bike infrastructure

Sherbourne cycle tracks completed, go try them

The first cycle track in Toronto is now complete! After all the politics and foot-dragging, Toronto is now in the club with the likes of New York City, Chicago, Montreal and Vancouver.

Christina Bouchard created a quick video and the City of Toronto released a press release (thanks David Juliusson):

The City of Toronto has completed construction of its first cycle track - a lane for bicycles that is separated from motorized vehicle traffic. The new lane is located on Sherbourne Street between Bloor Street and King Street.

Over the next few years, Toronto is creating a 14-kilometre network of cycle tracks in the downtown area.

The Sherbourne cycle track has new features that distinguish it from the City's painted bicycle lanes:
• Buses don't stop in the cycle track. It is raised to sidewalk level at bus stops to provide accessible passenger loading. Cyclists are required to stop for passengers getting on or off buses.
• Bike boxes have been provided to assist cyclists making left turns when connecting with east-west bicycle lanes on Shuter Street, Gerrard Street and Wellesley Street.
• Parking next to the bicycle lane has been removed and parking lay-bys have been provided at six key locations to facilitate pickup/dropoff activity and commercial deliveries

Toronto City Council has adopted a Cycle Track Bylaw setting out the rules of operation for cycle tracks. The bylaw provides for a $150 fine for drivers who stop or park their vehicle on a cycle track.

The only exemptions to the bylaw are the following three:
• emergency services or police vehicles actively responding to an emergency
• Hydro and utility vehicles in the lawful performance of their duties
• Wheel Trans vehicles actively loading or unloading passengers

Toronto Transportation staff are working with the Toronto Police Service and Parking Enforcement staff to ticket and tow vehicles that are illegally blocking the cycle track.

Frequently asked questions and other information about cycle tracks are available at http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/network/downtownupgrades/.

Toronto is Canada's largest city and sixth largest government, and home to a diverse population of about 2.7 million people. Toronto's government is dedicated to delivering customer service excellence, creating a transparent and accountable government, reducing the size and cost of government and building a transportation city. For information on non-emergency City services and programs, Toronto residents, businesses and visitors can dial 311, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.

Building on the good work already done: cycling policy in Ontario

The province of Ontario has finally acknowledged that we could use some cycling love. However, the current proposal put forth by the Minister of Transportation is slim and vague.

Two provincial groups have already prepared reports (STR 2010, COA 2008) outlining their own ideas of what they'd like to see the province doing. The ideas and policies in these reports are all very good ideas, and are also much more specific than what the Province is currently proposing.

However, the last of these reports was prepared in 2010. As we are currently approaching 2013 we need to look at what has changed in these past few years, and identify what other new ideas we need to bring forth that can be included in a Provincial Cycling Plan for Ontario.

I found three items which I think we should add as "priority items." These three are important enough that they should be included in any cycling plan adopted by our province.

In Sept 2011, the city of Los Angeles enacted a cyclist anti-harassment Ordinance (by-law) that was quite different than the similar laws which were passed before; This one is clear AND has teeth! It is important that the laws which we pass be reasonable, but laws are only effective when they are enforceable. Being clear helps the courts enforce what is meant to be enforced. And, by making the costs of suing payable by the driver, it makes it easier for cyclists to get a lawyer in order to sue those drivers whose behaviour is simply wrong. A law like this acts both as a deterrent, and also provides remedy to the afflicted. Other jurisdictions have followed LA's example and have passed their own, similar, anti-harassment legislation. Some jurisdictions have even extended this to include pedestrians and disabled people in their versions of this legislation.

I started with anti-harassment legislation for several reasons. First of all it reflects the first and fourth items of the Cyclists' Bill of Rights. It also defines to everyone very clearly those behaviours which are unacceptable and are not tolerable on our streets and roads. It is also a very clear reminder to Law Enforcement, as well as to our entire Judicial System, that our streets and roads must safely include other users besides motorists and motor-vehicles.

For the second of the three, I propose that we get a safe passing law passed. More jurisdictions have enacted safe passing laws since we last looked at it here in Ontario back in 2010, often known as three-feet laws. Ontario's current law [HTA 148(4)] is vague and only states that "Every person in charge of a vehicle on a highway meeting a person travelling on a bicycle shall allow the cyclist sufficient room on the roadway to pass." Bicycles cannot stay upright in a perfectly straight line for very long, we need to use the steering to help keep us upright, which means we always weave a bit when riding (although better riders will weave less). In addition, road conditions are never perfect, so we need to avoid those (usually) small obstacles in our path, even when being passed. Lastly, winds can make it much more difficult for cyclist to hold a straight line, and cars and trucks can do strange things with the wind, especially at higher speeds. Trucks, in particular, can have have a strong pushing wind at their front while also having strong sucking wind at their sides. These winds have caused cyclists to be sucked under the back wheels of the truck. In addition, passing too closely can simply be viewed as another form of harassment. The current driver handbook already states that cyclists need about a metre on either side for their safety (pg 38) and suggests to driver to give cyclists the whole lane (pg 59), so enacting legislation like this is not a big change from the current best practices. Further, both the Toronto and Provincial Coroners cycling reports highlighted legislation like this as a specific need. Setting minimum standards makes it clearer, and simpler, for Law Enforcement and Courts to enforce this law. It's also easier for drivers and motorists to understand and, therefore, follow the law. And this law would mirror the second item in the Cyclists' Bill of Rights, specifically that cyclists should have sufficient space on our streets and roads.

The third, and last item which has changed, and that I think is a "must-have" to be a part of our provincial strategy: "Protected Bike Lanes."

I say "changed" for two good reasons. First is that we've had increasing clear research which shows that protected bike lanes, like those found in Montreal and Vancouver (but not in Toronto!), are at least an order of magnitude safer than ordinary bike lanes, and at least two orders of magnitude safer than streets without any cycling facilities. And, secondly, because 1012 saw as many new protected bike lanes being built in North America as were built in the decade before. In the past year the number of protected bike lanes has doubled - sadly this was not also true in Ontario.

Please understand that It's not like I expect the province to build protected bike lanes, that's usually the municipality's job. However, the province can adopt the appropriate plans, policies, legislation, and programs (incl funding formulas), as well as the sharing of the appropriate expertise, in order to force, encourage, coax, and cajole Ontario's municipalities to build these types of facilities for all of us.

I know that I'm not the only one with ideas like this. What are your ideas? Do you think that I'm overlooking something important? What have you told our province that you'd like them to be doing for cycling?

When bike lanes disappear: are they just for show?

Even when the City tries to do right (let's ignore for the moment where the City does wrong - as with the Jarvis bike lanes removal), little stubborn facts show the City (except for the tiny Cycling Unit in the Transportation Services aka Department of Motor Vehicles) still isn't taking traffic safety seriously.

With the ongoing construction of Strachan for a new overpass to accommodate more frequent GO Transit service, a temporary bypass road was constructed, complete with bike lanes and sidewalks. Mostly. I recorded myself taking the bike lane. The bike lanes are quite nice, but quite inconveniently disappear completely and without warning at the most critical points, where the road narrows and curves. And, like in the video, the bike lane can disappear right next to a large truck, forcing the person to figure out how to avoid being crushed.

Neither cyclists nor drivers are given any warning nor direction on how to act or merge. It appears that no thought was given by planners or contractors on how cyclists are supposed to behave just outside of the reconstructed road. They may have followed the plan to the letter, but somehow someone didn't think to see how the reconstructed bike lanes would meet up with the existing ones.

If the City truly had a plan for improving the safety of cyclists -- if it considered bike lanes an important aspect of increasing safety (and there is more and more research that this is true) -- then they probably would not have created this mess on Strachan. But as it stands it's a symbol of how bike lanes tend to be seen as just gimmicks.

Toronto unique in having an urban vision of "destinations" and narrow roads that marginalizes cycling

Toronto is "unique", not just for its "war on the car" mayor (who may be losing his job this morning), but also because it seems to be obsessed with it's own version of "complete streets" and creating "destinations" that seems to have excluded cycling from a number of important routes, including John Street, Bloor Street (at Yorkville), Union Station. This came to the attention of the international blog Copenhagenize this morning as they point to evidence in City's planning process, politics and urban-aware media that seems to have largely marginalized cycling as a means of getting around.

Even the original environmental assessment for Jarvis Street turned down bike lanes. It was with the help of then Councillor Kyle Rae that bike lanes were reconsidered and installed. But even Rae, didn't think that bike lanes were necessary for Yorkville, because it was meant to be a "destination". Destination was also the word bandied about by the planners for John and Union Station. To cycling, destination should be a code word that means we'll get ZERO bike infrastructure.

Copenhagenize explains it in its usual incendiary, yet insightful, way:

Toronto's "uniqueness" over the past few years due to its Mayor is well-defined and well-documented. The current political leadership is a running joke.

It is important to highlight that the City's singular focus on pedestrian traffic is also unique. I can't think of another city similar to Toronto in size that completely and utterly ignores the potential of bicycle traffic. For improving public health, for reducing congestion, for.... christ... do I even have to write this? And it is not just the Mayor, but also city hall, journalists and random hipster/urbanist magazines.

Pedestrians are always - or should be - at the top of the traffic hierarchy. Duh. But it's astounding that the anti-cycling sentiment in such a large city in the western world here in 2012 runs so deep.

This is not a good kind of "unique". I fear that even if Toronto discards its Mayor, the battle to modernise itself is light years behind that of other, more visionary cities.

Harbord separated bike lanes get mostly positive reception from residents and business

Residents and business owners alike showed up on a rainy Monday night to discuss the City's plan to install separated bike lanes on Harbord. The section in focus this night was between Bathurst and Spadina (the full plan is for separated bike lanes from Parliament to Ossington). As one resident noted she was pleasantly surprised that the meeting did not degenerate into a shouting match, but that everyone had a chance to voice their opinions which provided for a fruitful discussion on a controversial subject. (Photo of Terrazza Bicycle Park courtesy of Dandyhorse Magazine. Terrazza is a bit further west on Harbord but don't they have awesome bike parking?)

The meeting was organized by Tim Grant of the Harbord Village Residents Association and co-sponsored by the Harbord Village BIA and the Ward 20 and 19 groups of Cycle Toronto. Cycling department manager Dan Egan spoke as did the Cycle Toronto ward groups (I was one of the co-presenters along with Nico). The City highlighted the features of a bidirectional cycle track that they think would be the best option for Harbord and Hoskin. It would have the advantage of minimizing the loss of parking to only 20 spots between Bathurst and Spadina. The City would work towards off-setting those lost spots with off-street parking in the area.

In our ward groups presentation we emphasized the positive affect cycle tracks have had in reducing injuries, increasing retail sales of area business (as found in New York and elsewhere) and that Harbord has the opportunity to attract business by being seen as a hub of cycling. Instead of fighting it, celebrate. There are a lot of cyclists who take Harbord. By the City's numbers about 20% of the traffic on Harbord are bicycles. We can confirm that with our own rush-hour numbers where the percentage of traffic that were cyclists climbed to 30%. Compare that to Amsterdam where 38% of all trips are made by bike. Toronto's average share is only 1.7%. Harbord Village looks a lot more like Amsterdam than it looks like the rest of Toronto.

The owner of the Harbord Bakery, Goldie Kosower, appeared to be apprehensive of the bike lanes as did some other business owners. Bike lanes had previously been blocked by the local councillors because of the BIA's worry of lost parking. But now there seemed to be grudging acceptance so long as their needs were accommodated in the plan. Fears may have been assuaged by news that the plan would mean only 20 spots would be lost on the north side and that the City would work on providing more off-street parking.

There was some passion among some residents for the separation, including a father and daughter who cycle the street daily. The father stressed that the only safe option is physical separation for his children. A younger woman had recently returned from Amsterdam and wants bicycle infrastructure in Toronto that is safe enough for her mother to use.

Towards the end of the night Councillor Adam Vaughan appeared (he was delayed because of dealing with media regarding a shooting death on College). Vaughan said:

When we build bike lanes they must be separated. Painted lanes are good but aren't safe enough. My son, who bikes, needs the separation to be safe. But we don't have to do it overnight. We should sit down with businesses and planners to come up with a design. Harbord is critically important. It's a complex conversation. We might not get it all done at the same time.

People in this neighbourhood cycle but they don't do it safely. We don't accept it for drivers, nor for pedestrians, but we accept lack of safety for cyclists. We need to change that.

Some opposition came from Bike Joint owner Derek Chadbourne, who said he found the newly separated Sherbourne bike lanes terrible and thought Harbord was working fine as it is. He was also concerned about delivery truck access to his bike store on Harbord, asking where they would park once the separated bike lane was installed. Currently the delivery trucks stop in the painted bike lane in front of his shop.

No doubt, delivery truck access is a tough nut. Stores need to get their goods, and trucks need to be able to park not too far from the store. But blocking bike lanes is not popular amongst cyclists. Perhaps it would be possible to turn some of the parking on the south side into loading zones, or to come up with a sensible "curb management policy" that would allow the City to deal with the delivery access problem in a smart way not just on Harbord but for all parts of the city.

Or perhaps someone could always be available to create a "guaranteed bike lane" whenever a delivery truck blocks the bike lane.

Connectivity, separated bike lanes and politicians waffling: right and left agree. Now let's build

Sherbourne separated bike lane and cyclist

I know that for many people progressive councillors in the last couple terms of council have promised a lot but delivered little. But Denzil [Minnan-Wong] is promising a lot but not delivering much either. I think Denzil has raised the issue of connectivity and separated bike lanes as a priority. I give him credit. It's separated bike lanes and not just bike lanes. When we build them now they will be separated and I think that's a good thing. But Denzil has promised a lot but delivered little.
-- Councillor Adam Vaughan at recent Joint Cycle TO wards meeting

Yes and yes and yes. Politicians haven't delivered much and the little we've gotten has been a struggle; neither left nor right has made it easy. Despite the problems we have with Councillor Eager-to-remove-Jarvis-bike-lanes Minnan-Wong, we can at least agree with Councillor Vaughan that Minnan-Wong has raised the bar by pushing for a connected, separated bike lane network. Torontonians are ready for something more than just a painted line.

Speaking of connectivity, the Harbord Village Residents Association is holding a public meeting to talk about the City's plan to install separated bike lanes through their domain (as part of the larger project to install them from Wellesley and Parliament all the way to Harbord and Ossington). There are currently no bike lanes at all between Spadina and Brunswick, let alone separated bike lanes. The meeting is Nov. 12, 7pm at 45 Brunswick (more info here).

First chance to ride Sherbourne cycle track

P1060542 Sherbourne 'Separated' Bike Lane

The Sherbourne cycle track (aka separated bike lanes) is one step closer to being completed. Tino has photos for us of the first section close to completion.

Cycling in the Annex: Public Meeting Oct 2

On Oct 2 at Miles Nadal, the Annex Residents Association is holding a public meeting on cycling in the Annex.

The topics:

  • 30 km/hr speed limits on Annex roads
  • bike lanes on Bloor from Bathurst to Avenue Rd
  • additional cycling safety measures
  • results from Clean Air Partnership / TCAT's Business and Cycling Survey

Details:

7pm, Tuesday, Oct 2, 2012
Miles Nadal JCC (Bloor and Spadina SW corner)
Room 318

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