bike infrastructure

Queens Quay vastly improved for cycling for everyone but still some wrinkles

Looks so much better. Works so much better. We now have a true separation from cars from Etobicoke to the Beach! A really useful and comfortable bikeway (sure, it's a multi-use trail but it really looks like a bikeway). Bike-specific lights.

Even so there are some wrinkles. While people cycling now don't have to share with cars, there will be ongoing tension with pedestrians. It was forward thinking to make the multi-use path asphalt to make it look less like a place to walk. However, more can be done to encourage walkers to choose the space exclusive to walking.

One spot that will become a real pain is on the east end of Harbourfront Centre at the Portland Slip where the bike path disappears and everyone is squeezed into a narrow section.

On Twitter Anton Lodder pointed out the spot:

Waterfront Toronto is collecting feedback on the new Queens Quay. Have your say!

They're already aware of some issues and are planning to make some changes. Those relevant to the cycling infrastructure:

  • We’ve heard from many of you that you’re concerned about the gap in the Martin Goodman Trail as you cross the Portland Slip at Queens Quay and Dan Leckie. The ultimate vision for this spot – a WaveDeck – is included in both our Central Waterfront precinct plan and the City of Toronto’s proposed Bathurst Quay Neighbourhood Plan but is currently unfunded. This will create the necessary space for a wide promenade separate from the Martin Goodman Trail. We explored the possibility of creating a temporary deck over the lake in this area, but because building any structure over the lake is complex, this was a prohibitively expensive solution. In the short-term, we’re working with the City of Toronto to determine how best to alert cyclists to the 60-metre gap in the trail (line painting or additional signs). We’re also assessing an interim solution that would create more space at this pinch point. Because this extension of the Martin Goodman Trail was only approved and tendered in January 2015, there was no time to implement any such solution before the Pan Am / Parapan Am Games. We felt it was more important to open the new Martin Goodman Trail from Bathurst to Stadium Road with a less-than-perfect solution in this short area than not to open it at all.
  • We’ve recommended that the City approve standard trail signs to mark the Martin Goodman Trail along the south side of Queens Quay
  • We’ve heard that people would like stop signs on the south side of Queens Quay for cyclists crossing at Stadium Road and Little Norway Crescent and are prioritizing that request

Waterfront Toronto doesn't provide any guidance on when and how the pinch will get funded. Perfectly understandable that there wasn't enough time to figure that out—the whole section west of Spadina was last minute. A great improvement over the mess that would have been.

Perhaps Councillor Joe Cressy could use a bit of the big pot of Section 37 money to pay for this small bit of infrastructure? Surely, there's money somewhere. Toronto has money to spend a half billion on 3000 drivers so why not a few thousand on this?

City Hall die-in is a start: Zero Deaths campaigners have to be in it for the long haul

Three people who were cycling have died so far this year, and twenty-one who were walking. This morning over 150 cyclists staged a die-in in front of City Hall. Their demands: adopt a zero tolerance on road fatalities, increase the cycling budget from around $8 to $20 million (to put it in line with Montreal's) and build a minimum grid of protected bike lanes and bicycle boulevards. (Photo credit: Martin Reis)

The people cycling were Adam Excell, Toronto architect Roger du Toit and Peter (Zhi Yong) Kang. It'll take a lot more work to compile the list of everyone who was killed while walking.

See more here, here and here.

Right now Toronto has no plan to reduce road fatalities. Then very few North American cities acknowledge this. NYC just adopted Vision Zero but it's going to be a very long exercise fraught with setbacks and controversy. Compared to NYC, Toronto is actually safer but that doesn't mean we should become complacent. Try telling any of the more than twenty families whose loved ones died this year that those deaths were acceptable losses. No family is exempt; no person is 100% safe from dying on our roads.

Cycling campaigners have fought for safer roads for decades with a scattering of success. In order to change the complacency in government a sustained, long-term campaign is necessary. Only then do we have a chance that our mayors will care just as much about human life as they do about drivers shaving off seconds on their commute. The shift didn't happen by accident in NYC, it took a lot of work by organizations like Transportation Alternatives.

Better to block a cyclist than a car driver

Last week City staff removed the cycle track curb in front of 24 Wellesley. Yesterday we already started seeing this:

Twitter: liz goddard

I had raised suspicion about Councillor Wong-Tam's call for a review of cycle tracks and dealing with Wheel-Trans, emergency vehicles and that it would start poking holes into the protected bike lanes all over the network. It turned out that the review was completely unnecessary since Cycling staff are quite willing to remove a cycle track curb in front of 24 Wellesley without full public consultation.

It's clearly important that Wheel-Trans and EMS be able to access the building. EMS can always jump any curb but Wheel-Trans needs a place to load/offload wheelchairs so they needed someplace flat. Stopping in the car lane on Wellesley was an option—a typical Wheel-Trans stop lasts 7 minutes. Another option is one of the three laneways around 24 Wellesley, though staff seemed to only have considered one of the laneways and determined it was too narrow. Yet another option was to raise the cycle track bed much like is done at bus stops on Sherbourne, but staff stated there was a problem with drainage.

So it seems that given the choice between blocking the car lane versus blocking the protected bike lane, access for a car driver wins out over access and safety for a cyclist.

At least we know where the City's priorities lie

Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, the new Cycling Unit manager, states that the "adjacent vehicle lane will be narrowed so cyclists can ride around a Wheel-Trans vehicle without entering traffic."

It's a substandard solution since cyclists have still lost the curb separating them from motorized traffic. Gulati claims that “the site-specific access concern really impacted the people who lived in that building, while the impact on cyclists is very minor." We don't have any idea of what Gulati is comparing here: is it access for residents versus safety and comfort of cyclists? I would hope the City staff would try a bit harder so they don't have to trade these off.

Residents of 24 Wellesley were lobbying politicians and staff to remove the cycle track:

Councillor Wong-Tam claims she didn't know about the removal, but surely she must have received complaints from residents and have heard from staff. Perhaps she knew all about the issue but didn't know cycling staff were going to go ahead with the removal before public consultation in the summer.

Regardless, this is a bad precedence for safe cycling infrastructure in Toronto. I'm sure we'll hear about more calls by businesses, residents to remove cycle tracks. It takes years of public consultation to get safe cycling infrastructure but mere weeks of no public consultation to rip them out.

Local designer helps us visualize what protected intersection can look like in Toronto context

I've spoken about protected intersections before. They're really common in the Netherlands and some other parts of Europe. The concept is catching on in the United States (tested on a street in Minneapolis but no permanent installations yet as far as I can tell).

Iain Campbell, Cycle Toronto volunteer and designer, has created a way for us to visualize how a protected intersection would work where Richmond and Peter streets intersect.

Peter and Richmond would be a perfect test case (Cycle Toronto agrees). The intersection is much wider than it needs to be and it allows cars to make turns at high speed. Since there are plans for bike lanes on Peter and protected bike lanes on Richmond the two can be configured to improve the ways motor vehicles and bicycles will intersect.

Protected intersections provide an alternative to the "disappearing bike lane" approach of most North American intersection planning:

In North America, planners figure the best option is to let the cyclists and drivers "intermingle". The big downside is that a cyclist is only as safe as the least safe portion of their trip. Most injuries and collisions happen at intersections. The forced intermingling at intersections is challenging and stressful situation for cyclists. And I daresay it is also less safe given that the Netherlands has worked steadily in removing these types of intersections. A disappearing bike lane creates uncertainty for all road users: motor vehicles don’t know whether to wait for cyclists to pass on the right, or proceed, potentially cutting off cyclists.

Nick Falbo of Alta Planning, borrowed the concept from the Netherlands and is promoting the "Protected Intersection" as a safer alternative. The protected intersection slows drivers down because of the tighter turning radii. When the driver does cross the cycle track they are better able to look straight ahead to see if a cyclist is there (as opposed to straining to look over one's right shoulder around a blind spot). The cyclists are more visible. And it provides a clearer cue to who has the right of way, just as pedestrians have the right of way in the crosswalk.

I hope City planners will take the opportunity of the pilot project on Richmond and Adelaide to try out this really innovative idea; an idea that already has widespread positive data in other countries. Here's our chance to lead in at least one thing in North America.

Does Toronto deserve its silver ranking as a Bicycle Friendly Community?

A few days ago I posted this photo on Twitter after coming across the sign last weekend in the Rouge Valley in Scarborough.

The organization who gave this silver award to Toronto, Share the Road, defended their program. The majority of the people responded, however, were not convinced. The average person in Toronto would probably be surprised that Toronto got a silver rating as a Bicycle Friendly Community.

The average person will probably think of sports medals of gold, silver, bronze and all those who didn't podium. A silver, in many minds, is just one step away from being awesome; best in the world. Most Torontonians, however, will never bike in most parts of Toronto, because cycling is perceived as dangerous. This is not surprising even the almost complete lack of cycling infrastructure in most parts of the city. So the silver award is very incongruous to the facts on the ground.

The fact, remains that it's very easy to travel between most destinations in Toronto and not see any cycling infrastructure. Even downtown the majority of our arterial roads have little to no bike lanes. And even the ones that have bike lanes are discontinuous. A bike lane that ends is not much more useful than nothing at all, and sometimes it hurts since it raises the expectations of safety for the cyclist and then just leaves them for the wolves.

The Share the Road program is derived from the League of American Bicyclists' program which operates nation-wide in the US. While the LAB program openly publishes its ranking criteria, Share the Road says theirs is "proprietary" so we don't really know how they rank.


NOT Share the Road's. Theirs is mostly a mystery.

If we go by LAB's criteria it would highly unlikely that Toronto could meet a silver rating. It falls behind in modeshare (less than 2%); number of bike staff per 70,000 residents, and the ratio of bicycle network to roads. (Though I suspect that in the latter category they probably allow for roads where all it takes is slapping up a sign that says "Bike Route".) But we'll never know for sure since Share the Road neither publishes their criteria and grading, nor published a report card of how Toronto has met or not met the criteria. Meanwhile LAB publishes report cards for many American cities, such as this one for Seattle, which breaks down Seattle's ranking into each category and also describes what the city can do to reach Platinum level. Looks like Seattle needs to do a lot.

I'm not a fan of LAB's ranking system either, but compared to LAB, Share the Road's program looks amateurish and looks more like just giving out gold stars to everyone who wants them. #goldstarsforeveryone Perhaps that's not true, but Share the Road has its work cut out to convince me otherwise.

Who or What is "The Average Cyclist" and why are we designing only for them?

At the last public meeting for cycling, I asked Dan Egan, head of the City of Toronto's Cycling Department a rather purposeful question, specifically:

"Who is the intended design user of our cycling infrastructure?"

And his response was the rather bland:

"The average cyclist"

Well, that got me thinking, who (or what) is the "average" cyclist?

Is it me? Probably not. I'm a CAN-BIKE II graduate and a former certified CAN-BIKE instructor. CAN-BIKE II graduates are rare, and instructors are even more so.

Would my daughters qualify? Again, nope. They have taken the Kids CAN-BIKE course and also the CAN-BIKE Camp. To compare: they are the only ones at their school to have done either, let alone both.

My wife? She's never taken CAN-BIKE, rides much less frequently than either myself or our daughters. Her rides tend to be shorter in distance and duration than the rest of our family. She's never commuted by bike. She'll only ride when most of her trip can be done over cycling infrastructure and the rest of the route she feels comfortable on. So she's more likely to ride to downtown than within our community.

My neighbor who rides quite a bit? He rides quite a bit around the neighborhood both as part of his multi-modal commute (to the GO train station) and for other activities such as shopping. However, the routes he uses either don't have any bike infrastructure at all, or else have infrastructure only on tiny segments of his routes. Can't be him.

My other neighbor who rides a couple of times a week during the better weather for fitness? He rides on the Humber Bay Shores and Martin-Goodman trails, and sometimes on part of the Humber River trail. Could be him.

My other neighbors who ride just a few times a year? They also tend to use the Humber Bay Shores and less frequently the Martin-Goodman trails and part of the Humber River trail. I've also seen them pack their bikes up on their cars to drive them to other trails where they will ride. Could be them, too.

Does this mean that the many of us who ride bikes a lot are not the intended, or design, user of cycling infrastructure? Yet we are generally the advocates. Are we asking the city to build cycling infrastructure that we can't, don't, or won't use? In some cases, yes we are.

In my own neighborhood of Mimico, we've done a good job providing multi-use trails which people on bike can use, but we've also seen quite a lot of contention along those same trails between different user groups with most of the animosity being directed against "fast" cyclists; and it's been said that these trails were not designed nor intended for the faster commuter cyclists. Does this mean that commuter cyclists are not the average cyclist, and that we aren't designing for them?

Well, let's have a quick look at the vision from our bike plan's Executive Summary, and see what is says:

The vision for the Toronto Bike Plan is to create a safe, comfortable and bicycle friendly environment in Toronto, which encourages people of all ages to use bicycles for everyday transportation and enjoyment.

I would interpret "everyday transportation" as commuting and "enjoyment" as fitness and/or occasional "Sunday" rides. And "people of all ages" are not going to share the same average in either skill, ability, nor speed.

To me this means that city staff are making a big mistake in designing cycling infrastructure for the "average cyclist" and that this very idea of an "average cyclist" is contrary to the stated vision of the bike plan.

What do you think?

Should the city be designing our cycling infrastructure for some real or imagined "average cyclist?"

Or should be be following the vision of our older bike plan, and be designing our cycling infrastructure for people people of all ages, uses, and abilities?

Yonge Street can easily accommodate protected bike lanes if we want

Previously on this blog I had panned a redesign of Yonge Street by young landscape architect Richard Valenzona, but which was given the prestigious NXT City Prize by a panel of judges which includes our Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmat.

As Schrödinger's Cat had pointed out, Valenzona's design was suspiciously similar to the Exhibition Place, London design which looks now like this:

Not exactly pedestrian and cyclist friendly. Pedestrians are still afraid of crossing the roadway and cyclists have no space of their own.

But to stray from just being negative I'd like to describe an alternative vision, which would balance the needs of cyclists with those of pedestrians and drivers. I believe there is enough space to protect cyclists while also providing more space to pedestrians.

My design is approximate since the roadway width varies along Yonge's extent. But if we follow Valenzona's cue that we can reduce car lanes by half that would mean we could dedicate about one car lane to a bidirectional protected bike lane and the other to expanding the sidewalks.

Since we're putting in a bidirectional bike lane we should probably also make the other lanes one way for cars, which makes intersections safer for everyone. Urbanists, don't get your underwear in a knot about one-way roads. Netherlands, one of the world's safest country for transportation is full of them; so is NYC. If done in combination of reducing speeds and lane widths and providing bike lanes and wider sidewalks it is a safe and friendly solution.

Maybe I'll enter my design into next year's NXT City Prize. But first I have to choose some nice looking brick if I want a chance of winning.

Amazing Sherbourne cycling numbers should convince Buckley that painted lines are not enough

Stephen Buckley, Toronto's transportation chief, has been very reluctant thus far to install protection on the separated bike lanes approved by City Council. Numbers coming from his own City Cycling Department (@TO_Cycling) should convince him to give up that reluctance if he has any desire to increase the number and diversity of people cycling in Toronto. This tweet presented the bike counts on Sherbourne, before and after the installation of cycle tracks:

Bicycle traffic averages on Sherbourne were 955/day in 2011 bike lane, they are now 2,827/day in Cycle Track #biketo

That's almost a 300% increase!!

Even with all its warts (not enough protection from car incursion, bike lanes not wide enough), Sherbourne cycle tracks are demonstrably popular.

On Facebook, Christine Bouchard of the City compared this to the expectations around motor vehicle traffic and road capacity:

In order for a street to be classified as a "local" street by the City of Toronto, it must carry less than 2,500 motor vehicles/day.

Since the Sherbourne Cycle Tracks are carrying an average 2,827 cyclists a day, this means that in the summer months these lanes are actually carrying more traffic than the 3,291km of local roads, in Toronto's 5,359 km road network.

Bouchard demonstrates well how cycling infrastructure is way, way more efficient in moving people for local trips than moving big metal boxes on wide roads.

Some of the increase in bike traffic can be attributed to Jarvis no longer having bike lanes. But even during the brief period when there were bike lanes, the number of cyclists was relatively low compared to Sherbourne; in the range of 890 per day and 290 before the bike lanes (some of the increase was attributed to the bike share launch). Even if all the people (technically, trips) who started biking on Jarvis because of bike lanes (around 600 per day) started biking on Sherbourne (unlikely that they all would) it would still only account for 1/3 of the Sherbourne increase.

Another reason to be confident that the cycle tracks are working (even though the City still needs to improve the separation on the bottom section) is that this bicycle count nicely correlates with a recent study of protected bike lanes in US major cities which found that bicycle traffic jumped quite a bit in the first year after installation. Bike Portland summarizes the main points:

  • Over a quarter of riders indicated they are riding more in general because of the protected bike lanes.
  • In its first year alone, a protected bike lane increases bike traffic on a street by an average of 72%
  • 96% of people riding in protected bike lanes felt safer on the street because of the lanes
  • 76% of people living near protected bike lanes support the facilities in additional locations, whether they use them or not
  • Drivers thought traffic became more predictable after protected lanes were installed. Most drivers said congestion and drive time didn’t change.
  • Parking is a key issue when street space is reassigned and cities. The impact to parking was the most negative perception, with about 30-55% of residents indicating the impacts to parking were negative, even in cases where a minimal amount of parking was removed, or parking was increased.
  • In the 144 hours of video analyzed for safety, studying nearly 12,900 bicycles through the intersections, no collisions or near collisions were observed. This included both intersections with turn lanes and those with signals for bicycles.
  • Over half the residents surveyed (56%) felt that the street works better for “all people” due to the protected bike lanes, while only 26% felt the street works less well.
  • Nearly three times as many residents felt that the protected bike lanes had led to an increase in the desirability of living in their neighborhood, as opposed to a decrease in desirability (43% vs 14%).

Protected bike lanes are demonstrably popular and safer. This should be enough to convince Buckley that painted lines—including the double painted lines they like to pretend are "buffers"—are not enough. But will it be enough?

(In other news, while Toronto's cycle tracks project on Richmond and Adelaide drags on for years and years in an EA and can't even get proper protection during the pilot phase, Hamilton amazingly has almost completed the installation of a two-way protected bike lane on Cannon Street after approving it just this year! And they didn't even do an EA or a pilot, which isn't required by provincial law despite what Toronto might claim.)

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