bike lanes

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.

Council votes to allow e-bikes in Toronto bike lanes

In a controversial decision City Council has voted to allow e-bikes--both the regular-bike-looking and the e-scooter with vestigial pedals--in the bike lanes of Toronto. Council overturned the decision by PWIC which declined to allow the electric scooters in the bike lane. E-bikes are still banned from using trails and protected bike lanes. (Photo by Martin Reis)

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong's surprise motion barely passed with 21-18 votes. A few councillors were absent but it wasn't clear which way they would vote. Cycle Toronto, which had taken a strong stance on the e-bikes by stating that only "pedelec" should be allowed in the bike lanes, was caught off-guard by the motion.

A pedelec is similar to bikes in terms of speed and bulk, whereas an e-scooter is similar to a moped.

E-bikes is a controversial topic with people falling on either side of Cycle Toronto's stance, saying it was either too harsh or not strong enough. I trust my readers will not disappoint by being just as diverse. This is what Cycle Toronto said:

  • We’re supportive of e-bikes as an alternative to larger, less environmentally friendly motor vehicles, especially for people with impaired mobility.
  • We welcome Recommendation 1 to allow power-assisted bicycles which weigh less than 40kg and require pedaling for propulsion (“pedelecs”) in multi-use trails, cycle tracks and bicycle lanes.
  • But we’re concerned about Recommendation 2, which would allow electric scooters in all painted bicycle lanes across the City.
  • We support the MTO and Transport Canada addressing Recommendation 4, to split the existing power-assisted bicycles vehicle category into e-scooter and pedelec type vehicles, before the City considers the recommendation to allow them to drive in bicycle lanes.

Even though there is no crash data on e-bike/bike collisions, it's a valid concern. On the bright side, e-bikers, though still few in number, are potential allies in a fight for better cycling infrastructure. I'm not sure if that will make this decision palatable for most bicyclists.

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.

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