city hall

Contraflow plans crossing Dufferin are dangerous, argue West end ward groups

The City had planned the Florence/Argyle and Lindsey/Dewson contraflow plans as a "quick win" back in 2008 as part of a west end bikeways plan. That was before everything got shelved due to (self-imposed) "contraflow legal purgatory". Now City staff are working hard to get the backlog of routes approved and painted, but local cycling groups are arguing that in the hurry they're leaving out the safe crossing bit.

Original 2008 West End Bikeways plan

The west end ward groups of Cycle Toronto—18, 19 and 14—have identified two bike routes where they cross Dufferin at Florence/Argyle and Lindsey/Dewson routes, in particular, as dangerous. In each case they were told that the crossings were too close to other traffic lights, so the staff won't put in additional lights. (Though it boggles my mind that it's perfectly acceptable for Loblaws to get a traffic light merely one block away from Church just for their parking garage, but it's unacceptable for safer bike routes. Clearly Loblaws has a lot of pull with the City. The City has lost the moral high ground on that point.)

Enough of my babbling, the ward groups say it better:

Specifically, we have serious concerns about the proposal to install these bike routes without providing for safe bike crossings at Dufferin Street in either case. While we understand that there is pressure to “get the lanes painted” as soon as possible, we believe that it is irresponsible to proceed with installation without addressing the route deficiencies at Dufferin. We have waited five years for these routes to be installed and, after all this time, it seems reasonable to expect that the designs incorporate safe, signalized crossings for cyclists travelling in both directions at Dufferin. Indeed, this issue was highlighted when City staff engaged in a walking tour of the Argyle contra-flow route with Ward 19 and 18 cyclists in March 2013.

Allow us to put these two routes in the context of what cyclists have actually sought by way of safe cycling routes in Toronto’s west end. Recall that these side-street routes were approved as “quick wins” to be installed after a 2008 public consultation that clearly demonstrated a preference for bike infrastructure on uninterrupted streets with signalized intersections, such as Dundas and Queen.

Florence to Argyle

Always looks easy when looking from above. Lindsey to Dewson

Where Florence meets Dufferin there is a pedestrian-activated crosswalk and a school on the east side with a path going through the school grounds. At Lindsey there is nothing. I expect that many people crossing at Florence will bike through the crosswalk—after activating the light—and then either bike down the sidewalk or through the school grounds. While not ideal, it's workable and we can fully blame the City for forcing this situation. And by City I don't mean to pick just on cycling planners, but the forces that be in Transportation Services that hold back more appropriate cycling infrastructure in favour of their golden calf, automobile throughput.

All hail the Holy Car.

Staff take out protection from Harbord-Hoskin protected bike lane plan

The City, with its just announced revision to the Harbord-Hoskin plan, continues to be unwilling to take radical steps to protect cyclists, nor to ensure that there are certain routes where cycling safety is paramount. Instead they would prefer to not disturb the god-given rights of car drivers to convenient parking.

City staff, when asked by City Council to build protected bike lanes on Harbord, Hoskin and Wellesley, had originally responded with a bidirectional bike lane for Harbord and Hoskin. It was a compromise that would allow businesses to keep some on-street parking between Spadina and Bathurst. But after studying they've decided that the bidirectional leads to too much delay for all traffic users. So instead they're coming back with a stripped down option that is going to be just paint with no protection at all. Luckily they got the TTC to agree to lane widths similar to those on Wellesley otherwise it would have been even worse.

...the City completed a comprehensive traffic study to measure the effects of bi-directional cycle tracks operations at signalized and un-signalized intersections. This study showed it would not be possible to safely accommodate bi-directional separated bike lanes, without unacceptable delays to all road users.

I would have preferred the City to actually do a pilot project of a bi-directional bike lane. A computer model is a very poor substitute for the real thing and can't possibly capture all the possible tweaks or substitute for actual safety data. In fact, it is difficult to establish safety conclusions with even actual injury data. I can imagine a model would be quite poor in predictive powers.

Note that the City didn't say that bi-directional is "unsafe". Any infrastructure must be studied relative to other options including the status quo. Bidirectional works elsewhere, such as Montreal. It's just that the City was unwilling to accept the tradeoff of delays for a bidirectional bike lane.

Anyway this is what they now have planned for Harbord:

There are not even plastic bollards, though staff do suggest that it might be possible for the side without car parking (bollards would otherwise interfere with cars existing). But on Hoskin (east side of Spadina) the road is wider and there's room to put the bike lane between the curb and the parking. This is the preferred arrangement and is how saner cities like Copenhagen do it.

City's proposed cross-section of Hoskin

The TTC doesn't want the parked cars to be too close to their buses. The mirrors of the buses will overhang the lane widths. I guess the TTC would rather that cyclists' heads serve as a buffer. The City is unwilling to either force this option on the TTC or to take out the parking in the narrow sections so that there is enough room for this protection.

Toronto already has many bike lanes right next to parked cars, so it may seem unimportant that Harbord also have the same setup. It does seem that there is a bit of buffer to keep cyclists away from opening car doors. But research has shown that a bike lane next to parked cars is not as safe as a major road with zero on-street parking at all.

In short, on-street car parking poses a danger to cyclists and the City is unwilling to take measures to protect cyclists even on prime cycling routes like Harbord.

This is what I propose for Harbord: let the TTC "suffer". There is room for the buses and they can just drive more slowly. It's just Harbord, not one of the major transit routes. I made it on streetmix.

Or take out all the parking, at least between Spadina and Bathurst (streetmix). The amzing thing about this option is just how much room we've got to play with. We can even widen the sidewalks, which would certainly be a great option for the businesses along that stretch:

Just look at all that added space! And I bet without cars getting into and out of parking spots all traffic will move faster. This is the sanest option if people will just get past their prejudices.

Toronto protected bike lane strategy: study, discuss, repeat. Meanwhile Ottawa just builds them

Ottawa actually builds protected bike lanes. In Toronto we like to think and talk about it a lot.

Peter got an explanation of how it works in Ottawa from a friend, Alanna Dale Hill, who is an assistant to Ottawa councillor, Mathieu Fleury. Ottawa decided that they could build protected bike lanes on Laurier Ave without an environmental assessment. Meanwhile, Toronto's Transportation Services decided that the lanes that City Council had approved in June 2011 for Richmond and Adelaide required a costly EA. But just when the EA was set to be completed they decided they should also do a pilot project (but only along pieces of the planned project).

The Richmond/Adelaide EA is costing the City millions and four lost years during which they could have implemented a pilot project as originally planned. Ottawa was able to do a much better evaluation with real data rather than speculating from a model. And now Ottawa has a protected bike lane with very little fuss.

What is Toronto's fascination with costly studies while other Canadian cities just build? Even when City Council approves bike lanes Transportation Services has found a way to make those approvals precarious.

According to Alanna:

The Laurier SBL did not require an EA. The City’s interpretation of the requirements is that the re-designation of an existing General Purpose Lane (GPL) to a reserved lane is exempt and also that the construction or operation of sidewalks or bike lanes within existing rights-of-way are also exempt. Temporary changes to capacity (such as construction detours) are also exempt and the project ran as a pilot for 2-years which was considered a temporary condition.

No repercussions for Ottawa going ahead without the "proper" studies. So what is Toronto, Canada's largest city, afraid of?

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.

BIXI is public transit: Stintz proposes TTC take on BIXI for the public good

We might still get the City to treat BIXI as public transportation. TTC Chair Karen Stintz will make a motion at City Council this week asking city staff to see if it would make sense for the TTC to take over the financially troubled BIXI Toronto. (Photo credit: Ian Muttoo)

“I absolutely see BIXI as being an integral part of public transit in the city,” Stintz said in an interview Sunday evening. “We’re having a discussion next week about the future of BIXI and I intend to move a motion to request a review of whether the TTC could actually take over the BIXI portfolio.”

Stintz said doing so might allow more BIXI bike share stations to be added at TTC stations to complement the existing transit system.

Stintz's strong stance on BIXI as public transportation is a breath of fresh air. The Mayor has taken the knee-jerk reaction that he'll have nothing to do with BIXI. It's the only proposal thus far that suggests a long-term plan for BIXI. Montreal's public transit agency, STM, is interested in absorbing BIXI, and the City of Montreal is giving direct funding to expand and cover shortfalls.

It's good that Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is also offering some proposals, though they tend to center on getting small amounts of funding from the private sector (here and here), but it would be much better if she'd just show strong support for folding BIXI into the TTC. To look to developers to install a few stations here and there in underground parking as in Wong-Tam's proposal, will do little for BIXI's survival nor is it particularly practical. What BIXI needs for being viable is expansion on the scale of Montreal's BIXI.

Councillor Mike Layton had already managed to negotiate a deal with a developer for one station. But one new BIXI station a year would mean that it would take 350 years to reach Montreal's soon to be 450 stations! If BIXI Toronto were to reach 450 stations within the next five years (a reasonable hope in my mind) that means we'd need to make 70 deals with developers a year. It is unrealistic that we'd be able to do that, especially considering that only Layton has so far approached developers for BIXI stations.

It's a bit odd to see a left-winger look first to the private sector when a right-winger sees BIXI as an integral part of public transportation. BIXI could do a lot to relieve the pressure off of the crowded streetcars, subways and buses. It's good to see the TTC Chair take BIXI seriously and I hope that the centre and left of City Council can get behind Stintz's proposal. There's more hope for BIXI in the TTC than making small deals with developers.

UPDATE: A source has told me that Councillor Stintz will probably be making a motion at the next TTC meeting, May 24th, proposing that the TTC take over BIXI.

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?

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