for bicycles, with lane restrictions in both directions so that only one-way use is possible for other vehicles.

A key issue for us was signage. In order for the general public to interpret and use the facility correctly, we felt it was critically important to NOT take down the one-way arrow signs on street where these types of facilities are installed.

The MTO agreed that we may maintain the one-way arrow signs to communicate that the general purpose lane is restricted for one-way use. A "bicycles excepted" tab may be used to further communicate that the although it is one-way for cars (or any road user other than a cyclist), the street is two ways for bicycles, as the cyclist may use the bicycle-only lane in the other direction.

We will have to send a housekeeping report to PWIC, to change over legislation of our existing Toronto "contra-flow" bicycle lanes, and can now start to program "contra-flow" bicycle lanes which have not yet been installed using this new legislative format.

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