David Stern, the owner of the Queen Mother Café—with support of a group of pro-cycling lawyers— has asked the province to reconsider the John Street EA in light of new information—namely a professionally-conducted traffic count—that shows that bike traffic is much higher than the 2% that was quoted in the EA. Cycle Toronto Ward 20 and the Toronto Bicycling Network have written letters in support.
But Councillor Joe Cressy is not backing down. Instead he is fully supporting the EA championed by his predecessor, Adam Vaughan, and also has been touting the improvements the City is making to the adjacent Peter-Soho route as an alternative to cycling on John.
I've gone into a lot of detail on deficiencies of the John Street plan over the last few years (here, here, here for example). In short, the problem with the City's current plan for John Street is that it ignores people biking and gives them no space; and it pretends to be a "promenade" for pedestrians while doing nothing about the heavy car traffic. Even though the City staff don't spell it out, they were heavily influenced by the "shared space" initiatives in places like the UK. Shared space has come under increasing push back from people biking, people with disabilities and older people as dangerous designs (thanks to @SharkDancing for the source).
As one person who bikes regularly through the UK's shared space aptly said:
"Shared space is a false promise with poor delivery … sharing is never on equal terms - as a confident but anxious cyclist, I usually win the sharing transactions, but if a particular driver doesn’t want to yield, they won’t."
The shared space scheme on John Street was backed up by some faulty numbers. The Ward 20 cyclists conducted a professional traffic count showing some substantial numbers of people biking instead of driving on John:
[P]rofessional traffic counts completed at the intersection of John and Queen Street West in September 2016 show bicycle commuters account for 71.8% of all road traffic headed south and 55.9% headed north at the weekday morning peak. During the afternoon peak commuting hour, bicycle commuters accounted for 41.2% of all traffic heading south and 74.3% of all traffic headed north. It is likely that the 2014 installation of separated bicycle lanes on two arterial roads that cross John Street have promoted the use of active transportation on John Street.
These numbers are radically different from the suspicious ones reported on early on in the EA process, where City staff claimed that no matter the day or time, the bike count remained at a flat 2%. This number was easily disproved at the time with volunteers counting and even by the data the City releases.
The Peter-Soho Alternative?
Councillor Cressy to his credit has been working harder on the Peter-Soho alternative than his predecessor:
Just last year, we also installed brand new separated bike lanes on Peter Street, to connect with the heavily used Richmond-Adelaide cycle tracks. Over the past two years, we've been working hard to address safety at the jogged intersection at Queen and Soho, to provide a safe connection between the new Peter St. lanes, and the Soho-Phoebe-Beverley route. We're happy to announce the design for a two-stage southbound crossing, and that it will be installed next year. We're working hard with City staff to finalize the northbound solution at the same intersection, and will continue to communicate updates as we finish this work.
What an awkward crossing. So anyone just trying to cross Queen street from the north side to the south side will have to do it in two stages? Has the City provided estimated time required for crossing Queen at Peter-Soho compared to John? It looks like it could be much higher on average.
Six years after cyclists started offering ideas to City staff on how to improve the intersection, both in public and in private meetings, staff still haven't got any firm plans for improving the experience for northbound cyclists. I imagine we'll see lots of conflicts where cyclists are allowed to go northbound but all car drivers must turn right. It's not going to be pretty.
It was six years ago that Dave Meslin presented a creative solution to eliminate the jog with a bike path that cuts through the sidewalk and building. Although it was unlikely to happen, it started a conversation with City staff. But looks like staff never got around to firming up any plans. If the City is trying to push cyclists off John Street, why are they dragging their heels on the alternatives?
I appreciate the work Cressy has been putting into this, but I don't believe these are zero-sum options. The request to reopen the EA isn't presupposing how John should look. It is a request that the EA be reopened so that the City can properly account for the safety of cyclists this time. We've already had the negative experience of the pilots on John which squeezed cyclists next to cars.
Everyone knows that there's no way Petter-Soho can match the convenience and comfort of John Street, despite the City's attempts to improve the cycling experience on it. Unless the City makes cycling on John Street truly awful (or if it's closed off during a rare street closure) we'll still see lots of people choosing to bike on John over Peter-Soho.