city hall

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.

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.

Toronto unique in having an urban vision of "destinations" and narrow roads that marginalizes cycling

Toronto is "unique", not just for its "war on the car" mayor (who may be losing his job this morning), but also because it seems to be obsessed with it's own version of "complete streets" and creating "destinations" that seems to have excluded cycling from a number of important routes, including John Street, Bloor Street (at Yorkville), Union Station. This came to the attention of the international blog Copenhagenize this morning as they point to evidence in City's planning process, politics and urban-aware media that seems to have largely marginalized cycling as a means of getting around.

Even the original environmental assessment for Jarvis Street turned down bike lanes. It was with the help of then Councillor Kyle Rae that bike lanes were reconsidered and installed. But even Rae, didn't think that bike lanes were necessary for Yorkville, because it was meant to be a "destination". Destination was also the word bandied about by the planners for John and Union Station. To cycling, destination should be a code word that means we'll get ZERO bike infrastructure.

Copenhagenize explains it in its usual incendiary, yet insightful, way:

Toronto's "uniqueness" over the past few years due to its Mayor is well-defined and well-documented. The current political leadership is a running joke.

It is important to highlight that the City's singular focus on pedestrian traffic is also unique. I can't think of another city similar to Toronto in size that completely and utterly ignores the potential of bicycle traffic. For improving public health, for reducing congestion, for.... christ... do I even have to write this? And it is not just the Mayor, but also city hall, journalists and random hipster/urbanist magazines.

Pedestrians are always - or should be - at the top of the traffic hierarchy. Duh. But it's astounding that the anti-cycling sentiment in such a large city in the western world here in 2012 runs so deep.

This is not a good kind of "unique". I fear that even if Toronto discards its Mayor, the battle to modernise itself is light years behind that of other, more visionary cities.

Should we ask for sharrows on Jarvis?

The Jarvis bike lanes have been scrubbed off. Mayor Ford "won" this round, though it's unclear what's been gained. Long-term I'm sure City Council will again decide what to do with the nastiness on Jarvis. I've got an idea for the short-term. I've suggested this before, and this is definitely not a replacement for bike lanes, but I'm just wondering if we could get a consolation prize of sharrows on Jarvis. I particularly like the "green-backed" sharrow pioneered in San Francisco.

We might have lost the bike lanes, but Transportation Services doesn't need council approval to install sharrows.

It's not clear if a future City Council will even want to bring up bike lanes on Jarvis again. There is a common perception that the bike lanes were "imposed" on the community without consultation, though the bike lanes were always part of the Environmental Assessment. The local councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, was only a reluctant supporter of the bike lanes; she preferred the wider sidewalks but definitely didn't want the status quo of five car lanes. So perhaps "complete streets" on Jarvis will mean only wider sidewalks. The same problem for cyclists will exist even with wider sidewalks: Jarvis will be a nasty place for people on bikes. I hope the future us can get separated bike lanes on Jarvis, but sharrows will be better than nothing.

The risk with sharrows is that it might convince politicians that the problem has been solved. But the reverse might also be true: that it will help increase the number of cyclists who will in turn demand better infrastructure.

Harbord separated bike lanes get mostly positive reception from residents and business

Residents and business owners alike showed up on a rainy Monday night to discuss the City's plan to install separated bike lanes on Harbord. The section in focus this night was between Bathurst and Spadina (the full plan is for separated bike lanes from Parliament to Ossington). As one resident noted she was pleasantly surprised that the meeting did not degenerate into a shouting match, but that everyone had a chance to voice their opinions which provided for a fruitful discussion on a controversial subject. (Photo of Terrazza Bicycle Park courtesy of Dandyhorse Magazine. Terrazza is a bit further west on Harbord but don't they have awesome bike parking?)

The meeting was organized by Tim Grant of the Harbord Village Residents Association and co-sponsored by the Harbord Village BIA and the Ward 20 and 19 groups of Cycle Toronto. Cycling department manager Dan Egan spoke as did the Cycle Toronto ward groups (I was one of the co-presenters along with Nico). The City highlighted the features of a bidirectional cycle track that they think would be the best option for Harbord and Hoskin. It would have the advantage of minimizing the loss of parking to only 20 spots between Bathurst and Spadina. The City would work towards off-setting those lost spots with off-street parking in the area.

In our ward groups presentation we emphasized the positive affect cycle tracks have had in reducing injuries, increasing retail sales of area business (as found in New York and elsewhere) and that Harbord has the opportunity to attract business by being seen as a hub of cycling. Instead of fighting it, celebrate. There are a lot of cyclists who take Harbord. By the City's numbers about 20% of the traffic on Harbord are bicycles. We can confirm that with our own rush-hour numbers where the percentage of traffic that were cyclists climbed to 30%. Compare that to Amsterdam where 38% of all trips are made by bike. Toronto's average share is only 1.7%. Harbord Village looks a lot more like Amsterdam than it looks like the rest of Toronto.

The owner of the Harbord Bakery, Goldie Kosower, appeared to be apprehensive of the bike lanes as did some other business owners. Bike lanes had previously been blocked by the local councillors because of the BIA's worry of lost parking. But now there seemed to be grudging acceptance so long as their needs were accommodated in the plan. Fears may have been assuaged by news that the plan would mean only 20 spots would be lost on the north side and that the City would work on providing more off-street parking.

There was some passion among some residents for the separation, including a father and daughter who cycle the street daily. The father stressed that the only safe option is physical separation for his children. A younger woman had recently returned from Amsterdam and wants bicycle infrastructure in Toronto that is safe enough for her mother to use.

Towards the end of the night Councillor Adam Vaughan appeared (he was delayed because of dealing with media regarding a shooting death on College). Vaughan said:

When we build bike lanes they must be separated. Painted lanes are good but aren't safe enough. My son, who bikes, needs the separation to be safe. But we don't have to do it overnight. We should sit down with businesses and planners to come up with a design. Harbord is critically important. It's a complex conversation. We might not get it all done at the same time.

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

Some opposition came from Bike Joint owner Derek Chadbourne, who said he found the newly separated Sherbourne bike lanes terrible and thought Harbord was working fine as it is. He was also concerned about delivery truck access to his bike store on Harbord, asking where they would park once the separated bike lane was installed. Currently the delivery trucks stop in the painted bike lane in front of his shop.

No doubt, delivery truck access is a tough nut. Stores need to get their goods, and trucks need to be able to park not too far from the store. But blocking bike lanes is not popular amongst cyclists. Perhaps it would be possible to turn some of the parking on the south side into loading zones, or to come up with a sensible "curb management policy" that would allow the City to deal with the delivery access problem in a smart way not just on Harbord but for all parts of the city.

Or perhaps someone could always be available to create a "guaranteed bike lane" whenever a delivery truck blocks the bike lane.

Jarvis bike lane removals called off for the day because of protest: they'll try again tomorrow

The Jarvis bike lanes were slated to be removed today (above image from Toronto Star). The 5th lane light has already been installed. The parking meters for cars are back. But protests today have stalled the removal.

Around 1 p.m. Monday, workers began scrapping the white bike lane lines off of Jarvis St. using a large “Stripe Hog” truck. They didn’t make it far. At 1:34 p.m., 33-year-old Steve Fisher sat down in their path just before Wellesley St. E.

“I know you’re doing your job but I’m not going to move,” he said.

“I don’t believe the Jarvis bike lanes should be removed,” he said. “Before the lanes were involved I was hit twice by cars.”

Supervisor Jim Gillberry contacted the city for advice. After a wait of about 10 minutes the scrubbing truck pulled around Fisher and began work south of Wellesley, where another protester was waiting.

The truck pulled around the second protester only to encounter another person sitting in the street, as the sit-in continued.

Read more at the Star. I'm interested to see how things continue tomorrow.

Mayor Ford applauded the removal, saying he's just doing what he was elected to do.

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