Report on cycle tracks likely set for June

Today at the Public Works and Infrastructure meeting is a request by the chair, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong to have staff report on the proposed downtown cycle track network for the June meeting. This is basically a repeat of the request from last August, but suggests that DMW is still serious about the network.

Note the letter by Councillor Vaughan in the background file. In March 2010, Vaughan supported the proposal that City staff study the feasibility of creating cycle tracks / separated bike lanes on St. George / Beverley. Perhaps Vaughan would still be open to cycle tracks though his more recent negative comments make it harder to know where he stands.

The agenda item:

Downtown Bicycle Lane Network - Request for a Report

(April 10, 2011) Letter from Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, Chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee

Forwarding communications on the Downtown Bicycle Lane Network and requesting the General Manager, Transportation Services, to submit a report to the June 23, 2011 meeting of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.

Background Information
(April 10, 2011) Letter from Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, Chair, Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on Downtown Bicycle Lane Network - Request for Report

Portland is by far the bike-friendliest city in North America, but Toronto is still okay

Portland is tops for cycling in large North American cities, BikePortland.org reports on a new study, Analysis of Bicycling Trends and Policies in Large American Cities: Lessons for New York, by John Pucher of Rutgers University and Ralph Buehler of Virginia Tech. Toronto, while still higher up in terms of percentage of cyclists commuting (especially in the core), it seems to be falling behind in other measures. Pucher and Buehler make comparisons among American cities on a number of different cycling statistics, including cycling levels, safety and policies. They then compared the data from the large American cities to three large Canadian cities, Toronto, Montreal and Vancouver.

Canada overall came out looking good in some areas. Even though cycling rates have been rising faster in the US, the percentage of bike commuters in Canada is still double that of the US.

The number of bike commuters in the USA rose by 64% from 1990 to 2009, and the bike share of commuters rose from 0.4% to 0.6%. Over the shorter period from 1996 to 2006, the number of bike commuters in Canada rose by 42%, and the bike share of commuters rose from 1.1% to 1.3%. From 1988 to 2008, cycling fatalities fell by 66% in Canada and by 21% in the USA; serious injuries fell by 40% in Canada and by 31% in the USA.

Bike lane network is just a right-wing conspiracy? Strange times

Councillors Adam Vaughan and Gord Perks are both downtown progressive politicians who are interested in livable communities and pedestrian-friendly streets. Both are white men still in their prime, who, I believe, are occasional cyclists. Like many in this category they feel that they know enough about cycling on Toronto streets, and they are just cocksure enough, that they feel that they can make judgements on the needs of the diversity of regular cyclists, without needing to consult them. There are still a number of people in power who can't see beyond their own cycling experiences to consider what it might mean to cycle in this city if you're not quite as able, young (or too young), white, and masculine.

Turns out even progressive councillors like Adam Vaughan and Gord Perks give little thought to how they would improve cycling in Toronto's core. Perks has shown his support for Vaughan's wish to turn Richmond Street from one-way to two-way traffic. In a letter I've obtained from Councillor Perks to a constituent, Perks says:

[the bike union's] endorsement of this project concerns me. The project has its origins in the previous term when it was used as an excuse by some traditionally anti-bike lane Councillors to oppose the separated lane proposed for University Avenue. Instead of supporting a proposal which would have been in place last summer they argued for looking at other routes in the future. The proposal creates some specific problems for local plans in the area such as making Richmond St. into a two-way more pedestrian friendly street.

Additionally it is part of the ongoing effort supported by the mayor to push cyclists off the main streets in the City and onto side streets.

We haven't heard a peep from either of Perks or Vaughan if they have any plans to follow through with the official Bike Plan, which calls for bike lanes on Richmond and/or Adelaide. It's not only from Ford Nation that we have to worry about killing the Bike Plan, it seems like these two are helping it along by quietly ignoring it. If Vaughan and Perks don't want to provide for safer bike traffic on Richmond, just where would they like to put them all? Where will the cyclists get their long-promised safe bike routes? There is no other politically feasible route in the downtown, which is clearly shown in the work that the transportation planners did for the Bike Plan.

Rob Ford not so anti-cycling as advocates make him out to be

Dave Meslin makes a pitch on why Mayor Rob Ford may not be so anti-bike. Ford made headlines with his quotes about cyclists "swimming with the sharks" and in this video which was distributed before last fall's election, Ford is quoted as saying "Cyclists are a pain in the ass". Meslin's point is that if we had listened through the entire video (a rambling 7 minutes long) that we would have heard something more supportive coming from the mouth of the then-councillor.

Ford says “cyclists are putting their lives at risk every time they go on the road,” and his solution is both simple and practical: “We have to widen our sidewalks, split them basically in half, pedestrians on one side, closest to the stores, and the cyclists on the other side. It will work in this city.”

This might not be the right solution for every street, but the idea of physically separating cyclists from motor traffic, where possible, is a good one. It encourages more people to try cycling. The concept is not new, nor radical. It’s just common sense, and that’s why separated lanes are being used in cities all across the world, from Berlin to Manhattan to Montreal.

Bikelash: new word definition

Thanks to Tim, via Wordspy:

n. A strong, negative reaction towards cyclists, particularly by police officers or drivers. Also: bike-lash.
Example Citations:
Call it a bikelash! The NYPD has been ordered to begin a borough-wide crack-down that will hit renegade riders for often-overlooked "vehicular offenses" like failing to obey traffic signals and signs, breaking the speed limit, tailgating, and even failure to signal before turning.
—Thomas Tracy, "Bikelash! Cops to crack down on two-wheelers," New York Post, January 5, 2011

There's a feeling among many drivers that cyclists, either by their ignorance of the law or by their blatant disregard for it, are asking for trouble. ... In one sense, the so-called bikelash has little to do with transportation modes.
—Tom Vanderbilt, "Rage Against Your Machine," Outside, March 2, 2011

Earliest Citation:
Britain's army of cyclists are facing a bike-lash because of their increasingly illegal and aggressive behaviour, according to new research.

If not now, when? If not here, where? Separated bike lanes in Vaughan's Ward

Most cyclists - and even non-cyclists - in Toronto want to see bicycle lanes separated from traffic. Most of them think that it should be the top priority for improving conditions for cyclists, even more important than adding more bike lanes. Councillor Vaughan, however, seems to disagree. At least, Vaughan has done little for cyclists in his ward and has been negative about the first real ambitious plan for separated bike lanes in his ward. Yet Vaughan considers himself to be a bike-friendly councillor. If that's true, I put it to Vaughan to explain: if not this plan, which one? If not now, when? We'd like to know.

The 2009 City survey of cyclists and non-cyclists, ten years after the first survey of the state of cycling in Toronto, added a new option to the question on the top priorities for cyclists and non-cyclists in improving conditions for cyclists. Regular ("utilitarian") cyclists stated that their top priority is to separate bike lanes from traffic (77% said it would improve matters a great deal), even more important than adding more bike lanes (59%). Even among non-cyclists 2/3 found separating bike lanes as the top priority for improving conditions for cyclists.

Sign petition for separated bike lanes in downtown Toronto

Sign the separated bike lanes petition if you are interested in seeing a leap forward in appropriate infrastructure for cyclists downtown. Councillor Minnan-Wong, head of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, had presented the idea to the media last month. It's not a done deal by any means since local Councillor Vaughan and residents need to be on side, and some public consultation is already going on to change some streets such as Richmond/Adelaide. The petition calls for pilot projects to being in 2011. If that is politically possible it would give us a good idea of the options and would be reversible if not a good idea.

The final plan might look sort of what is described here and here. There will be plenty of time and space for public consultation to figure out the exact details, so sign if you approve of this in principal.

To: All City Councillors and Mayor's Office

I support the immediate implementation of a connected separated bicycle lane infrastructure with pilot projects beginning in 2011. This single step can greatly enhance the safety and efficiency of Toronto streets at a very low cost.

The domain over planning separated bike lanes and the needs of downtown communities

Photoshopping of Richmond bike lanes by Mez.

A city councillor is often considered to be a lord over his (or her) own fiefdom aka ward. This is a fairly sturdy tradition in Toronto municipal politics. It's tit-for-tat: I won't interfere with your plans for your ward if you don't interfere with my plans. When Councillor Minnan-Wong announced his plan for a downtown network for separated bike lanes, he upset that unwritten rule.

Even though this tradition can lead to parochialism and a propensity for councillors to only worry about their own re-election instead of the good of the whole city, it also makes some sense as we can see in the following email from Councillor Vaughan to Rob C (props to Rob for forwarding this to me). Vaughan's reasons for opposing Minnan-Wong's plans are that Minnan-Wong is calling for "substantial plans" on these streets, and "completely overrides four years of community consultation and neighbourhood efforts to address the issues on these streets".

From: Councillor_Vaughan@toronto.ca
Sent: January 10, 2011 10:13 AM
To: Rob
Subject: re: Your opposition to separated bike lanes in Toronto

Dear Rob,

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