bike lanes

Pumpkins protect Harbord cyclists where City fails them

Pumpkin separated bike lanes on Harbord

The Urban Repair Squad has improved the buffered bike lane on Harbord with a row of jack-o-lanterns. (Photo: Tino) I'm a bit late to this story but I wanted to highlight how cyclists are asking for so little yet how hard it can be get that even on streets with large numbers.

In the City's original plan for improving the safety of Harbord for cyclists, there was going to be a physical barrier between cyclists and car traffic. It was going to be a bidirectional bike lane on one side of the street. Transportation planners reneged on that plan for various reasons (none of which were that compelling to me) and instead put in a wider painted buffer and only physically separated a handful of blocks on Hoskin which got separation with flexiposts and parked cars.

With some imagination (and willingness to annoy the car lobby), I believe the transportation planners could have come up with protected bike lanes that worked for Harbord. For instance, by adopting the Dutch innovation of protected intersections (like Salt Lake City has of all places) they might have been able to make the bidirectional bike path work. Their study, however, only looked at old-school options like timing the lights. And in the end they decided that the delay was not worth the extra protection.

The pumpkins only work on the side where the bike lane is adjacent to the sidewalk. The other side has cars parked between them, which means the cars have to cross the bike lane. That's rather unfortunate but even here it might have been possible to switch the two, but the TTC was opposed to the idea because they want to be able to speed along with their buses without having to worry about drivers getting out of their parked cars.

I'm no transportation planner, but it seems to me that cycling safety has always been given a lower priority to issues that don't actually involve life and death decisions. Sure, the concerns of drivers parking and TTC bus drivers need to be dealt with but do they trump the safety of someone else? No.

Anyway. Happy Halloween! If we all put out our pumpkins as barriers maybe we'll start a trend.

City extending Richmond-Adelaide cycle track pilot from Parliament to Sherbourne

I've noticed the City has started painting the bike lane extension along Richmond from Parliament. They've almost made it to Sherbourne. Like the existing pilot west of University the bike lanes take over an existing full lane.

No flexiposts nor planters yet for the pilot.

In the City's press release they didn't mention that there will still be two gaps in the protected bike lanes between York and Yonge.

One exception to the no stopping and separated design is a short segment between York Street and Yonge Street where two existing high demand "courier delivery zones" must be maintained to service the unique high volume truck delivery needs of First Canadian Place, Scotia Plaza and many business in the underground Path. This one section of street is already reduced to two lanes because of ongoing tower construction occupying the north side. Enhanced pavement markings will be provided to guide cyclists around these "courier delivery zones". If the cycle tracks are approved for permanent installation, alternative design solutions could be possible in this section in the future.

I don't like the sound of "alternative design solutions".

Where Toronto plans to build bike lanes and where we bike sometimes intersect

The Cycling Unit at the City of Toronto has been collecting data of people's cycling routes. They've been collecting it via a phone app that collects GPS data while cycling. I recently got a copy of the City's preliminary map of cycling densities from that app thanks to John Taranu.

The City Core is interesting (we already know that the suburban cycling volumes are low). I'm going to assume that a lot of the people using the app were probably the less casual type; they're more passionate about cycling. They probably used the app mostly on their work commutes. Given that, it looks like that from the east most commutes are channelled into Danforth or Dundas East. From the west people end up skipping Bloor and going down to College, Harbord or Dundas. Or all the way down to Queen and then Adelaide/Richmond.

It makes me think that getting cycle tracks on Adelaide and Richmond was a huge win. Probably the biggest in the last couple decades. And I will say arguably, more important than Bloor bike lanes.

Next let's look at another map. This is from the recent survey of draft proposed routes from the City's ten year bike plan. Thanks again to John Taranu, this time for combining the two maps the Cycling Unit staff presented in the survey.

It's unfortunate that they decided to use the same green line regardless of whether it's a bike lane, cycle track or just a "signed route". The narrow green line means it's already installed; wide green that it's approved. The red lines are proposed and are more likely to be included in the bike plan.

There are some nice solid additions, including Bloor, Yonge and Kingston Road. But again looking at the core shows that despite having by far the highest volume of cyclists in the city that staff have decided to wimp out and do little. Sure we'll get Bloor and an extension of the Railpath (but not plowed in winter), but looking at the traffic volume map and it shows that all the cyclists on College, Dundas or the ones trying to connect to the new cycle tracks on Richmond and Adelaide will get next to no relief. Parkdale and further west is mostly out of luck.

Staff are taking the politically expedient route by ignoring the gaps on College in particular. College has the highest cycling traffic volumes in Toronto! College was one of the first to get bike lanes but looks like we'll have to wait at least another decade before anything improves there. For shame.

Is it wrong to think that we should be prioritizing where people are already cycling and making it safer and more enjoyable for them?

Another summer where cyclists lose John Street with no safe alternative

There is an open house today at Metro Hall for the John Street "pedestrian improvements". There's a new councillor, Joe Cressy, but the same old plan which gives all the space over to either cars or patios, leaving cyclists to a small space between the cars and the planters separating the patios from traffic.

There is still no safe crossing of Queen Street between Spadina and University, which is incredible given the amount of bike traffic. There is still no other solution that works as well as John Street which is in essence being taken away from cyclists. Cyclists at Soho/Peter still have to make a jog to cross the streetcar tracks at an odd angle, a risky move for many.

Urbane Cyclist is moving their store from John to Spadina. Is it possible that this decision was influenced by the lack of support by the City for this cycling route? It might have played a part.

I've addressed John and Soho/Peter a few times, but since little has changed even with a new councillor it is worth retreading what I've covered before:

The best improvement to John would be for the City to make them one way for car traffic to provide enough room for bike lanes and patios. But if the City insists on giving John Street over just to cars and patios, there needs to be a proper plan in place to accommodate cyclists on Peter and Soho. The City has moved the traffic lights, but cyclists are still required to cross the streetcar tracks an odd and unsafe angle. Soho and Peter looking south:

Instead of the jog we could have something more like this:

Apparently Mountain Equipment Co-op is now moving to the northwest corner and it would be awesome if they were open to allowing a bike lane to go through their property. Or a compromise like that proposed by former Councillor Adam Vaughan where the corner is shaved to make the crossing more direct.

Why is Councillor Wong-Tam calling for a review of the protected bike lanes?

buckley-buffered bike lanes are blocked

Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam is calling for a "review" of the recently installed—and extensively consulted—cycle tracks of Wards 27 and 28. She is asking Transportation Services to investigate two contradictory concerns: "the improper parking of delivery and passenger vehicles in bike lanes; and access concerns raised by persons with medical issues, disabilities and the elderly who can no longer directly access their homes or medical services and facilities". (Photo by Ian Flett)

I'm suspicious of Councillor Wong-Tam's intentions given her previous interactions with cycling infrastructure. So what'll it be? Shall we make holes in the cycle tracks for legitimate concern X? And how shall we prevent everyone else from also stopping there?

It's telling that Wong-Tam is the only signatory on this letter. A constituent has told me that office of Ward 28 Councillor Pam McConnell provided feedback on the letter but for some unknown (to us) reason, she didn't sign it. This is interesting given that at least half of the cycle tracks are in McConnell's ward.

This isn't the first time Wong-Tam has written Transportation staff asking them to review cycle tracks. She wrote staff asking them to make the Sherbourne cycle tracks a "pilot" rather than permanent. McConnell didn't sign the letter that time either.

The timing of the letter is odd. Her letter is dated February, 2015 and requested a report back from staff for May. But she won't get a report for September of this year, which will likely be after the road work is completed on the lower half of Sherbourne. Too late to make any changes there.

The community, including the disabled, was extensively consulted prior to the installation. I recall staff telling me how they went building by building alerting residents, businesses and requested their feedback. They met extensively with BIAs and RAs. So why now?


I heard something interesting from a city planner soon after I was alerted to Wong-Tam's letter. I don't have any proof that this is related to her letter but it might be a clue.

The planner mentioned that 24 Wellesley, a condo tower, has requested curb cuts into the cycle track curbs so that their residents can be dropped off at the front door. Planner said they wanted it for Wheel-Trans, but really, there's no way of stopping anyone from using it.

The funny thing is is that 24 Wellesley has minor streets on all three sides with plenty of places to stop! So it seems a bit greedy that they also want holes in the cycle track as well. And you'll notice that there are a number of businesses also in that building that presumably aren't happy with losing the stopping space in front of their stores.

And this isn't the only condo tower. Apparently there are others who also want to poke holes into the cycle track. Is Wong-Tam helping to push these requests?

Here's what Wong-Tam wants reviewed:

  1. Locations of frequent parking in bike lanes and separation conditions (bollards and their spacing or curb type)
  2. Locations where Wheel-Trans and accessibility taxis cannot serve persons living with disabilities and where the City may not be meeting the requirements of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act
  3. Locations where parking obstructions force cyclists to merge unsafely with automotive traffic
  4. Locations where residents feel they are forced to park or be dropped off that are unsafe, due to traffic conditions or poor visibility
  5. Solutions and recommendations to remedy the conflicts to ensure safer street conditions for all bike lane and road users.

I hope Wong-Tam realizes that nothing is ever going to satisfy everyone. Her concerns contradict each other: if she identifies a problem with car drivers parking in the bike lanes, that is, there isn't enough physical separation, then why also call for a solution to residents and Wheel-Trans? If we increase the physical separation (which is what most cyclists want) then it's going to inevitably put some noses out of joint. That can't be fixed. And if they instead allow for gaps in the separation, we can't pretend that only Wheel-Trans or residents will use them. That gap is available to everyone.

So before we know it, the entire cycle track will be riddled with gaps where people can stop to pick up their coffee or wait with their engines idling because "it'll just be a minute". A route that is so easily blocked is no longer a safe or effective cycling route.

In whose interests is Councillor Wong-Tam fighting for? She also fought for off-hours on-street parking on Yonge and Bay, which increases the chances of injuries due to dooring for cyclists (and cancels out the benefit of bike lanes!) and makes public transit less efficient (by removing the priority lane for buses).

It makes me wary that Wong-Tam really has the best interests of cyclists at heart. If nothing else, we need to hear from her that she actually does support physically separated bike lanes. And that she will push for improvements to accessibility for the disabled that won't create gaps in the cycle tracks that will be used to make cycling more dangerous. That's the least she could do.

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]( 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.

Syndicate content