bike infrastructure

Winter gives cyclists the middle finger. Show it who is boss

After a few milder winters, this winter has been particularly tough. A hardy few bike throughout the winter but even they have limits. As I write this the snow is thickly falling and only a few brave souls can be seen biking or walking.

The cold is actually manageable; bundle up and you'll do well. But the thick snow turning into ice on the sidewalks and roads makes it dangerous. This winter has been especially tricky with a freeze-thaw-freeze cycle that has turned much snow into hidden ice. Avoiding this ice buildup, I believe, is possible. If only the City cared enough.

When it snows the City usually lets people continue to park their cars at the curb on most of our major arterials. The result is a whole stretch of snow that isn't being plowed now does it have a chance to melt from the sun.

I took the picture on a day after a snow event. The snow fall was manageable and much of it melted with an application of salt and sun. Yet stubborn bits hung on for existence under parked cars and soon turned to ice.

During rush hour the lane is clear but the ice forced all cyclists into a lose-lose situation; either ride over the ice and risk life and limb or ride far to the left where the drivers get confused and angry. Dealing with the latter is probably safer but it still forces cyclists to deal with some drivers trying to make a "point" by cutting in as closely as possible. One friend got clipped by a mirror by such a driver. I try my best to just listen to a podcast and try to ignore them.

What can the City do about it? Banning winter would be great (climate change?) but unworkable. City Council has directed staff to "report to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on the creation of a network of snow routes for Toronto's bikeway that receives priority clearing and that this report recommend what changes, if any, should be made to route signage."

That's a start, but many streets, such as Queen, King, Dundas, aren't officially part of Toronto's bikeway but still have many people biking.

What might help those people is a recently passed change in the City's by-laws. In December City Council passed a snow clearance plan, which grants the General Manager of Transportation Services—currently Stephen Buckley—the right to prohibit parking on designated "Snow Routes" (map) throughout the City during "major snow storm conditions". Most major downtown streets are designated "Snow Routes", some have bike lanes, many have streetcar tracks. The ability to prohibit parking on snow routes previously only rested in the Mayor.

The by-law Municipal Code Chapter 950, Traffic and Parking specifies that when 5cm of snow falls the General Manager or the Mayor may declare a major snow storm condition and prohibit on-street parking for up to 72 hours.

The City of Ottawa already had a bans overnight on-street parking when the forecast predicts 7cm+ of snow. I think they ban it overnight to give snowplows a chance to clear the roads. Even better is Toronto's approach of prohibiting parking day and night. In practice, I imagine the staff are quite reluctant to enforce this rule, which explains why we've still got problems like the photo above.

Maybe today is a great day to test this new power, Mr. Buckley.

Toronto protected bike lane strategy: study, discuss, repeat. Meanwhile Ottawa just builds them

Ottawa actually builds protected bike lanes. In Toronto we like to think and talk about it a lot.

Peter got an explanation of how it works in Ottawa from a friend, Alanna Dale Hill, who is an assistant to Ottawa councillor, Mathieu Fleury. Ottawa decided that they could build protected bike lanes on Laurier Ave without an environmental assessment. Meanwhile, Toronto's Transportation Services decided that the lanes that City Council had approved in June 2011 for Richmond and Adelaide required a costly EA. But just when the EA was set to be completed they decided they should also do a pilot project (but only along pieces of the planned project).

The Richmond/Adelaide EA is costing the City millions and four lost years during which they could have implemented a pilot project as originally planned. Ottawa was able to do a much better evaluation with real data rather than speculating from a model. And now Ottawa has a protected bike lane with very little fuss.

What is Toronto's fascination with costly studies while other Canadian cities just build? Even when City Council approves bike lanes Transportation Services has found a way to make those approvals precarious.

According to Alanna:

The Laurier SBL did not require an EA. The City’s interpretation of the requirements is that the re-designation of an existing General Purpose Lane (GPL) to a reserved lane is exempt and also that the construction or operation of sidewalks or bike lanes within existing rights-of-way are also exempt. Temporary changes to capacity (such as construction detours) are also exempt and the project ran as a pilot for 2-years which was considered a temporary condition.

No repercussions for Ottawa going ahead without the "proper" studies. So what is Toronto, Canada's largest city, afraid of?

Dr. Monica Campbell, champion for people on foot and on bike

Welcome to 2014! May we actually get some real, protected infrastructure this year!

At the end of last year I ruffled some Vehicular Cyclists' feathers by posting this: Avid Cyclists as policy makers are going extinct and they've no one else to blame but themselves (I still stand behind my analysis though I would probably now use the more accurate label of "Vehicular Cyclists" to better reflect the ideology and not just people cycling in car traffic because they have no other choice). Buried in the controversy was my mention of Dr. Monica Campbell, Director of Healthy Public Policy at Toronto Public Health, who had won an award at the 2013 Toronto Bike Awards.

(Photo: TCAT. From left, Dr. Monica Campbell, Nancy Smith Lea of TCAT)

Dr. Campbell is no Lance Armstrong. This is something which Vehicular Cycling seemingly holds as a prerequisite for a transportation planner - as in "If we all just rode at top speed all the time and never made errors then we'll be perfectly safe in car traffic". She is not that kind of expert, but one who knows how to bring science to the transportation planning profession; a profession that has notoriously avoided dealing with most injuries, deaths and health impacts such as obesity and asthma that are a direct result of our car fetish society.

The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, who presented the award, describes Dr. Campbell's work thusly:

Dr. Campbell has city-wide responsibility for ensuring the development of evidence-informed public policies that best protect the health of Toronto residents. She was selected by a majority vote of the TCAT steering committee for her leadership in demonstrating the link between active transportation and health and for spearheading numerous evidence-based initiatives within Toronto Public Health to improve the safety of cyclists and pedestrians in Toronto.

Under her leadership, Toronto Public Health has been producing reports such as the recent report "Improving Safety for Bicycle Commuters in Toronto" and has become more active in creating safety guidelines for cyclists and pedestrians (something which you'd think would have already been a higher priority for Transportation Services).

Some of the safety items that Public Health is pushing for, for which most cyclists will be pleased to have:

  • making construction zones safer for cyclists
  • stop using bike lanes for "storage"
  • review the "Watch for Bikes" by-law and improve it
  • advocate for side guards on trucks (only the feds can implement this but have been dragging their feet for years)
  • improve safety of cyclists at intersections

Her work, I think, is a signal that the underbelly of our municipal government is slowly understanding the new reality where fighting obesity and improving the safety and the comfort level of citizens is more important than obsessing about making cars go faster. Thank you Dr. Campbell for helping to make Toronto more equitable, safer, healthier and more fun in 2014.

Avid cyclists as policy makers are going extinct and they've no one else to blame

At the recent Toronto Bike Awards, Dr. Monica Campbell won the TCAT Active Transportation Champion of the Year. Monica worked in Toronto Public Health to put a "health lens" on transportation planning.

Monica is a leader in cycling issues but she is not an "avid cyclist". She only started cycling after BIXI Toronto launched. She has the perspective of someone who is interested in cycling but uncomfortable in heavy, fast traffic. In this way, Monica reflects an ongoing evolution of leadership in cycling infrastructure.

Who are "avid cyclists"? Here's a clue:

Some surviving avid cyclists (source), the three on left are members of the obscure but semi-powerful National Committee on Uniform Traffic Control Devices Bicycle Technical Committee (John Schubert, John Allen and John Ciccarelli, members of NCUTCDBTC, and New York bicycling advocate and planner Steve Faust), critiquing New York's cycling infrastructure. I don't think NYC asked the committee for permission before building those protected bike lanes. So if these guys are no longer driving the agenda, I guess that makes them backseat drivers.

Such avid cyclists—many of whom can often be seen wearing cycling-specific gear and can be heard saying phrases like "Take The Lane" and "Cyclists fare best when they act and are treated as drivers of vehicles"—are increasingly being surpassed by a different breed in policy circles.

The NCUTCDBTC, for their part, have approved a handful of bike symbols to be used on roads (like bike boxes that cities were building anyway) but for the most part have disapproved of the strong push for protected bike lanes and more "European" cycling infrastructure.

By the nature of their minimal-intervention philosophy that appeals to only a tiny minority of the population, the avid cycling leaders are putting themselves out of a job. Instead, it's people like this who are changing the game:

Mia Birk as Portland Bicycle Program Manager led a transformation of Portland into one of the bike-friendly cities in the United States. She's now a principal at Alta Planning & Design, a leading bicycle planning firm that also happens to operate many of the bikesharing programs that have mushroomed across North America.

And also...

Janette Sadik Khan is the current head of NYDOT who revolutionized bicycle and pedestrian planning in New York and helped to spur on a nationwide push for better bicycle infrastructure (Photo: Momentum Magazine). She also was one of the key leaders in creating a new nationwide NACTO bike planning guide for transportation planners. They had decided if they couldn't change the highway planning agencies from the inside, they'd just set up their own. There were no transportation planning guides or committees in the US that permitted protected bike lanes, so the NACTO guide is now a competing guide in North America and one which the more ambitious cities will first turn to for advice.

Sadik-Khan, seen here with former US Secretary of Transportation Ray LaHood and Congressman Earl Blumenauer, launching the NACTO guide.

Evolution in local leaders

Increasingly these policy makers are not the gear heads, "avid" cyclists and the road warriors - the survivors when everyone else stopped cycling. I'll happily put myself in the category of a reforming avid cyclist.

Instead the leaders are increasingly women and men who are intensely interested in making cycling (and walking) safer for their families. In Dr. Campbell's case, she had only taken up cycling when BIXI Toronto was launched. And after being hit while using BIXI, has worked to make cycling safer. The result is that Toronto Public Health is now starting to "invade" the domain of the male-dominated Transportation Services by getting them to consider safety. Duh. To the average person as well as to Public Health it doesn't make sense why this isn't already a prime concern for the engineers.

(I'd be remiss if I didn't mention that there are actually a handful of female cycling planners who have also done great work in upsetting the applecart.)

I think there is a clear correlation of the increase in cycling, increase in safer cycling infrastructure and that the policy makers and leaders are increasingly women. And the avid cyclists/road warriors are making themselves extinct.

Corrections: Sadik-Khan is the soon to be the former head of NYCDOT. In the top photo only the left three are committee members. I made the source of the top photo more explicit and added the names of the people in the photo, instead of just linking "avid cyclists" to the source. And yes, not all avid cyclists have new bike gear, just the majority. I've removed this line "I don't imagine she's got the gear: no special shoes, padded shorts, stretchy fabric." because I think it's just a distraction from my message.

Two-way cycle tracks are fine, just look to Montreal

Rue Berri cycle tracks

Are two-way (or bidirectional if you prefer) protected bike lanes "dangerous"? Some of the opposition to the Harbord proposal are fomenting fear and doubt by claiming as much. There's even a "No Danger Lanes" facebook page decrying the bidirectional for Harbord.

Let's put this question a different way. Has there been an uproar in Montreal about death and destruction because of their plentiful bidirectional bike lanes? Has there been a bloodbath that we've been ignoring?

I might have missed something but I think not. Montrealers seem to be plenty angry at their corrupt mayors but when it comes to their bidirectional cycle tracks (aka protected bike lanes), the overwhelming majority of people seem to be happy and there's been no outcry of cyclists getting injured on them in great numbers.

And Montreal isn't alone. Cycling nirvanas like Amsterdam also have bidirectional cycle tracks and the people seem to be happy with them, or at the very least accepted them.


A bi-directional path. Photo: Mikael Colville-Andersen.

So let's use some common sense. Two-way cycle tracks are not dangerous. They are safe and people are comfortable with them.

Is this a bloodbath you were looking for?

You might say, "Well that's all well and good but what about this Montreal blogger who seems to have discovered the dangers of Montreal bidirectional?"

Let's take a look.

This Montreal blogger is David Beitel who made a claim that the cycle tracks in Montreal have an "elevated risk" of cycling accidents. He pointed out that two of the cycle tracks had the second and third highest number of accidents between cyclists and drivers in Montreal out of all streets.

You might exclaim: holy crap, why are all these cyclists getting injured on cycling infrastructure? Let's rip it all out!

But let's not get carried away. Beitel falls for a common error: he provides absolutely no context to the data; no denominator to put his data into proper perspective. The denominator we need here is the number of people cycling on each street.

Without a denominator of the cycling traffic volume, we might as well just conclude that riding on a highway like the Gardiner Expressway is the safest. Highways typically have very few cycling crashes. But they also usually have next to zero cyclists using them. Because it's illegal.

Beitel's approach cannot avoid absurd conclusions.

When we take into account cycling traffic volumes we would find that the cycle tracks in Montreal, such as De Maisonneuve and Berri, are actually not dangerous at all. When cycling traffic increases we will typically see some uptick in the number of car-bike collisions. And we realize that even though a highway may have zero cyclist colliding with drivers, it might be because there were no cyclists there.

So Beitel's conclusions are junk and anyone here in Toronto who references Beitel as "proof" of the danger of bidirectional is plain wrong. If you're curious you can read a bit more about this in the Evidence Training Guide created for cycling educators by the Cycling in Cities group at the University of British Columbia (particularly pages 2, 3 and 43 in the sidebar).

Bidirectional cycle tracks are probably safer

Of the scientific evidence we do have, we could make a safe bet that 1) bidirectional cycle tracks are probably safer than riding on the road and 2) cycle tracks in general are safer than bike lanes.

In a study headed up by Harvard's Dr. Lusk, it found that Montreal's two-way cycle tracks were shown to be "either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions".

Lusk found that Rue Berri (as pictured above) had a lower risk (0.48) than the reference street of Denis. Reference streets are always considered to be 1 for comparison purposes. Being below one means a street is safer than the reference.

Overall, the study found that the cycle tracks they studied (all of which were bidirectional) had a 28% lower injury rate. Lusk concluded that their "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."

Cycle tracks (one and two-way) are safer than the road

Cycle tracks in general are safer than both riding on the road or even riding in a painted bike lane. The following diagram from UBC's study of injuries and bike infrastructure describes it well:

Cycle tracks beat all the other options for on-road infrastructure by a mile.

Where possible, build unidirectional otherwise bidirectional works

This all being said, the cycling infrastructure guides are now usually recommending unidirectional over bidirectional. Vélo Québec's Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists, for instance, says (p. 80):

"On-road bike paths should preferably be unidirectional. Bi-directional paths offer effective safety between intersections but complicate traffic at intersections. In fact, they increase the number of conflict points between bicycles and turning vehicles."

"Preferable" but not always possible.

This is fine in an ideal world. But we live in a world with physical and political constraints. We don't have the political sway to force politicians to ignore merchants and take out all the parking on any of our major arterials. Bidirectional is seen as a compromise: cyclists get something safer, more comfortable and merchants get to keep some on-street parking. For instance, Councillor Vaughan has publicly stated that on Harbord it is bidirectional or nothing:

“The bi-directional protects the parking that is needed,” says Vaughan. When asked for specific numbers his assistant helps out: “Right now there are 48 parkings spots – and with the bi-directional plan, we are trying to salvage 95 to 98 per cent of parking.” The unidirectional plan would take out all of the on-street parking.

“If the choice is bi-directional or nothing then bi-directional is safer,” says Vaughan.

So we are fighting for bidirectional on Harbord and possibly on more streets in the future with similar constraints. And we will work with traffic planners and the community to make them as safe as possible. There are number of tools at the planners' disposal: separate light phases, improved sightlines, markings through the intersections, signage, bump-outs and so on.

References

Bloor study likely to piggyback on Dupont EA, but actual infrastructure still some years away

The public works committee has passed a motion for a combined environmental assessment for Bloor and Dupont streets. The motion still needs to pass City Council. Public works was probably the main hurdle, it being dominated by Ford's appointees, and that passing the EA at Council will be easier.

Councillor Janet Davis' amendment to extend the EA to the Danforth failed. There was also nothing in the motion approving a pilot project for Bloor. It's not clear if City staff can implement a pilot without Council approval, though it doesn't seem likely since staff probably won't take any risks on such a high-profile corridor. Councillors along the corridor will be very careful not to upset local merchants.

It seems odd to combine Dupont and Bloor in one EA. This is probably a strategic move in order to facilitate it getting passed by Council. The Dupont EA was already going to start next year so it seems that it was more politically palatable to include Bloor in that EA rather than try to create a separate EA with its own budget requirements.

Interestingly, Berardinetti, Grimes and Parker voted down Davis' motion, but Councillor Minnan-Wong voted for it. But on the final vote for a Bloor EA without the Danforth, everyone but Minnan-Wong voted for it. It's not a secret that Minnan-Wong would likely not vote for it, but it's interesting that some councillors would not want to extend it to the Danforth. For some of them it would be too close to their own backyard, even though a Danforth bike lane would be less disruptive to car traffic than on Bloor.

Timeline

Even in a best case scenario, actual implementation is some years away. The EA will likely start in 2014 and would probably go for at least a year. Any actual construction, if the EA recommends bike lanes and if Council approves it, would likely not begin until 2016, if the current EA for Richmond-Adelaide is any indication. And even then it's still completely possible that the new Toronto Council will get cold feet and delay or shelve any implementation.

There are some idealists (a minority if this blog's comments are to be trusted) who think that we can prioritize Bloor Street ahead of any other project (such as Harbord) and only complete Harbord after Bloor is "done". Given the likely timeline for Bloor, if these idealists got their way, we would have no new bike lanes from this administration and likely for even longer.

I think few cyclists would agree to such a deal. Something is usually better than nothing.

Cycling staff want your opinion on new parking on Queen West. Hold the panic and rage

The City recently installed a number of bike stands along Queen Street from Gladstone to Markham. Brian Park, Toronto Urban Fellow at the Cycling Unit, told me about their survey of the bike parking, asking that people fill it out:

Transportation Services is installing new bike parking infrastructure between Markham St and Gladstone Ave on Queen St W as part of a special study being conducted by Transportation's Cycling Infrastructure and Programs Unit. We recently updated our webpage - please take a look.

Please be nice be nice in your comments. It's amazing how jerky people can get. The City has already been forced to take remedial action on one installation because of a panicked response from some people.

Pylons repurposed as doomsday signs. Conveniently you'd have to dismount to read them.

This bike rack was installed at the southeast end of Trinity Bellwoods. Brian happened to be there when a furious Dorian approached him, outraged at the bike rack placement and that it would cause disaster and mayhem to rain down on people using the park path. Dorian was kind enough to record the interaction on the Facebook page for City of Toronto Cycling for posterity:

Dorian commanded Brian to "remove it today" preceded by a nice "F you". It appears that Brian did neither, thankfully. Dorian then followed up with his threat to put up signs and create a petition. It appears that Dorian managed to sign up enough panicked people to get City staff to trim the hedges to increase the sight lines around the corner. The bike rack is still there and being used last I looked. I also haven't heard of any tragic deaths due to bike rack impalement. So that's good news.

It doesn't seem to have concerned Dorian that this path exits out onto a sidewalk. If it wasn't a bike rack there it could just as easily have been a child or your grandma. Maybe the path is badly placed but until that gets fixed (not any time soon) only a jerk would take that corner at full speed.

Anyway, space is precious in this City what with businesses generally trying to keep all their sacred curbside parking so putting in bike racks anywhere is tough. It's encouraging enough that City staff are finding parking spots and boulevard space to place some bike racks. So I encourage you to go fill out the survey to help us get more of them. Just be nice about it.

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?

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