Last year Councillor Jaye Robinson, Chair the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee said:

In 2014, 51 Torontonians were killed and many more were seriously injured in traffic crashes. As a city, we can and must do better, particularly for pedestrians and cyclists, our most vulnerable road users.

We’re going to build on what’s worked in other jurisdictions and the plan will focus on international best practices from comparable jurisdictions, such as Vision Zero.

Such a visionary. What a tough stance in support of human life. Today, however, Robinson voted against the proposed pilot project that would put bike lanes on Bloor Street for over 2 km and study the impact. With her Vision Zero proposal last year Robinson even suggested that expanding the bike network would be part of the approach. Except, when it comes down to making actual decisions and trade-offs, it appears as Robinson waffles. And yet again driver convenience wins out over human lives and safety.

Robinson's reason for voting against the bike lanes? She claimed:

@CycleToronto @stephenholyday To clarify, my intent was to bring the report fwd to Council for a more fulsome debate and to get more info.

It's almost like she's saying the whole point of PWIC is to just skip thinking about policy and just pass everything on to council. Why even have committees at all? Let the mayor take the heat for this!

If Robinson wants to be visionary she needs to stop passing the buck and take a stand herself.

American Landscape by Jan Anders Nelson
American Landscape by Jan Anders Nelson (Wikimedia Commons).

In one of his more recent screeds against cycling, Jim Kenzie, the Star's car reviewer, wrote this chilling sentence in a screed against bicycling: "We still kill more pedestrians and motorists on Toronto roads than we do cyclists."

We shouldn't kill anybody. I'll say that again: we shouldn't kill anyone. We should never accept death as a price for anything. Any violent death, any injury, in the course of any activity means that something went wrong and needs correction. When it comes to automotive technology, and the million odd deaths it causes world-wide, we need to do a lot of correcting. We need a safety culture.

The safety cultures I know best, marine and aviation, have four defining principles, summed up in four words: priority, transparency, authority, and accountability.

Start with priority, as in the safety of life has absolute priority. Nothing trumps the word unsafe. Not convenient, not fast, not efficient, not cost-effective. Having a deadline does not justify an unsafe act. Money does not justify a lack of safety.

In aviation and marine activities, that goes without saying. In a sane and decent road culture, it would go without saying as well. We do not need to pay road tolls in blood. Not only does trading a certain number of deaths for speed and convenience create a dire moral calculus: when we pay the price in lives, we don't get the convenience or the speed. If an aircraft cannot take of safely, it does not take off. That not only saves lives, it saves money and in the long run, it saves time as well. Yet somehow, a callous, or perhaps fatalistic attitude finds its way into our discussion of road safety.

We cannot make safety a meaningful priority without transparency, broadly defined. Transparency means first making transparent what has failed, then making that information widely available. It means not only the publication of information, but also the collection of that information. It means adequately investigating every loss of life incident, every personal injury accident. It means making public what happened, who died or suffered an injury, and who else the incident involved. Privacy should apply here only in very limited circumstances. What we do on the public roads we do in public, and by definition we cannot make claims of privacy for public actions. Nor should the authorities tasked with investigating incidents settle for an inadequate investigation to save money or to get the roads open quickly. In fact, to avoid compromising investigations in order to appease impatient drivers, the Highway Traffic Act should specify a minimum road closure for any accident that causes a death. Once the accident investigation team arrives, the clock starts; they have as much time as they need to gather evidence, but all the affected lanes and a buffer lane must remain closed for a minimum period.

Authority: in the marine and aviation safety cultures, the authority to do whatever it takes to ensure a safe flight or a safe voyage, rests with the person who has the most at stake and the greatest ability to assess any situation: the pilot in command of an aircraft or the commander of a vessel. In contrast, on our roads the state, primarily through the police, operates as a surrogate parent to drivers. This does not work. If drivers have no authority, neither law nor custom can really hold them accountable. Treating the nearest traffic police office as the actual commander in charge of each car simply relieves the person at the steering wheel and brake pedal of their responsibility. And whatever expertise traffic police officers bring to their work, they cannot possibly supervise all drivers. I propose simple addition to the highway traffic act: no peace officer shall issue, and the courts shall penalize no road user for failing to obey, any unsafe order.

That brings us to accountability. Pilots and mariners have the authority to operate safely, and both law and custom lays upon them an unconditional responsibility for doing so. To the excuse of ignorance, the safety culture replies: you had a responsibility to know. To the excuse of a mechanical failure, the safety culture replies that a pilot or captain has a responsibility to ensure the mechanical and structural integrity of the ship or aircraft in their care. Anyone who operates a two tonne steel bomb in public has an obligation to ensure the safety of their vehicle, to know or learn the relevant road conditions, and to conduct themselves in a safe manner. And a road crash truly arises from circumstances no reasonable preparation could have avoided, that usually changes the target of accountability. If the road design makes it impossible
for any driver to operate safely, then the road design needs to change. In the case of a mechanical failure, the vehicle manufacturer has an obligation to correct the problem.

If faults go uncorrected, then dangerous vehicles have no place on the road, and the government should not register them. When accident investigations implicate infrastructure, then authorities responsible for that infrastructure have a responsibility to do whatever makes that infrastructure safe, whether that means changing the infrastructure itself, changing the conditions for using it, or even closing it to traffic altogether.

But most crashes happen because someone made a mistake, often a culpable mistake. Here the infrastructure and economy we have built around the automobile makes accountability difficult to enforce. The economics of motoring led successive governments to reduce the requirements for a driving license to a level nearly anyone could meet, while the design of cities and suburbs made use of a car necessary for daily life. A permanent revocation of a driving license, as well as a long suspension, appears to many as an extended house arrest.

Here again, aviation provides a model: the penalty for most safety errors in aviation consists of more training. I propose a back-end graduation on licensing: for most relatively minor offences, such as careless driving or careless driving causing injury, the license of the driver at fault should reset to the lowest level, and the driver should then have the burden of going through the training process again.

For more severe culpability, particularly dangerous driving causing injury or death, the law should provide a restricted license. A restricted driver would have the right to drive directly to the closest available medical facility with a sick or injured family member. For all other trips, whether shopping, commuting to work, or otherwise, the holder of a restricted license would have to get specific permission, providing the route, time, reason, and the reason public transit would not suffice for the trip. Such a license would rule out pleasure driving; it would also come with the same restriction on alcohol as a graduated license: drivers would be required to have no alcohol in their systems while operating a vehicle, period. This may seem harsh, but it strikes a middle way between prohibition on driving and full restoration of driving privileges.

We do not have to treat death on the roads the way we treat our mortality, as inevitable. We can have a safety culture, and a properly implemented safety culture does have the potential to reduce if not eliminate the carnage we see on our roads today.

Richmond and Niagara needs a four way stop. This little intersection is currently on one end of our new major cycling route and an excellent alternative way to get downtown from Queen or King. It's also the point where Richmond does a jog and then continues west a little south of there. But there's no easy way to navigate that, and little Niagara has a lot of car traffic.

I went into this thinking, This is a no brainer. The City wants continuous cycling routes and people connect Richmond to Strachan and then to Adelaide and then through CAMH and on to Sudbury. This would mean that we would have a continuous cycling route all the way from Parliament to Gladstone! Turns out that it's been work to convince the City of this obvious choice and even then it can easily get shut down by blind processes that ignore any overarching ambitions of the City.

Connecting Richmond to the rest of Richmond
Richmond and Niagara are on the top right and on the bottom left you can see where Adelaide crosses Shaw and then you can go through CAMH. It's all marked as a cycling route but you're left to your own devices.

Top of mind should have been "How can we make this cycling route continuous, more inviting and get more people wanting to bike?" but instead I was passed off to Traffic Operations who figures that creating good cycling routes is none of their business. Instead they've got their procedure: look at traffic speeds, look at number of historical collissions and then make a ruling on that: thumbs up or thumbs down. Turns out Richmond and Niagara doesn't meet the test. It matters not one whit that it's a brand new cycling route nor that we should be making cycling easier.

On August 2014 I made the request with support from the Ward 19 Cycle Toronto group to Councillor Mike Layton's office for a four way stop at Richmond and Adelaide. Layton's office said they had actually already looked into it but they couldn't recall the outcome. So they requested Cycling staff to come back with a response. Lukasz Pawlowski, a planner in the Cycling Unit, passed the buck to Traffic Operations. When I asked Lukasz directly for his opinion, he said:

A four-way stop may not be feasible given the extent of the off set. We could look into putting up some signage on Niagara, to warn drivers to look for bikes.

I would have to take a look in the field to provide any more comments. Also, I would need to see if this intersection meets the warrant criteria for such an installation.

So there's the key phrase: warrrant criteria. Will this request meet the test that was created in complete ignorance of other concerns or goals? The warrant lets us completely ignore any City goals to reduce our car dependency and make cycling routes more attractive. We can look at every intersection as an isolated microcosm where we can just look up the stats and give our stamp of disapproval.

I waited for a more complete response. I waited 8 months, no response. I emailed Lukasz and no response. I emailed Layton's office and they told me that a request had been made to Transportation Services for a four way stop and they were waiting for a response the following week.

Eight months even later, I emailed Layton's office again and they emailed back quickly with the Traffic Operations response. Denied!

It is reported that there are safety issues at these intersections, resulting from the recent installation of the contra-flow bike lane on Richmond Street West, east of Niagara Street. Accordingly, reviews were undertaken for the installation of all-way "Stop" sign control at the intersection of Richmond Street West and Niagara Street, The following summarizes the results of our review.

Existing Conditions
Richmond Street West is a local roadway that operates one-way in the westbound direction between Niagara Street and Strachan Avenue. It generally has a width of 7.3 metres, between Niagara Street and Walnut Avenue, and 6.4 metres, between Walnut Avenue (north leg) and Strachan Avenue, with a regulatory speed limit of 50 km/h.

The west leg of Richmond Street West is uncontrolled with its intersection at Niagara Street. Niagara Street is a collector roadway that operates two-way in the northbound and southbound directions between Queen Street West and King Street West. It generally has a width of 8.5 metres north of, and 7.3 metres south of, Richmond Street West (west leg) and a posted speed limit is 40 km/h. There is no TTC service provided at this intersection. The land use in the vicinity of this intersection is generally residential.

Richmond Street West intersects the east side of Strachan Avenue in a "Stop" controlled, 'T'-type intersection. Strachan Avenue is a collector roadway that operates two-way in the northbound and southbound directions between Queen Street West and King Street West. It generally has a width of 8.5 metres and a posted speed limit is 40 km/h. There is no TTC service provided at this intersection. The land use in the vicinity of this intersection is generally residential.

Collision Review
Collision statistics provided by the Toronto Police Service for the three-year period ending October 31, 2013 disclosed that no collisions had occurred at the intersection of Richmond Street West and Niagara Street and one collision had occurred at the intersection of Richmond Street West and Strachan Avenue. This collision involved a westbound left turning motorist that struck a northbound cyclist. The westbound motorist proceeded from a stop before it was safe and struck the northbound cyclist. The cyclist sustained major injuries and the motorist was charged.

All-way "Stop" Sign Control

Richmond Street West and Niagara Street

The intersection of Richmond Street West and Niagara Street was evaluated against the warrants for the implementation of all-way "Stop" sign control adopted by City Council. The warrants governing the installation of "Stop" signs encompass such factors as right-of-way conflicts, vehicular and pedestrian usage of the intersection, physical and geometric configuration, surrounding traffic control and collision experience. Information obtained through a September 24, 2014 traffic count at the subject intersection coupled with the collision data was evaluated against the installation warrants for all-way "Stop" sign control. Based on our evaluation, this intersection does not meet the warrants for the installation of all-way "Stop" sign control.

Specifically, the warrant requires the following criteria be met (actual study results provided in brackets):

Warrant 'A' Collision History
There must be an average of two potentially preventable collisions per year, averaged over a three-year period (0.0 collisions/year - warrant not met)

Warrant 'B' Traffic Volume
1. a) The total vehicle volume on all approaches, averaged over the four peak hours, must exceed 375 (493 vehicles/hour - warrant met)
b) The combined vehicle and pedestrian volume on the side-street, averaged over the four peak hours, must exceed 150 (80 vehicles & pedestrians/hour - warrant not met)
2. The main street/side-street volume split does not exceed 70/30 (86/14 - warrant not met)

Based on our review, the installation of all-way "Stop" sign control is not warranted at the intersection of Richmond Street West and Niagara Street. Therefore, we do not support the installation at either of these intersections.

So basically they used data from before the installation of the bike lane when bike traffic was much lower to determine whether or not anything should be done now that the bike lane is installed. That is inappropriate and shoddy. (Note in our bizarro world: Richmond, a very residential street at this point has a posted speed of 50 but Niagara which is mixed is 40. What the hell.)

Now that I got a no from Traffic Operations, doesn't mean it's all over. Layton's office has now asked cycling staff to look at it again in terms of the visions for the cycling corridor. I have to give Layton's office credit for keeping on top of this despite the general lack of interest by Transportation Services.

I'm going to give the Cycling Unit some benefit of the doubt. They were quite busy and they do have a new Bike Plan in the works. But still, it's been a couple years and all we got was a response that it didn't meet a warrant. It's not about the bloody warrant! It's a cycling route and the Cycling Unit should be picking the easy fruit which can make a big impact. We've had a number of situations where we brought to the attention of planners some obvious problem areas where small changes could improve the quality and continuity of the cycling route.

I fear that the warrant is a minimum threshold and that the City tied its own hands are tied depsite all the other benefits. Transportation Services likes warrants because they don't have to think about any other goals. It's a great way to get residents to shut up about installing speed humps or stop signs to help slow down car traffic on their streets. Transportation Services is in the business of making cars go. There's been some movement from the chief Buckley with initiatives like narrowing the recommended lane widths, which should help with installing new bike lanes. But given my experience we've still got a long way to go.

I've been disappointed with how disjointed the Cycling Unit has treated this corridor. We (as in Ward 19) pressed them on the key gaps in their cycling route, each of them relatively easy to fix: Bathurst and Adelaide, Richmond and Niagara, Richmond and Strachan, and the southwest entrance of CAMH where it connects to Sudbury. Here's what we've been producing for the City to get them to recognize the problems and the opportunities:

Adelaide Bathurst fixes
Ward 19 proposal for improving this crazy intersection
CAMH gate
This was my take on little things they could do to improve the entrance at the southwest end of CAMH. I took the photo from Sudbury looking north. It's a good route, people just don't know about it. Luckily CAMH is willing to play ball to some extent so we're hopeful.

We have very few options on this end of town. If we can't get bike lanes on Queen nor King then we've got to fight for the scraps. And even then it'll be hard to give people good, protected cycling routes further west into Parkdale.