What is wrong with the Jarvis bike lane?

Video shooting and editing by Lisa Logan (a big thanks Lisa!). Herb of I Bike TO and Lisa are asking the questions. Produced for the Toronto Cyclists Union and the Save Jarvis campaign. Join the Bike Union and come out on July 12 and 13 to raise your voice in support of bike lanes in Toronto!

Protected bike lanes: flowers in the manure

In politics there is usually compromise and negotiation. Politics is messy. In particular, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting last month was messy. Cyclists were demoralized by some bad decisions to remove bike lanes on Jarvis, Pharmacy and Birchmount that were unsupported by any evidence that they created traffic congestion. Traffic engineers be damned. Even while right wingers tried to create a justification for urban highways on residential streets like Jarvis, they recognized that Rob Ford's bikes-in-the-park "bike plan" wasn't going to fly and that there needed to be something for urban cyclists, and the one thing they were willing to allow were improvements on other bike lanes with protection and buffers from car traffic.

Campaign begins to save Jarvis

Photos of Critical Mass, June 2011 by Tino Reis.

Reaching across the divide.

Support from many.

Jarvis is turning out to be a hot topic encouraging hundreds of cyclists to show up for Critical Mass this evening.

Some advocacy is coalescing. The Bike Union has started a campaign to save the Jarvis bike lanes, calling cyclists to contact their local councillors, call Rob Ford, sign their petition, and show up on July 12/13 (we won't know the exact time) to show councillors that taking out the bike lanes is not all that popular (facebook event). Another petition has also been posted (maybe they can present the results together)

Dave Meslin was one of the strongest believers in giving Ford and company a chance. The vote against Jarvis, Pharmacy and Birchmount broke that belief as well as his belief that the Mayor is actually willing to listen to constituents. It doesn't mean that Meslin has given up, in fact, Meslin believes that Jarvis can be saved; that cyclists can organize and that enough councillors will listen to defeat it.

Why John Street is important for a complete protected bike lane network downtown

On John Street looking north towards Queen Street

This is the third of three posts about John Street and its place in the protected bike lane proposal by Councillor Minnan-Wong and the Bike Union (see first and second post). In the protected bike lane proposal John Street is the chosen connection between Beverley Street, which ends at Queen Street West, and Richmond Street, which will hopefully get protected bike lanes. Councillor Vaughan prefers Soho to Peter Street instead as part of his much smaller proposal so that John Street can be re-configured as a "cultural corridor", which has come to mean that there can be no accommodation of cyclists. John Street would be rebuilt to improve the pedestrian realm - a noble plan - and still allow bikes and cars.

I'd like to explain why John Street is a better street (and you don't need to just take my word for it, the Bike Union also explains why).

Soho/Peter forces cyclists to cross awkwardly in two stages at Queen Street; first a right, wait at lights, change lanes, and cross streetcar tracks and moving traffic all in a short distance. Even experienced cyclists have problems with streetcar tracks, particularly when changing lanes, where the tires can more easily get trapped in the groove, throwing cyclists off their bikes into traffic.

Peter/Soho crossing at Queen Street West

Looking south where Soho meets Queen Street West and the jog to Peter with lights

John Street, on the other hand has a direct crossing over Queen. No fuss.

Where John crosses Queen Street West

Some attempts have been made to make a Peter Street alternative workable, but this would still take some political will to make the crossing safer. Meanwhile John Street already works - why make it worse for cyclists?

Peter Street then turns into Blue Jay Way and south of Front Street it turns into a steep hill up and around the Rogers Centre. It's not intuitive that this route would be a good cycling route; it's windy and steep. For cyclists who want a quick route to the Lake, this would not come to mind. Instead most cyclists now probably take Simcoe, Bay or Yonge (and avoiding Spadina).

Proposed route up and around Blue Jay Way, Navy Wharf, and Bremner

Looking South up hill at Blue Jay Way and Front

Let's make a comparative overview of the two presented options:

Beverley/Soho/Peter/Blue Jays Way/Bremner Beverley/John/Richmond/Simcoe
4 turns 2 turns
4 traffic controls 3 traffic controls
Requires contra-flow on Phoebe and Soho Requires contra-flow on Stephanie
Requires reconfiguring Queen and Peter intersection Requires no reconfiguration at John and Queen
Forces cyclists up steep hill No noticeable grade
Windy route around Rogers Centre Short jog to Simcoe

In my mind, the left turns across streetcar tracks at Soho/Peter is a deal-breaker. The intersection doesn't come off all that well in other areas either.

Cultural Corridor Argument
None of the recommended redesigns of John Street included bike lanes. The impetus for the redesign was to recognize John as a "cultural corridor". Why does there seem to be no space, either physically or culturally, for bikes? When NYC reconfigured Broadway and Time's Square to make them pedestrian friendly they also accommodated cyclists in the plan by building in protected bike lanes. Why is this not possible for John?

Councillor Vaughan has made it clear in a letter to his constituents, however, that he prefers bike lanes that take Peter Street rather than John. I think otherwise: Peter Street is an inferior choice to John.

Planning a connected network rather than isolated patches
Vaughan and the report on John Street focus on the current relative mode share of John Street by pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. They use the statistic that only 2% of users are cyclists and there are far more pedestrians, leading to the conclusion that pedestrians will be pre-eminent in planning the street. In my previous post I demonstrated how inconsistencies and possible errors were found in using this measure.

Even if we took 2% at face value, it is not the relative use of the section of John Street that is relevant here; it is the number of cyclists that use John in comparison of all of the cyclists on other streets. That is, it's the importance of John Street to cyclists as they travel north/south. (That 2% supports one of the biggest bicycle shops in the city, Urbane Cyclist and supporter of bike lanes on John.) The statistic underplays how important the street is to cyclists.

It is the importance of John to cyclists that should be considered not the relative usage of John Street between various users. We can't evaluate the traffic importance of John Street in isolation. The Rosedale subway station has very few passengers; should we remove that section of the Yonge Street subway and make it discontinuous? It is the most important north south section of street in the city the numbers of cyclists are high just not in comparison to the total number of pedestrians on the street.

Planning needs to be done city wide not street by street.

Flawed EA Process

The Environmental Assessment process for the John Street Pedestrian Plaza sought comments from the public in June of 2010. None of the 5 preferred options identified, and to be considered, by the EA process included protected bicycle lanes on John Street. The highest number of comments by the public, however, addressed the need for better cycling facilities. How did this mismatch happen?

The failure to include protected bicycle lanes is a failure to acknowledge the existing importance of John Street to cyclists. One could at least understand this position if the City was trying to create a new function for the street to include cycling when it wasn’t there before but not where we already have one of the most important links in the City.

Vaughan told cyclists in emails in June and July, 2010 just after the Environmental Assessment process had started but nowhere near completed that he was opposed to protected bike lanes on John Street because of the “cultural values” of the John Street pedestrian plaza. Why was Councillor Vaughan taking a position on the EA process even before it reached conclusions? What would he do if it concluded that bike lanes could be accommodated, or that they would be a useful addition?

The funding for the design EA process is coming from the John Street Business Improvement Association (John Street BIA). Two of the largest financial supporters of the plaza are probably the two largest employers on the street, CityTV and TIFF. Are we seeing a repeat of the Bloor Yorkville BIA exclusion of bike lanes? Where local business interests are prioritized over other users of the street? Will we see another street marginalize cyclists with no dedicated space on the road? With bad bike parking?

John Street compromise for protected bike lanes

Councillor Vaughan wants a pedestrian plaza on John Street (or at least one that still allows cars). He can still create a street that greatly enhances the pedestrian realm but also accommodates cyclists safely. The proposed network by Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong and the Bike Union, however, makes a compromise. The bike lanes need only travel from Stephanie, one block north of Queen down to Richmond Street - just two blocks. All of the rest of John Street would be available for a pedestrian plaza without bicycle lanes from Richmond to King Street or Front Street. Just so long that cyclists can easily get to the proposed bike lanes on Richmond Street.

As a cultural corridor, the plan is to make it easier to close off John Street for special events and concerts. But why can’t we have a John Street that is closed occasionally and still includes dedicated bike lanes that are also closed at the same time? If roads can be closed for cars during special events, they can be closed for bicycles as well. Yonge Street closes for Pride, University closes for the Santa Claus parade and so on.

We can fit bike lanes and still improve the pedestrian realm

The project managers for the John Street EA have stated that all their design options will "accommodate" cyclists. Their definition of accommodating cyclists, however, means cars and bikes will "share the road". Their definition is so broad that it includes all Toronto streets other than the Gardiner, DVP and 400 series highways.

Actually John Street has enough width to widen the sidewalk and install bike lanes on all sections of the street except for the block north of Queen Street, and even there bike lanes would have minimal impact on the pedestrian realm (source: Bike Union):

  • Stephanie Street to Queen Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks would be reduced by 1.6metres. However, the existing sidewalk width is already 13.5metres!
  • Queen Street to Richmond Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks could still be widened by 1.2metres
  • Richmond Street to Adelaide Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks could still be widened by 1.2metres
  • Adelaide Street to King Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks could still be widened by 3.8metres
  • King Street to Wellington Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks could still be widened by 3.8metres
  • Wellington Street to Front Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks could still be widened by 3.8metres

I hope this has made a convincing enough case for the City to reconsider their preferred options for John Street. I, the Bike Union and others are asking them to take it seriously that bikes belong on John; and that it is a major key in the bikeway network. Please put in your calendar that there will be a public open house to learn more about and comment on the City's project seeking to improve the public realm of John Street. Thursday, June 16, 2011 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Room 309, Metro Hall 55 John Street.

This meeting will give you the chance to review the evaluation of various alternative designs for John Street and provide feedback on them. All comments received by June 30 will be considered by the Project Team in finalizing the project's recommendations and Environmental Study Report.

Here's the list of current organizations and groups supporting the protected bike lane proposal:

South Rosedale Residents Association, Curbside Cycle , The Toronto Cyclists Union, the Moore Park Residents Association , Mountain Equipment Co-op (700,000 members in the GTA) , the York Quay Neighbourhood Association, The Palmerston Residents Association , the Parkdale Residents Association, Toronto Island Community Association, The Bay Cloverhill Residents Association, The University of Toronto Graduate Student’s Union, the St Lawrence Neighbourhood Association, the Oak Street Housing Coop Inc. and the ABC(Yorkville) Residents Association.

If councillors are supporting the separated bike lanes proposal, what next?

It's taken a bit of community pressure from the Bike Union, business and residents associations as well as pressure from above with Chair of Public Works and Infrastructure (PWIC), Councillor Minnan-Wong as a born-again cyclist. Things are looking up for the separated bike lanes aka cycle tracks when they go to PWIC in June. The proposal has support from the left as well as the right. Even though PWIC is packed with some suburban councillors, I'm guessing they are unlikely to try to oppose the Chair's pet project. PWIC member and environmentalist Councillor Perks has mostly sided with Vaughan and opposed this particular plan. PWIC member Councillor Layton has made some noises of supporting it in some form.

In City Council as a whole, more councillors are lining up to support the separated bike lanes. Some are more reticent than others in going against the strong-willed Adam Vaughan, in whose ward some of the proposed bike lanes will be placed. Councillors on the left and middle, McConnell, Mihevc, Lee and deBaeremaker are now supportive of the proposal. Councillors Wong-Tam supports it in principle. Even right-leaning Palacio supports the proposal. It looks more likely that it will pass the Public Works committee and hopefully City Council.

New Bike Union membership card provides discounts at Toronto businesses

I got the new Bike Union membership card in the mail. Membership now provides discounts at various Toronto businesses: Curbside Cycle, Cycle Solutions, Hoopdriver Bicycles, Urbane Cyclist, Autoshare, Spokes and Sports, Sweet Pete's, Mod Robes, Bikes on Wheels, Mari Cla Ro, and more coming.

Charlie's Bike Shop: new bike shop run by youth

Tino captured the opening celebration of Charlie's Bike Shop (as part of the organization Charlie's Freewheels, which opened recently just a few doors east of Sherbourne on Queen. Charlie's works with youth from Regent Park to provide training in bicycle mechanics and now running a business.

Charlie's Freewheels was named in honour of Charlie Prinsep, a Torontonian who was hit and killed by a car on the Trans-Canada near Brooks, Alberta while on a cross-country bike tour. Charlie loved everything about cycling: riding, fixing, going on long tours. (The site is not far from my parents home. I visited the site in 2007 where Charlie was hit; the wide, flat, straight, isolated Trans-Canada has plenty of room to avoid hitting anyone, but the driver was most likely falling asleep at the wheel.)

Click on the photo to see Tino's whole gallery.

Some of the organizers help launch the shop, including Emma McIlveen Brown, Derek Chadbourne, Joshua Farr, unknown and Aaron Marques.

See also the first award ceremony at Critical Mass;

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

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

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

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

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

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

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