politics

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?

Calgary politician stands up for bike lanes with business opposition: will Toronto politicians do the same?

Calgary is installing a couple downtown bike lanes next year, and local alderman Brian Piincott isn't caving into local business pressure to stop them.

The bike lanes will remove parking on one side of the street, and this concerns the Calgary Downtown Business Association's Maggie Schofield. Schofield claims that “we already know from other jurisdictions that there's a huge potential for loss of business and so that's why we asked for an economic impact study and a current state assessment."

Alderman Brian Pincott said the new lanes are meant to create a safer environment for cycling and that there's still plenty of parking downtown. “I don't see a single business suffering at lunchtime on Stephen Avenue because there are no cars and no parking on Stephen Avenue.”

Meanwhile in Toronto, the Harbord Village BIA, and in particular, the Harbord Bakery, is convinced that filling in the gap in the bike lanes from Brunswick to Spadina will hurt business. Councillor Vaughan has done little to dissuade this notion. Instead last year he even sent out a letter to residents warning of the "problems" posed by separated bike lanes on Harbord:

If approved, the proposed lanes would require half the commercial parking to be eliminated. Since the morning rush hour has the most intense traffic flow, it is likely that the parking on the south side of the street would be lost.

Vaughan could have told the BIA that he would take their parking concerns into account and work on finding additional off-street parking in exchange for a safer cycling route. He missed that opportunity.

More recently, however, Vaughan approved of the separated bike lanes on Hoskin to St. George, putting it within spitting distance of the standoff at Spadina. Vaughan said that he didn't feel there needed to be any public consultation along this stretch. Given that it's dominated by the university where many bike, it makes sense.

What doesn't make sense is the opposition from retail along that tiny stretch of Harbord, and why politicians have been so wary to step on any toes there. The internationally-known study of retail and cycling on Bloor in the Annex showed us that business owners overestimate the percentage of customers who arrive by car and underestimate the percentage of cash that cycling customers are bringing in. (Thankfully, the BIA and residents association along Bloor between Bathurst and Spadina are now in support of bike lanes.)

Anyone who bikes along Harbord notices the constant stream of cyclists during rush hour (backed up by this 2010 Bike Cordon Count). Recently I did an informal count while drinking coffee at Sam James. I found that bikes comprised about 50% of all the peak direction (eastbound) traffic from 8 to 9 am! If there's anywhere in this city where we need a complete and separated bike lane, it is Harbord.

What we need is a politician with the guts of Pincott.

Jarvis bike lanes to be removed: Council motions fail

The Jarvis bike lanes are going to be removed in a few weeks.

The council motions presented by Councillors Wong-Tam, Matlow and Cho failed to stop or delay the Jarvis bike lane removals. In a few weeks they will be removed, even before the Sherbourne separated bike lane is completed (which was sort of how it was originally spun). As a sop to the left, Councillor Minnan-Wong passed a motion that the money should come out of the general transportation budget and not the cycling budget.

This is a terrible precedent.

“Every time someone gets hit to the concrete from a door, or breaks a leg or an arm as they get cut off, you’ll be the ones to blame,” Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina) told colleagues during heated debate. “Every time someone dies as a result of a bike accident on Jarvis, you’ll need to explain to those families why it was so necessary for us to remove these lanes.”

I am left wondering what happened to the centrist councillors who could have safely voted to keep the lanes. Where were their heads? Councillor Colle and Berardinetti had both previously stated the lanes removal was a waste of money and had insinuated they would vote to keep them.

Councillor Bailao, of all people, voted against the motion to keep them. This from a councillor which has one of the highest bike mode shares in the city; a ward which has hundreds of Cycle Toronto members. Bailao certainly figured that she would be safe from a backlash from people who want safer cycling. I hope she feels some heat over this. If we are having centrist councillors vote to remove bike lanes then we should start with persuading them before moving to the right of the spectrum.

Email her office. Call her office. 416-392-7012

UPDATE: Peter Low pointed out to me that Ana Bailao originally clarified her position on the Jarvis bike lanes to the Ward 18 group. She specifically said that "The decision to remove the Jarvis Street bike lanes was premature and a significant step backwards for safe cycling in the City of Toronto. I opposed the removal of these bike lanes and supported the motion and amendments of the local Councillor to save these lanes."

How odd then, when the vote was just about saving those lanes, she now clearly thinks they should be removed.

Again, she needs to wear this albatross and it's up to her residents to take her to task.

Cyclists and Councillor Adam Vaughan: a rocky but productive relationship on separated lanes

In terms of downtown councillors who say they support cycling and who actually follow through, Councillor Adam Vaughan is often of the latter. Councillor Vaughan may have strong opinions on what cycling infrastructure should look like, but he is still supportive nonetheless.

Councillor Vaughan has not always seen eye to eye with Cycle Toronto and the local Ward 20 group. He has been generally supportive of many cycling initiatives, but he had strong opinions of what projects he figured should be a priority and he had produced his own document of the routes he felt were a priority and possible. These didn't always jive with the priorities of Cycle Toronto, but may be valuable additions to the bikeway network if and when they are implemented.

Initially when Cycle Toronto supported the separated bike lane network through downtown, Councillor Vaughan saw it as a barrier to getting a couple other plans implemented, namely a pedestrianized John Street and a one-way to two-way conversion on Richmond/Adelaide. He was also sceptical of the benefits of creating the separation.

Councillor Vaughan, however, has come around and has provided support for some of the key sections that go through Ward 20. Here is where Vaughan has grown to support separated bike lanes:

  1. Wellesley-Hoskin. When the separated bike lanes on Hoskin-Wellesley came up for public consultation, Vaughan gave his unconditional support for separated lanes on Hoskin. Given the traditional approach of councillors (both on the right and left) to protect on-street parking, this is a commendable move.
  2. Beverley-Peter-Simcoe. Councillor Vaughan also announced his public support of separated bike lanes on Beverley to Peter at a Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meetting this last year when he worked out a deal with Councillor Minnan-Wong to support the John Street EA that would turn it into a pedestrian mall with some vehicle access.
  3. Sherbourne. Vaughan criticized that the Sherbourne separated lanes didn't provide enough separation: "not a pronounced enough separation.... Unless you make it physically risky to put a car in that spot, you will get cars in that spot. You'll have taxis, you'll have couriers, you'll have vendors."
  4. Richmond/Adelaide. More recently Councillor Vaughan has been more supportive of separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide. It's not clear yet if he will fully support them even if it means his proposal of two-way streets can't go forward in order to achieve them. But one can be hopeful.
  5. University. Under the previous mayor, David Miller, he helped push for separated bike lanes down the median of University Avenue. It never happened (because of a mistaken vote and a mayor who focused much more on transit than cycling) but it still could. Separated University bike lanes would work well with the connection between Wellesley and Hoskin ensuring that new cyclists could transition easily from Hoskin or Wellesley and go downtown along University. This concept, however, may have to wait until a new mayor comes along or political support builds enough to revive it.

It's commendable that Councillor Vaughan has been vocal in promoting a bike plan for Ward 20. We should be encouraging other councillors to draft up bike plans for their wards (in the current vacuum of the now-expired city-wide bike plan) so long as they are drafted with consultation with local and city-wide cycling advocacy organizations.

In the next year Vaughan as the councillor for Ward 20 will be in a pivotal position to assist the completion of the downtown network. A series of major cycling infrastructure initiatives all centred on Councillor Vaughan's ward will be proceeding within the next 12 months. We need Councillor Vaughan to support these projects to help make them a reality.

  1. The downtown traffic study's recommendations will be forthcoming which may address
    (i) separated bicycle lanes on Peter Street and Simcoe Street and, (ii) resolve the safe crossing of Queen Street West between University Avenue and Spadina Avenue; by addressing improvements to the crossing for cyclists at Simcoe, and at Soho/Peter. It will replace the existing route on John Street which will probably be lost in the longer term due to the John Street Pedestrian Plaza.
  2. The Hoskins Harbord separated bike lanes consultation and implementation process from St. George to Ossington may proceed. Wellesley Hoskins separated lanes between St George and Parliament are scheduled to be constructed in 2013.
  3. An environmental assessment process for separated bike lanes on Richmond Adelaide is commencing this fall.
  4. The proposal for separated lanes on Beverley Street which was adopted by Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in 2011 may proceed in 2013.

Based on his record at City Hall I think we can count on Councillor Vaughan but his constituents who are reading this blog need to give him their support to help him respond to the NIMBYism that surrounds all public initiatives in urban areas. Let Councillor Vaughan and PWIC know that you support a prioritized implementation timeline. Email PWIC, Councillor Vaughan and Councillor Minnan-Wong (avaughan@toronto.ca, councillor_minnan-wong@toronto.ca, pwic@toronto.ca). There are a number of balls to juggle in order to complete the square (Harbord-Wellesley, Sherbourne, St. George/Beverley/Peter, Richmond/Adelaide), and it would be nice that we can get it completed in a timely manner with no holes to be filled in at an undetermined later date.

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.

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