politics

Will City Council finally invest in a BIXI Toronto expansion?

Denzil Minnan-Wong on BIXI

"Reaching the milestone of one million BIXI trips in 18 months is a significant achievement," said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), chair of the City's Public Works and Infrastructure Committee. "This is proof of the popularity of BIXI as a convenient, safe and practical option for traveling in the downtown core." (City News Release, Oct 2012. Image of Denzil Minnan-Wong from National Post)

BIXI opened 2 years ago with 1000 bikes. Montreal, on the other hand, launched with 3,000 bicycles in 2009 and expanded to 5,000 bicycles in the same year. Even more exciting, New York City's Citi Bike bikesharing system will open this spring with 10,000 bikes. Toronto’s system originally called for 3000 bicycles distributed between Dupont Street to the north, Lake Ontario to the south, Broadview Avenue to the east and High Park to the west.

Jared Kolb of Cycle Toronto notes that City data shows “the highest rates of use are on the periphery. If you’re going to make a proper investment, you have to have a larger network.” To that end Cycle Toronto launched a petition to Toronto businesses to have them express their support for a BIXI expansion. Many businesses see this as an easy win. Make it easier for customers or employees to get to their stores and they benefit.

But BIXI almost didn't open at all. Some City bureaucrats had advised Mayor Miller that BIXI would fail and weren't willing to recommend its eligibility for a loan guarantee. Miller eventually over-ruled those concerns when the cycling community made some noise.

BIXI Toronto operates on a shoestring. One only needs to compare the price tags among public transit options to see how cheaply BIXI provides flexibility to urban transportation, all without any real subsidy. The TTC capital expenses are 100% covered by the public purse. One subway train alone costs around $8.6 million (Star), which is more than the entire capital cost of the current BIXI Toronto system ($4.8 million). Yet BIXI Toronto has to pay all of its capital expansion costs, with only a small break in interest payments through the loan guarantee.

Toronto has made no expansion plans since BIXI's launch. The right wing administration is reluctant to support an expansion of BIXI. Denzil Minnan-Wong, the conservative chair of the public works committee, has been a reluctant champion of BIXI by posing for photo-ops when BIXI launched, saying "But now that it's here, you've gotta support it". Minnan-Wong more recently told Torontoist that “You want to get your finances done right. It may be more incremental, but what we want to do is ensure BIXI’s success, and that may require smaller steps than big leaps.” He noted that Montreal's BIXI ran into financial difficulties even with three times the number of bikes. “We don’t have a lot of extra money to put into any projects right now,” he added, citing a transportation department backlog “north of $300 million.”

What Councillor Minnan-Wong fails to mention, however, is that Transportation Services is actually incapable of spending the capital budget it is already allocated in any year. This is not intuitive so let me explain. The City has a capital budget for Transportation Services and the City will pay interest on that funding whether it gets spent or not for that year. The City, however, doesn't have enough planners, engineers and other staff to plan and carry out all the capital projects. So the money just sits there costing us interest. Why don't we, I ask, make good use of that funding to support BIXI expansion? As a turnkey operation it could quickly be expanded, would use existing capital budget thus wouldn't cost taxpayers anything extra. And it would pay dividends down the road by reducing transportation costs across the board.

BIXI is growing to be a key part of our urban transportation mix, extending the usefulness of public transit. Councillor Layton notes when traffic is heavy, riding his bike along King Street West is faster than going by car or streetcar. “I think if I park a BIXI next to these streetcar stops, people will get fed up and hop on a BIXI,” Layton said. “Then within six months they will have purchased a bike.” The investment hasn't matched that potential.

Staff have been working hard to find ways to expand BIXI short of coming hat in hand to City Council. They've been investigating "creative funding tools" (Torontoist) including corporate sponsorships and Section 37 development funds as Councillor Mike Layton has recently accomplished with a development in his ward 19. Staff are working on a report to City Council that "will flesh out details on funding models and an expansion strategy, and include specific recommendations to city council for next steps."

Cycle Toronto hopes that City Council will become convinced of the economic benefits of BIXI and will listen to the many businesses that want it to extend to their neighbourhoods as quickly as possible. We need to get beyond saving our pennies to try to expand the system piecemeal when the potential economic benefit is so large.

Building on the good work already done: cycling policy in Ontario

The province of Ontario has finally acknowledged that we could use some cycling love. However, the current proposal put forth by the Minister of Transportation is slim and vague.

Two provincial groups have already prepared reports (STR 2010, COA 2008) outlining their own ideas of what they'd like to see the province doing. The ideas and policies in these reports are all very good ideas, and are also much more specific than what the Province is currently proposing.

However, the last of these reports was prepared in 2010. As we are currently approaching 2013 we need to look at what has changed in these past few years, and identify what other new ideas we need to bring forth that can be included in a Provincial Cycling Plan for Ontario.

I found three items which I think we should add as "priority items." These three are important enough that they should be included in any cycling plan adopted by our province.

In Sept 2011, the city of Los Angeles enacted a cyclist anti-harassment Ordinance (by-law) that was quite different than the similar laws which were passed before; This one is clear AND has teeth! It is important that the laws which we pass be reasonable, but laws are only effective when they are enforceable. Being clear helps the courts enforce what is meant to be enforced. And, by making the costs of suing payable by the driver, it makes it easier for cyclists to get a lawyer in order to sue those drivers whose behaviour is simply wrong. A law like this acts both as a deterrent, and also provides remedy to the afflicted. Other jurisdictions have followed LA's example and have passed their own, similar, anti-harassment legislation. Some jurisdictions have even extended this to include pedestrians and disabled people in their versions of this legislation.

I started with anti-harassment legislation for several reasons. First of all it reflects the first and fourth items of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. It also defines to everyone very clearly those behaviours which are unacceptable and are not tolerable on our streets and roads. It is also a very clear reminder to Law Enforcement, as well as to our entire Judicial System, that our streets and roads must safely include other users besides motorists and motor-vehicles.

For the second of the three, I propose that we get a safe passing law passed. More jurisdictions have enacted safe passing laws since we last looked at it here in Ontario back in 2010, often known as three-feet laws. Ontario's current law [HTA 148(4)] is vague and only states that "Every person in charge of a vehicle on a highway meeting a person travelling on a bicycle shall allow the cyclist sufficient room on the roadway to pass." Bicycles cannot stay upright in a perfectly straight line for very long, we need to use the steering to help keep us upright, which means we always weave a bit when riding (although better riders will weave less). In addition, road conditions are never perfect, so we need to avoid those (usually) small obstacles in our path, even when being passed. Lastly, winds can make it much more difficult for cyclist to hold a straight line, and cars and trucks can do strange things with the wind, especially at higher speeds. Trucks, in particular, can have have a strong pushing wind at their front while also having strong sucking wind at their sides. These winds have caused cyclists to be sucked under the back wheels of the truck. In addition, passing too closely can simply be viewed as another form of harassment. The current driver handbook already states that cyclists need about a metre on either side for their safety (pg 38) and suggests to driver to give cyclists the whole lane (pg 59), so enacting legislation like this is not a big change from the current best practices. Further, both the Toronto and Provincial Coroners cycling reports highlighted legislation like this as a specific need. Setting minimum standards makes it clearer, and simpler, for Law Enforcement and Courts to enforce this law. It's also easier for drivers and motorists to understand and, therefore, follow the law. And this law would mirror the second item in the Cyclists' Bill of Rights, specifically that cyclists should have sufficient space on our streets and roads.

The third, and last item which has changed, and that I think is a "must-have" to be a part of our provincial strategy: "Protected Bike Lanes."

I say "changed" for two good reasons. First is that we've had increasing clear research which shows that protected bike lanes, like those found in Montreal and Vancouver (but not in Toronto!), are at least an order of magnitude safer than ordinary bike lanes, and at least two orders of magnitude safer than streets without any cycling facilities. And, secondly, because 1012 saw as many new protected bike lanes being built in North America as were built in the decade before. In the past year the number of protected bike lanes has doubled - sadly this was not also true in Ontario.

Please understand that It's not like I expect the province to build protected bike lanes, that's usually the municipality's job. However, the province can adopt the appropriate plans, policies, legislation, and programs (incl funding formulas), as well as the sharing of the appropriate expertise, in order to force, encourage, coax, and cajole Ontario's municipalities to build these types of facilities for all of us.

I know that I'm not the only one with ideas like this. What are your ideas? Do you think that I'm overlooking something important? What have you told our province that you'd like them to be doing for cycling?

Toronto unique in having an urban vision of "destinations" and narrow roads that marginalizes cycling

Toronto is "unique", not just for its "war on the car" mayor (who may be losing his job this morning), but also because it seems to be obsessed with it's own version of "complete streets" and creating "destinations" that seems to have excluded cycling from a number of important routes, including John Street, Bloor Street (at Yorkville), Union Station. This came to the attention of the international blog Copenhagenize this morning as they point to evidence in City's planning process, politics and urban-aware media that seems to have largely marginalized cycling as a means of getting around.

Even the original environmental assessment for Jarvis Street turned down bike lanes. It was with the help of then Councillor Kyle Rae that bike lanes were reconsidered and installed. But even Rae, didn't think that bike lanes were necessary for Yorkville, because it was meant to be a "destination". Destination was also the word bandied about by the planners for John and Union Station. To cycling, destination should be a code word that means we'll get ZERO bike infrastructure.

Copenhagenize explains it in its usual incendiary, yet insightful, way:

Toronto's "uniqueness" over the past few years due to its Mayor is well-defined and well-documented. The current political leadership is a running joke.

It is important to highlight that the City's singular focus on pedestrian traffic is also unique. I can't think of another city similar to Toronto in size that completely and utterly ignores the potential of bicycle traffic. For improving public health, for reducing congestion, for.... christ... do I even have to write this? And it is not just the Mayor, but also city hall, journalists and random hipster/urbanist magazines.

Pedestrians are always - or should be - at the top of the traffic hierarchy. Duh. But it's astounding that the anti-cycling sentiment in such a large city in the western world here in 2012 runs so deep.

This is not a good kind of "unique". I fear that even if Toronto discards its Mayor, the battle to modernise itself is light years behind that of other, more visionary cities.

Should we ask for sharrows on Jarvis?

The Jarvis bike lanes have been scrubbed off. Mayor Ford "won" this round, though it's unclear what's been gained. Long-term I'm sure City Council will again decide what to do with the nastiness on Jarvis. I've got an idea for the short-term. I've suggested this before, and this is definitely not a replacement for bike lanes, but I'm just wondering if we could get a consolation prize of sharrows on Jarvis. I particularly like the "green-backed" sharrow pioneered in San Francisco.

We might have lost the bike lanes, but Transportation Services doesn't need council approval to install sharrows.

It's not clear if a future City Council will even want to bring up bike lanes on Jarvis again. There is a common perception that the bike lanes were "imposed" on the community without consultation, though the bike lanes were always part of the Environmental Assessment. The local councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, was only a reluctant supporter of the bike lanes; she preferred the wider sidewalks but definitely didn't want the status quo of five car lanes. So perhaps "complete streets" on Jarvis will mean only wider sidewalks. The same problem for cyclists will exist even with wider sidewalks: Jarvis will be a nasty place for people on bikes. I hope the future us can get separated bike lanes on Jarvis, but sharrows will be better than nothing.

The risk with sharrows is that it might convince politicians that the problem has been solved. But the reverse might also be true: that it will help increase the number of cyclists who will in turn demand better infrastructure.

Harbord separated bike lanes get mostly positive reception from residents and business

Residents and business owners alike showed up on a rainy Monday night to discuss the City's plan to install separated bike lanes on Harbord. The section in focus this night was between Bathurst and Spadina (the full plan is for separated bike lanes from Parliament to Ossington). As one resident noted she was pleasantly surprised that the meeting did not degenerate into a shouting match, but that everyone had a chance to voice their opinions which provided for a fruitful discussion on a controversial subject. (Photo of Terrazza Bicycle Park courtesy of Dandyhorse Magazine. Terrazza is a bit further west on Harbord but don't they have awesome bike parking?)

The meeting was organized by Tim Grant of the Harbord Village Residents Association and co-sponsored by the Harbord Village BIA and the Ward 20 and 19 groups of Cycle Toronto. Cycling department manager Dan Egan spoke as did the Cycle Toronto ward groups (I was one of the co-presenters along with Nico). The City highlighted the features of a bidirectional cycle track that they think would be the best option for Harbord and Hoskin. It would have the advantage of minimizing the loss of parking to only 20 spots between Bathurst and Spadina. The City would work towards off-setting those lost spots with off-street parking in the area.

In our ward groups presentation we emphasized the positive affect cycle tracks have had in reducing injuries, increasing retail sales of area business (as found in New York and elsewhere) and that Harbord has the opportunity to attract business by being seen as a hub of cycling. Instead of fighting it, celebrate. There are a lot of cyclists who take Harbord. By the City's numbers about 20% of the traffic on Harbord are bicycles. We can confirm that with our own rush-hour numbers where the percentage of traffic that were cyclists climbed to 30%. Compare that to Amsterdam where 38% of all trips are made by bike. Toronto's average share is only 1.7%. Harbord Village looks a lot more like Amsterdam than it looks like the rest of Toronto.

The owner of the Harbord Bakery, Goldie Kosower, appeared to be apprehensive of the bike lanes as did some other business owners. Bike lanes had previously been blocked by the local councillors because of the BIA's worry of lost parking. But now there seemed to be grudging acceptance so long as their needs were accommodated in the plan. Fears may have been assuaged by news that the plan would mean only 20 spots would be lost on the north side and that the City would work on providing more off-street parking.

There was some passion among some residents for the separation, including a father and daughter who cycle the street daily. The father stressed that the only safe option is physical separation for his children. A younger woman had recently returned from Amsterdam and wants bicycle infrastructure in Toronto that is safe enough for her mother to use.

Towards the end of the night Councillor Adam Vaughan appeared (he was delayed because of dealing with media regarding a shooting death on College). Vaughan said:

When we build bike lanes they must be separated. Painted lanes are good but aren't safe enough. My son, who bikes, needs the separation to be safe. But we don't have to do it overnight. We should sit down with businesses and planners to come up with a design. Harbord is critically important. It's a complex conversation. We might not get it all done at the same time.

People in this neighbourhood cycle but they don't do it safely. We don't accept it for drivers, nor for pedestrians, but we accept lack of safety for cyclists. We need to change that.

Some opposition came from Bike Joint owner Derek Chadbourne, who said he found the newly separated Sherbourne bike lanes terrible and thought Harbord was working fine as it is. He was also concerned about delivery truck access to his bike store on Harbord, asking where they would park once the separated bike lane was installed. Currently the delivery trucks stop in the painted bike lane in front of his shop.

No doubt, delivery truck access is a tough nut. Stores need to get their goods, and trucks need to be able to park not too far from the store. But blocking bike lanes is not popular amongst cyclists. Perhaps it would be possible to turn some of the parking on the south side into loading zones, or to come up with a sensible "curb management policy" that would allow the City to deal with the delivery access problem in a smart way not just on Harbord but for all parts of the city.

Or perhaps someone could always be available to create a "guaranteed bike lane" whenever a delivery truck blocks the bike lane.

City proposes complete Harbord/Wellesley cycle tracks all at once in 2014: tell them yes please

There is a Staff report before Public Works (PWIC) that is up for approval to build the Wellesley cycle track from Parliament to Queen's Park in 2014, to coincide with some resurfacing work on Wellesley. Then from Hoskin to Harbord they are proposing a bidirectional separated bike lane for the entire length. But safety and efficiency dictate that the entire length should be done in one go in 2014 as well:

Extending the cycle track on Hoskin Avenue to St. George Street is dependent on the reconstruction of the Queen’s Park Crescent West-Hoskin Avenue intersection. Accordingly, the Hoskin Avenue cycle track would also be delivered in 2014 to coincide with the intersection reconstruction. Consultation will get underway this Fall on the proposed Harbord Street cycle track, which would connect the Hoskin Avenue cycle track west to Ossington Avenue. The preliminary traffic investigation indicates that a bi-directional cycle track is feasible on Harbord Street and would enable parking to be maintained on one side of the street. From an operational perspective, the Hoskin and Harbord sections must be designed to integrate seamlessly, and therefore the entire section from Queen’s Park Crescent West to Ossington will be designed as one project rather than two separate projects, for 2014 construction.

You can send an email to Public Works and let the councillors know that you support this plan: pwic@toronto.ca Mention the item number in your email: 19.3. You can also sign up to speak on November 14 by using the same email address. You've got until Sunday to send your emails.

I also encourage you again to attend the November 12th meeting on Harbord bike lanes organized by the Harbord Village Residents Association.

This month's PWIC meeting is loaded with bike-related items. Also on the agenda is a proposal for developing a new cycling education program for schools; a report on the Rogers Road bike lanes (car traffic not effected, more than enough car parking); a request to the Ministry to clarify contra-flow bike lanes (currently they're in a grey zone); and a proposal to study methods for improving cycling safety around streetcar tracks (not much can be done, except take away parking but that's too radical an idea).

Connectivity, separated bike lanes and politicians waffling: right and left agree. Now let's build

Sherbourne separated bike lane and cyclist

I know that for many people progressive councillors in the last couple terms of council have promised a lot but delivered little. But Denzil [Minnan-Wong] is promising a lot but not delivering much either. I think Denzil has raised the issue of connectivity and separated bike lanes as a priority. I give him credit. It's separated bike lanes and not just bike lanes. When we build them now they will be separated and I think that's a good thing. But Denzil has promised a lot but delivered little.
-- Councillor Adam Vaughan at recent Joint Cycle TO wards meeting

Yes and yes and yes. Politicians haven't delivered much and the little we've gotten has been a struggle; neither left nor right has made it easy. Despite the problems we have with Councillor Eager-to-remove-Jarvis-bike-lanes Minnan-Wong, we can at least agree with Councillor Vaughan that Minnan-Wong has raised the bar by pushing for a connected, separated bike lane network. Torontonians are ready for something more than just a painted line.

Speaking of connectivity, the Harbord Village Residents Association is holding a public meeting to talk about the City's plan to install separated bike lanes through their domain (as part of the larger project to install them from Wellesley and Parliament all the way to Harbord and Ossington). There are currently no bike lanes at all between Spadina and Brunswick, let alone separated bike lanes. The meeting is Nov. 12, 7pm at 45 Brunswick (more info here).

Jarvis Bike Lane Usage Continues to Increase in 2012

Bike traffic on Jarvis Street has nearly quadrupled since Spring 2010

Cycling traffic continues to increase on Jarvis Street despite the decision to remove the bike lanes. John Taranu and the Ward 27 Cycle Toronto group, which includes Jarvis Street, conducted a bike count this month from morning to dusk and found a doubling of a previous doubling of cyclists:

As you probably know, the City of Toronto undertook cyclist counts on Jarvis St in 2010 and 2011, before and after the installation of the Jarvis bike lanes. However, no cyclist counts have been done since then. We decided to do our own counts by videotaping the street for an entire day in October 2012 from a location overlooking Jarvis (at Isabella) and then counting the number of cyclists per hour. The results were surprising.

Cycling use has continued to increase steadily since 2010, the last year counts were made. From spring to fall 2010, after the bike lanes were installed, the number of cyclists nearly doubled. Since then, from fall 2010 to fall 2012, the number of cyclists has nearly doubled again. Even two years after the installation of the lanes, more and more cyclists are using the lanes.

In morning rush hour, from 8AM to 9AM, there are around 1000 southbound cars using this section of Jarvis, and over 100 southbound bicycles (according to the City count). The bicycle mode share is 10%. By installing bike lanes, the overall capacity of Jarvis has been increased by 10% in just two years!

These counts were taken at Jarvis south of Isabella, a section that sees somewhat less bicycle and automobile traffic than further south at College and Gerrard. It is likely the same trend holds further south.

A few notes are needed to explain the methodology. The videos were taken on October 2nd and October 3rd 2012, from 8AM to 7PM when there is sufficient daylight. The early morning and evenings are too dark to be able to see the traffic. The video was sped up 4x to make counting easier. Only southbound cyclists were counted; the videotaping location meant that some northbound cyclists obscured by cars. The video for Tuesday October 2nd is available online here: youtu.be/NJl_tZMxsGM.

Where will the people go once the lanes are removed?

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