politics

Why we need Wellesley-Hoskin separated bike lane and it needs political support

“Eventually you have to make some investments in cycling infrastructure and you can’t wait until there’s so many people demanding cycling. You have to take a lead in it and that way you’ll induce more people to cycle when they think it’s safer.”
-- Brandin O'Connor, Osgoode student, at the Wellesley-Hoskin first open house

The second public meeting for the Wellesley-Hoskin cycle track / separated bike lane project is coming up on Tuesday, September 11, 2012 from 4:30 to 7:30 PM, at Seeley Hall, Trinity College, 6 Hoskin Avenue. It's just west of Queens Park circle (apropos since it's one of the difficult and confusing areas to navigate).

Much of the criticism on Wellesley falls into the nitpicky category; we can easily lose track of the bigger picture. There are a number of good reasons why Wellesley-Hoskin is our best, realistic option for separated bike lanes. Let's debate the whole package. I do hope our councillors "take a lead" in building better bicycle infrastructure instead of their myopic "my ward is doing its own thing" view. Roads were never approved or debated on a ward-by-ward basis, it's not clear why, other than historical accident, that we do it with bike lanes.

Why Wellesley is the best choice for separated bike lanes:

  • There are no alternatives. Bloor is politically unattainable for the foreseeable and would only be possible then in short sections with pro-cycling councillors and retail owners. Mayor Miller only gave us a study of Bloor, nothing more. Councillor Wong-Tam for all her opposition, has suggested no alternative route.
  • It is linked to quite a few bike lanes. It helps improve the network.
  • It's long. From Parliament to Ossington if we get our way.
  • Queen's Park intersections are barriers. The intersection is dangerous on the west side of the park. Going eastbound from Wellesley to Hoskin is confusing. In fact there is no obvious route other than through the park where bikes are not technically allowed.
  • Wellesley-Hoskin is what's on the table. Even if there was a better option, if we don't approve this, there will be no other proposals for some time.
  • It will fill in the Harbord gap This plan will help us complete the route. Staff promised to fill it in 2010 but didn't deliver.
  • There is limited retail and limited parking. Makes it much easier to remove remaining.
  • There are no streetcar tracks. All the other long east-west streets around there, other than Bloor have streetcars and have little room for bike lane as is.
  • Goes through the university. Lots of students cycle.
  • Removing left turn lanes makes the street safer for everyone. If they remove left turn lanes to install the cycle tracks, the street will be safer for pedestrians, cyclists, and even drivers.
  • Removes the dangerous door zone. By removing parked cars we'll have fewer injuries and deaths from drivers opening car doors into cyclists paths.
  • Cycle Toronto is fully behind it. Cyclists need to squeeze benefits regardless of the politician. It's not like the progressive politicians got us a whole lot. We hear pro-cycling talk from downtown politicians but little action.
  • The Bike Plan is dead. The Bike Plan was a political document and it expired last year. We need to do what is politically feasible.
  • Cycle tracks are popular. They encourage many more people to cycle more regularly.
  • Cycle tracks are safer. Studies in Vancouver, Montreal and New York are showing that cycle tracks are safer.
  • The bike lane widths can increase. Most will become much wider than our typical painted bike lanes, with no interference from car doors.

Wellesley, unfortunately, may end up being one of the easier. But getting it means getting cycle tracks on streets like Bloor Street much more likely.

So let's build it already. (But first go to the September open house).

Like Wychwood, let's make it safer to cross streetcar tracks on busy cycle routes like Queen and John or Peter

This week a man died when his wheel got caught in some unused streetcar tracks on a residential street near the Wychwood Barns, just south of St. Clair. There has been some public outcry to remove these streetcar tracks to make the street safer. In fact, Councillors Layton and Mihevc are going to propose that the City remove the streetcar tracks on Wychwood Ave.

That will make it safer on Wychwood. What if our councillors put their attention and energy also on making the separated bike lane network crossing at Queen and Soho/Peter safer? If we are going to start building out a network of separated lanes we also need to think of how they will cross streetcar tracks.

Many cyclists use Beverley and John Street to get to and from downtown and they cross Queen at right angles. However, the needs of cyclists were largely ignored on John Street with the John Street EA, and we were told that cyclists would instead use Peter and Soho to cross Queen. The problem is is that the City hasn't made any plans to improve it yet. The average cyclist can't easily negotiate two quick turns across streetcar tracks especially in a mix of car traffic.

Cycle Toronto is still trying to ensure that John Street has adequate cycling infrastructure for cyclists. If that is just not possible, then it would be next best that politicians ensure that Peter and Soho are aligned so that cyclists can cross the streetcar tracks at safe right angles.

Aligning seems increasingly unlikely since the corner parking lot will soon be developed; it requires Councillor Vaughan and City Council to intervene by putting a hold on development. We don't know if Vaughan would support this. We are running out of safe options.

Councillors Perks and Layton voted on the Public Works committee to accept the John Street EA which would largely end it as a cycling route. If they are concerned with improving the safety of cyclists on streetcar tracks, I believe they could also take a much stronger stance on asking that the separated bike lane network has safe crossings. Let's use the opportunity of this media focus on streetcar tracks.

If Councillor Wong-Tam cares about cycling safety she has a funny way of showing it: Wellesley open house for cycle tracks

In the first of two open house meetings, a good showing of the public got an initial look at the proposal for separated bike lanes (also known as cycle tracks) on Wellesley and Hoskin, part of a larger project approved by City Council last year to create a network of separated bike lanes that improve safety and comfort for cyclists. Wellesley will eventually connect to Harbord to create a continuous cycle track from Ossington to Parliament.

I dropped by and took a look at the panels explaining the initial planning and provided my feedback. I also got a chance to speak with Councillor Wong-Tam, the only councillor attending. But it's not what you think; Councillor Wong-Tam didn't attend because she was so keen on the public consultation process and wanted to ensure that it went smoothly. Instead, most of her comments to me and other interested citizens were to criticize the consultation process and to point out her problems with separated bike lanes and the priority of the project. In fact, the councillor appears ready to call the public consultation process dead on arrival.

Attendees at the open house: Courtesy of Cycle TorontoAttendees at the open house: Courtesy of Cycle Toronto

Why is Councillor Wong-Tam so eager to attend the public consultation so as to slam it? It's not entirely clear, but from her comments it appears as if she is more concerned for condo developers, businesses and drivers and how the bike lanes will impact them than she is interested in making some bold moves to improve conditions for cyclists on this major cycling route. She displayed a similar reticence over separated bike lanes on Sherbourne before she backed down and agreed it should go ahead.

In order to convert the regular bike lanes on Hoskin-Wellesley to separated bike lanes (also known as cycle tracks), staff determined that left turn lanes and on-street parking between Bay and Parliament would likely need to be removed. This can be controversial but so far there have only been a smattering of complaints to staff. This first open house was the first opportunity for citizens to provide feedback to inform the design process. The more detailed plans will then be presented at the second open house in September. During the consultation process businesses, resident groups, property owners / managers have the opportunity to have a site meeting with City staff, to discuss their concerns and possible solutions. Staff will also involve City agencies and divisions - TTC bus service, Wheel-Trans pick-up/drop-off, fire and emergency access, curb-side waste collection, and snow removal and street cleaning - in the design process.

Why improve these bike lanes? Separated bike lanes are popular (77% of all Torontonians); they increase safety by providing some separation between cars and bikes; and they encourage a lot more people who might otherwise not bike to try it out. Cycle Toronto has pushed for the separated bike lane network. Harbord/Hoskin and Wellesley streets in particular are prime candidates as they form a major cycling backbone in Toronto, a popular and rare east-west cycling route that doesn't have streetcar tracks and is fairly continuous. Adding separated bike lanes to this route will add some much needed safety to help reduce crashes and injuries and to increase ridership.

The City provided a good summary of how Toronto is playing catch-up to many cities in Europe and North America who have been bringing their cycling facilities up to a higher standard (most recently Chicago):

In Canada cycle track type bike lanes, separate from motor vehicle traffic, have been built in Montreal, Ottawa, Vancouver and Guelph. Cycle track bicycle lane designs which help to keep
cyclists and cars separate are also popular in hundreds of other cities around the world. Lessons learned from these leading cities can help Toronto enhance its own bike facilities. Better bike facilities can create an environment that is safer for Toronto's existing population of cyclists. Cycle Track type facilities can also create an environment that is more accessible for people who do not yet cycle, residents riding in their golden years, and children. The goal of improving cycling facilities is to make cycling in the City, where you are near to motor vehicles, less intimidating.

Read more on the new standard for separated bike lanes in the United States on the NACTO site (National Association of City Transportation Officials)

Here's where the network of separated bike lanes is planned for Toronto:

View Downtown Bikeway Upgrades in a larger map

In comments to me and to Novae Res Urbis, a Toronto development industry newsletter, Councillor Wong-Tam made a number of comments that seemed designed to undermine both the process and the reasons for installing separated bike lanes in general.

At least 12 new projects are in the pipeline along Wellesley,” Wong-Tam said. “If you don’t factor in where those new buildings will have their egress and access points then I fear that we’re going to spend all this money and then tear it up later on.”

Wong-Tam would also like to see better coordination with property owners along the street who may have servicing or loading concerns, adding that “removing the bulk of the on- street parking isn’t necessarily going to be great for our main streets.”

Is Wong-Tam suggesting that this project be stopped until all 12 new projects are finalized? And what if yet more condo projects are proposed? Shall cyclists wait until those are done too?

Given that the City has explicitly noted how this process includes the opportunity for site meetings for stakeholders, it's unclear how Wong-Tam's criticism here has any traction. It appears as if her prime concern is with property owners and condo developers. Is this public consultation process not enough or would like them to have special access to the planning process?

“It’s a very expensive exercise to get wrong,” Wong-Tam said. “We can rush to a conclusion, build it out and [have it] not functioning the way we need to have it function then have residents upset that separated bike lanes don’t work. And then you will have a really hard time, if you mess up Wellesley and you mess up Sherbourne, of ever getting a complete network of cycling infrastructure. Which is why I’m advocating for a complete streets strategy, better coordinating with planning [and] a template that will ensure that the programming works for everyone.”

It's hard to understand her concern when City staff have already said that this is not a major project: they are not ripping up the street or changing the road width. They are proposing rolled curbs, bolted to the pavement such as they are doing north of Gerrard on Sherbourne, and changing the painted lines. City staff are “looking for some kind of temporary design that will be less costly but also something that we can remove when the street does get reconstructed and replaced with something permanent.” (Novae Res Urbis, June 29).

Councillor Wong-Tam is presenting her "complete streets" process as alternative to this process but it seems to be more of a case of doing nothing. A "complete streets" approach is sufficiently vague to mean anything in this context. If Wong-Tam wants better lighting on the street (which she mentioned to me) then bike lanes aren't holding that up. That can happen at any time and won't be covered under the cycling budget at any rate. If she is advocating for major road changes such as wider sidewalks (which she hasn't explicitly said) then it would likely involve a whole environmental assessment process and would actually be more disruptive for existing businesses. This just isn't going to happen any time soon.

Councillor Wong-Tam is throwing terminology around like complete streets to suggest she has an alternative that is equally satisfactory to cyclists, when, at best, it seems to be an empty term used to stall this process, and, at worst, is being used to keep the status quo of on-street parking for businesses and left turns for motorists.

Do left lanes and on-street parking convenience trump cyclist safety? Wong-Tam didn't make it clear that she would stand up for cycle tracks and take heat if there was opposition. But it's not even clear if there would be much opposition. Staff mentioned to me that they didn't think that removing parking would be that contentious since there isn't much currently and alternative locations exist. Removing left turn lanes will be a bigger issue, but even here I can't imagine a concerted effort to oppose it. I didn't see or hear any substantial opposition at this public open house and there are already many intersections downtown where left turns are prohibited.

Wong-Tam complained to me about the short notice for the meeting and how she didn't know what was being proposed until she arrived that night. I do not believe she is being genuine. Councillor McConnell had requested separate public meetings for each ward, which was likely to help Wong-Tam as well. This demand which was met, but ultimately the meetings were combined. Councillors were fully aware of the timing. Citizens first found about it three weeks ago from a Cycle Toronto notice on June 8. Information about the project was available on the City's website around June 8. The Ward 20 Cycle Toronto group on June 5th had emailed City staff and councillors Vaughan, Wong-Tam, McConnell and Minnan-Wong requesting that a date be set in a timely manner. There was ample opportunity to be abreast of the matter in her own ward.

Councillor Wong-Tam, however, told me that she hadn't publicized the open house in her ward. No newsletter went out explaining to interested citizens and stakeholders about the project and how they could provide comments. The same isn't true for a recent town hall Wong-Tam hosted on Jarvis Street as a Cultural Corridor. The councillor mentioned to me that she had made sure that all her constituents, particularly those in the northern part of her ward such as Rosedale, knew about it.

Wong-Tam could have put in the same effort for the Wellesley separated bike lane open house. If she felt certain groups were underrepresented they could have been invited. She could have used her office's resources which are larger than Cycle Toronto's. Was Councillor Wong-Tam hoping to discredit the public consultation by not publicizing it?

(The Jarvis town hall, by the way, had no explicit mention about the Jarvis bike lanes, but rather heritage and culture of Jarvis Street. Cycle Toronto did a call-out for cyclists to mention the bike lanes as important to the street. Councillor Wong-Tam mentioned to me after the open house how she was pleased with the resulting 'alliance' between heritage proponents and bike lane advocates. Was she crafting this outcome or did it appear as a sideshow? It's not clear how central Wong-Tam was to that relationship.)

Even though Wellesley runs through Wards 20, 27 and 28, only Wong-Tam appears to be against the process and project. This is quite surprising given her caché in the cycling community about being a pro-cycling councillor. I even saw her bike off down Wellesley after the meeting. Don't get me wrong, I think it's awesome that she bikes but it doesn't make a difference if a politician isn't supportive of what most cycling activists are fighting for. Councillors McConnell and Vaughan weren't present at the open house, yet it's clearer that they are supportive. McConnell has made it clear to constituents that she is supportive of the cycle tracks and Vaughan had even emailed me to express that he "totally support[s] seperated bike lanes to St George along Hoskin west of Queen's Park. No more consultation is needed."

Councillor Wong-Tam also brought up the Bike Plan as if this project could easily morph into installing some other bike lane somewhere else in the City.

“I’m disappointed that we’re actually not installing new bike lanes, more bike lanes, as in there’s not a single metre of new bike lanes being put into this entire project,” Wong-Tam said. “So that’s rather disappointing considering all the time and effort and resources being tossed into this.”

If Wong-Tam is not pleased about separated bike lanes on Wellesley she didn't offer any alternative bike plan for her ward. Instead she talked about completing the bike plan, how suburban cyclists need bike lanes too. Bringing up the Bike Plan is a red herring. It's not as if, for instance, the Pharmacy bike lanes will be brought back from the dead if the Wellesley separated bike lane project is stopped. The wheels of City Hall do not turn quickly and if this project is stopped here it won't be revived any time soon nor will it quickly result in bike lanes elsewhere. Besides, since the Bike Plan was drafted in 2001, cities the world over have advanced their understanding of bike lanes and cycle tracks. We should hold our bike lanes to higher standards, particularly are best used ones.

Councillor Wong-Tam even seemed to agree with a suggestion made by someone at the open house that there are machinations at City Hall that are setting up this project for failure. Supposedly so that bike lanes in general can be discredited. In this theory, the right wing with Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Chair Councillor Minnan-Wong at the helm want this to fail and so are forging ahead in such a way as to ensure that end. We know that Minnan-Wong is against bike lanes on Jarvis, but it is an entirely different matter to think that the right wing also wants the separated bike lane network to die. I'm not sure how it serves Minnan-Wong to be the main Council backer of a failed project.

Another idea floated by Councillor Wong-Tam at the open house was to suggest that this is a plan to get cyclists off the roads. I'm sure that this is front and center in the minds of some suburban politicians. A proposal to get cyclists off Toronto streets was last seriously proposed in the 1970s and it failed then. Today is a much different environment with many more people cycling and the urgent need to reduce traffic congestion. It is even less likely to pass.

Can we also accuse councillors Perks and Layton, who voted for Wellesley and Sherbourne at PWIC, of being part of the conspiracy? And councillors Vaughan and McConnell, who are supportive of the project in their wards? And why does the largest cycling advocacy organization in Toronto, Cycle Toronto, continue to push for separated bike lanes? Is Wong-Tam suggesting they are dupes to some nefarious plan?

I still hold out hope that Councillor Wong-Tam can be convinced of the need for this project and to get it installed in a timely fashion. Despite cycling herself Councillor Wong-Tam doesn't seem to be aware of where North American cities are headed and how she seems to be actively preventing Toronto from joining this modern world of being safer and more comfortable for all age groups and abilities. Cycle tracks aren't just a benefit for people cycling but for all road users. I encourage Councillor Wong-Tam to support cycle tracks on Wellesley.

Reducing injuries is important but not at expense of public health: Provincial Coroner's helmet recommendation misguided

The Provincial Coroner came out with his long-anticipated recommendations for reducing cycling deaths today. Alongside recommendations asking for a provincial cycling plan, complete streets, education and sideguards for trucks, he also recommended mandatory helmets for all age groups. His mandatory helmet recommendation is outdated, misguided and overshadows is otherwise (though somewhat broad) set of recommendations. The media has latched onto the helmet recommendation like it is the magical talisman that will solve all that harms cyclists. Drivers won't have to change anything, it's all up to the cyclists! Almost every headline is: "Ontario Coroner calls for mandatory helmets for cyclists..."

The limitation of this coroner's review is that it only looked at a relatively narrow perspective, that of deaths and injuries while cycling. The Coroner never considered were the broader public health implications. Nor did he consider, it seems, whether other jurisdictions saw a reduction in injuries and deaths. Nor how it is that some jurisdictions such as the Netherlands as pictured above can be very safe while most cyclists young and old don't wear helmets. When it comes to mandatory helmet legislation, it is widely considered by experts now to have either no impact or a negative impact on public health. I spelled out the broad issue yesterday. It is one thing to promote helmet use while still leaving the option open for people, but it has been shown that once you try to enforce helmet use many people just decide not to bother. The experts have shown that the health benefit of cycling is much greater than the risk of injury or death.

Even the Toronto Coroner's report on cycling fatalities in 1999 recognized that mandatory helmet use could backfire:

...helmet use is not a panacea for drastically reducing cycling related fatalities or serious head injuries. Stricter bicycle helmet legislation and mass helmet usage in other countries (U.S.A., Australia, and New Zealand) have failed to produce any statistically significant reduction in the rates of fatalities and head injuries, despite optimistic projections. In addition, compulsory helmet use may result in reduced bicycle usage.

Did you get that? Mandatory helmet legislation showed NO statistical evidence that it reduced fatalities and head injuries!

One could ask too why there is so much of an emphasis on helmets for cyclists when drivers and pedestrians also suffer head injuries that could be prevented with helmets? I personally have suffered a head injury sustained in a car crash. But I'm sure requiring helmets for drivers and passengers would create a loud outcry.

It's not clear if the Coroner took any consideration of the impact of this on the public bikesharing initiatives such as BIXI Toronto or Capital Bikes in Ottawa. Bikesharing in Melbourne, Australia is struggling because of mandatory helmets and Vancouver is having trouble launching its own service because of mandatory helmets there.

A bicycle helmet law came into effect in Ontario in 1995. It was originally meant to be applied to all ages but was amended by regulation to exempt adults. Helmet usage among children increased after the legislation but eventually dropped off because of a lack of enforcement.

I wish the Coroner had considered the public health aspect of his review before making any recommendation, but instead he had decided to forge ahead with a misguided recommendation. If the Liberal government takes up this recommendation I believe that it will put a big dent in cycling promotion in this province and put us even further behind. If Australia is any indication then we could see reductions in cycling by 20 to 40%! That is a hugely negative impact on public health, especially considering how Toronto celebrates when the number of cyclists increased by 6% in the decade from 1999 to 2009. Maybe the reductions won't be as large here, but even a small drop would likely overshadow any positive impact.

Three streets, four legal challenges! City's outdated, cyclist unfriendly planning on John, Front and Jarvis

In an unprecedented challenge to the City, four legal challenges have been submitted to the City and the Minister of the Environment claiming there has been shoddy process on Front Street, John Street and Jarvis Street that have resulted in plans that exclude cyclists and make conditions unsafe. I haven't heard of any other North American city having so many legal challenges to its planning authority and process at once.

Cycle Toronto is challenging the decision to take out bike lanes on Jarvis Street, stating that making the street more difficult for cyclists is doing environmental damage, represented by law firm Iler Campbell (letter to city). Cycle Toronto is also challenging the EA for Front Street, stating that the remake of the connections to this major transportation hub is making conditions worse for cyclists and that the City didn't consider Metrolinx's concerns regarding cycling infrastructure, represented by Papazian, Heisey and Myer Barristers and Solicitors (CycleTO's initial submission, letter from Metrolinx to City, letter to City, response from City, Part II request to Province and response to the City). Then on John Street the bike shop Urbane Cyclist is challenging the John Street EA, arguing that the project will force cyclists from the best cycling connection in the area with no Plan B in place, represented by Ian Flett. And finally, Don Wesley, Ward 20 resident and Cycle Toronto volunteer is challenging John Street and represented by Fogler Rubinoff LLP (letter to City by CycleTO, letter to City by Wesley, Part II request to Province).

What is most galling (other than the Jarvis bike lane removal) is that what passes for a "comfortable cycling environment" is a wide curb lane with sharrows (quoting a condescending Stephen Schijns, Manager in Infrastructure Planning, in his response to Cycle Toronto). This during a time when American cities are undertaking quite progressive initiatives like the Green Lane Project which will support cities in developing dedicated, separated green bike lanes. Instead of providing world class bike lanes, cycling facilities in Toronto are way down on the list of importance. Instead of bike lanes we're given sharrows and a wide curb lane on a busy arterial road. I'm sorry but sharrows do little to encourage people to feel safe enough to take up cycling.

Front Street, according to Schijns, will include "a wide single lane in each direction marked by sharrows, and a pedestrian-oriented traffic-calmed environment which will have the effect of maintaining vehicular traffic speeds at comfortable levels. The 4.75 m wide lanes will be substantially wider than the vast majority of curb lanes on City streets and will provide a comfortable cycling environment." Schijns also wishes to inform cyclists - as if we didn't know already - that "the plan also recognizes that pedestrians and cyclists are not the only users of Front Street." And that the reason that a dedicated bicycle lane wasn't included was because of a "delicate balancing act" whereby City engineers had to figure out how best to convince the broad public that sharrows are actually "cycling infrastructure". Meanwhile the EA was approved while failing to address the concerns of Metrolinx that the cycling infrastructure was poor.

Let's hope that this wakes the City up that it can't continue to expect cyclists to just take the little scraps off the table. The Bike Plan has been dangled in front of cyclists for over a decade but we've met plenty of resistance and foot dragging from both politicians and even many Transportation Services staff. It didn't seem to matter much if there was a progressive mayor like David Miller in power or a regressive mayor like Mel Lastman or Rob Ford, there has been certain level of inaction and resistance in making the city safer for cyclists. What is needed is to make foot dragging harder to accomplish.

Legal objections to John Street EA: deficient in addressing cyclists issues

Don Wesley is the co-captain of the Ward 20 advocacy group of Cycle Toronto (formerly Toronto Cyclists Union). With support of his Ward group and solicitors, Fogler, Rubinoff LLP, he is taking legal steps to ensure that the John Street EA addresses the concerns of cyclists. Local John Street business, the Urbane Cyclist bike shop, is also bringing forward their legal concerns, represented by Ian Flett.

From Wesley's letter, the main objection to the EA:

... the EA proposes to narrow existing vehicular lanes along John Street without provision for bike traffic, thereby effectively eliminating John Street as a cycling route and instead turning the route into a “ride at your own risk” corridor in which cyclist safety will be endangered due to competition for space with automobiles.

Wesley's states that the John Street EA contained two legal deficiencies. One, the EA does not comply with the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment and, two, it is inconsistent with the 2005 Provincial Policy Statement and does not conform with the Growth Plan for the Greater Golden Horseshoe.

Wesley and Urbane Cyclist are requesting a meeting with the Public Consultation Unit of the City of Toronto. In case their issues aren't resolved to their satisfaction, they will request the Minister of the Environment issue a Part II order pursuant to the Environmental Assessment Act. A Part II order allows an interested person to ask for a higher level of assessment for a class environmental assessment (Class EA) project if they feel there are significant outstanding issues that have not been adequately addressed.

Ward 20 cyclists believe that there are ways of achieving the goals of the City on John Street while accommodating cyclists and protecting their safety.

The John Street EA was approved by Council, but there were some flaws in the process that make this legal challenge important. Staff used incorrect numbers for estimating cycling traffic, which they later admitted their data was somewhat flawed after sustained effort by Dave Meslin and other activists in recording actual data with lots of media attention. Instead of the claimed percentage of 2% bike mode share during peak times, Meslin had measured closer to 30%. Though the admission was posted on the site, this information was not available for the public meetings.

John Street at Queen West

Another flaw was in the process of pushing hard for a pedestrianization of John Street without a commitment to ensuring that cyclists would have the same level of access and connectivity on John or close by. Indeed, it now appears as if cyclists may not even get an adequate cycling route on Soho/Peter, and this was the route that was championed by Councillor Vaughan. The major concern was improving the connection across Queen Street since currently it includes an unsafe jog across streetcar tracks and a left turn - something very few cyclists feel comfortable in doing. A new building is being proposed for the corner that would eliminate a chance for a reconfigured intersection.

Soho and Peter crossing at Queen St West

This makes fighting for a John Street that includes cyclists even that more important.

Cycle Toronto asks City to improve bicycle access in Union Station plan, else may take it to Province

The City had approved an EA report for a remake of Front Street in front of Union Station. It would improve pedestrian access, but in the end, provided nothing substantive for cycling access, and perhaps even made it worse in some respects. This for a major transportation hub in Canada. Cycle Toronto has expressed its concerns (pdf) about the project and has sent a letter to the City to see that its concerns are met. If not, Cycle Toronto may bring its concerns to the Province under the EA legislation. The approved EA, according to Cycle Toronto, is contrary to the City of Toronto Official Plan, Metrolinx's transportation policies, and fails to provide adequate lanes for bicycle transportation and fails to accommodate access by bicycle to Union Station, a concern that was also expressed by Metrolinx at an earlier date.

If Cycle Toronto's concerns can't be resolved with the City, they will "make an order under Part 11 of the Environmental Assessment Act that would require the Project to undergo an individual environmental assessment".

Previously Metrolinx had also expressed concerns that cyclists were being short-changed. Lesiië/ Woo, Vice President of Policy, Planning and Innovation at Metrolinx, said in February:

It is encouraging to see an emphasis in the EA on pedestrian priority and safety; however, I wouid encourage the City to consider this opportunity to concurrently improve access to Union Station for cyclists. In particular, the preferred concept identitìed through the EA provides minimal dedicated on-road space for cyclists. With the introduction of a greater number of taxi and loading zones, there may be a greater number of points of conflict between cyclists, pedestrians, and motorized vehicles. On Front Street, the consideration of on-street bike lanes or dedicated cycling facilities may help to reduce conflicts, especially in high activity areas, such as adjacent to taxi stands and loading zones.

The City's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee had previously asked City staff to consider changes to the plan, but staff came back with nothing, saying that they were unable to arrange a meeting with the appropriate people in time. So instead of delaying the approval until changes could be discussed, it was summarily accepted. Perhaps this time they'll find the time.

There will always be more to do, but that's not the same as saying that nothing has been done: prof opines on cycling in TO

Ron Buliung, a professor of transportation geography at the University of Toronto, elaborated on his interview for a Public Radio International's The World in an article War on the Streets of Toronto: Motorists vs. Cyclists. and the representation of the cycling in Toronto (thanks to TCAT for posting!). Buliung noted to the BBC that Toronto is "not seeing dramatic increases in fatalities or injuries of any kind, or much change in the frequency of injury on our major arterials". What is actually happening is that other North American cities are becoming safer and seeing fewer cyclist injuries and fatalities. Toronto has stalled at an average of about 1100 collisions per year over the last five years.

Perhaps ironically Buliung was involved in a sideswipe collision the day of his interview with the BBC. Thankfully he wasn't injured badly. In his musings below he tries to provide illumination on Toronto's "war on the ..." rhetoric and on the way we tend to fall into a binary discussion of good/bad aspects of transportation in this city. Things are improving in some ways - injuries are static as cycling rates increase, yet not so in other ways: we don't know if "near misses" and "unreported collisions" are rising or not.

“The war on the car”, “The war on public transit”, and now, care of the BBC, “The war on the bike”. This polarizing discourse about transportation in Toronto, launched by Mayor Ford, and sustained by a chorus of local and international media outlets, completely misses the mark. A more sensible conversation is one that acknowledges the multi-modal reality of passenger transport in our city and in cities across the globe. It’s much easier to play one mode against another than to do the tough work of figuring out how to make them work together.

In a busy city such as ours, irrespective of how you travel, the bad news stories are plenty. Congestion is getting worse, cars are crashing into each other, pedestrians, and cyclists. My personal story of cycling in the city includes the stories of friends and students being struck by cars; my partner was “doored” on College Street while pregnant and thrown over her handle bars into the street car tracks; and I was recently side-swiped while en route to a BBC interview to discuss cycling in Toronto (no injury occurred). This personal narrative influences how I think about the perceived and actual risk of cycling in the city.

In the BBC article, my comments regarding a retrospective analysis of reported injuries and fatalities were used as a counterpoint to the reporter’s suggestion that, “Toronto’s streets have turned into some kind of a roller derby”. Here we have, again, a complex process reduced to a simple binary description, i.e., it’s really bad out there/no it’s not. In the days since the BBC interview, I have spent a few hours observing the activity at one of our busiest intersections (in terms of bicycle traffic), College and Bathurst (also the site of the interview). During that time, I observed a young girl, escorted by an adult, trying to cross the street on her bike. She fell off her bike, lost a shoe in the streetcar tracks, and had to be picked up and carried the rest of the way; we are a long way from 8-80 indeed.

When I add my personal observations from around the city, to my cycling experience (about 11 years here), I can tell you that my perception of risk has increased over time. I can’t recall the last time I rode my bike in mixed traffic without incident, usually a near miss here or there. One could conclude that as I’ve aged I’ve also become more risk averse. Most of my experience bicycle commuting has occurred during the peak periods (rush hours) in the a.m. and p.m., at a time of day when the streets are awash with every kind of vehicle imaginable. The data tell us that most car-bike collisions are occurring at those times, particularly during the afternoon rush (City of Toronto, 2003). It may indeed be a bit of a “roller derby” during the peak hours. In other words, in my view, the roller derby exists, but not everywhere – and not all the time.

So, what of the good news? Data from the 2001 and 2006 census suggest that bike commuting to work is on the rise. While the city-wide bike to work mode share rests at 1.7%, we have neighbourhoods where the mode share is as high as 17%. Reported injuries and fatalities were lower in 2006 (during the peak) than in 2001. More recent data suggests little change in injury or fatality between 2006 and 2011 (City of Toronto, 2011). In other words, if we assume that the number of cycle commuters continues to increase, while frequency of injury remains relatively stable, then one could conclude that something is going right. One problem with this type of analysis is that the near misses, and unreported collisions are excluded. My near misses and unreported collision not only affect my perception of risk, they also fit into the broader story about the objective risk of injury associated with cycling in the city.

I would like to think that things are getting better, but I’m not completely sure yet. We are talking about preventable injury and death. It is not a good thing that, on average, close to 1000 cyclists are injured annually. Afterall each event carries with it several direct and indirect, and at times, enormous social and economic costs. These costs trickle across scales, from the individual to the employer and to the broader community.

The profile of cycling in Toronto has clearly increased through time; we have very passionate public advocacy groups (Toronto Cyclists Union, TCAT), and let’s not forget about our city hall staffers who are working to see the bike plan implemented. Although it might appear as though things have stalled (another claim from the BBC piece), there is more cycling infrastructure in the city today than there was in 2001. As of March 20, 2012 roughly 76% of the planned off-road capacity had been built, along with 56% of the planned signed routes, and 22% of the planned bike lanes (although these are the toughest sell of all) (City of Toronto, 2012). There will always be more to do, but that’s not the same as saying that nothing has been done! The best way to get people to consider switching to cycling is by building these supportive infrastructures, and – one of the best ways to reduce injury risk is to get more people cycling (i.e., safety in numbers).

While the currently available infrastructures might not all represent the grade and/or barrier separated ideal, they are a critical piece of the civic discourse on the role of the bicycle in the city – the painted line, the sharrow, the signed route, represent – if you will, a re-branding of our streets, a clear label telling all road users that the bicycle has a place in our city.

The relationship between the bicycle and Toronto is almost as old as the city itself. In the City of Toronto Archives I found a photograph of a bicycle storage facility located at the Toronto Lithograph Company, dated 1898 (that’s right, the idea of bike storage at work is more than a century old!). In addition, the conversation about bike lanes in the city has been dated to around 1896 (City of Toronto, 2001). The bicycle has been part of Toronto’s transport system for more than a century, it has survived the modernist auto-centric experiments with transport and city form of the past, and it will survive Mayor Ford."

Ron Buliung
Associate Professor, University of Toronto
Research Associate, University of Toronto Cities Centre

References:
BBC News (2012) Cyclists accuse Toronto mayor Ford of ‘war on bikes’. Available from: http://m.bbc.co.uk/news/magazine-17914504 [Accessed May 7 2012]
City of Toronto (2001) City of Toronto Bike Plan: Shifting Gears. Available from: http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/bikeplan/index.htm [Accessed May 7 2012]
City of Toronto (2003) Bicycle/Motor-Vehicle Collision Study. Available from: http://www.toronto.ca/transportation/publications/bicycle_...... [Accessed May 7 2012]
City of Toronto (2011) 2011 Cyclist Collision Summary Leaflet. Available from: http://www.toronto.ca/transportation/index.htm#data [Accessed May 7 2012]
City of Toronto (2012) Bikeway Network Project Status. Available from: http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/network/network-project-stat... [Accessed May 7 2012].

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