bike lanes

Winter gives cyclists the middle finger. Show it who is boss

After a few milder winters, this winter has been particularly tough. A hardy few bike throughout the winter but even they have limits. As I write this the snow is thickly falling and only a few brave souls can be seen biking or walking.

The cold is actually manageable; bundle up and you'll do well. But the thick snow turning into ice on the sidewalks and roads makes it dangerous. This winter has been especially tricky with a freeze-thaw-freeze cycle that has turned much snow into hidden ice. Avoiding this ice buildup, I believe, is possible. If only the City cared enough.

When it snows the City usually lets people continue to park their cars at the curb on most of our major arterials. The result is a whole stretch of snow that isn't being plowed now does it have a chance to melt from the sun.

I took the picture on a day after a snow event. The snow fall was manageable and much of it melted with an application of salt and sun. Yet stubborn bits hung on for existence under parked cars and soon turned to ice.

During rush hour the lane is clear but the ice forced all cyclists into a lose-lose situation; either ride over the ice and risk life and limb or ride far to the left where the drivers get confused and angry. Dealing with the latter is probably safer but it still forces cyclists to deal with some drivers trying to make a "point" by cutting in as closely as possible. One friend got clipped by a mirror by such a driver. I try my best to just listen to a podcast and try to ignore them.

What can the City do about it? Banning winter would be great (climate change?) but unworkable. City Council has directed staff to "report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on the creation of a network of snow routes for Toronto's bikeway that receives priority clearing and that this report recommend what changes, if any, should be made to route signage."

That's a start, but many streets, such as Queen, King, Dundas, aren't officially part of Toronto's bikeway but still have many people biking.

What might help those people is a recently passed change in the City's by-laws. In December City Council passed a snow clearance plan, which grants the General Manager of Transportation Services—currently Stephen Buckley—the right to prohibit parking on designated "Snow Routes" (map) throughout the City during "major snow storm conditions". Most major downtown streets are designated "Snow Routes", some have bike lanes, many have streetcar tracks. The ability to prohibit parking on snow routes previously only rested in the Mayor.

The by-law Municipal Code Chapter 950, Traffic and Parking specifies that when 5cm of snow falls the General Manager or the Mayor may declare a major snow storm condition and prohibit on-street parking for up to 72 hours.

The City of Ottawa already had a bans overnight on-street parking when the forecast predicts 7cm+ of snow. I think they ban it overnight to give snowplows a chance to clear the roads. Even better is Toronto's approach of prohibiting parking day and night. In practice, I imagine the staff are quite reluctant to enforce this rule, which explains why we've still got problems like the photo above.

Maybe today is a great day to test this new power, Mr. Buckley.

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.

Bike lanes on Richmond-Adelaide: a win for Cycle Toronto. Now improve plan for Simcoe and Peter

The preferred configuration for Richmond and Adelaide looks like it will be one-way protected bike lanes on both streets. The Wellington option was dropped as inferior. This is a great win for Cycle Toronto which has been campaigning for this exact configuration. And it's in no small part due to public works chair Minnan-Wong championing it for the last few years. It's ironic that it took a (former) ally of Mayor Ford to get this essential project completed.

While the east-west route is shaping up well - really, it will be awesome - Cycle Toronto has some issues with the north-south connections that the City staff are recommending. The staff seem to have left out any specific recommendations of how to fix the Peter/Queen intersection so that cyclists can safely connect to the Beverley bike lanes. And the Simcoe contraflow lane stops a bit short at Richmond instead of connecting to Queen.

There will be an open house next week Monday, November 18, and
Tuesday, November 19, 2013. There will be a presentation Monday at 6pm and from 9am to 9pm both days the materials will be on display at the Metro Hall Rotunda, 55 John Street. If you can't attend then you can email your comments to CyclingRichmondAdelaide@toronto.ca and copy info@cycleto.ca.

You can read the booklet handed out at the last stakeholders workshop to get an idea of the current recommendations.

So please attend the public consultation; please, please thank the staff for all their hard work and give them some feedback on how they can provide better protection for Simcoe and Peter. Thank you.

North/south connections

As for further details on the north-south connections, Cycle Toronto is asking people to make these requests to improve the plan:

  • Fully protected lanes on Peter St & Simcoe St (staff are currently proposing painted lanes on the southbound lane on Simcoe St between King St and Front St).
  • Realignment of the Soho St / Peter St intersection to promote a smooth north / south transition between Beverley St, Phoebe St, Soho St and Peter St.
  • Additional traffic signals on Simcoe St from Queen St south to Front St to increase safety for cyclists.
  • Contraflow lanes on Phoebe St and fully protected lanes on Simcoe St from Front St to the lake!

The City and Councillor Vaughan have been aware of the problem at Peter and Queen for a few years now. A creative solution was even offered a couple years ago by Dave Meslin on how to cross Queen:

Councillor Vaughan told me that his office was looking at solutions for the intersection when I spoke with him at the last stakeholders meeting. I'm a bit surprised that nothing concrete has come out yet. Not even a possible solution of moving the lights.

It's a pretty good plan with some key places where improvements can be made if staff are serious about improving the protection for cyclists. It has yet to be built but I'm getting more optimistic that we will see some big improvements downtown because of this plan.

We got a study of Bloor bike lanes, but was it set up to fail?

So we got the Bloor Environmental Assessment restarted, thanks to the efforts of Albert Koehl, founder of Bells on Bloor, and Cycle Toronto's ward groups along Bloor. There are a couple reasons, however, that make activists believe that the politicians are committed more to the appearance of being progressive rather than actually building bike lanes on Bloor. They can claim a victory that they've restarted a study on the idea of Bloor bike lanes while avoiding the possible repercussions from merchants.

The first reason is that their request for a pilot project was ignored. The lack of a firm commitment to a pilot project has made Koehl cynical about the outcome. Koehl noted to me that some kind of pilot was being discussed behind the scenes but nothing concrete came before the Public Works committee. So we don't have much reason to believe a pilot will happen (though I'll post the info if I find out more).

Running pilot projects has worked wonders for New York where DOT commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan revolutionized bike lane building by quickly building bike lanes that can easily be tweaked (or even removed) later on. A pilot project would provide instant feedback both to planners and to the community. In Toronto, however, councillors were unwilling to take such an important step.

The second reason is that the EA has been crafted so that it will study just the feasibility of bike lanes on Bloor rather than the best way to implement bike lanes. In a normal situation, the workflow would be like this: let's say a nuclear power plant is proposed to be built by the government. An environmental assessment kicks in by law to help guide the process of how it will be built, understand the negative effects and how to mitigate them. But the Bloor EA is being done ahead of any commitment to Bloor bike lanes. Councillors have not committed to building a bike lane on Bloor, just the feasibility.

And even more annoying is that the EA is not required by law for a bike lane. Recall that the City has happily built all of our other bike lanes without an EA (except for Richmond and Adelaide). An EA makes bike lanes look expensive.

Compare this to the Richmond-Adelaide EA. Here City Council had already voted to build bike lanes and the EA exists to help build it.

We can blame former Mayor Miller for starting this EA treadmill. The Bloor EA provided some cover to show that he was doing something for cyclists rather than show results. It wasn't a commitment to build anything then it was cancelled by Mayor Ford.

It would be easy to just give up at this point, but I suggest that we hold the feet of our politicians to the fire, whether they be progressive or not. Let's build what is possible now (Harbord, Wellesley, Richmond, Adelaide) and push the Bloor councillors to make an actual commitment to a pilot on Bloor.

Bloor study likely to piggyback on Dupont EA, but actual infrastructure still some years away

The public works committee has passed a motion for a combined environmental assessment for Bloor and Dupont streets. The motion still needs to pass City Council. Public works was probably the main hurdle, it being dominated by Ford's appointees, and that passing the EA at Council will be easier.

Councillor Janet Davis' amendment to extend the EA to the Danforth failed. There was also nothing in the motion approving a pilot project for Bloor. It's not clear if City staff can implement a pilot without Council approval, though it doesn't seem likely since staff probably won't take any risks on such a high-profile corridor. Councillors along the corridor will be very careful not to upset local merchants.

It seems odd to combine Dupont and Bloor in one EA. This is probably a strategic move in order to facilitate it getting passed by Council. The Dupont EA was already going to start next year so it seems that it was more politically palatable to include Bloor in that EA rather than try to create a separate EA with its own budget requirements.

Interestingly, Berardinetti, Grimes and Parker voted down Davis' motion, but Councillor Minnan-Wong voted for it. But on the final vote for a Bloor EA without the Danforth, everyone but Minnan-Wong voted for it. It's not a secret that Minnan-Wong would likely not vote for it, but it's interesting that some councillors would not want to extend it to the Danforth. For some of them it would be too close to their own backyard, even though a Danforth bike lane would be less disruptive to car traffic than on Bloor.

Timeline

Even in a best case scenario, actual implementation is some years away. The EA will likely start in 2014 and would probably go for at least a year. Any actual construction, if the EA recommends bike lanes and if Council approves it, would likely not begin until 2016, if the current EA for Richmond-Adelaide is any indication. And even then it's still completely possible that the new Toronto Council will get cold feet and delay or shelve any implementation.

There are some idealists (a minority if this blog's comments are to be trusted) who think that we can prioritize Bloor Street ahead of any other project (such as Harbord) and only complete Harbord after Bloor is "done". Given the likely timeline for Bloor, if these idealists got their way, we would have no new bike lanes from this administration and likely for even longer.

I think few cyclists would agree to such a deal. Something is usually better than nothing.

Bloor-Annex BIA Chair says We want bike lanes on Bloor

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=m5wCBNZfh0I

Video by Albert Koehl of the Annex Residents Association. (Thanks Nancy for tip.)

At 2:43, Wade McCallum, Chair of the Bloor-Annex BIA says: "We've made an official stance 'we want bike lanes on Bloor.' We are more than willing to lose the parking and replace them with bike lanes. We’ve talked to the business owners, we had a town hall last year... everybody is in favour of trading parking for bike lanes. So it’s unanimous.“

Now if we can just get the rest of the BIAs on board we can make some real changes in this city.

Let's all move to the Hammer! Hamilton approves separated bike lanes while we keep plodding along

Hamilton City Council just approved a separated bidirectional bike lane along the length of Cannon Street, a distance of over 5 km in downtown Hamilton. And did so despite it being controversial (Photo: Raise the Hammer)

"This is a tough call," said Councillor Bernie Morelli, who added he's heard from bike-lane supporters as well as residents enraged by the plan. "But I want (councillors) to know you're doing the right thing."

Over in Hogtown, our new Transportation General Manager Steven Buckley - who originally oversaw the building of 250 miles of bike lanes and trails in Philadelphia - told Kuitenbrouwer of the National Post saying he doesn't want to offend anyone when a bike lane is proposed.

“I try to site a bike lane where nobody ends up feeling that they are a loser,” he says. “Where pedestrians or businesses or drivers start seeing that they are losing something, you have a problem. Many cities are seeing that now and even New York is in that boat.”

That's just depressing. Just mentioning bikes is enough to bring out the crazies. Even a bikeshare station bizarrely offends some people, such as seen with the launch of Citibike in New York. A bike lane always breeds controversy in car-fetish cities.

I really hope that was just Buckley's way of saying he is listening carefully to the community and not a signal that he will roll over and play dead whenever a bakery or bank wants to preserve its primordial, god-given right to a curbside parking spot.

And while Hamilton councillors praise the amount of community support for the separated bike lane plan, Toronto has had to push back against the likes of Councillor Vaughan who has resisted separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide (unlike Councillor McConnell's strong support) and even now seems to be angry and resentful that he has been forced into supporting them, according to the National Post:

But Councillor Adam Vaughan is no fan of these bike lanes. Recently I sat on the public benches during a council meeting, chatting with Mr. Minnan-Wong. Mr. Vaughan came up. The two councillors went at each other hammer and tong, with me in the middle, about bike lanes on Richmond-Adelaide.

I wonder if Hamilton can sell us some of their multivitamins that's giving their councillors so much backbone and clear heads.

Note: Buckley also noted that they just don't have the capacity and a shortage of staff. To be fair this might be an issue in Hamilton as well for all I know. Only 1% of Toronto transportation staff work on cycling and they're stretched to the limit. Buckley suggested he'd be open to using consultants to help with capacity though he didn't mention why he hasn't done it already. This is not new: for years the cycling budget hasn't been spent because they are short-staffed.

Harbord Bakery, you're right. One-way protected bike lanes are better. So let's build them and remove all the parking

You know what? One-way protected bike lanes are probably better than two-way for Harbord. Thanks Harbord Bakery for bringing up the issue. But the Harbord Bakery failed to offer any alternative so I will: let's build one-way protected bike lanes on Harbord.

While bidirectional is the best way to accommodate some curbside parking while also providing safe protected bike lanes, this option has been obviously rejected by the Harbord Bakery (and their allies) as "dangerous". So that just leaves one-way (unidirectional) protected bike lanes as the best remaining option.

While bidirectional is certainly not dangerous, it is safer than nothing at all1, I will agree that unidirectional is even better2 for Harbord.

Everyone is safer with separation
As in the above diagram you can see that a protected bike lane on each side of the street provides a nice buffer for both cyclists and pedestrians, improving safety for everyone. Protected bicycle lanes have been shown to reduce injuries for all street users - pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. In New York City the protected bike lane install at Prospect Park led to a 21% reduction in injuries across the board; no pedestrian injuries during the 6 months between the installation and the study and a huge drop in sidewalk cycling.

This all results from providing dedicated space for cyclists on a major street. Motorists no longer have to worry about cyclists swerving in front of them; cyclists don't have to worry about cars blocking their path or swerving into their lane; and pedestrians don't need to worry about a bike coming down the sidewalk. A win-win-win situation.

Parking
It's unfortunate but necessary that it requires removing all the curbside parking, but isn't that a small price to pay for saving people's lives? The Harbord Bakery is not important enough to sacrifice cyclist and pedestrian safety anymore.

Adjustments can be made: off-street parking exists or extra can be built3. Suburbanites can still drive in and get their bagels. It's just that we'll no longer consider their convenience as more important than our lives.

We need a safe continuous route
Harbord is the second busiest cycling route in the city. Cycling represents up to 40% of all traffic during peak hours. Right now Harbord is our only real chance for a continuous, unbroken cycling route through the downtown. Completing a safe cycling route on Harbord would be a major boon for both street users and for businesses along the route.

If you agree you could consider sending a note to the Harbord Bakery to let them know, whatever it looks like, we prefer protected bike lanes to no bike lanes. Even if it means taking out all the curbside parking. We're not trying to punish anyone. We just want to be safe.

Footnotes:
1. Though bidirectional separated bike lanes are still safer than nothing at all. The research backs it up (as I mentioned in my previous post).
2. Veló Quebec recommends one-way cycle tracks over two-way when there are many cross streets. The new Ontario Bicycle Facilities guide lays out some mitigation measures including a dedicated signal phase; improving the sightlines by moving parking and street furniture away from intersections; clearly marking the intersections and banning turning if needed. Montreal, Vancouver and Dutch cities like Amsterdam and Rotterdam still have lots of bidirectional cycle tracks that work well enough.
3. Parking can be accommodated off-street. Where there's a will, there are means. At Hoskin and Spadina there are two parking lots on the east side of Spadina (U of T Graduate House). At Bordon and Harbord there is a large school parking lot. I'm sure the school board could be enticed to create public parking there as an additional revenue source.

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