bike infrastructure

After Cycle Toronto's Bagels for Bikes, is the Harbord BIA wavering in their opposition to the bike lanes?

Rain fell all day, but inside fresh baked goods greeted people at the Harbord Bakery for the Bagels for Bikes "buy-in" last Saturday. People arrived by bike hoping to persuade the Harbord Bakery to drop their opposition to the bidirectional bike lanes which would potentially remove about 20 parking spaces out of about 150 spaces on Harbord1. (Photo: Cycle Toronto)

Cycle Toronto members purchased bagels and other baked goods at the Harbord Bakery and chatted with the local merchants who had also provided some free pastries as a sort of olive branch to the wet cyclists who arrived to show their support for the City's separated bike lane plan.

It might bode well for the bike lanes that public works chair Denzil Minnan-Wong showed up to talk with cyclists and the merchants. Councillor Adam Vaughan, the councillor for that section of Harbord, was not there. It's unclear why.

The Harbord BIA's opposition may have wavered a little bit since the Star reported that the Bakery owner Susan Wisniewski figured the bidirectional bike lane was going to be a "horror story" that would lead to collisions. A bit of "father knows best" and the apocalypse rolled into one.

Neil Wright, Harbord BIA Chair, said that it was the BIA and not the Harbord Bakery which was pushing the anti-bike lane petition. It was unfair, he claimed, of the Toronto Star to put the Harbord Bakery as the leader in the fight against the Harbord bike lane. And even if the BIA was hosting the petition, Wright clarified that the Harbord BIA has yet to take an official stand on the proposed two-way cycle track. They will wait until the official proposal comes out in the next month or so. Is the BIA backtracking a bit or were they misquoted in the media?

We'll give you some love if you do the same

The Harbord BIA would do well to embrace cyclists as customers. Harbord is already the second busiest bike route in Toronto (after College), with cyclists representing 40 per cent of traffic during rush hour, according to a city report released in June. On any day, the Harbord Bakery and other businesses along the street likely see more dollars coming in from people who walked, biked or took TTC in then who drove. The evidence shows us that while drivers may spend more for each trip they make, cyclists return much more frequently and end up spending more.

With limited car parking and no more room for cars on the roadway, businesses need to look beyond cars for ways to attract customers. Green Apple Books in San Francisco realized this as well: "We're in a pretty congested neighborhood; parking is tough. There's no alleys, so delivery trucks have to do their business up front. On top of it, sidewalks are pretty narrow." Sounds like many downtown Toronto businesses.

Rather than killing business, the bidirectional bike lanes would make it easier for customers to arrive with a minimal loss of car parking (only 20 car parking spaces on all of Harbord). Between Queen's Park Circle and Ossington only 115 out of 195 (59%) of the parking spaces are occupied on average. Even after the loss of some spaces, the BIA will still have enough spaces nearby to meet all the peak demand. (The peak demand, by the way, is actually on weekday evenings which suggests that a lot of it is occupied by local residents and not even customers necessarily.)

Leave the predictions to the experts
Instead of predicting a coming apocalypse, businesses should be working with the City and with cyclists to better understand the risks of the various options and create a good plan with which we can all be happy. The best available evidence we have at this time suggest that bidirectional cycle tracks would be safer than the current door-zone cycling on Harbord. A study (Lusk et al.) of the bidirectional cycle tracks in Montreal and found them to be safer than the adjacent streets without any protection: “Compared with bicycling on a reference street…these cycle tracks had a 28% lower injury rate.”

No horror stories in Montreal: cycle tracks have made Montreal cyclists happier and safer. We can do the same here.

1. Yes, I'm talking again about Harbord Street. Not only is it a regular route for me (and many others), it is a bit of a bellweather of how political will in the face of merchant opposition for cycling infrastructure. If we can't bloody well finish the Harbord bike lane after a couple decades, then what hope do we have for Bloor or other downtown streets?

Let's all move to the Hammer! Hamilton approves separated bike lanes while we keep plodding along

Hamilton City Council just approved a separated bidirectional bike lane along the length of Cannon Street, a distance of over 5 km in downtown Hamilton. And did so despite it being controversial (Photo: Raise the Hammer)

"This is a tough call," said Councillor Bernie Morelli, who added he's heard from bike-lane supporters as well as residents enraged by the plan. "But I want (councillors) to know you're doing the right thing."

Over in Hogtown, our new Transportation General Manager Steven Buckley - who originally oversaw the building of 250 miles of bike lanes and trails in Philadelphia - told Kuitenbrouwer of the National Post saying he doesn't want to offend anyone when a bike lane is proposed.

“I try to site a bike lane where nobody ends up feeling that they are a loser,” he says. “Where pedestrians or businesses or drivers start seeing that they are losing something, you have a problem. Many cities are seeing that now and even New York is in that boat.”

That's just depressing. Just mentioning bikes is enough to bring out the crazies. Even a bikeshare station bizarrely offends some people, such as seen with the launch of Citibike in New York. A bike lane always breeds controversy in car-fetish cities.

I really hope that was just Buckley's way of saying he is listening carefully to the community and not a signal that he will roll over and play dead whenever a bakery or bank wants to preserve its primordial, god-given right to a curbside parking spot.

And while Hamilton councillors praise the amount of community support for the separated bike lane plan, Toronto has had to push back against the likes of Councillor Vaughan who has resisted separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide (unlike Councillor McConnell's strong support) and even now seems to be angry and resentful that he has been forced into supporting them, according to the National Post:

But Councillor Adam Vaughan is no fan of these bike lanes. Recently I sat on the public benches during a council meeting, chatting with Mr. Minnan-Wong. Mr. Vaughan came up. The two councillors went at each other hammer and tong, with me in the middle, about bike lanes on Richmond-Adelaide.

I wonder if Hamilton can sell us some of their multivitamins that's giving their councillors so much backbone and clear heads.

Note: Buckley also noted that they just don't have the capacity and a shortage of staff. To be fair this might be an issue in Hamilton as well for all I know. Only 1% of Toronto transportation staff work on cycling and they're stretched to the limit. Buckley suggested he'd be open to using consultants to help with capacity though he didn't mention why he hasn't done it already. This is not new: for years the cycling budget hasn't been spent because they are short-staffed.

Cyclist seriously injured on Harbord: is a painted line still "good enough"?

A cyclist was seriously injured on Harbord near Euclid on the weekend. There weren't a lot of details on how it happened but from the photo we can see the cyclist hit the windshield. Currently Harbord has a painted bike lane next to parked cars along that stretch.

With events like this it gets a bit frustrating that we have some road warrior cyclists who claim that Harbord is "good enough" and that all plans for separated bike lanes for the street should be stopped immediately. Is Harbord good enough because it has some painted lines and bike symbols? I don't think anyone believes that a painted line is going to ensure someone's safety, especially if that painted line is right next to a parked car.

While there are plenty of other major streets that need separated bike lanes - my personal favourite is Queen Street - Harbord needs to be safer too. Peak hour bike traffic is already at about 40% so by making Harbord safer we're improving the lives of a lot of cyclists.

Separated bike lanes (bidirectional or unidirectional) are safer than painted bike lanes and definitely safer than just sharrows (see footnotes here). While we don't know for sure if it would have helped this guy, we do know separated bike lanes do make streets safer for cyclists.

Strange bedfellows and petitions galore!

anti-bike lane petition

In a funny twist, a handful of Harbord businesses have become bedfellows with a couple of activists, including one who previously fought for Harbord bike lanes, and are now trying to stop separated bidirectional bike lanes on Harbord. Meanwhile activist group Cycle Toronto has launched their own petition buttressing support for the lanes.

We the undersigned

On the anti petition side we've got a guy named Marko and a self-described "carmudgenly" cycling activist, Hamish Wilson. Their petition asks Councillors Layton and Vaughan to halt the plan for bidirectional separated bike lanes on Harbord, calling them "dangerous", citing Transport Canada (1). A reader sent me the photo above of the petition displayed prominently at Harbord Bakery and said they saw about 100 signatures (and there might be another hundred or so signatures captured elsewhere).

Meanwhile Cycle Toronto's petition in support of the separated bike lanes has over 220 signatures (here and in paper versions going around).

But even this isn't the only petition. In 2010, a petition for the separated bike lane network was sent to the public works committee and included the call to "complete and separate the Wellesley/Harbord bicycle lanes system and end the gaps in the system at Queens Park and on Harbord." It has about 150 signatures on it. A number of organizations and groups also sent letters of support at that time which if we counted all the people involved in those groups would add up to thousands of people (2).

Both councillors for Ward 19 and 20, Councillor Mike Layton and Councillor Adam Vaughan, have stated publicly that they support the separated bike lanes on Harbord. We'll see what these petitions mean for their continued support.

The centre of the battle

This is what it looks like near the Harbord Bakery currently: squeezing between moving and parked cars, and token sharrows. And where there are bike lanes they are typically treated by motorists as free parking.

I'm not alone in that estimation. People who signed the Cycle Toronto petition had similar comments. From Bradley:

I frequently bike on Harbord, and although it is a very good street for cycling, I don't believe Sharrows do anything to help cyclists, and separated lanes are the way to go to improve cycling in Toronto today and in the future. Bidirectional lanes are my preferred option for both safety and ease of movement, allowing easier passing and a mix of cyclists of different skill and comfort levels.

And from Jennifer:

I live in the West end and commute by bicycle daily along Harbord to the downtown core. Harbord/Hoskins is a well used biking route. While the current painted lines offer cyclists some amount of protection, the fact that cyclists must ride in between parked cars (which are often pulling out into traffic) and the busy roadway, and the busyness of the bike lanes, makes this route a perfect option for separated bidirectional lanes. I also use the Sherbourne Street bike route on occasion and the painted separated route makes cycling much more visible and predictable for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

These responses are typical of people who are not "hardcore" cyclists used to mixing it up with the elephant herd. Most people, studies have shown, prefer separation.

Running with the elephants by bikeyface.com

I don't think the anti group has clarified that they are fighting for a street that is already frustrating, unsafe and not even connected. Is that the kind of street they think most cyclists prefer? If so they're deluded.

Strange bedfellows

The businesses opposed to this plan seem to be led by the owners of the Harbord Bakery and Neil Wright, Chair of the Harbord BIA. They've been vocally opposed to bike lanes for decades. In the 1990s they fought off bike lanes in their domain and managed to do it again a few years ago.

I had thought that this opposition had softened when I attended a public meeting last fall organized by Councillor Vaughan, writing in my blog post that it was a mostly positive, albeit lukewarm, response from business. In fact, the owner of the Harbord Bakery even stood up to announce they have always been pro-bike, they had been one of first to install a bike rack! Alas, it was not to be. Instead a strange alliance formed to oppose the proposal.

Hamish Wilson was a key person in fighting for a complete Harbord bike lane in the 1990s. Wilson and a number of other activists worked doggedly for the bike lane. They measured out the street width to ensure that bike lanes could fit, talked to merchants, worked with City staff. But in the end City staff caved in to business concerns about losing some curbside parking and left two disjointed bike lanes to the east and west. And now the activist is fighting against bike lanes.

Why the opposition?

The BIA Chair and the Harbord Bakery seem to be dead set against bike lanes in any form, perhaps thinking that the bike lanes will hurt their businesses. But with New York City and elsewhere experiencing booming business revenues where bike lanes were built (revenues up 49% compared to 3% elsewhere), this has become more of an outdated notion. We now know that cyclists have more disposable income and shop more often).

It's easy to imagine why the Harbord businesses are opposed even though misguided, but I can't really understand the passion with which Marko and Hamish are fighting against this proposal. Perhaps it's fear of the unknown. In cities where bidirectional has been built I have found no such outcry.

Risky game

What the petition writers gloss over is that risk is always relative risk. We can't just label something "dangerous" and something else "safe". Is climbing a ladder "dangerous" or "safe"? It doesn't make sense to ask it that way. Instead we should be comparing the risk to something else. For instance, is climbing a ladder more or less risky than taking a shower? Likewise is a bidirectional separated bike lane riskier than riding next to the threat of car doors opening? To answer that question we need real data, not just opinion.

The UBC Cycling in Cities studies, for instance, are helpful in that they have shown that separated bike lanes are significantly safer than bike lanes next to parked cars. And Dr. Lusk's studies of separated bike lanes in Montreal showed that not only is cycling on bidirectional separated bike lanes more popular, they are** safer** than streets without any bicycle provisions (3). And this is despite the fact that Montreal's bike lanes lack many of the measures now used to make them even safer: green markings through intersections, set back car parking and so on.

The petition writers are just bullshitting if they claim they know a bidirectional bike lane is more dangerous than what we have currently on Harbord. They don't have the evidence to make such a claim. Transport Canada references a Danish study but no link to the study. We don't know the context, when it is relevant, how to compare it to other dangers, or how various cities have made modifications to make them better.

Furthermore, their claim of "danger lanes" begs the question, if they're so dangerous why do numerous cities still have bidirectional bike lanes and continue to build them? Montreal, New York, Vancouver, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and other cities all have bidirectional with no evidence of cyclists dropping like flies so far as I tell.

Bidirectional versus unidirectional - either is fine so long as we get them

Funnily, the anti petition could perhaps hurt the anti cause. The petition says they are "in favour of keeping Harbord's current unidirectional bike lane setup".

The bidirectional bike lanes remove fewer parking spots than a unidirectional bike lane. That's one main reason why City staff are proposing bidirectional: to save some parking. If some people are against the bidirectional, perhaps we should all push for unidirectional. If it means taking out all the parking between Bathurst and Spadina so be it. Isn't that a small price to pay for increased safety?

I wonder what would happen to the unholy alliance in that case?

The world has moved on

Meanwhile, we could have had this already (photo by Paul Krueger):

While we're still fighting old fights in Toronto the world has moved on. In the last few years we've seen North American cities move far beyond painted bike lanes by installing separated bike lanes all over their downtowns. New York, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Chicago and other cities are all building separated bike lanes. City officials have official guides. Studies show that separation is both safer and more popular. Dutch and Danish cities have had them for decades.

It seems to me that by teaming up with anti-bike lane businesses the petition writers are playing a dangerous game (or should I say risky?) that is going to make it harder to build bike lanes of any kind anywhere in this city whether it stops the bidirectional lanes or not.

Footnotes:
1. The petition claims "According to research conducted by Transport Canada, experts conclude that bidirectional bike lanes are more dangerous than unidirectional bike lanes." I didn't receive any additional information, though I believe it's this link, which includes a reference to a Danish report that recommended unidirectional over bidirectional separated bike lanes saying bidirectional could create more conflicts at intersections. What the reference does not say is if the Danish compared bidirectional to painted or even no bike lanes at all.
2. Letters of support from: Cycle Toronto, the York Quay Neighbourhood Association, The U of T Graduate Student’s Union, University of Toronto Faculty Association, the Toronto Island Community Association, the St Lawrence Neighbourhood Association, the ABC (Yorkville) Residents Association, the Palmerston Residents Association, the Bay Cloverhill Residents Association, the Parkdale Resident Association, South Rosedale Residents Association, the Moore Park Residents Association, the Oak Street Housing Coop Inc., and Mountain Equipment Co-op.
*3. The study states: "our results suggest that two-way cycle tracks on one side of the road have either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions. This lowered risk is also in spite of the less-than-ideal design of the Montreal cycle tracks, such as lacking parking setbacks at intersections, a recommended practice."

Ontario's new bicycle facilities manual: a little bit closer but still far to go

The Ontario Traffic Council has produced a new Bicycle Facilities guide. It was produced with help from Vélo Québec, which has the experience of Québec's extensive cycling facilities, and Alta Planning and Design which has been at the forefront of a new generation of protected bicycle facilities in North America. It is a promising document, but it still falls short of high water mark that is Dutch bicycle facilities standards. This much we learn from David Hembrow of A view from the cycle path, who explained how even this updated Ontario standard falls short of Dutch expectations for their own facilities. It reveals that even though the concept of providing protected facilities that appeal to all ages and abilities is now here, it has yet to fully permeate planning.

The language of the document is slippery. Some of it sounds quite reasonable on an initial reading, but when you look closely it becomes obvious that the authors have rather low aspirations for cycling. There is an expectation that cyclists can share the roadway when both speeds and traffic volumes are at higher levels than we would experience. The authors think that it is only necessary to "consider" building an on-road cycle lane even speeds of up to 100 km/h. The language of the document betrays the lack of ambition for cycling.

From the graph streets like Richmond and Adelaide would "qualify" for protected bicycle facilities, but just barely because the traffic is quite high. This graph might exclude a lot of streets that in Europe they would consider excellent candidates for separated facilities. These decisions are mostly arbitrary so perhaps the traffic planners could err on the side of making streets more comfortable.

The manual is not particularly innovative but reflects the state of the art in North America, not surprising given the consultants come from across the continent. For those of us doing cycling advocacy in North America it's good to have an outside critique to help us keep an eye on a distant goal. We are mindful that we want to celebrate our wins, big and small, lest we come off as ungrateful, something with which Hembrow doesn't have to concern himself. By being the first Ontario document to explicitly allow for protected bicycle lanes this is a real step forward. But Hembrow's excellently placed skewer of North American traffic planners blind spots shows just how far we still have to go.

Motorist impunity and the fear of cycling

Memorial banner

As the Toronto Star reports, Initial reports of the crash that killed Tom Samson indicated that he had run a red light. The police and prosecutors have now stated they do not believe Samson ran a red light; instead, they believe he had stopped, properly, to make a left turn when a van hit him from behind. The Star reports, quote, "It’s unclear what prompted the change."

The history and circumstances of bike facilities in Toronto and Montreal: TCAT video

From TCAT, a video that explores the history and circumstances of bike facilities in Toronto and Montreal. Also available in French and Spanish. As a bike advocacy nerd, I think it's a bit short but it's probably just right for the wider public to get a decent understanding.

It's interesting to see how things develop differently in Canadian cities, having just come back from Vancouver and tried out their extensive bike network of cycle tracks and bike boulevards.

Harbord cycle tracks will not be for the hardcore but for the rest of us

Weak cycling infrastructure on Harbord

The Harbord and Hoskin bike route as it currently exists is not good enough to convince a large percentage of people to bike. For that to happen, as many other cities have found out, physically separated bike facilities make cycling much more popular as well as safer.

Even though Harbord and Hoskin is a popular bike route (partly by funneling people from other streets), its painted bike lanes and sharrows only attract a small portion of Torontonians. Being just paint makes it easy for motorists to park in, and sharrows do nothing to prevent cyclists from having to struggle and squeeze between car doors and fast moving traffic.

We've now got an opportunity to showcase a new, better way of building bike infrastructure. Harbord to Wellesley, if all goes well, from Ossington to Parliament will have protected bike lanes along its entire length by the end of 2014.

Toronto is hardly being radical by building protected bike lanes. Heck, even Lincoln Nebraska is building a bidirectional cycle track!

Lincoln, Nebraska gets its own cycle tracks

Attracting the "interested but concerned"

The Portland Bureau of Transportation in a survey found a "interested but concerned" group of potential cyclists that made up 60% of the population. This is a group that is willing to bike (unlike the 30% who would never consider cycling) but have been turned down by the poor state of infrastructure. Compare that 60% to the 1% of the strong and fearless and the 7% of the enthused and confident and it makes me think how vocal cyclists now often fail to think of how different things would be if even half the potential cyclists could be converted.

For the interested but concerned person, this is what is needed to convince them to hop on a bike on busy urban roads - separation from motor vehicles. These are people - young, old and unsure - who are uncomfortable riding in busy traffic and will only consider cycling as a regular activity if they get more infrastructure.

This group of potential cyclists rank separation from traffic higher than existing cyclists. The preference study at UBC's Cycling in Cities showed that for potential cyclists, having separated bike lanes or quiet bike boulevards was important and were unwilling to ride on major streets with parked cars and just painted bike lanes. It's interesting to note that even regular cyclists ranked cycle tracks highly but were much more comfortable riding on major streets with painted bike lanes.

Where hardcore cyclists are comfortable riding in mixed traffic next to large trucks and car doors (though even this changes as we get older), the potential cyclists are most comfortable on recreational bike paths and with clear separation from motorized traffic. While hardcore cyclists tend to be dominated by men, potential cyclists represent the larger population in gender, age and ability.

The City still tends to listen primarily to the 2% hardcore cyclists when building new bike facilities. The idea for protected bike lanes on Harbord (and Sherbourne and Richmond/Adelaide), however, came from outside the hardcore group. It was borne of people who had seen cities like Amsterdam or New York and saw the potential in Toronto. It was a major push to get City cycling staff and cycling advocates to think beyond painted bike lanes that provide next to no comfort or protection and focus more on the concerns the 60% and come up with strategies for building what is needed.

Protected bike lanes on Harbord and Hoskin will help provide a mind-shift among Torontonians, improving infrastructure for the majority.

Harbord/Hoskins needs more than just paint

Some preliminary drawing and figures were presented at the recent open house.

From Queens Park to St. George

From St. George to Ossington

Harbord and Hoskins cycle tracks will be a great improvement for those streets where speeding along stretches is still common, drivers routinely park in the bike lanes, and where a large stretch doesn't even have bike lanes.

Protected bike lanes are safer

But it's not just that people prefer more separation on streets like Harbord, it has also been shown to be safer than just painted bike lanes. After NYCDOT build cycle tracks on Prospect Park in Brooklyn they found a number of benefits, more so than what a painted bike lane would provide:

  • Speeding is down
  • Sidewalk cycling is down
  • Crashes are down
  • More cyclists of all ages are using it

The protected bike lanes will also provide specific benefits of vastly improving the intersection at Queens Park and Hoskin. What is currently an uncomfortable and unsafe intersection where cyclists and pedestrians have to deal with high speed traffic will be redesigned so cyclists can avoid having to try to cross multiple lanes of fast traffic.

And let's not forget that we finally have the political will to fill in the missing bike lane along Harbord, where cyclists have nothing but a narrow space between the doors and moving traffic. This requires politicians willing to risk the wrath of merchants.

Both Councillors Layton and Vaughan have come out supporting the Harbord separated bike lanes. Along with public works Chair Minnan-Wong, the support for Harbord is across the political spectrum. This is pretty rare in cycling advocacy. Even Mayor Miller missed his chance to build major bike lanes. Politics is the art of the possible and if this opportunity is not taken, it will be much harder to build another chance.

With such broad support the chance of getting protected bike lanes along the longest bike route through central Toronto just might be possible.

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