urban planning

An accidental protected bike lane on John Street

Max snapped this photo one morning a few weeks ago at John and Queen, looking north. I was completely flabbergasted at first. As many of my readers might now, there was a long extended fight with Councillor Vaughan and a bunch of planners who were trying to plan cyclists out of the picture and create a pedestrian arcade (but with cars) out of John Street. This seemed like a complete 180 where cyclists were actually given their own space instead of treated like pariahs.

But, no, it was not to be. Instead this is a pilot project until October to carve out a much larger pedestrian zone with a row of planters. Instead of being a protected bike lane much like I've seen in Vancouver, it's a "pedestrian" zone that seems most of the time to have few pedestrians (perhaps a bit heavier next to the restaurants which had overtaken much of the public space for their patios).

Cyclists don't know what to do with the space. Some people are still using it as a bike lane while other cyclists choose to squeeze next to a multi-block long line of cars (photo by Michal). This is what I saw:

While the whole John Street Cultural Corridor project is currently unfunded, the EA was completed and left out cyclists. Or, to be more accurate, they assumed cyclists would just nicely mix in with car traffic like we're forced to everywhere else.

But compared to the EA, this row of planters is even worse for cyclists. At least in the EA the plan was to have a "flexible boulevard" and a "non-barrier" curb to blur the line between the pedestrian space and the road. People on bikes would have more options in going around traffic jams of cars. In the EA they said:

A continuous non-barrier curb on both sides of the street to enable a seamless transition into a pedestrian-only space for events; for vehicles to mount the flexible boulevard for deliveries or drop-offs; and, to accommodate additional vehicular and cycling maneuvering on either side of the road in emergencies.

Or like this real-world example at the Prince's Gate at the Ex:

But instead, this design seems to have imposed purgatory for anyone on a bike.

What are the lessons here?

One, we can't just expect bikes to disappear, no matter how much we're in love with "pedestrianizing" the John Street Corridor. Did you expect the cyclists to nicely wait behind the truck? Good luck with trying to re-engineer human nature.

Two, by doing things half-ass, by trying to increase the pedestrian space while letting cars still rule the streets, we are making the space worse. Planners should have made it much more inconvenient for drivers to choose John Street as a through-street. John could be made for local vehicles only, much like a bicycle boulevard, which would greatly reduce the traffic while still allowing cars to exist there.

With new mega-condo projects cycling is still just an afterthought

Antony Hilliard, on behalf of the Ward 19 Cycle Toronto group, attended the public consultation meeting for the large condo project happening at Strachan and Ordance, Garrison Point; just across the street from the other mini-city we like to call Liberty "Village". Again the City is willing to cram people into a small space and have failed to provide any coherent plan for how people will move around, except by car. There is so much opportunity here, noted Hilliard, for excellent cycling connections to the Waterfront, West Toronto Railpath, Richmond/Adelaide protected bike lanes. But it can all be easily squandered.

And it looks like the traffic planners are doing just that by not insisting that the developers treat cycling as a real transportation mode and not just a recreation activity. In the image above we see the Fort York bridge which will provide cycling and pedestrian access across the railway tracks. But the only access to the condos seems to be a sidewalk. So are the developers and traffic engineers expecting cyclists to just ride on the sidewalk?

No, actually they don't expect cyclists at all.

Since I attended the last public consultation for this development I know that the developers and the City are aware of this issue (having raised it with them), but it looks like the City isn't making any further demands and the developers decided to ignore the issue.

The developer will still be installing 1300 car parking spaces for the 1700 new units, "following Liberty Village minimums". And the crappy painted bike lanes on Strachan will continue to be unimproved in every way.

The Ward 19 group had made a number of recommendations to the City planners a few years ago on how to improve the Strachan bike lanes. So far the only thing the City is slowly moving on is putting in a bike light at the base of Strachan at Lakeshore. There's been no recognition from staff that on a street like Strachan most people think it's crazy to bike with just a painted line separating them from a speeding dump truck.

A painted bike lane is no longer good enough. Most cities have moved on.

This is really maddening given that this area that is already holding thousands of people will be holding yet thousands more; all with next-to-nothing for safe, protected cycling infrastructure (let alone good access to transit).

If we can't get the new projects right, how do you think we'll make progress on retrofitting our old streets?

Staff take out protection from Harbord-Hoskin protected bike lane plan

The City, with its just announced revision to the Harbord-Hoskin plan, continues to be unwilling to take radical steps to protect cyclists, nor to ensure that there are certain routes where cycling safety is paramount. Instead they would prefer to not disturb the god-given rights of car drivers to convenient parking.

City staff, when asked by City Council to build protected bike lanes on Harbord, Hoskin and Wellesley, had originally responded with a bidirectional bike lane for Harbord and Hoskin. It was a compromise that would allow businesses to keep some on-street parking between Spadina and Bathurst. But after studying they've decided that the bidirectional leads to too much delay for all traffic users. So instead they're coming back with a stripped down option that is going to be just paint with no protection at all. Luckily they got the TTC to agree to lane widths similar to those on Wellesley otherwise it would have been even worse.

...the City completed a comprehensive traffic study to measure the effects of bi-directional cycle tracks operations at signalized and un-signalized intersections. This study showed it would not be possible to safely accommodate bi-directional separated bike lanes, without unacceptable delays to all road users.

I would have preferred the City to actually do a pilot project of a bi-directional bike lane. A computer model is a very poor substitute for the real thing and can't possibly capture all the possible tweaks or substitute for actual safety data. In fact, it is difficult to establish safety conclusions with even actual injury data. I can imagine a model would be quite poor in predictive powers.

Note that the City didn't say that bi-directional is "unsafe". Any infrastructure must be studied relative to other options including the status quo. Bidirectional works elsewhere, such as Montreal. It's just that the City was unwilling to accept the tradeoff of delays for a bidirectional bike lane.

Anyway this is what they now have planned for Harbord:

There are not even plastic bollards, though staff do suggest that it might be possible for the side without car parking (bollards would otherwise interfere with cars existing). But on Hoskin (east side of Spadina) the road is wider and there's room to put the bike lane between the curb and the parking. This is the preferred arrangement and is how saner cities like Copenhagen do it.

City's proposed cross-section of Hoskin

The TTC doesn't want the parked cars to be too close to their buses. The mirrors of the buses will overhang the lane widths. I guess the TTC would rather that cyclists' heads serve as a buffer. The City is unwilling to either force this option on the TTC or to take out the parking in the narrow sections so that there is enough room for this protection.

Toronto already has many bike lanes right next to parked cars, so it may seem unimportant that Harbord also have the same setup. It does seem that there is a bit of buffer to keep cyclists away from opening car doors. But research has shown that a bike lane next to parked cars is not as safe as a major road with zero on-street parking at all.

In short, on-street car parking poses a danger to cyclists and the City is unwilling to take measures to protect cyclists even on prime cycling routes like Harbord.

This is what I propose for Harbord: let the TTC "suffer". There is room for the buses and they can just drive more slowly. It's just Harbord, not one of the major transit routes. I made it on streetmix.

Or take out all the parking, at least between Spadina and Bathurst (streetmix). The amzing thing about this option is just how much room we've got to play with. We can even widen the sidewalks, which would certainly be a great option for the businesses along that stretch:

Just look at all that added space! And I bet without cars getting into and out of parking spots all traffic will move faster. This is the sanest option if people will just get past their prejudices.

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.

The Financial Case for Bicycle Parking at City Hall

Doug Ford calls the proposed bike parking station in the City Hall parking lot "gravy". That makes him precisely wrong. Bicycle infrastructure offers the cheapest solution to two very difficult problems that threaten Toronto's future prosperity: the increasing cost of health care, and transportation gridlock in the GTA.

Public works chair pushing Complete Streets policy, integrating walking, cycling, trees, urban design

A mockup of Danforth

Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong has gotten the ball rolling on an official Complete Streets policy for Toronto, by recommending that a policy be developed that integrates a variety of by-laws and strategies such as the Walking Strategy, Bike Plan, Urban Design Guidelines, Toronto Street Trees Guide and current best practices for urban street design guidelines. The recommendation will go to the public works committee next week, then staff will report back with their guidelines. If the report from staff is accepted by City Council we'll see a more coherent policy for livable streets for all road users, and one step closer to more comprehensive improvements. Image of redesigned Danforth from TCAT.

"Complete streets" is a relatively new term that quite simply describes streets that have been designed with all users in mind; the motorists, street car and bus riders, cyclists, pedestrians and those with disabilities. A complete street is therefore, one where a variety of policies, bylaws and infrastructure have come together to make the public right-of-way fully multi-modal wherever possible. While it may not be possible to accommodate every type of user on every street, the goal should be to build a city where every user group has a well-functioning network so that people can travel easily and safely.

It's interesting and exciting to see this come forward. There are a bunch of actors behind the scenes working on a Complete Streets policy for Toronto, including the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, the new Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmaat, and the new Transportation Services Manager Stephen Buckley. But advocates and bureaucrats need political champions as well and this is where the chair of the public works committee comes in.

As we're all well aware, this is the same Minnan-Wong who pushed the removal of bike lanes on Jarvis. The Jarvis bike lanes removal was a calculated move and so is this complete streets policy proposal. This will surely help him to regain a bit of downtown political capital. Jarvis may have pleased some of the Rosedale driving crowd but it generated a lot of negative press for Minnan-Wong. There are people who are more interested in punishing someone for past misdeeds, but it may be more interesting and useful to see where this goes. Besides, unless Minnan-Wong runs for mayor, it would be hard to punish him. He is pretty safe in his North York ward. Positions on promoting active transportation don't always break according to party line. While Minnan-Wong was rightfully pilloried over Jarvis, when he does something right to move the ball forward on safer, more livable streets he should be congratulated.

I can't help but wonder what a Complete Streets policy would recommend for Jarvis?

Ottawa study concludes one-way streets only way to accommodate cycle tracks for its downtown

A recent discussion paper (pdf) commissioned by the City of Ottawa for their Downtown Moves Project, produced by engineering firm Delcan, may provide clues of what the Richmond/Adelaide Environmental Assessment may discover about one-way to two-way street conversions. Surprisingly, despite a number of North American mid-sized cities converting their one-way streets to two-way (New York City is the big exception), there is a lack of quantitative evidence demonstrating the effects of the conversion from one-way to two-way operation. In fact, there are strong contra-factual examples where one-way streets have vibrant street life and businesses. Montreal and New York City are two important examples.

Given this lack of evidence and that Ottawa will want to maintain adequate sidewalk width and have dedicated bike lanes on some of these streets with an 18m wide right-of-way, the discussion paper concluded that it work much better to keep the streets as one-way.

The lesson for Toronto, and in particular for Richmond and Adelaide is that if the streets get converted to two-way it will be very difficult to get any sort of bike lanes. Richmond and Adelaide, like most downtown streets are categorized as having 20m rights of way, though the actual width fluctuates.

Highlights of the report

Capacity of one-way streets is higher than two-way:

...one way street can accommodate relatively high traffic volumes with only two (2) travel lanes, given that turning movements can happen from one lane or the other. By comparison, a two-way street will need a wider, three (3) lane cross-section to accommodate a turning lane.

The capacity of one‐way streets can be approximately 10% to 20% greater than that of two‐way streets. Increased capacity can translate into fewer lanes and fewer through streets within a one‐way grid system, or alternatively, the option to reprogram any surplus capacity/space for other purposes (i.e., dedicated parking lanes, bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks).

Though many cities have made the conversion, some notable cities haven't and the streetscape hasn't suffered:

...there are many examples of successful commercial and pedestrian environments within existing one-way street corridors, including in New York City and Montreal. These successes demonstrate that there are likely elements at play other than direction of traffic flow that characterize a successful street such as the width of the roadway, number of travel lanes, width of sidewalks, presence of on-street parking, cycling facilities, access to public transit, the quality of built form and streetscaping along the street, and market conditions.

New York City, NY features a road network that is almost exclusively one-way streets, and it is considered an extremely vibrant pedestrian environment (and New York City achieves the highest transit share in the US).

Also in Montreal, QC, Rue Sainte Catherine and Boulevard de Maisonneuve and others are one-way streets, and are considered very successful commercial streets within the downtown core of the City. In both of these cases, the width of the road, width of sidewalks, presence of on-street parking, access to public transit and most importantly, built form of the buildings on the street, each impact street life far greater than one-way traffic.

The corresponding conclusion is that, on downtown Ottawa 18m wide streets where a dedicated cycling facility is to be provided and sidewalks are to be of appropriate width, this can most readily be accomplished in a one-way vehicular arrangement.

The push for conversion to two-way is coming from an ambition of creating more livable streets downtown. It's an admirable ambition that is shared by the vast majority of people who bike. But it's not clear that two-way conversion is necessary, nor even a sufficient condition for turning Richmond and Adelaide into livable streets (or destinations in the parlance of Vaughan and company). NYC and Montreal are doing just fine with one-way streets. Toronto has plenty of two-way streets that are unfriendly, not just to cyclists, but to pedestrians as well. Dufferin, Jane, Bathurst, Kingston Road and so on.

One way streets as "destinations", just look at Manhattan

Councillor Vaughan has expressed his concern that the entertainment district (which includes Richmond and Adelaide) should be more than "thoroughfares" and need to be "destinations" as well. Though Vaughan doesn't mention it in this article, he has been championing the conversion of Richmond and Adelaide to two-way streets as the means by which to create a "destination". The two-way streets conversion may preclude the installation of separated bike lanes, and conversely, separated bike lanes would make a conversion to two way much harder.

This urge for two way streets doesn't hold much water. We only need to look at Manhattan where one way streets reign. The streetview photo above is of Broadway where the car lanes have been reduced to provide a meridian for safer walking and a separated bike lane as a safe, comfortable space for people to bike.

Two way street conversion is a popular idea amongst some progress urbanist types. Former mayor David Miller recently repeated the same refrain to a cycling advocate friend (they bumped into each other on the street and started discussing bike lanes). Miller, like Vaughan, presented the same notion that Richmond and Adelaide need to be converted to two way streets create destinations and that the bike lanes would prevent that from happening. This notion is not the consensus. Matt Blackett of Spacing recently spoke eloquently on CBC Radio in defence of the importance of separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide.

Manhattan is full of one way streets and has the liveliest street life of any city in North America. New York City has been working on calming its busy network of one way streets for the last few years, including adding plazas, meridians, and separated bike lanes. As far as I know, they haven't converted any of the one way streets, bucking the conventional wisdom of two-way conversions.

Converting a street to two way is not a guarantee of creating destinations, if that were true then Bathurst and Dufferin would be great streets to hang out on. Nor do one way streets in themselves automatically result in dead street life. If that were true, then neighbourhoods across the city would be outraged with their one way residential streets.

There are plenty of ways to add life to a street; to make it more comfortable to walk or bike on. Instead of sticking to a tired trope, let's look at the whole range of options.

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