bike infrastructure

Where Toronto plans to build bike lanes and where we bike sometimes intersect

The Cycling Unit at the City of Toronto has been collecting data of people's cycling routes. They've been collecting it via a phone app that collects GPS data while cycling. I recently got a copy of the City's preliminary map of cycling densities from that app thanks to John Taranu.

The City Core is interesting (we already know that the suburban cycling volumes are low). I'm going to assume that a lot of the people using the app were probably the less casual type; they're more passionate about cycling. They probably used the app mostly on their work commutes. Given that, it looks like that from the east most commutes are channelled into Danforth or Dundas East. From the west people end up skipping Bloor and going down to College, Harbord or Dundas. Or all the way down to Queen and then Adelaide/Richmond.

It makes me think that getting cycle tracks on Adelaide and Richmond was a huge win. Probably the biggest in the last couple decades. And I will say arguably, more important than Bloor bike lanes.

Next let's look at another map. This is from the recent survey of draft proposed routes from the City's ten year bike plan. Thanks again to John Taranu, this time for combining the two maps the Cycling Unit staff presented in the survey.

It's unfortunate that they decided to use the same green line regardless of whether it's a bike lane, cycle track or just a "signed route". The narrow green line means it's already installed; wide green that it's approved. The red lines are proposed and are more likely to be included in the bike plan.

There are some nice solid additions, including Bloor, Yonge and Kingston Road. But again looking at the core shows that despite having by far the highest volume of cyclists in the city that staff have decided to wimp out and do little. Sure we'll get Bloor and an extension of the Railpath (but not plowed in winter), but looking at the traffic volume map and it shows that all the cyclists on College, Dundas or the ones trying to connect to the new cycle tracks on Richmond and Adelaide will get next to no relief. Parkdale and further west is mostly out of luck.

Staff are taking the politically expedient route by ignoring the gaps on College in particular. College has the highest cycling traffic volumes in Toronto! College was one of the first to get bike lanes but looks like we'll have to wait at least another decade before anything improves there. For shame.

Is it wrong to think that we should be prioritizing where people are already cycling and making it safer and more enjoyable for them?

Union Station's Front Street reveals a total lack of knowledge of traffic dynamics

The new Front Street design is based on vague planning ideas about "shared space" as if some fancy brick on its own would solve traffic problems between drivers, taxis, pedestrians and cyclists. At least as pedestrians we got some solid bollards, revealing that the City didn't really believe in the magic. Meanwhile as cyclists we get nothing but a few sharrows and a narrow strip between moving cars and the door zone of cabs. Photo: Cycle Toronto

How is this any different from all the other downtown streets that are urban hells for cyclists? Anyone who rides on Queen is very acquainted with the feeling of fear being squeezed from the left and worrying about the day when their number is called and a door suddenly swings open in front of them.

It's even worse that the "shared space" fairy dust is being advanced by the "progressive" planners. They're doing it with a distinct sparsity of data and in contradiction of other jurisdictions that have put specific limits on where shared streets makes sense and where they don't make sense.

Toronto's Chief Planner, Jennifer Keesmaat, has been enthusiastic about the space, and seems unconcerned about the implications for cycling:

Toronto's first 'shared' space - a mid-block 'welcome mat' for all in front of #UnionStation #TOpoli HT @haroldmadi

Some welcome mat. More like the door got slammed in cyclists face (the City even ignored recommendations from Metrolinx that better cycling infrastructure be considered).

Harold Madi, by the way, is the guy who led this design as well as the controversial changes on John Street. This is how they imagined this urban utopia in the EA:

Remarkably different from what we see now that it's finally reality.

We need rules for shared space!

The best example of sensible restrictions on shared space are just south of the border in New York City where their Street Design Manual spells it out clearly:

Consider on narrower streets (at most two moving lanes), or outer roadways of boulevard–type streets, with little or no through–traffic, and which are not major vehicular or bicyclist through–routes or designated truck routes.

Front Street, and even John Street for that matter, do not meet these criteria! There is lots of through-traffic and it is a major vehicular route. At least with John we still have the opportunity to take different measures for traffic calming and diversion (such as making sure only local traffic will use the street by diverting cars from going through the entire street). But Front Street is supposed to be a through street and is therefore is a completely unsuitable candidate for shared street.

That is, if we use New York's guidelines. We've got nothing else to go on.

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?

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