safety

Serious flaws in Copenhagen study that claims to show bike lanes are unsafe

We build bike lanes to make us safer and more comfortable while riding our bikes. Cities all over the world are building painted bike lanes and separated bike lanes. Knowing whether bike lanes are actually safer is important, to say the least. The science of the safety of bike lanes, however, is a bit behind.

The science doesn't have to be perfect in order for us to take some action, but it needs to be helpful. We need to understand how research was done and how the researcher came to their conclusions. When it comes to a Danish study by Danish researcher S. U. Jensen titled "Bicycle Tracks and Lanes: a Before-After Study" we probably should not trust its conclusions that bike lanes and separated bike lanes are unsafe. Or so argues Dr. Kay Teschke, with whom I corresponded by email last winter. (Photo of woman and girl cycling on Copenhagen street by Ian)

I'm looking at this study in particular because there are competing claims to what it actually proves. There are those who have argued that Jensen's study is proof that separated bike lanes (more commonly known as cycle tracks in Europe) are dangerous. But there are also those who have argued that when read properly the study actually shows that separated bike lanes are safe (see postscript below).

I decided to get to the bottom of this and contacted Dr. Kay Teschke of the University of British Columbia to find what an expert in epidemiological research--who also conducted a large research study on cycling safety--has to say about this study. I'm reaching out to Jensen as well and will post his response if I get one.

Jensen, in his Copenhagen study, came to the controversial conclusion that cycling on cycle tracks* is less safe than cycling on streets without any cycling infrastructure. Jensen concluded:

The safety effects of bicycle tracks in urban areas are an increase of about 10 percent in both crashes and injuries. The safety effects of bicycle lanes in urban areas are an increase of 5 percent in crashes and 15 percent in injuries. Bicyclists’ safety has worsened on roads, where bicycle facilities have been implemented.

Safety is worse with bike lanes? Jensen's conclusions are counter-intuitive and don't fit well with the results of a number of other studies, as was shown in a recent meta study of scientific studies of cycling and injuries. (Doing meta-analysis is common in epidemiology, where researchers compare different studies and look for patterns.) Given that Jensen's study comes to this irregular conclusion it would be easier to trust if we had a clear idea of how he arrived there. That, however, is one of the main problems with Jensen's paper: a lack of transparency.

Black box

The main issue with Jensen's study is that it's a black box; an algorithm that he never reveals. Jensen shows us the initial numbers that he measured, then puts them into his black box and out the other end comes the inverse.

Says Dr. Teschke:

Jensen did a very elaborate analysis with lots of adjustments. It is good to take into account factors that might bias unadjusted results, but usually the first analysis is the simple unadjusted one. Jensen does not present the unadjusted results, so I calculated them based on the data presented in his paper. On page 4, he indicates that the before and after periods studied were equally long. In Table 3 on page 9, he presents the observed before and after data on crashes and injuries. He also presents expected after data, based on all the adjustments. But let’s first look at the observed, before and after. In every row, except two (Crashes Property damage only and Intersections All crashes) the observed injuries or crashes after are lower than the observed before. On page 12, he indicates that there was a 20% increase in bicycle and moped traffic in the after period. So a calculation of crude relative risks (RR) for after vs. before:

  • Bicyclists and moped riders, all injuries total:
    RR = (injuries after/traffic after)/(injuries before/traffic before) = (406/1.2)/(574/1) = 0.59
  • Bicyclists and moped riders, intersection injuries:
    RR = (injuries after/traffic after)/(injuries before/traffic before) = (285/1.2)/(353/1) = 0.67
  • Bicyclists and moped riders, on links injuries:
    RR = (injuries after/traffic after)/(injuries before/traffic before) = (121/1.2)/(221/1) = 0.46

All three of the unadjusted results in the after vs. before comparison for bicyclists and moped riders show a reduction in risk (RR=1 means the same risk after and before, RR < 1 means lower risk after, RR > 1 means higher risk after). It is very strange not to report these results in the paper. They mean that over the period studied, the risk for cyclists and moped riders went down in the period after installation of the cycle tracks.

The question that should be answered with the adjustments is whether this reduction in risk is because of the cycle tracks or whether it is just a time trend - perhaps risk also went down on routes without new cycle tracks. If the comparison streets used for the adjustments were really comparable and if all the adjustment assumptions are unflawed, then the answer to that question would be “the reduction in risk is not from the cycle tracks”. But to take the conclusion further than that and say, after all these adjustments, cycle tracks are less safe (i.e., completely reversing the crude results)? This requires a level of trust in the adjustments that is very hard to justify in my view - especially given the difficult-to-follow description of the methodology and the many assumptions involved.

So can we trust Jensen's numbers? I don't think we can. Dr. Teschke's preliminary calculation of risk based on Jensen's numbers came to a Relative Risk of 0.59 compared to a higher risk of 1 for a street without bicycle facilities. In other words, Jensen's raw numbers support the conclusion that bicycle facilities reduce risk of injury. But it would be quite odd, Dr. Teschke explains, that the final, adjusted result would show the opposite of this. Yet when the final result comes out of Jensen's black box they are just that.

Science needs to be transparent and reproducible and this study falls short of that standard.

No one study can be the final word one way or the other. In the much more studied world of health and medicine, epidemiologists are looking for consensus among studies before coming to conclusions. The Copenhagen study has too many problems to serve as the final word on bike lane safety for policy makers.

Postscript

I wasn't the first blogger to question this study, I had also asked Dr. Teschke other questions about this study and how it related to what another statistician, Dr. Lon Roberts, had said about the study.

Another blogger from Texas, Jason Roberts, was also interested in understanding this controversial study better and had asked Dr. Lon Roberts for his opinion on the study. Jason linked to a simplified version of Jensen's study (called “Road safety and perceived risk of cycle facilities in Copenhagen”) that had even less information about Jensen's methodology and thus may have mislead Dr. Roberts. At least, that's my theory.

Dr. Roberts told Jason that "the Copenhagen study shows that the "likelihood an individual bicyclist will experience an accident goes down as the number of bicycle riders go up".

Furthermore Roberts says:

Using Soren’s percentages, here’s an example starting with the assumption that 10 bicyclists out of 10,000 will experience an accident over a certain period of time if there are no bike tracks:

On an individual basis, there’s a 10 out of 10,000 (or 0.1%) chance that an individual biker will experience an accident if there are no bike tracks
When the bike tracks were added, the accident rate increased by 9%. In other words, if there are 10 accidents without the tracks, the number of accidents increases 10.9 (or approximately 11). On the other hand, the number of bike riders increased by 18%, from 10,000 to 11,800. Therefore, on an individual basis the likelihood of an accident with the tracks added is now 11 out of 11,800, or 0.09%, as opposed to 0.1% without the lanes/tracks.

So Dr. Roberts is basically saying that Jensen had accounted for bicycle traffic volume when reporting the numbers (greater numbers of cyclists will always have some effect on increasing crashes/accidents). But Dr. Teschke seemed to be saying that Jensen had accounted for bike traffic. So I asked for more explanation.

I asked:

In your discussion paper you listed RR = 1.10 versus Jensen's estimates of expected injury rates. Does this mean that Jensen had taken into account bicycle traffic volume when he provides an estimate of injuries +10% (Table 3)? I'm assuming you added .10 to 1?

And if Jensen has already accounted for bicycle traffic in his estimate I'm confused about Roberts' calculation. Is Roberts' accounting for the denominator a second time?

Dr. Teschke responded:

Jensen’s formulas indicate that he did take bicycle and moped traffic into account - in more than one direction. He also took motor vehicle traffic into account. The reasoning for the latter is not clear to me. Perhaps he is saying that if MV traffic volumes went down after cycle tracks were installed, you would expect fewer crashes. But if lower MV traffic is one of the pathways to lower bike and moped crashes on cycle track routes, that is a good thing, not something to be adjusted out of the analysis.

You are right, I added .10 to 1.

Robert’s calculation is not very clear to me. It does seem to assume that Jensen did not take bicycle and moped traffic into account. The formulas in Jensen’s paper suggest he did.

But it is easy to be confused about what Jensen did. It is not clear what alpha and beta are, or how he chose the values for those parameters. He mentions “Danish crash prediction models” but does not provide a citation. Although he laid out the formulas for the traffic adjustments, he did not do the same for either the trend or regression-to-the-mean adjustments. When an adjustment method reverses the unadjusted result, it is important that the method be clear and highly defensible.

I also asked Dr. Teschke why Jensen's study wasn't included in their literature review.

Herb:

  1. Why was this one missed from the lit review? Did it not meet the criteria?

Dr. Teschke:

You are right, we didn’t include the Jensen study in our literature review, because it did not meet our criterion of being published in the peer-reviewed literature. It was published in conference proceedings not a peer-reviewed journal. After the review was published, many people noted that we did not include this study and, when we gave the reason, they argued that the reviews of the Transportation Research Board are more rigorous than those of many conferences, so it should be considered truly peer-reviewed.

We have referenced the Jensen study in subsequent publications, for example in the Discussion of our injury study.

I hope this is useful for some of you interested in connecting the dots between bike lanes, protected bike lanes and safety. It's not easy to dive into the data, but luckily scientists are taking subject matter more seriously.

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!

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.

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.

Reluctantly thankful Toronto cyclist

It's easy to be negative. I've often had interactions with people who seem to have little to offer but criticism about the (lack of or poor quality) bike infrastructure in Toronto but also the City staff, politicians and even the volunteer activists. Heck, I'm often quite critical myself given the slow progress and occasional backwards steps. But it's healthy to focus on our blessings now and then. This is the day after all when Canadians are supposed to do count them up. So here goes. (Photo: Thank You letter from student to Mike Layton regarding Shaw Street)

I'm grateful that a lot of people have decided to use bicycles in Toronto for everyday transportation, particularly in downtown where some parts have up to 16% of people commuting to work by bicycle (according to Statscan's 2011 National Household Survey). According to recent counts by some Cycle Toronto volunteers, there are times of the day where cyclists make up about half (50%!) of all traffic on College Street during rush hour (see for yourself). Nearby streets such as Harbord and Queen have traffic mode shares that are above 40% and 30% respectively at rush hour.

Clearly there's a lot of latent demand for better cycling infrastructure.

I'm grateful that we finally might get a good east-west route through Toronto's core on Richmond and Adelaide. The environmental assessment is finishing by January and we'll hopefully get it approved and installed in 2014/15. Likewise, things are moving along on Harbord-Hoskin-Wellesley to provide a second safe cycling route through downtown. We'll finally be able to fill in the gap, have a showcase protected bike lane and provide a safe crossing at Queen's Park. And maybe we'll actually get the environmental assessment restarted for Bloor Street! (Word is that staff are suggesting it get rolled into the Dupont EA).

I'm grateful that even though it has been tough to convince enough politicians to support cycling (it's even been quite hard to get some so-called progressive councillors to override business fetish for curbside parking), we have a couple key bureaucrats who are quite supportive of cycling infrastructure. The General Manager of Transportation Services Stephen Buckley came from Philadelphia where he oversaw a number of new bike lanes. And Chief Planner Jennifer Keesmat understands the importance of safe, connected infrastructure and has fully supported protected bike lanes. She was key, for instance, in getting protected bike lanes on Eglinton for the LRT project.

We're even getting in some bike infrastructure right now. The contraflow bike lane is almost finished on Shaw Street. The bike trails on the Finch hydro corridor are being completed. Bike racks are being installed all along Queen Street between Gladstone and Manning as part of the City's pilot of intensifying available bike parking in key areas. And protected bike lanes on Wellesley will be built this year. It's more than nothing, it's something and it's useful.

(Photo by Tino of College Street bike parking that looks kinda like a car just to taunt those motorheads)

We've got bike tours of art in Art Spin and music fest in the Bicycle Music Festical. And we've even got a big Ai Wei-wei sculpture of bikes at City Hall. Lots of art and bike stuff going on.

The thing that makes me the most hopeful, however, is that cyclists are finally getting organized and becoming vocal. I'm grateful for all the people who put in lots of time to create a strong organization, Cycle Toronto (ne Toronto Cyclists Union). And I'm really grateful to my GF who spent years building the organization up, ensuring that it wasn't just a bunch of complaining cyclists but a savvy, strategic and well-organized group. Which brings me back to my original point. Cyclists who can also focus on the wins, big or small, are also healthier.

Cyclist seriously injured on Harbord: is a painted line still "good enough"?

A cyclist was seriously injured on Harbord near Euclid on the weekend. There weren't a lot of details on how it happened but from the photo we can see the cyclist hit the windshield. Currently Harbord has a painted bike lane next to parked cars along that stretch.

With events like this it gets a bit frustrating that we have some road warrior cyclists who claim that Harbord is "good enough" and that all plans for separated bike lanes for the street should be stopped immediately. Is Harbord good enough because it has some painted lines and bike symbols? I don't think anyone believes that a painted line is going to ensure someone's safety, especially if that painted line is right next to a parked car.

While there are plenty of other major streets that need separated bike lanes - my personal favourite is Queen Street - Harbord needs to be safer too. Peak hour bike traffic is already at about 40% so by making Harbord safer we're improving the lives of a lot of cyclists.

Separated bike lanes (bidirectional or unidirectional) are safer than painted bike lanes and definitely safer than just sharrows (see footnotes here). While we don't know for sure if it would have helped this guy, we do know separated bike lanes do make streets safer for cyclists.

Strange bedfellows and petitions galore!

anti-bike lane petition

In a funny twist, a handful of Harbord businesses have become bedfellows with a couple of activists, including one who previously fought for Harbord bike lanes, and are now trying to stop separated bidirectional bike lanes on Harbord. Meanwhile activist group Cycle Toronto has launched their own petition buttressing support for the lanes.

We the undersigned

On the anti petition side we've got a guy named Marko and a self-described "carmudgenly" cycling activist, Hamish Wilson. Their petition asks Councillors Layton and Vaughan to halt the plan for bidirectional separated bike lanes on Harbord, calling them "dangerous", citing Transport Canada (1). A reader sent me the photo above of the petition displayed prominently at Harbord Bakery and said they saw about 100 signatures (and there might be another hundred or so signatures captured elsewhere).

Meanwhile Cycle Toronto's petition in support of the separated bike lanes has over 220 signatures (here and in paper versions going around).

But even this isn't the only petition. In 2010, a petition for the separated bike lane network was sent to the public works committee and included the call to "complete and separate the Wellesley/Harbord bicycle lanes system and end the gaps in the system at Queens Park and on Harbord." It has about 150 signatures on it. A number of organizations and groups also sent letters of support at that time which if we counted all the people involved in those groups would add up to thousands of people (2).

Both councillors for Ward 19 and 20, Councillor Mike Layton and Councillor Adam Vaughan, have stated publicly that they support the separated bike lanes on Harbord. We'll see what these petitions mean for their continued support.

The centre of the battle

This is what it looks like near the Harbord Bakery currently: squeezing between moving and parked cars, and token sharrows. And where there are bike lanes they are typically treated by motorists as free parking.

I'm not alone in that estimation. People who signed the Cycle Toronto petition had similar comments. From Bradley:

I frequently bike on Harbord, and although it is a very good street for cycling, I don't believe Sharrows do anything to help cyclists, and separated lanes are the way to go to improve cycling in Toronto today and in the future. Bidirectional lanes are my preferred option for both safety and ease of movement, allowing easier passing and a mix of cyclists of different skill and comfort levels.

And from Jennifer:

I live in the West end and commute by bicycle daily along Harbord to the downtown core. Harbord/Hoskins is a well used biking route. While the current painted lines offer cyclists some amount of protection, the fact that cyclists must ride in between parked cars (which are often pulling out into traffic) and the busy roadway, and the busyness of the bike lanes, makes this route a perfect option for separated bidirectional lanes. I also use the Sherbourne Street bike route on occasion and the painted separated route makes cycling much more visible and predictable for cyclists, motorists and pedestrians.

These responses are typical of people who are not "hardcore" cyclists used to mixing it up with the elephant herd. Most people, studies have shown, prefer separation.

Running with the elephants by bikeyface.com

I don't think the anti group has clarified that they are fighting for a street that is already frustrating, unsafe and not even connected. Is that the kind of street they think most cyclists prefer? If so they're deluded.

Strange bedfellows

The businesses opposed to this plan seem to be led by the owners of the Harbord Bakery and Neil Wright, Chair of the Harbord BIA. They've been vocally opposed to bike lanes for decades. In the 1990s they fought off bike lanes in their domain and managed to do it again a few years ago.

I had thought that this opposition had softened when I attended a public meeting last fall organized by Councillor Vaughan, writing in my blog post that it was a mostly positive, albeit lukewarm, response from business. In fact, the owner of the Harbord Bakery even stood up to announce they have always been pro-bike, they had been one of first to install a bike rack! Alas, it was not to be. Instead a strange alliance formed to oppose the proposal.

Hamish Wilson was a key person in fighting for a complete Harbord bike lane in the 1990s. Wilson and a number of other activists worked doggedly for the bike lane. They measured out the street width to ensure that bike lanes could fit, talked to merchants, worked with City staff. But in the end City staff caved in to business concerns about losing some curbside parking and left two disjointed bike lanes to the east and west. And now the activist is fighting against bike lanes.

Why the opposition?

The BIA Chair and the Harbord Bakery seem to be dead set against bike lanes in any form, perhaps thinking that the bike lanes will hurt their businesses. But with New York City and elsewhere experiencing booming business revenues where bike lanes were built (revenues up 49% compared to 3% elsewhere), this has become more of an outdated notion. We now know that cyclists have more disposable income and shop more often).

It's easy to imagine why the Harbord businesses are opposed even though misguided, but I can't really understand the passion with which Marko and Hamish are fighting against this proposal. Perhaps it's fear of the unknown. In cities where bidirectional has been built I have found no such outcry.

Risky game

What the petition writers gloss over is that risk is always relative risk. We can't just label something "dangerous" and something else "safe". Is climbing a ladder "dangerous" or "safe"? It doesn't make sense to ask it that way. Instead we should be comparing the risk to something else. For instance, is climbing a ladder more or less risky than taking a shower? Likewise is a bidirectional separated bike lane riskier than riding next to the threat of car doors opening? To answer that question we need real data, not just opinion.

The UBC Cycling in Cities studies, for instance, are helpful in that they have shown that separated bike lanes are significantly safer than bike lanes next to parked cars. And Dr. Lusk's studies of separated bike lanes in Montreal showed that not only is cycling on bidirectional separated bike lanes more popular, they are** safer** than streets without any bicycle provisions (3). And this is despite the fact that Montreal's bike lanes lack many of the measures now used to make them even safer: green markings through intersections, set back car parking and so on.

The petition writers are just bullshitting if they claim they know a bidirectional bike lane is more dangerous than what we have currently on Harbord. They don't have the evidence to make such a claim. Transport Canada references a Danish study but no link to the study. We don't know the context, when it is relevant, how to compare it to other dangers, or how various cities have made modifications to make them better.

Furthermore, their claim of "danger lanes" begs the question, if they're so dangerous why do numerous cities still have bidirectional bike lanes and continue to build them? Montreal, New York, Vancouver, Rotterdam, Amsterdam and other cities all have bidirectional with no evidence of cyclists dropping like flies so far as I tell.

Bidirectional versus unidirectional - either is fine so long as we get them

Funnily, the anti petition could perhaps hurt the anti cause. The petition says they are "in favour of keeping Harbord's current unidirectional bike lane setup".

The bidirectional bike lanes remove fewer parking spots than a unidirectional bike lane. That's one main reason why City staff are proposing bidirectional: to save some parking. If some people are against the bidirectional, perhaps we should all push for unidirectional. If it means taking out all the parking between Bathurst and Spadina so be it. Isn't that a small price to pay for increased safety?

I wonder what would happen to the unholy alliance in that case?

The world has moved on

Meanwhile, we could have had this already (photo by Paul Krueger):

While we're still fighting old fights in Toronto the world has moved on. In the last few years we've seen North American cities move far beyond painted bike lanes by installing separated bike lanes all over their downtowns. New York, Montreal, Vancouver, Ottawa, Chicago and other cities are all building separated bike lanes. City officials have official guides. Studies show that separation is both safer and more popular. Dutch and Danish cities have had them for decades.

It seems to me that by teaming up with anti-bike lane businesses the petition writers are playing a dangerous game (or should I say risky?) that is going to make it harder to build bike lanes of any kind anywhere in this city whether it stops the bidirectional lanes or not.

Footnotes:
1. The petition claims "According to research conducted by Transport Canada, experts conclude that bidirectional bike lanes are more dangerous than unidirectional bike lanes." I didn't receive any additional information, though I believe it's this link, which includes a reference to a Danish report that recommended unidirectional over bidirectional separated bike lanes saying bidirectional could create more conflicts at intersections. What the reference does not say is if the Danish compared bidirectional to painted or even no bike lanes at all.
2. Letters of support from: Cycle Toronto, the York Quay Neighbourhood Association, The U of T Graduate Student’s Union, University of Toronto Faculty Association, the Toronto Island Community Association, the St Lawrence Neighbourhood Association, the ABC (Yorkville) Residents Association, the Palmerston Residents Association, the Bay Cloverhill Residents Association, the Parkdale Resident Association, South Rosedale Residents Association, the Moore Park Residents Association, the Oak Street Housing Coop Inc., and Mountain Equipment Co-op.
*3. The study states: "our results suggest that two-way cycle tracks on one side of the road have either lower or similar injury rates compared with bicycling in the street without bicycle provisions. This lowered risk is also in spite of the less-than-ideal design of the Montreal cycle tracks, such as lacking parking setbacks at intersections, a recommended practice."

Have your say on Richmond and Adelaide today and on Harbord tomorrow

The first open house for Richmond and Adelaide cycle tracks is happening today (hurry!) at City Hall until 9pm and for Harbord (the Wellesley/Hoskin section was already approved) tomorrow at Kensington Gardens, Multi-Purpose Room 25 Brunswick Avenue from 4 to 8pm.

There's a booklet to explain all the details for Richmond and Adelaide. I first saw this informative document at the stakeholders meeting two weeks ago.

Speaking of which, the meeting was quite interesting. There were a lot of people there who were excited in some kind of separated bike lane. Even the head of the taxi union/federation had previously lived in the Netherlands and "got it" when it came to safe cycling infrastructure.

I was approached by Councillor Adam Vaughan afterwards. That's a whole blog post in itself. He was quite concerned that I had painted him in a negative light (as being indifferent, or at worst, against the separated bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide). So he wanted to set the record straight. I can't say I came away from the chat thinking that he'd drastically changed his mind, though he seems less likely to block the bike lanes in favour of his configuration. On Harbord, Councillor Vaughan was much more clear: he supports separated bike lanes there because it's got community support. Let's hope Vaughan can be convinced too that the prime concern of many is that there is a safe, protected bike route on Richmond, Adelaide, Peter and Simcoe. We want more bicycle highways.

Syndicate content