bike lanes

Designing nice streets is easy when we pretend cars do not exist

Young urban planner Richard Valenzona just won the $5000 NXT City Prize for his project YONGE-REDUX A New Vision of Yonge Street. Valenzona's entry pleased the judges by showing how he'd expand Yonge's "pedestrian access and transforming the street’s visual appearance". This is how he imagined it:

Toronto's chief planner, Jennifer Keesmat, thought it was a great idea. "This is an idea that would actually work in this location in part because it's an area where there are vastly more pedestrians than cars," said Keesmat.

I say it sucks.

I don't want to pick on Valenzona, who I'm sure is a smart, young man with a bright future in planning and picked some pleasing elements for his design here. No, my problem is that Valenzona's design is representative of a growing planning movement that could be considered quasi-"shared space".

Valenzona's design, which the judges were so pleased with, exists in a fairy land where downtown car traffic has virtually disappeared. So I took the liberty of fixing Valenzona's design by putting the cars back in:

Instead of that idyllic picture of pedestrians meandering on wide sidewalks and cyclists weaving to and fro on empty streets, the finished product will look more like another recent "shared space" mess in Poynton, England that did nothing to reduce car traffic and told cyclists to go screw themselves.

This is Poynton now:

I assume there's nice brick under all those cars.

Valenzona also received another $10,000 to continue working on his design. "Over the next year, Richard will work closely with Distl and a team of industry mentors to implement his vision and improve one of Toronto’s most famous public ultimately transforming it into a globally recognized street spaces."

You can add as much fancy brick as you like but you can't make traffic disappear. And if your solution for cyclists is to force them to sit behind heavy traffic and breath in heavy fumes, in ride in front of angry drivers forced to travel at bike speed, then your solution is actually worse than what we have right now on Yonge.

With no space for cyclists, and faced with the only option of sitting in car traffic, cyclists will probably do what this man ends up doing in Poynton: take to the expansive space set aside for pedestrians.

Will Yonge be yet another project like John Street or Front Street where designers decide to ignore all the concerns of cyclists? Is this what Toronto will interpret as a "complete street"? I guess we'll find out.

It's official: the Richmond Adelaide (protected?) bike lanes pilot

This morning Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong officially announced the pilot for the Richmond-Adelaide "cycle tracks" to the media. Attending also were mayoral candidate John Tory, councillors Mike Layton, and Ceta Ramkhalawansingh—interim Ward 20 councillor.

Photo: Brian Gilham

I put quotes around cycle tracks because everywhere else in the world cycle tracks are defined as having some sort of separation from motorized traffic. But in Toronto we have people like Stephen Buckley, General Manager of Transportation Services, who thinks he can build cycle tracks with just paint and the occasional ticket. And an occasional bollard in a "strategic" area.

I think it bodes well that John Tory showed up and supported the bike lanes. Whether he's genuine or not—and I think he actually is being more genuine in support of bike lanes than when he wants to carry the mantle of the "war on cars"— it shows that bike lanes are an important campaign issue which Tory is going to support in some form or another. I'm not saying he's going to do as much as cyclists might want, but all is not lost.

Councillor Ramkhalawansingh came out in support of the bike lanes and—like Tory—said she wanted more separation. But it's ironic that in her former role as the Chair of the Grange Community Association wrote [a letter to Public Works that bike lanes should not be installe](http://www.ibiketo.ca/sites/default/files/GCA letter to PWIC re Bike Lane Network(June 2011).pdf)d on Richmond and Adelaide unless they were converted to two-way streets. Word-for-word position of former Councillor Vaughan. Both Vaughan and Ramkhalawansingh knew full well that there was no way to install bike lanes and make it two-way. City staff had been saying as much all along.

Councillor Minnan-Wong, by the way, was also in support of more separation on these cycle tracks. As was Layton, Chow and so on and so on.

So that basically just leaves Buckley on his own, bucking the directive from City Council to install separated cycle tracks (or protected bike lanes as I prefer to call them) on Richmond, Adelaide and Simcoe.

*[Fix: I incorrectly stated that Olivia Chow was there.]

An accidental protected bike lane on John Street

Max snapped this photo one morning a few weeks ago at John and Queen, looking north. I was completely flabbergasted at first. As many of my readers might now, there was a long extended fight with Councillor Vaughan and a bunch of planners who were trying to plan cyclists out of the picture and create a pedestrian arcade (but with cars) out of John Street. This seemed like a complete 180 where cyclists were actually given their own space instead of treated like pariahs.

But, no, it was not to be. Instead this is a pilot project until October to carve out a much larger pedestrian zone with a row of planters. Instead of being a protected bike lane much like I've seen in Vancouver, it's a "pedestrian" zone that seems most of the time to have few pedestrians (perhaps a bit heavier next to the restaurants which had overtaken much of the public space for their patios).

Cyclists don't know what to do with the space. Some people are still using it as a bike lane while other cyclists choose to squeeze next to a multi-block long line of cars (photo by Michal). This is what I saw:

While the whole John Street Cultural Corridor project is currently unfunded, the EA was completed and left out cyclists. Or, to be more accurate, they assumed cyclists would just nicely mix in with car traffic like we're forced to everywhere else.

But compared to the EA, this row of planters is even worse for cyclists. At least in the EA the plan was to have a "flexible boulevard" and a "non-barrier" curb to blur the line between the pedestrian space and the road. People on bikes would have more options in going around traffic jams of cars. In the EA they said:

A continuous non-barrier curb on both sides of the street to enable a seamless transition into a pedestrian-only space for events; for vehicles to mount the flexible boulevard for deliveries or drop-offs; and, to accommodate additional vehicular and cycling maneuvering on either side of the road in emergencies.

Or like this real-world example at the Prince's Gate at the Ex:

But instead, this design seems to have imposed purgatory for anyone on a bike.

What are the lessons here?

One, we can't just expect bikes to disappear, no matter how much we're in love with "pedestrianizing" the John Street Corridor. Did you expect the cyclists to nicely wait behind the truck? Good luck with trying to re-engineer human nature.

Two, by doing things half-ass, by trying to increase the pedestrian space while letting cars still rule the streets, we are making the space worse. Planners should have made it much more inconvenient for drivers to choose John Street as a through-street. John could be made for local vehicles only, much like a bicycle boulevard, which would greatly reduce the traffic while still allowing cars to exist there.

If you bike, conservative or not, John Tory does not want your vote

John Tory on the pilot project bike lanes for Adelaide and Richmond:

“My priority from day one as mayor is going to be to … keep traffic moving in this city, and I am in favour of making opportunities available for cyclists to get around the city too, because that will help, in its own way, to get traffic moving, too. But I want to look at the results of discussions that are going on today and other days and make sure that whatever we do, we are not putting additional obstructions in the way of people getting around in this city … “

In other words, "I am in favour of helping people getting around the city except when it gets in the way of people getting around the city".

Tory had also promised to cancel Eglinton Connects—a community-backed plan that even the BIA supports—that would have improved the streetscape and put in bike lanes in the space vacated from the removal of the bus-only lane. Tory has since retreated slightly. He claims that it was a press release error (though he was caught saying the same on video, thanks to a parody account) He now says he's for it if the funding is found. Somehow, I bet, that funding will never be found under Tory's watch.

It's funny that Tory has come out strong against bike lanes because of funding and congestion but has yet to take a stance on the island airport.

People seem to ignore that both the Eglinton bike lanes and Richmond/Adelaide were approved under a conservative mayor and a public works committee dominated by conservatives. While it has been hardly rainbows and unicorns under Mayor Ford, what with the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes, under Minnan-Wong's watch we've gotten a lot closer to building a cross-town protected bike lane route than we would have gotten under Miller. (In fact, Miller has specifically said that he preferred two-way R/A over bike lanes.)

There are other conservatives who actually knew that there was popular support for bike lanes and either promised or have been building them: Boris Johnson, Mayor of London, rides a bicycle everywhere and has expanded bicycle lanes and "Boris Bikes" the nickname for the bikesharing program throughout London (although the previous London mayor started the planning for bikesharing). Michael Bloomberg, billionaire founder of Bloomberg, the financial data services company, and former Mayor of New York, created in four short years a large network of separated bike lanes that is now the envy of many North American cities.

So John Tory, get with the program. People used to think of you as a "Red Tory" but on bikes you've decided to lead a loud—yet milquetoast—charge against bike lanes. What, were you worried that the bike haters would have otherwise jumped to Chow's camp?

Ask City today to properly protect cyclists on Harbord and Hoskin

Today is one of your last chances to tell city staff that their revised plan for Harbord and Hoskin falls short of providing good protection for cyclists. (Photo of Sam James coffee shop on Harbord by Tino)

Their latest plan will continue to put cyclists next to the door zone, allow cars to park in bike lanes at their convenience and continue to fall short of what City Council asked of them to build.

Today, Thursday, March 27, 2014 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m you can drop in at Kensington Gardens, 45 Brunswick Ave. North Building, Multi-Purpose Room, to explain to them you want something better.

City Council asked for protected bike lanes (aka cycle tracks). Staff are now offering something that falls short. While their proposal helps fill in the gap in the Harbord bike lane, their proposal is basically a bike lane with a wider painted strip.

City would be letting down families and students who might only bike if they felt that they had separation from car traffic.

  • Cyclists will still ride right next to car traffic that speeds on a road that is forgiving for high speeds and not for new cyclists.
  • Car drivers will still park in the bike lane whenever they feel like it.
  • The bike lanes will get no special treatment regarding snow clearing, unlike Sherbourne.
  • Cars will park right next to the bike lane continuing to put cyclists in the door zone.

In short, cyclists will continue to be treated like peppercorns in the pepper grinder of car-centric traffic planning. It's like bike planners expect cyclists to act as traffic calming with our own bodies.

City staff were too timid to propose removing all the car parking along Harbord, which is why they had proposed the bidirectional in the first place. But now that they've done a questionable traffic study, they've backed away and can only fit in a unidirectional painted bike lane. Business as usual.

The fact is, staff do not really know if their proposed unidirectional plan is safer than the previous bidirectional plan. They just figured they'd choose the option that meant less traffic delays. They mention turning movement conflicts in the case of bidirectional, which they try to mitigate in the study, but they haven't been able to put it in the context of conflicts of regular bike lanes: dooring, collisions from behind, sideswipes from cars entering/exiting parking. We don't really know which is more dangerous. All we have to go on are the existing scientific studies that have suggested that bidirectional protected bike lanes work and are safe in places such as Montreal.

Staff have been unable to confirm with me that the model they used can accurately reflect reality. Has anyone who has used this model and then built some bike lanes gone back to measure the traffic speed to see if the model made a solid prediction?

And they haven't even been able to confirm if they know what the margin of error is. That is, if the traffic study states that in a scenario traffic will be slowed by 5%, the margin of error could be higher than 5% for all we know. This is something basic that we see in every poll ever done so we have an idea of the significance of the numbers. Meanwhile, with their traffic study, we have no idea of the significance of the numbers, nor do we know if it has a track record of accuracy. So why should we put any faith in at all unless staff can tell us this?

Finally, what's so bad about slowing down traffic? In one of the traffic study's scenarios cyclists got an advanced green to give them a head start over car traffic. That actually sounds really great! Why not implement that for all our key cycling routes?

This traffic study did not study all the options out there for improving the safety of cyclists at intersections. It only looked at the status quo intersections. For instance, it could have looked at protected intersections like they install in the Netherlands.

So this is what we could ask of staff:

  • Go with fully protected bike lanes, either the original bidirectional plan or unidirectional (which likely requires taking out all the parking but isn't that a small price to pay for safety?)
  • Install protected intersections
  • Install advanced greens for cyclists on major cycling routes: Harbord, Wellesley, St. George/Beverley, Richmond/Adelaide, College, Sherbourne.
  • Stop proposing milquetoast plans!

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.

A smart redesign idea Soho and Queen by Vaughan

The idea for redesigning the Soho Queen intersection has been floated around for a few years. I've been bringing it up ad nauseum. The City had been largely silent about it, and when staff finally mentioned it presented their own very basic plan as a fait accompli.

Turns out that Councillor Vaughan must have been thinking about how the intersection could be remade for some time. All this time we figured that Soho would need to be redirected through the empty lot on the west side of Soho, like in the following photo.

But there might be an easier solution. The possible solution came from Councillor Vaughan. Fellow Cycle Toronto volunteer Iain asked Councillor Vaughan last week about this intersection at the public consultation for Soho/Phoebe. The photo at the top is of what Vaughan proposed.

The property line for the parking lot on the west side of Soho, which is apparently owned by three "disinterested" dentists in Hong Kong, is quite far back. The street can be moved back quite a bit without affecting the property. This way no negotiations need to take place with any absentee landowners. This would also allow for an larger patio on the east side of Soho, which Vaughan sees as a big plus.

This is a great idea!

But why hadn't Vaughan presented this idea already? Vaughan's been working on the John Street pedestrianization for a few years. Methinks he could have saved himself some trouble if he had presented better ideas for making Soho, Peter and Simcoe better cycling routes.

Vaughan may have actually been trying to work out a deal with the landowners, which seems to have gone nowhere due to their lack of interest in developing the lot. From what I understand, making a deal with them hinged on them actually wanting to build something on this lot.

The alternative, as I was told by a lawyer, is where the city would identify a road widening of Soho Street on the west side of the road allowance and amend the Official Plan to show the road widening. When the parking lot is redeveloped the city can require at no cost that the developer give the city the land identified for free. [Corrected. Got a more accurate picture from a lawyer.]

But looks like Vaughan didn't want to go that route for whatever reason. I think that most politicians prefer not going "Robert Moses" for cyclists if they can help it.

Am I too harsh on Vaughan? A reader recently sent me a "threatening" note to lay off Vaughan:

I am a cycling enthusiast, but I am sick of your constant bashing of Adam Vaughan. He is one of the good city councilors [sic]. Just because he doesn't want to put bike lanes on every single street doesn't make him a bad guy. At least he's one of the few councilors [sic] with the guts to stick up against our crack-smokin mayor. I will stop reading your blog if you continue to bash him. Stick to cycling and avoid the politics over [sic] you've lost me as a reader.

For his own health I think it best this reader stop reading this blog. I'm not about to give politicians free passes when it comes to making Toronto a good cycling city.

I'll give Vaughan a check mark for coming up with an innovative solution for Soho and Queen. But he still gets an X for lack of follow through on his idea. And Vaughan and Transportation Services still get a failing grade on Simcoe, which will still be largely unusable as a bike route even with bike lanes due to the complete lack of a plan for how cyclists will safely cross major streets like Queen and Richmond.

City finally proposes Peter/Beverley connection and, meh, they can do better

There will finally be a public meeting to look at the City's planned connections of Peter Street to Beverley bike lanes. It really should have been part of the main public consultation for Richmond and Adelaide--in fact, the City promised it would--but it's only now quickly been announced as a separate meeting, just one week before the actual time.

Staff are frustratingly proposing just one option for connecting the two streets, and it's not the best option (the best would have been John St). They propose installing a contra-flow bike lane and move the traffic light at Queen to the other side of Soho, but won't consider changing the configuration of the roadway (such as the great example imagined by Dave Meslin a while back).

So staff are proposing the easy option:

I made the image a while back to show that Peter was inferior to John (the streets, that is).

They could have been creative with this (I don't know if they seriously considered it):

Can staff get away with offering just one option? I thought it was part of the Richmond-Adelaide Environmental Assessment, which would require the City to consider various configurations, including the "do nothing" one. Maybe staff decided it was easier to just pretend that it isn't.

So here are the details:

Thursday, March 6, 2014. 4 to 9 p.m.
Alexandra Park Community Centre,
105 Grange Crt. (follow Grange Ave. west of Spadina Ave.)

And this is what they're proposing:

Phoebe Street

  • Installation of a westbound-only contra-flow bicycle lane on the north side of the street, from Soho Street to Beverley Street, to allow the street to function in both directions for cyclists.
  • The existing one- way operation of the street will be maintained for motorists.

Soho Street / Peter Street / Queen Street Intersection

  • Painting of northbound and southbound shared lane pavement markings (sharrows) on Soho Street to connect Pheobe Street to Queen Street.
  • Traffic signal modifications to the Peter-Queen Street signal, to incorporate Soho Street into the intersection, which will function as a combined signalized intersection (no changes to roadway alignment are proposed).

I do like that they're also proposing a contra-flow for Stephanie which will still help cyclists get to/from John, but after this announcement they revised their proposal and shortened the contra-flow so it ends at John instead of McCaul in order to protect--you guessed it--precious parking.

Stephanie Street

  • Installation of a westbound-only contra-flow bicycle lane on the north side of the street, to allow the street to function in both directions for cyclists.
  • The existing one-way operation of the street will be maintained for motorists.

I'll accept it if this is the best we can get, but I do think we still have time to get something better. Ask the staff to consider moving the roadbed through the empty parking lot to meet up with Peter straight on. Get them to continue the Stephanie contra-flow the whole way. And demand that we also get Simcoe protected and connected (with traffic lights) all the way from Dundas to the waterfront. It's the only direct route in the area.

There's still time to get something better.

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