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.

Post-snowpocalypse: Sherbourne cycle tracks cleared long before bike lanes

Snow cleared on Sherbourne

Sherbourne cycle tracks got cleared. Most of the painted bike lanes in the city? Not so much. (Credit: photos from Jared Kolb, Cycle Toronto)

For all the naysayers who figured that building cycle tracks meant lanes blocked with snow, take a good look at both photos. Just because a lane is painted doesn't mean the City is going to take it seriously. In fact, the reverse seems to be true. The City made a commitment to clear the Sherbourne cycle tracks and it has. Meanwhile it wasn't until a few days later that the City started to clear the bike lanes. And perhaps they'd still be blocked if it weren't for some tweets to 311Toronto reporting the blockage.

A side benefit of the snow bank on Sherbourne is that it's provided enough of a barrier to keep cars from parking in it, at least for the time being. I think we've learned that the cycle tracks need more substantial barriers like this to keep cars out.

Sherbourne cycle track is getting plowed: another step closer to normalizing winter cycling

The Sherbourne cycle track is being plowed! In one sense this is banal and hardly anything to get excited over. But since cyclists are routinely ignored when it comes to city services, this could be viewed as an important step in terms of normalizing cycling infrastructure. Where Toronto's road services staff previously largely ignored bike lanes and paths, they now have specific equipment and directives to clear the Sherbourne cycle track. Because the City had started clearing the Martin Goodman Trail (started under Mayor Miller) and purchased plows that could fit the width of a trail, it meant that it became that much easier to start plowing the Sherbourne cycle track.

@larrylarry tweeted this photo of the freshly plowed Sherbourne cycle track, the day of the Christmas storm. Some people have pointed out problems. While these are valid issues with using the lane, I'm more interested in how the gears at City Hall are slowly shifting. And where we can best put pressure for further change.

It is rare to find a bike lane that is being properly plowed. Almost all of them suffer from either not being plowed at all, or where parked cars entering and leaving will push it full of snow again, making them largely unusable. Sherbourne cycle track suffers from some of that and a new problem of pedestrians using it instead of the unplowed sidewalk. But these are not problems inherent to a cycle track.

Sherbourne is a mixed bag - not everything is working well, particularly the issue of cars parking in the cycle track - but this isn't the end of the story. The City will tweak it and cycling advocates will push for improvements both on Sherbourne and for future cycle track plans. The major improvement is that the City is setting higher standards for cycling infrastructure and this will have bigger benefits down the road.

Cyclists still have to shovel it themselves if they want it done right

The before photo at Manning and Harbord by Tino. Note how the car lanes are quite clear.

After the cyclists have gone in and shoveled it themselves.

Local thorn-in-officials'-side Hamish wrote the city back in January to let them know their poor plowing was leaving cyclists in danger. Rob Burlie, Manager of Road Operations wrote back:

Hamish: we have had salting, ploughing and snow removal crews engaged continuously in the unforseen 14cm snow event since 11:30pm on Friday, January 7th with the snow ending at 11am on Saturday, January 8th. Our level of service for bike lanes is to maintain a 1 metre clear width within 24 to 48 hours after the completion of the snow event. Crews have been actively engaged in bike lane clearing to meet this level of service since 4pm on Saturday, January 8th and we will be finished at the end of this evening's rush hour as parked cars are hampering operations. With the amounts of snow that have fallen back to back, staff are now engaged in priority snow removal with an emphasis on bike lanes on bridges and adjacent to the lane hatchings ie. Dundas east where the snow is being continually dragged out by parked cars and hope to be complete by end of day Wednesday. I have forwarded your list of observed deficiencies to my staff to review and take any necessary action. Thank you.

I wonder if their car lane of level of service is as delayed? I doubt it.

Hamish's response:

Hi Rob -

Winning war on cars one plow at a time

(Photo: Tino. Whoops, that's not the right photo)

So bikes won The War On Cars! Isn't that great news?!

That's the update I got from jemadams, Twitter user, who says, and I quote:

Cars have officially lost to bikes. First snowfall and city of Toronto is plowing the Millwood bike lane ... in to the driving lane.

I'm too lazy and cozy to go bother look and confirm if the bike lanes are being plowed first all over the city, or even on Millwood. So if anyone can confirm this, then this may represent a small victory. I won't hold my breath since this jemadams may have just seen the first plow when a second plow may have come along to push it all back into the bike lane and sidewalk. Those in the know inform me that Toronto doesn't remove snow, but pushes it around in the hopes that it will melt before filling in the entire street.

So send us your photos of clear bike lanes! Before the snow melts!

Thanks for freeing the Martin Goodman Trail

As you may already know, the City has been plowing the Martin Goodman Trail this winter. A few weeks ago I took my bike down and discovered a peaceful east-west winter bike route where I didn't have to worry about sliding into a streetcar track or get run over. Bliss. This video and G&M article by Christopher Shulgan explains how the City got to plowing it and gets feedback from runners and cyclists. It's "revolutionized" the lives of runners and cyclists alike, according to Shulgan.


How did this happen? City hall has grown accustomed to hearing the suggestion that it clear snow from various paths around the city. The previous time that municipal government examined clearing snow from the trail, in 2004, the proposal was rejected because the city said it didn't have the money.

Then came last winter's near-record snowfalls. The city began a wide-ranging review of its snow-clearing practices. And an increasingly effective cycling lobby began pushing, via the Toronto Cycling Committee, for a snow-free Martin Goodman Trail.

For example, Tammy Thorne, a bulldog on the cycling committee and the editor of the cycling-lifestyle magazine Dandyhorse, buttonholed Mayor David Miller at last summer's Jane Jacobs Awards and gave her own pitch for clearing snow from the lakeshore trail. "He appeared in favour of it," she said.

Scraped-clean bike lanes on Bloor Viaduct

Brian Betsworth, amateur photographer and journalist but professional bike safety teacher, recounted for us the thrill of having a bike lane that isn't heaped with blocks of snow and black ice:

I was thrilled to encounter a scraped-clean bike lane on the Bloor Viaduct last -17 no less!

it seems a Bobcat came along and shovelled the ice and sludge from the Bike lane onto the sidewalk without impeding pedestrian traffic!

And if you haven't gone on to the Waterfront Trail, you really should. Best winter bike riding out there - clear trail and no traffic. Narry a pedestrian other than the occasional crazy jogger.

For the most part, however, it's par for the course as evidenced by this forum topic.

City to look at clearing snow from cycling paths

Snowy Bike Lane - College and Spadina looking east
Good news for next winter. The city is looking at clearing bike lanes and paths next winter. More cyclists have been asking for it, and more cyclists are simply riding through the winter on our streets. With the media coverage cyclists got last winter, I think that the city has started to notice, and is willing to try to do more for cyclists for next winter.

From City to look at clearing snow from cycling paths (Inside Toronto, May 13)


blockquote>BY DAVID NICKLE
May 13, 2008 03:12 PM

Snowplows could be hitting the trails next winter to keep paths clear for cyclists year round, after Toronto's parks and environment committee voted to explore the possibility of extending snow clearing to the parks system itself.

The committee voted Tuesday, May 13 to ask city staff to report on the feasibility of clearing snow from bike trails in city parks at the same time as snow is cleared from streets and sidewalks.

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