Boosting cycling and walking key to solving transit woes

The following article is a reprint of an article by Albert Koehl, an environmental lawyer and cycling advocate. He was on the Ontario Chief Coroner's stakeholder panel for cycling safety.

By process of elimination, simple means of getting around like walking and cycling must be looking increasingly attractive to Ontario's provincial and municipal politicians as they struggle to fund new
transit to unclog roads.

The need for better transit is obvious. How to fund that transit: not so much. That's why it's a good time to invest in relatively quick and cheap measures to increase walking and cycling safety to get more people out of their cars and to provide clean and affordable ways to get to new transit once it's in place.


In step one of our existing car-dominated system an individual forks over big bucks to buy and operate a transport product (the car). Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), estimates that the average household spends over $9100 annually on car ownership.

In step two the individual, whether car owner or not, pays various taxes that ultimately fund highways and roads as well as associated costs like policing, health care, and environmental degradation.

In the final step, the individual gets into a car in order to travel just a bit faster, but often slower, than a bicycle.


The Metrolinx plan for rapid transit expansion in the GTHA calls on each household to contribute an average of $477 per year. It's a relatively small amount but still a hard sell, particularly to grumpy motorists already burdened by vehicle costs. It doesn't matter that only two of the proposed funding tools target motorists or that low-income earners, who benefit most from transit, would be compensated by a mobility tax credit.

Walking and cycling

Fortunately, walking and cycling improvements don't require multi-billion dollar investments. Equally important, once the Metrolinx plan is fully implemented over 70 per cent of GTHA residents will live within two kilometers of rapid transit service -- close enough to cycle or walk to a station.

Building our cities to accommodate cars has meant creating public roadways that usually aren't welcoming to cyclists or pedestrians, even for short trips. In Toronto more than half of all trips are actually less than seven km and therefore easily manageable by bike (or on foot for shorter distances). Simple investments like marked mid-street crossings (which could address some of the 31 per cent of mid-block pedestrian deaths recently identified by Ontario's Chief Coroner), more bike lanes, and slower speeds are a good and inexpensive start to improved safety.

Bike lanes are often attacked as being too expensive. The claim has a hollow ring for homeowners (like me) who cycle to get around --- and therefore put minimal demand on the road system --- but pay the same amount in property taxes as neighbours with two or three cars.

Painting a bike lane on a street isn't expensive. It's the complex studies, including environmental assessments (EA) that are expensive.

These EAs often have little to do bicycles and much to do with figuring out how to accommodate every potentially displaced motorist or parking spot.

Bike lanes actually present the opportunity to increase a road's traffic capacity. After the installation of bike lanes on Jarvis St. in downtown Toronto, traffic increased from 13,300 to almost 14,000 vehicles per day. The bike lanes were nonetheless removed and a car lane re-installed (at huge cost) because civic leaders cared little about the vehicles without exhaust pipes.

Getting more kids out of the back seats of cars and onto their feet on the way to school will cost little more than the price of putting the initiative in place. In a Metrolinx pilot project at 30 schools, kids were given the opportunity to walk to school as part of a supervised program. As a result, car drop-offs in the morning fell by 7 per cent and kilometres driven were cut by 100,000 in a single year. Lower speed limits in neighbourhoods around schools would give even more parents the confidence to send their kids to school on foot (and take advantage of the obvious and long term health benefits.)

The monetary savings created by walking and cycling might also create a greater willingness (and capacity) to contribute to transit projects.

While we resolve the bickering around transit funding there are great opportunities to make small but valuable investments in cycling and walking that will serve us well today ... and tomorrow when the new transit finally shows up.

Public Meeting - Cycling and the Eglinton LRT, Monday March 19th

Since the Eglinton LRT is back from the dead, it looks like the bike lanes planned in the EA may also be back!

There is a public meeting Monday, March 19th at 6:30PM in the Northern District Public Library, 2nd floor meeting room, 40 Orchard View Blvd. (Just north of Yonge & Eglinton)

Goals: Identify opportunities for cycling advocacy created by the LRT, learn about planning initiatives under way, and set cyclist strategy.

The Eglinton Crosstown LRT is currently in the planning stages. Stretching for 25 kilometres from Black Creek Drive to McCowan station, the project cuts through 13 City wards and will transform the heart of Toronto. Multiple organizations are working on the project, including Metrolinx, TTC, and the City's planning and transportation departments. This is a once-in-a- lifetime opportunity for cyclists to advocate for complete streets across the entire city.

The changes along Eglinton will have numerous impacts on cycling, including:
removal of hundreds of buses and dedicated bus lanes from the street
changes to the crossings on Eglinton
changes to traffic patterns, car parking, bike parking, road surfaces
changed connections with off-road trails, ravines, and on-street bike routes
new bike lanes on the above-ground sections (Laird Dr. to Kennedy Station)
Eglinton is important to cyclists! Not only is it a major east-west corridor, with significant residential, employment and retail concentrations, but many bike routes cross it north-south.

Bike Train Grows again

[Editors: We'd like to welcome the Bike Train staff who'll be updating us on what's new with this unique service.]

The Bike Train has come along way since its inception as a idea in founder Justin Lafontaine's head. The Bike Train now works with 3 rail companies and has routes that criss-cross the province.

Toronto Niagara GO Transit Bike Coaches

The service that began as four weekends of service to Niagara with volunteer staff and a baggage car commandeered for the occasion has now blossomed into a regular service. After 3 years of working with VIA Rail on the Toronto-Niagara route, the Bike Train is now partnering with GO Transit to service cyclists looking for transportation to the Niagara peninsula.

The expanded 2010 schedule now includes Friday evening, weekend and holiday service every weekend between May 21 and September 26. Perhaps more exciting still is the addition of 'bike coaches'. The well marked bike coaches mark a significant shift for GO Transit from a purely commuter rail service, to a holiday and outting service for those looking to escape the city by bike. Each weekend and holiday departure will feature two of the new 'bike coaches', in which the bottom row of seats on the bi-level cars have been removed and racks for 18 bikes have been installed. The Bike coaches bring the number of space for bicycles to 64 per departures, a boon for cyclists and advocates of intermodal transportation.

Bike Train: Toronto-Montreal, twice daily!

From the Bike Train website:

We are excited to announce a new pilot project that introduces twice daily Bike Train service between Montreal and Toronto offering bike racks onboard. The pilot will run from August 24 to October 8 allowing cyclists to take the train with their bikes - no box or disassembly required!

Awesome! This is something that Justin and the Bike Train crew have been working towards ever since it was just an idea. If this keeps up, I can imagine all VIA trains accepting bikes, and not just a few special "bike trains".

A few more details from the announcement email:

Two trains in each direction per day, initially being offered for direct Montreal and Toronto passengers only. In the coming weeks, additional stops en route may be added.

There will be 6 bike racks available on each train. Although Bike Train staff will not be onboard the train, a host of information on the destination cities can be found on the new Bike Train website

* $109 each way, including passenger ticket, bike transport, and all taxes and fees.
* Twice daily service in each direction (one train in each direction on weekends)
* Tickets must be bought through the Bike Train website.

Bike Train to North Bay

With a push to promote cycle tourism in North Bay, you can now take the Bike Train there with a pilot starting August 7-10. It could be that the area is actually quite nice for some cycle touring, I don't know. The best person to ask is Justin Lafontaine who helped get the original Bike Train running to Niagara Falls (with over 1000 passengers so far). The North Bay-bound train will start in Toronto and take the Ontario Northland's Northlander rail service, winding through the scenic back country of Muskoka and the Algonquin Highlands.

The details:

- Adults $153 return; capacity 56
- 1 weekend: August 7-10
- Bike Train welcome event, group rides and cocktail party
- Special hotel packages starting at $120 including breakfasts and boxed lunches
- Partnership with Toronto Bike Union offers 15% off Green Travel Rewards for members

And there's more:

Through the journey to North Bay, passengers can win great prizes via an onboard trivia twitter competition. The Bike Train Twitter account will be awash with tips from passengers and locals alike on great cycling routes, refreshing swimming spots, fun attractions, and delicious dinner locales. Upon arrival in North Bay, the Honourable Monique Smith, Minister of Tourism and MPP for Nippissing will be on hand to personally greet the Bike Train in North Bay.

More bikes and trains

There are now more reasons to get out of the city with your bike and leave your car behind, reports the Torontoist. GO Transit is expanding its service to Niagara Falls for $15.90 one way. Via Rail's Bike Train is starting up for the third year with trips to Niagara Falls and a pilot to North Bay in August.

Although the service isn't aimed directly at cyclists, every GO train has space for about thirty bikes on a first-come, first-served basis. GO will run four trains on the Toronto–Niagara route every Saturday, Sunday, and holiday from June 27 through October 12, making stops along the way in Port Credit, Oakville, Burlington, and St. Catharines.

In addition to the new bike racks on GO buses, the expanded train services are much welcomed by cyclists.

Don Mills Public Consultation Tonight

Don MillsPhoto by wootam!

Don Mills Road is a popular north-south route for cyclists in the east end of North York continuing to downtown. This may be because of a bus/car-pool/bike lane or it could be because of a lack of alternatives. It's a significantly faster way to get downtown rather than taking the signed routes to the west, however it is mainly attractive to more skilled cyclists.

Don Mills will be having a Transit City LRT built on it in coming years, meaning major changes to the streetscape. One of the objectives is to "identify opportunities to improve the pedestrian and cycling environment, facilities, and multi-modal connections in the corridor".

Like the Sheppard LRT, bike lanes are being included in the changes. Bike lanes are planned for all the sections north of the Don River. The width of this bike lane isn't given, which should be important on a road with speeds as high as Don Mills. Pape and Broadview would have no bike lanes, but would lose a shared lane unless there is a tunnel.

Toronto Vintage Cycling Photos

If you like these be sure to check out the exhibition of vintage Toronto bicycle photos during bike week.

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