traffic

Protected intersections: guerilla street safety in Hamilton

Toronto would benefit from some Hamilton-style activism. Hamilton activists, frustrated with inaction from the bureaucracy, took it upon themselves last year by installing a bump-out/neckdown with just some cheap traffic cones and screws. Tactical urbanism, it's called: quick and effective urban interventions to make the city more livable and equitable.

Image: Raise the Hammer

Where before there was an intersection at which children felt unsafe when crossing to school, now they have a shorter distance to cross. Cars are forced to turn more slowly, which increases the chance of these children surviving if hit and gives the drivers more time to stop. The local crossing guard loved it. Win-win I would say.

But the result upset Hamilton's grinch, Public Works General Manager Gerry Davis, who circulated a memo calling the actions "illegal, potentially unsafe and adding to the City's costs of maintenance and repair." Right, if Mr. Davis really cared about safety before why has his city always prioritized car throughput over safety? Luckily other forces in the city among the councillors and staff thought this was a worthy effort and managed to make it an official pilot project. Hamilton has since made the bump outs more permanent and installed cross-walks on a number of similar intersections.

Image: Raise the Hammer

I think they could have gone further. It would be awesome if someone built protected Intersections for cyclists and pedestrians.

The bump-outs are islands at the corners which allow for more protection for cyclists when crossing the street while also putting cars further away from pedestrians at the corners. It's a long-shot to make it official policy here; the owner of the website above is trying to get the protected intersection recognized in the US. It'll not happen anytime soon here. But one can hope and perhaps some guerrilla protected intersections would encourage city officials to be braver.

Ask City today to properly protect cyclists on Harbord and Hoskin

Today is one of your last chances to tell city staff that their revised plan for Harbord and Hoskin falls short of providing good protection for cyclists. (Photo of Sam James coffee shop on Harbord by Tino)

Their latest plan will continue to put cyclists next to the door zone, allow cars to park in bike lanes at their convenience and continue to fall short of what City Council asked of them to build.

Today, Thursday, March 27, 2014 from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m you can drop in at Kensington Gardens, 45 Brunswick Ave. North Building, Multi-Purpose Room, to explain to them you want something better.

City Council asked for protected bike lanes (aka cycle tracks). Staff are now offering something that falls short. While their proposal helps fill in the gap in the Harbord bike lane, their proposal is basically a bike lane with a wider painted strip.

City would be letting down families and students who might only bike if they felt that they had separation from car traffic.

  • Cyclists will still ride right next to car traffic that speeds on a road that is forgiving for high speeds and not for new cyclists.
  • Car drivers will still park in the bike lane whenever they feel like it.
  • The bike lanes will get no special treatment regarding snow clearing, unlike Sherbourne.
  • Cars will park right next to the bike lane continuing to put cyclists in the door zone.

In short, cyclists will continue to be treated like peppercorns in the pepper grinder of car-centric traffic planning. It's like bike planners expect cyclists to act as traffic calming with our own bodies.

City staff were too timid to propose removing all the car parking along Harbord, which is why they had proposed the bidirectional in the first place. But now that they've done a questionable traffic study, they've backed away and can only fit in a unidirectional painted bike lane. Business as usual.

The fact is, staff do not really know if their proposed unidirectional plan is safer than the previous bidirectional plan. They just figured they'd choose the option that meant less traffic delays. They mention turning movement conflicts in the case of bidirectional, which they try to mitigate in the study, but they haven't been able to put it in the context of conflicts of regular bike lanes: dooring, collisions from behind, sideswipes from cars entering/exiting parking. We don't really know which is more dangerous. All we have to go on are the existing scientific studies that have suggested that bidirectional protected bike lanes work and are safe in places such as Montreal.

Staff have been unable to confirm with me that the model they used can accurately reflect reality. Has anyone who has used this model and then built some bike lanes gone back to measure the traffic speed to see if the model made a solid prediction?

And they haven't even been able to confirm if they know what the margin of error is. That is, if the traffic study states that in a scenario traffic will be slowed by 5%, the margin of error could be higher than 5% for all we know. This is something basic that we see in every poll ever done so we have an idea of the significance of the numbers. Meanwhile, with their traffic study, we have no idea of the significance of the numbers, nor do we know if it has a track record of accuracy. So why should we put any faith in at all unless staff can tell us this?

Finally, what's so bad about slowing down traffic? In one of the traffic study's scenarios cyclists got an advanced green to give them a head start over car traffic. That actually sounds really great! Why not implement that for all our key cycling routes?

This traffic study did not study all the options out there for improving the safety of cyclists at intersections. It only looked at the status quo intersections. For instance, it could have looked at protected intersections like they install in the Netherlands.

So this is what we could ask of staff:

  • Go with fully protected bike lanes, either the original bidirectional plan or unidirectional (which likely requires taking out all the parking but isn't that a small price to pay for safety?)
  • Install protected intersections
  • Install advanced greens for cyclists on major cycling routes: Harbord, Wellesley, St. George/Beverley, Richmond/Adelaide, College, Sherbourne.
  • Stop proposing milquetoast plans!

Why the ebiker hate?

Nobody seems to like ebikers: not cyclists nor motor vehicle drivers and especially not pedestrians. Why is it that ebikers get all this hate? Is there a good reason to hate them? (Photo: Toronto Star)

Certainly there are jerks who ride ebikes. But that is not unique to ebikes. There are jerks who use any kind of wheels. So I don't think this is backed up in fact.

I hear from cyclists who hate ebikers. The reasons they give boil down to hating that they come up quickly and silently. And often in the bike lane. These are valid concerns. But these concerns are all wrapped up into a description of the kind of people who use ebikes. This concern seems to be shared by drivers. I heard a rural driver describe what he saw as a typical ebiker: fat, lazy, unhealthy, low income people. And because the people in this category are entirely "unsexy" it becomes all the easier to hate the mode of transportation and the choice.

The stereotype is accurate (except for lazy). In a recent survey by the City of travel behaviour, we can see that ebikers tend to be older, less healthy and have lower income. A stats nut, inkhorn82, crunched the survey data and spit out some interesting facts. The conclusion: ebikers tend to be older, less healthy and lower income than the average Toronto traveller.

So now we have an interesting picture emerging, with two parallel descriptions of who is most likely to ride E-bikes:

1) 50 – 64 year olds in not the greatest of health
and
2) Non University educated folks with lower than $80,000 income.

I hope that we can separate our concerns about ebikes and the stereotype of the riders. Who rides the ebikes - except for identifying individual jerks - is entirely irrelevant to the discussion as far as I'm concerned. Ironically, this stereotype had until recently been assigned to the lowly bicycle (at least in North America). With bicycles having attained elitist, latte-drinking status it seems the mantle has moved to the ebike.

When I look at ebikes themselves, I find it hard to believe that ebikes are as dangerous as some cyclists make them out to be. Like a bicycle they can be driven fast or slow (though only to a max of 32 km/hr). There are heavier ebikes, but then there are also heavier bicycles. Cargo bikes and bakfietsen, increasingly seen carting around children and groceries, are also heavy.

But more importantly, the people who argue that ebikes are dangerous back up their assertions with absolutely nothing, and compare this danger to nothing.

This outrage over ebikes seems to be another case of ignoring the elephant in the room. Motor vehicles are far more dangerous - they kill many more people than ebikes, weigh a lot more, can go a lot faster - and cyclists are forced to ride amongst these rumbling beasts constantly as if it was the most normal thing to ride in a herd of stampeding elephants.

The next time someone talks about something being "dangerous", if they fail to mention "relative to ...", you can safely ignore them. Everything we do has a risk and it is absolutely a waste of our time to consider "danger" in isolation. This is simply fear mongering. Instead a risk needs to be considered in the context of other risks (and also considered should be perceived versus actual risk). And in this case the risk of an ebike to cyclists pales in comparison to the risk of a motor vehicle.

Compared to the danger of motor vehicles I really don't have much time for this ebiker hate. And find it a waste of time to use this as a basis for transportation policy.

Boosting cycling and walking key to solving transit woes

The following article is a reprint of an article by Albert Koehl, an environmental lawyer and cycling advocate. He was on the Ontario Chief Coroner's stakeholder panel for cycling safety.

By process of elimination, simple means of getting around like walking and cycling must be looking increasingly attractive to Ontario's provincial and municipal politicians as they struggle to fund new
transit to unclog roads.

The need for better transit is obvious. How to fund that transit: not so much. That's why it's a good time to invest in relatively quick and cheap measures to increase walking and cycling safety to get more people out of their cars and to provide clean and affordable ways to get to new transit once it's in place.

Cars

In step one of our existing car-dominated system an individual forks over big bucks to buy and operate a transport product (the car). Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency for the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area (GTHA), estimates that the average household spends over $9100 annually on car ownership.

In step two the individual, whether car owner or not, pays various taxes that ultimately fund highways and roads as well as associated costs like policing, health care, and environmental degradation.

In the final step, the individual gets into a car in order to travel just a bit faster, but often slower, than a bicycle.

Transit

The Metrolinx plan for rapid transit expansion in the GTHA calls on each household to contribute an average of $477 per year. It's a relatively small amount but still a hard sell, particularly to grumpy motorists already burdened by vehicle costs. It doesn't matter that only two of the proposed funding tools target motorists or that low-income earners, who benefit most from transit, would be compensated by a mobility tax credit.

Walking and cycling

Fortunately, walking and cycling improvements don't require multi-billion dollar investments. Equally important, once the Metrolinx plan is fully implemented over 70 per cent of GTHA residents will live within two kilometers of rapid transit service -- close enough to cycle or walk to a station.

Building our cities to accommodate cars has meant creating public roadways that usually aren't welcoming to cyclists or pedestrians, even for short trips. In Toronto more than half of all trips are actually less than seven km and therefore easily manageable by bike (or on foot for shorter distances). Simple investments like marked mid-street crossings (which could address some of the 31 per cent of mid-block pedestrian deaths recently identified by Ontario's Chief Coroner), more bike lanes, and slower speeds are a good and inexpensive start to improved safety.

Bike lanes are often attacked as being too expensive. The claim has a hollow ring for homeowners (like me) who cycle to get around --- and therefore put minimal demand on the road system --- but pay the same amount in property taxes as neighbours with two or three cars.

Painting a bike lane on a street isn't expensive. It's the complex studies, including environmental assessments (EA) that are expensive.

These EAs often have little to do bicycles and much to do with figuring out how to accommodate every potentially displaced motorist or parking spot.

Bike lanes actually present the opportunity to increase a road's traffic capacity. After the installation of bike lanes on Jarvis St. in downtown Toronto, traffic increased from 13,300 to almost 14,000 vehicles per day. The bike lanes were nonetheless removed and a car lane re-installed (at huge cost) because civic leaders cared little about the vehicles without exhaust pipes.

Getting more kids out of the back seats of cars and onto their feet on the way to school will cost little more than the price of putting the initiative in place. In a Metrolinx pilot project at 30 schools, kids were given the opportunity to walk to school as part of a supervised program. As a result, car drop-offs in the morning fell by 7 per cent and kilometres driven were cut by 100,000 in a single year. Lower speed limits in neighbourhoods around schools would give even more parents the confidence to send their kids to school on foot (and take advantage of the obvious and long term health benefits.)

The monetary savings created by walking and cycling might also create a greater willingness (and capacity) to contribute to transit projects.

While we resolve the bickering around transit funding there are great opportunities to make small but valuable investments in cycling and walking that will serve us well today ... and tomorrow when the new transit finally shows up.

American bicycle culture and infra from the perspective of a Dutchman

A Dutch "anthropological" look at American bicycle culture by Mark Wagenbuur of BicycleDutch. Much the same for Canada. Glimmers of change, but we're still so much in a car-fetishizing culture with space dominated by cars.

Cycling Gotham

Humber Woods Park

[I'd like to introduce a new blogger to I Bike TO, Ian Slater. Ian is a father, husband and professor at York University. And as a guy on a bike, he'll be providing us with an interesting perspective of the long-distance commuter. Welcome Ian! -- Herb]

I was driving my son home from class one night on a poorly lit side street in Toronto when a cyclist, with no helmet, no lights, no reflectors and in dark clothing flew off the sidewalk and cut me off. I saw him at the last second and braked. He then pulled over to the side up ahead, adjusting something on his belt. I drove by, rolled down my window and told him, “I can’t see you brother, you’re completely invisible in the dark, I almost hit you.”, to which he replied:

“I can see you”, and rode off into the night.

My son asked me, “what did he mean by that?”

I spent quite a bit of time trying to figure out the answer to that question. What did he mean by that? Surely this guy is smart enough to realize that he is hard to see in the dark without any sort of lights and wearing light non-reflective clothing. And no helmet too, what does this tell me? Well, maybe he’s overconfident, that would explain his comment. Or perhaps he thinks that you are just as likely to run him over if he’s visible as when he’s not, so why bother?

The longer I listen to the public dialogue around cars and bikes in Toronto the more I favour the latter explanation. I think many cyclists are both overconfident and convinced that motorists would just as soon run them over as pass them by. I have seen many, many verbal fights break out between cyclists and motorists as I commute. They are rarely pretty. It’s all “war on the bike” and “war on the car”, I want a better model, war is ugly and, to be frank, if we’re at war the bikes are going to lose.

The level of mutual animosity in all this finally pushed me to start blogging. I think it’s time to dive in to the public dialogue.

Toronto occupies a very interesting position, a large metropolitan center with an international population, a strained transit system and an increasing number of cyclists. Or so it seems from what I see on the roads. Toronto has been cited as having the worst commute times from a sample of international cities, 80 min a day (that includes to and from work).

The TTC is strained and expanding, the city is growing. Air quality is impacted by an increased number of cars, I breathe the difference every time I ride. I see the wistful look on motorist’s faces when I wheel by them in a traffic jam.
We are ripe for a cycling revolution, but the mutual animosity makes this difficult.

I’ll be posting here regularly, giving my thoughts on current issues around cycling in TO, and hopefully pointing out some useful information for those who are thinking of long distance urban cycle commuting. What works for the short hop rider doesn’t necessarily work for everyone.

I hope I can bring a fresh perspective on things, and possibly get a few people who have been thinking about cycling to give it a go. The weather right now is fantastic for riding, cool and sunny, and everything is in full bloom, giving almost every street in the city a roiling green canopy, there’s never been a better time to be on something moving at a speed that allows you to see what’s all around you. The fresh air on your face, the ability to pass bumper to bumper traffic.

You know you want it.

I have also been taking pictures of Toronto cycling routes for 5 years or so, all on my phone camera and while moving. I’ll post a pic here regularly too, maybe it will inspire you to try out a new trail, with all the focus on bike lanes, we forget that Toronto has a wealth of urban cycling trails.

The pic at the top is from Humber Woods Park in North West Toronto.

Cheers,

Ian

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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