cycling infrastructure

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.

On Chiarelli's 2012 Ontario Bike Strategy

On Friday November 30th, Bob Chiarelli, The Minster of Transportation, released a Cycling Strategy. You’d be well excused for not hearing about it because other news has rightfully captured the headlines. As an announcement, this strategy document was only newsworthy for being drivel.

If someone were to ask me how I would describe Ontario’s new Cycling Strategy in a word I would have to choose one of these: “vague,” “wishy-washy,” or “same-old, same-old” depending on who asked.

We are all free to share what we think of this Strategy directly with the Ministry. I encourage you to do so.

For a Strategy that is to cover a province as large and as diverse as Ontario, or even an activity as diverse as cycling, this document is really slim. Once the introductions, the cover page, the table of contents, the glossary, and the appendixes are removed, the actual strategy is a mere four pages. That does not provide any space for detail, so absolutely none are given.

For me, just the fact that this criticism to the proposed strategy is longer than the strategy itself is proof enough that this strategy is nowhere near comprehensive or detailed enough.

The introduction does mention some of the benefits of cycling, such as better health, reducing emissions, reducing urban traffic congestion, and providing economic development opportunities. But not once does this plan mention any targets for Ontario in reaching towards these benefits.

What the introduction also outlines is how little Ontario has been doing for, and how slowly and diluted it’s been dishing out any benefits to, those of us who ride bikes in Ontario. The rest of the strategy is not so much “new” as more of the same. Without clear goals, without areas of priority, without clear funding commitments, this plan is just more of the same-old, same-old.

Let’s step back for a moment, and, — even before we decide that we need a bike plan or strategy — let’s get a vision of what we’d like for a future Ontario to look like. Only then we can better understand how cycling fits in to that future. Only then we can create a plan and a set of strategies that will get us there. And, then we can have a plan that outlines the path that will get us to achieve this vision. However, there is no vision driving this plan, nor does the plan itself provide one. Nor can one even get a vision of what the province will be like from reading this document, nor what will change in the lives of those of who ride our bicycles anywhere in the province. That is because a plan which is this slim simply cannot provide any of this.

One thing that the plan does mention is the desire to fund cycling projects which will “connect communities,” but only those cycling projects which would fulfill these criteria:

  • Could form part of a province wide cycling network.
  • Have no viable alternate route.
  • Would connect with other existing or planned cycling routes.
  • Are consistent with local tourism goals.
  • Connect population centres and/or places of interest.
  • Allow access to services and accommodation.
  • Have demonstrated demand for cycling.
  • Are or can reasonably be made safe.
  • Have strong local support.
  • Are cost effective.

Really? This list reads to me more like a list of excuses to EXCLUDE funding for projects, rather than as reasons to fund cycling projects.

  • What is that “province wide cycling network” which is being referred to in the list? Earlier, the plan states that “The Ministry will identify a province-wide cycling route network to connect cycling destinations to create recreational and tourism opportunities.” However, the plan does not identify that route.
  • What would make an alternative route “viable”? No details are to be found in the plan.
  • What would make a place or population centre worthy of “interest”? This plan does not does provide such detail.
  • What is meant by “demonstrated demand for cycling,” and how would that criteria apply on routes that have been difficult or impossible by bike before? No details.
  • What does “reasonably safe” look and feel like? No detail.
  • What constitutes “strong local support”? No detail.
  • What are the measures being used for deciding if a project is “cost effective”? No detail.

The plan goes on to state that the Ministry will support municipalities in the development of local cycling networks. However, it already does this, even if not with that direct intent. Traffic engineers, the people directly responsible for the design and the implementation of our cycling infrastructure, already create and update designs of cycling infrastructure and their associated signage. This is done nationally, and becomes a national standard that traffic engineers use. Provinces then “cherry pick” which of these it wishes to include as part of its provincial standard. Ontario has always been included in this process, and Ontario’s Municipalities have always been a part of adding to, as well as choosing, these standards. Traditionally, the Ministry of Transportation has only ever blocked the inclusion of integrated cycling infrastructure, so perhaps the big change here is not so much the leadership role that the province isn't taking, but the fact that it will “get out of the way” and stop blocking cycling projects. That’s really the big change here.

Both Education and Legislation becomes the next key item in this plan. That it should have been two items is a fact we’ll overlook for right now.

Canada has a national standard for educating cyclists with on-road cycling skills; it’s called CAN-BIKE, and it is a program which is 27 years old. Being a national standard means that it is recognized by both our Federal Government as well as by industry. Toronto created, and has previously handed off to the Ministry of Transportation, a CAN-BIKE component for inclusion with driver education. But there’s no mention of that. Instead we get the usual banter of on-going consultations with whomever, and that that the driver handbook has been getting better and will continue to get better. Uh-huh.

There is no mention of getting more people taking CAN-BIKE courses, nor of making any cycling programs available for those who ride, or would like to. Cyclists’ education will be taken care of by having a sheet of paper with the URL so that one can find the on-line copy of the “Cycling Skills” handbook; this slip of paper (with the URL) will be attached to every bicycle sold in Ontario. This idea was buried in the appendix. So instead of placing a full copy of the Cycling Skills booklet into a bag along with other useful information which would be attached to the bike being sold, one will get a URL with the bike. Really. You can read it for yourself; I don’t make this stuff up.

The key legislative changes proposed are the one-metre passing law, and, potentially, mandatory helmets — pending study, of course. But these are only mentioned as part of the review from Ontario’s Chief Coroner, again in the appendix. The strategy, proper, only promises vague on-going reviews of the current legislation.

The final page of the Strategy covers Co-ordination as well as Monitoring and Research. However, without clear goals or outcomes, one has to wonder what will be researched or monitored. And the section on co-ordination reads like the kind of incomprehensible jargon we usually try to avoid if we mean to be understood. However, the Co-ordination section does mention an “Active Transportation Working Group” but it fails to identify who is (or would be) working in such a group, nor what it’s aims are. It reads as if such a group already exists, but there’s no description of what this group has done so far, if anything.

My wife, whom I usually find quite reasonable, and who keeps me grounded, said that this plan sounded like something a high school student whipped together the night before in order to have something to hand in. I think my wife is being a little bit harsh.

To compare:
Toronto’s 2001 Bike Plan is 137 pages long, and is not short on detail. Toronto’s Bike Plan only two had clear goals: 1) to double ridership and 2) to build the proposed network by 2011. But it also did outline a large number of policies and ideas to help those of us who already ride bikes, and ideas and policies which would both enable and encourage more people to ride bikes.

In 2008, the group “Ontario Cycling Alliance” (OCA) released a 42 page Bike Plan for Ontario which was far more comprehensive than the Cycling Strategy released by Chiarelli. It articulated a vision of Cycling in Ontario as well as specific plans and programs to achieve this vision. OCA’s Bike Plan included also proposed routes to connect communities with Ontario, and it identified those whom it would encourage to ride, and what kinds of trips they would be making by bicycle. What OCA’s Bike Plan lacked was timelines and costs.

In 2010, Share The Road Coalition released a 49 page Green Paper describing what they would like to see by way of Cycling Policy. The ideas presented in it are, by far, better than what the Ministry of Transport is currently proposing.

The people of Ontario deserve a proper, and comprehensive, Bike Plan that covers the whole province , one which outlines the timelines, the costs, and the benefits of investing in cycling infrastructure and programs across the province. Ontario deserves a Bike Plan with clear aims and Goals, better identification of who would be cycling as well as where and when we'll be cycling. And the Bike Plan should identify the means of achieving these objectives. And it's not like our province doesn't have any other options; two groups in Ontario have worked on, and produced, full Bike Plans that Ontario could easily adopt as its own.

What we, in Ontario, don’t deserve is a slim document merely designed to answer a report from the Coroner being passed off as plan (or even a strategy) to fit all of cycling in all of Ontario.

Enforce this bike lane (please!)

Police car passing an illegally stopped car

I have another video; this one makes the point that we need better enforcement of bicycle lanes. Too often, drivers seem to think they can legally pull into a bike lane to load and unload, or to take (or make) a cell phone call. It doesn't help when police, as shown in this video, ignore infractions. They don't have to ticket every offender; just speak up and educate the drivers, or at least move them along.

Top eleven posts of 2011

Photo: Herb. Bells on Bloor 2011, popular as ever, even though City Council voted to stop the Environmental Assessment

Cycling and politics were a hot item in 2011, from the vote to remove Jarvis Bike Lanes, the vote to install protected bike lanes, the launch of Bixi, and the politicians who took cheap shots by trying to make cyclists into urban terrors. Here's a recap of 2011's top 11 blog posts, ranked by the number of comments. It's not the only way to rank blog posts, but the easiest to come by.

  1. Separated bike lane proposal and battle heating up
    Bixi bikes are on the streets and the fight continues to get separated bike lanes approved for downtown. Some lefty councillors oppose, some support.
  2. Few bike lanes: the cause of most sidewalk cycling
    A pedestrian dies after colliding with a cyclist in North York. There is a strong call to crack down on cyclists yet the pedestrian's family say he was an avid cyclist and understood how bad cycling infrastructure is in the burbs. And where are the critics when a pedestrian is killed by a motorist?
  3. Public Works committee votes to take out Jarvis bike lanes: total -8 km bike lanes this year
    The vote to take out the Jarvis bike lanes made international news. What big city in this era votes to take out bike lanes?

A reminder that women are not well served by transportation tools

In the wake of the death of Jenna Morrison because of a large truck on a dangerous stretch of Toronto road and the road rage incident where a male driver assaulted a woman with his car just because she was in front of him making a legal left turn, I'd like to reprint a op ed article by Heather McDonald responding to the decision by an all-male Public Works Committee to remove the Jarvis bike lanes, ignoring the voice of the vulnerable. Cycling infrastrucure, Heather points out, is a women's issue.

Every day on my way home from work, my last bit of the journey involves making a left hand turn onto my quiet street. I take a deep breath, check my shoulder, signal, and brace myself for my most loathed part of my trip. On several occasions, as I extended my arm and safely merged into the lane, I’ve been shouted at by a passing car driver. Twice I’ve been called the “C word”—just for turning the way they teach in a CanBike course. I come home near tears and lament to my partner how awful it feels to be treated so poorly just for using my bike for transportation. It’s downright insulting.

More insulting: we’re being shoved out from having a role in making the decisions that affect us.

Have we appeased the gods with the Jarvis sacrifice?

Why kill the Jarvis bike lanes and at the same time claim to be building a bikeway network?

Everyone with half a brain and who was honest enough to the traffic experts knows that Jarvis works with bike lanes. Car traffic volumes were the same before and after. Logically, putting back the fifth lane wouldn't change car traffic volumes either. With bottlenecks at the top and bottom of Jarvis, it doesn't matter how many lanes you install in between, only so many cars can squeeze through the pinch point during any period of time.

We also know that the number of vehicles entering downtown hasn't changed in the last 20 years - there is no traffic congestion problem downtown.

We also know that the original Jarvis Street Environmental Assessment always called for a reduction to four car lanes, whether it be for increased sidewalks or bike lanes. At the City Council meeting a number of councillors brought up the ghost of the EA as an argument for removing the bike lanes, yet they were all to willing to ignore it as Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong called for the re-installation of the fifth car lane.

We know that the city is in a budget crisis and yet a councillor's pet project would cost $200,000 that would have no significant positive impact for anyone. We also had a pretty good idea that most motorists who use Jarvis aren't even actually anti-bike lane, even on Jarvis. So why did the Jarvis bike lanes die?

The answer is Politics, claims Marcus Gee. And politics follows a different logic:

The Jarvis lanes were a red flag to motorists from the start. Jarvis is one of the few broad streets taking car commuters in and out of downtown. Removing the roadway’s reversing fifth lane to make room for bikes added minutes to that painful commute. Suburban councillors with car-commuting residents denounced the bike lanes. They were doomed from the moment Mayor Rob Ford took office on a pledge to end the “war on the car.”

Jarvis had to be sacrificed if the mayor and hostile councillors were ever going to back bike lanes elsewhere. It was an unspoken tradeoff: You can have your lost traffic lane on Jarvis back if we can take away space on other, less vital roads for bike lanes.

That will strike cycling zealots as the worst kind of appeasement. In their world, cycling is so virtuous and car commuting so ruinous that making any kind of concession amounts to surrender. They are vowing to fight on to save the Jarvis lanes during the 18-month reprieve they won for the lanes at Wednesday’s council meeting.

Cycling numbers appear fudged in John Street Report

[Update: It was brought to my attention that these cyclist and pedestrian counts took place in October. Why did the City use October numbers instead of dates more representative of good cycling and walking weather? The Bicycle Cordon Count the City did last year were specifically conducted in September because it is an optimal time to count cyclists. People are back from vacation and it is still good weather for cycling. October is getting late and is not representative of peak demand.]

[Update #2: I also noticed that this 2% is suspiciously similar to the average bike mode share for the entire City of Toronto, which includes the suburbs, and seems to be lower than the average bike mode share for downtown. In a census map of the bike mode share across Toronto, for the area that includes John Street north of Queen, the bike mode share is between 4% and 10% and south of Queen is between 1 and 4%.]

In this second post of three on John Street and its importance for the protected bike lane network proposed by Councillor Minnan-Wong and the Bike Union, I look at some number fudging (see first post). Dave Meslin points out some interesting fudging in the report presented for improving John Street streetscape. Is it a reflection of laziness or did someone attempt to make it seem like the cycling mode share on John Street is smaller than it actually is? Take a look at these two images. In the first is a diagram from the John Street Report, showing the percentage of mode share over the day:

In the report along the top they say "Walking trips currently make up about 60% of the total trips along John St. corridor on average and cycling and vehicular trips make up 2% and 40% respectively." That makes sense, but then the vertical graph the percentages of pedestrian and car trips fluctuate throughout the day whereas cycling stays at 2%. Why did they continue to use the average mode share for cycling but used more timely numbers for the other two?

Take a look at the following image of the actual bike counts at King and John. The numbers fluctuate greatly, but even if the bike counts were the same at midnight and at noon (very unlikely), it still wouldn't produce a 2% mode share at all times of day since pedestrian and car counts would fluctuate.

As Dave Meslin stated on Facebook:

These are the numbers presented by the "John Corridor Environmental Assessment Study". Why do these numbers show 2% for cyclists all day, when we know that cyclist numbers fluctuate and go as high as 120 per hour? If 100 cyclists represents only 2%, that would mean that there are 1,800 pedestrians per hour and over 3,000 cars? On John Street?

The second public meeting for the project will be taking place Thursday, June 16, 2011, 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Room 309, Metro Hall, 55 John Street. Please come out to comment on John Street and ask how proper planning can take place without proper numbers and reporting.

We commend Councillor Vaughan for this city beautification project. We just believe that there is room for cyclists in the project and can be accommodated so we can have a complete bikeway network.

Newbie cycling councillor demos protected bike network and his wobbly cycling skills

It's a bit endearing to see a councillor be willing to look silly to support a proposal for the media. Perhaps cycling is now enough of a wedge issue that even a councillor that thought the Jarvis bike lanes were a "war on the car" is willing to play his political cards in support of an ambitious bike proposal. Cyclist and journalist Catherine Porter went on a Bixi ride with Councillor Minnan-Wong to check out the proposed protected bike lane network. As they biked around, with Minnan-Wong very shaky on his Bixi, they explored the proposed network. Porter tried to plumb the reasons for this strange alignment of a right-wing politician and cycling infrastructure.

The newest champion for cyclists in Toronto only learned how to ride a bike two years ago, on the quiet, leafy streets of his Don Mills neighbourhood. He had never “ever, ever” cycled downtown until this week — which means he had never “ever, ever” pedalled the five major streets he hopes will soon include physically separated bike lanes.

“Yeah, I’m nervous,” he told me after pulling out a Bixi bike from the station across from City Hall, which, incidentally, was smashed by a careening sedan three days after it went up. “There are a lot of cars.”

It’s a weird time to be a cyclist in Toronto.

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