politics

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!

Staff take out protection from Harbord-Hoskin protected bike lane plan

The City, with its just announced revision to the Harbord-Hoskin plan, continues to be unwilling to take radical steps to protect cyclists, nor to ensure that there are certain routes where cycling safety is paramount. Instead they would prefer to not disturb the god-given rights of car drivers to convenient parking.

City staff, when asked by City Council to build protected bike lanes on Harbord, Hoskin and Wellesley, had originally responded with a bidirectional bike lane for Harbord and Hoskin. It was a compromise that would allow businesses to keep some on-street parking between Spadina and Bathurst. But after studying they've decided that the bidirectional leads to too much delay for all traffic users. So instead they're coming back with a stripped down option that is going to be just paint with no protection at all. Luckily they got the TTC to agree to lane widths similar to those on Wellesley otherwise it would have been even worse.

...the City completed a comprehensive traffic study to measure the effects of bi-directional cycle tracks operations at signalized and un-signalized intersections. This study showed it would not be possible to safely accommodate bi-directional separated bike lanes, without unacceptable delays to all road users.

I would have preferred the City to actually do a pilot project of a bi-directional bike lane. A computer model is a very poor substitute for the real thing and can't possibly capture all the possible tweaks or substitute for actual safety data. In fact, it is difficult to establish safety conclusions with even actual injury data. I can imagine a model would be quite poor in predictive powers.

Note that the City didn't say that bi-directional is "unsafe". Any infrastructure must be studied relative to other options including the status quo. Bidirectional works elsewhere, such as Montreal. It's just that the City was unwilling to accept the tradeoff of delays for a bidirectional bike lane.

Anyway this is what they now have planned for Harbord:

There are not even plastic bollards, though staff do suggest that it might be possible for the side without car parking (bollards would otherwise interfere with cars existing). But on Hoskin (east side of Spadina) the road is wider and there's room to put the bike lane between the curb and the parking. This is the preferred arrangement and is how saner cities like Copenhagen do it.

City's proposed cross-section of Hoskin

The TTC doesn't want the parked cars to be too close to their buses. The mirrors of the buses will overhang the lane widths. I guess the TTC would rather that cyclists' heads serve as a buffer. The City is unwilling to either force this option on the TTC or to take out the parking in the narrow sections so that there is enough room for this protection.

Toronto already has many bike lanes right next to parked cars, so it may seem unimportant that Harbord also have the same setup. It does seem that there is a bit of buffer to keep cyclists away from opening car doors. But research has shown that a bike lane next to parked cars is not as safe as a major road with zero on-street parking at all.

In short, on-street car parking poses a danger to cyclists and the City is unwilling to take measures to protect cyclists even on prime cycling routes like Harbord.

This is what I propose for Harbord: let the TTC "suffer". There is room for the buses and they can just drive more slowly. It's just Harbord, not one of the major transit routes. I made it on streetmix.

Or take out all the parking, at least between Spadina and Bathurst (streetmix). The amzing thing about this option is just how much room we've got to play with. We can even widen the sidewalks, which would certainly be a great option for the businesses along that stretch:

Just look at all that added space! And I bet without cars getting into and out of parking spots all traffic will move faster. This is the sanest option if people will just get past their prejudices.

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.

Toronto protected bike lane strategy: study, discuss, repeat. Meanwhile Ottawa just builds them

Ottawa actually builds protected bike lanes. In Toronto we like to think and talk about it a lot.

Peter got an explanation of how it works in Ottawa from a friend, Alanna Dale Hill, who is an assistant to Ottawa councillor, Mathieu Fleury. Ottawa decided that they could build protected bike lanes on Laurier Ave without an environmental assessment. Meanwhile, Toronto's Transportation Services decided that the lanes that City Council had approved in June 2011 for Richmond and Adelaide required a costly EA. But just when the EA was set to be completed they decided they should also do a pilot project (but only along pieces of the planned project).

The Richmond/Adelaide EA is costing the City millions and four lost years during which they could have implemented a pilot project as originally planned. Ottawa was able to do a much better evaluation with real data rather than speculating from a model. And now Ottawa has a protected bike lane with very little fuss.

What is Toronto's fascination with costly studies while other Canadian cities just build? Even when City Council approves bike lanes Transportation Services has found a way to make those approvals precarious.

According to Alanna:

The Laurier SBL did not require an EA. The City’s interpretation of the requirements is that the re-designation of an existing General Purpose Lane (GPL) to a reserved lane is exempt and also that the construction or operation of sidewalks or bike lanes within existing rights-of-way are also exempt. Temporary changes to capacity (such as construction detours) are also exempt and the project ran as a pilot for 2-years which was considered a temporary condition.

No repercussions for Ottawa going ahead without the "proper" studies. So what is Toronto, Canada's largest city, afraid of?

Avid cyclists as policy makers are going extinct and they've no one else to blame

At the recent Toronto Bike Awards, Dr. Monica Campbell won the TCAT Active Transportation Champion of the Year. Monica worked in Toronto Public Health to put a "health lens" on transportation planning.

Monica is a leader in cycling issues but she is not an "avid cyclist". She only started cycling after BIXI Toronto launched. She has the perspective of someone who is interested in cycling but uncomfortable in heavy, fast traffic. In this way, Monica reflects an ongoing evolution of leadership in cycling infrastructure.

Who are "avid cyclists"? Here's a clue:

Some surviving avid cyclists (source), the three on left are members of the obscure but semi-powerful National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Bicycle Technical Committee (John Schubert, John Allen and John Ciccarelli, members of NCUTCDBTC, and New York bicycling advocate and planner Steve Faust), critiquing New York's cycling infrastructure. I don't think NYC asked the committee for permission before building those protected bike lanes. So if these guys are no longer driving the agenda, I guess that makes them backseat drivers.

Such avid cyclists—many of whom can often be seen wearing cycling-specific gear and can be heard saying phrases like "Take The Lane" and "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles"—are increasingly being surpassed by a different breed in policy circles.

The NCUTCDBTC, for their part, have approved a handful of bike symbols to be used on roads (like bike boxes that cities were building anyway) but for the most part have disapproved of the strong push for protected bike lanes and more "European" cycling infrastructure.

By the nature of their minimal-intervention philosophy that appeals to only a tiny minority of the population, the avid cycling leaders are putting themselves out of a job. Instead, it's people like this who are changing the game:

Mia Birk as Portland Bicycle Program Manager led a transformation of Portland into one of the bike-friendly cities in the United States. She's now a principal at Alta Planning & Design, a leading bicycle planning firm that also happens to operate many of the bikesharing programs that have mushroomed across North America.

And also...

Janette Sadik Khan is the current head of NYDOT who revolutionized bicycle and pedestrian planning in New York and helped to spur on a nationwide push for better bicycle infrastructure (Photo: Momentum Magazine). She also was one of the key leaders in creating a new nationwide NACTO bike planning guide for transportation planners. They had decided if they couldn't change the highway planning agencies from the inside, they'd just set up their own. There were no transportation planning guides or committees in the US that permitted protected bike lanes, so the NACTO guide is now a competing guide in North America and one which the more ambitious cities will first turn to for advice.

Sadik-Khan, seen here with former US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, launching the NACTO guide.

Evolution in local leaders

Increasingly these policy makers are not the gear heads, "avid" cyclists and the road warriors - the survivors when everyone else stopped cycling. I'll happily put myself in the category of a reforming avid cyclist.

Instead the leaders are increasingly women and men who are intensely interested in making cycling (and walking) safer for their families. In Dr. Campbell's case, she had only taken up cycling when BIXI Toronto was launched. And after being hit while using BIXI, has worked to make cycling safer. The result is that Toronto Public Health is now starting to "invade" the domain of the male-dominated Transportation Services by getting them to consider safety. Duh. To the average person as well as to Public Health it doesn't make sense why this isn't already a prime concern for the engineers.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there are actually a handful of female cycling planners who have also done great work in upsetting the applecart.)

I think there is a clear correlation of the increase in cycling, increase in safer cycling infrastructure and that the policy makers and leaders are increasingly women. And the avid cyclists/road warriors are making themselves extinct.

Corrections: Sadik-Khan is the soon to be the former head of NYCDOT. In the top photo only the left three are committee members. I made the source of the top photo more explicit and added the names of the people in the photo, instead of just linking "avid cyclists" to the source. And yes, not all avid cyclists have new bike gear, just the majority. I've removed this line "I don't imagine she's got the gear: no special shoes, padded shorts, stretchy fabric." because I think it's just a distraction from my message.

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.

After Cycle Toronto's Bagels for Bikes, is the Harbord BIA wavering in their opposition to the bike lanes?

Rain fell all day, but inside fresh baked goods greeted people at the Harbord Bakery for the Bagels for Bikes "buy-in" last Saturday. People arrived by bike hoping to persuade the Harbord Bakery to drop their opposition to the bidirectional bike lanes which would potentially remove about 20 parking spaces out of about 150 spaces on Harbord1. (Photo: Cycle Toronto)

Cycle Toronto members purchased bagels and other baked goods at the Harbord Bakery and chatted with the local merchants who had also provided some free pastries as a sort of olive branch to the wet cyclists who arrived to show their support for the City's separated bike lane plan.

It might bode well for the bike lanes that public works chair Denzil Minnan-Wong showed up to talk with cyclists and the merchants. Councillor Adam Vaughan, the councillor for that section of Harbord, was not there. It's unclear why.

The Harbord BIA's opposition may have wavered a little bit since the Star reported that the Bakery owner Susan Wisniewski figured the bidirectional bike lane was going to be a "horror story" that would lead to collisions. A bit of "father knows best" and the apocalypse rolled into one.

Neil Wright, Harbord BIA Chair, said that it was the BIA and not the Harbord Bakery which was pushing the anti-bike lane petition. It was unfair, he claimed, of the Toronto Star to put the Harbord Bakery as the leader in the fight against the Harbord bike lane. And even if the BIA was hosting the petition, Wright clarified that the Harbord BIA has yet to take an official stand on the proposed two-way cycle track. They will wait until the official proposal comes out in the next month or so. Is the BIA backtracking a bit or were they misquoted in the media?

We'll give you some love if you do the same

The Harbord BIA would do well to embrace cyclists as customers. Harbord is already the second busiest bike route in Toronto (after College), with cyclists representing 40 per cent of traffic during rush hour, according to a city report released in June. On any day, the Harbord Bakery and other businesses along the street likely see more dollars coming in from people who walked, biked or took TTC in then who drove. The evidence shows us that while drivers may spend more for each trip they make, cyclists return much more frequently and end up spending more.

With limited car parking and no more room for cars on the roadway, businesses need to look beyond cars for ways to attract customers. Green Apple Books in San Francisco realized this as well: "We're in a pretty congested neighborhood; parking is tough. There's no alleys, so delivery trucks have to do their business up front. On top of it, sidewalks are pretty narrow." Sounds like many downtown Toronto businesses.

Rather than killing business, the bidirectional bike lanes would make it easier for customers to arrive with a minimal loss of car parking (only 20 car parking spaces on all of Harbord). Between Queen's Park Circle and Ossington only 115 out of 195 (59%) of the parking spaces are occupied on average. Even after the loss of some spaces, the BIA will still have enough spaces nearby to meet all the peak demand. (The peak demand, by the way, is actually on weekday evenings which suggests that a lot of it is occupied by local residents and not even customers necessarily.)

Leave the predictions to the experts
Instead of predicting a coming apocalypse, businesses should be working with the City and with cyclists to better understand the risks of the various options and create a good plan with which we can all be happy. The best available evidence we have at this time suggest that bidirectional cycle tracks would be safer than the current door-zone cycling on Harbord. A study (Lusk et al.) of the bidirectional cycle tracks in Montreal and found them to be safer than the adjacent streets without any protection: “Compared with bicycling on a reference street…these cycle tracks had a 28% lower injury rate.”

No horror stories in Montreal: cycle tracks have made Montreal cyclists happier and safer. We can do the same here.

1. Yes, I'm talking again about Harbord Street. Not only is it a regular route for me (and many others), it is a bit of a bellweather of how political will in the face of merchant opposition for cycling infrastructure. If we can't bloody well finish the Harbord bike lane after a couple decades, then what hope do we have for Bloor or other downtown streets?

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.

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