On John Street looking north towards Queen Street
This is the third of three posts about John Street and its place in the protected bike lane proposal by Councillor Minnan-Wong and the Bike Union (see first and second post). In the protected bike lane proposal John Street is the chosen connection between Beverley Street, which ends at Queen Street West, and Richmond Street, which will hopefully get protected bike lanes. Councillor Vaughan prefers Soho to Peter Street instead as part of his much smaller proposal so that John Street can be re-configured as a "cultural corridor", which has come to mean that there can be no accommodation of cyclists. John Street would be rebuilt to improve the pedestrian realm - a noble plan - and still allow bikes and cars.
I'd like to explain why John Street is a better street (and you don't need to just take my word for it, the Bike Union also explains why).
Soho/Peter forces cyclists to cross awkwardly in two stages at Queen Street; first a right, wait at lights, change lanes, and cross streetcar tracks and moving traffic all in a short distance. Even experienced cyclists have problems with streetcar tracks, particularly when changing lanes, where the tires can more easily get trapped in the groove, throwing cyclists off their bikes into traffic.
Peter/Soho crossing at Queen Street West
Looking south where Soho meets Queen Street West and the jog to Peter with lights
John Street, on the other hand has a direct crossing over Queen. No fuss.
Where John crosses Queen Street West
Some attempts have been made to make a Peter Street alternative workable, but this would still take some political will to make the crossing safer. Meanwhile John Street already works - why make it worse for cyclists?
Peter Street then turns into Blue Jay Way and south of Front Street it turns into a steep hill up and around the Rogers Centre. It's not intuitive that this route would be a good cycling route; it's windy and steep. For cyclists who want a quick route to the Lake, this would not come to mind. Instead most cyclists now probably take Simcoe, Bay or Yonge (and avoiding Spadina).
Proposed route up and around Blue Jay Way, Navy Wharf, and Bremner
Looking South up hill at Blue Jay Way and Front
Let's make a comparative overview of the two presented options:
|Beverley/Soho/Peter/Blue Jays Way/Bremner||Beverley/John/Richmond/Simcoe|
|4 turns||2 turns|
|4 traffic controls||3 traffic controls|
|Requires contra-flow on Phoebe and Soho||Requires contra-flow on Stephanie|
|Requires reconfiguring Queen and Peter intersection||Requires no reconfiguration at John and Queen|
|Forces cyclists up steep hill||No noticeable grade|
|Windy route around Rogers Centre||Short jog to Simcoe|
In my mind, the left turns across streetcar tracks at Soho/Peter is a deal-breaker. The intersection doesn't come off all that well in other areas either.
Cultural Corridor Argument
None of the recommended redesigns of John Street included bike lanes. The impetus for the redesign was to recognize John as a "cultural corridor". Why does there seem to be no space, either physically or culturally, for bikes? When NYC reconfigured Broadway and Time's Square to make them pedestrian friendly they also accommodated cyclists in the plan by building in protected bike lanes. Why is this not possible for John?
Councillor Vaughan has made it clear in a letter to his constituents, however, that he prefers bike lanes that take Peter Street rather than John. I think otherwise: Peter Street is an inferior choice to John.
Planning a connected network rather than isolated patches
Vaughan and the report on John Street focus on the current relative mode share of John Street by pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. They use the statistic that only 2% of users are cyclists and there are far more pedestrians, leading to the conclusion that pedestrians will be pre-eminent in planning the street. In my previous post I demonstrated how inconsistencies and possible errors were found in using this measure.
Even if we took 2% at face value, it is not the relative use of the section of John Street that is relevant here; it is the number of cyclists that use John in comparison of all of the cyclists on other streets. That is, it's the importance of John Street to cyclists as they travel north/south. (That 2% supports one of the biggest bicycle shops in the city, Urbane Cyclist and supporter of bike lanes on John.) The statistic underplays how important the street is to cyclists.
It is the importance of John to cyclists that should be considered not the relative usage of John Street between various users. We can't evaluate the traffic importance of John Street in isolation. The Rosedale subway station has very few passengers; should we remove that section of the Yonge Street subway and make it discontinuous? It is the most important north south section of street in the city the numbers of cyclists are high just not in comparison to the total number of pedestrians on the street.
Planning needs to be done city wide not street by street.
Flawed EA Process
The Environmental Assessment process for the John Street Pedestrian Plaza sought comments from the public in June of 2010. None of the 5 preferred options identified, and to be considered, by the EA process included protected bicycle lanes on John Street. The highest number of comments by the public, however, addressed the need for better cycling facilities. How did this mismatch happen?
The failure to include protected bicycle lanes is a failure to acknowledge the existing importance of John Street to cyclists. One could at least understand this position if the City was trying to create a new function for the street to include cycling when it wasn’t there before but not where we already have one of the most important links in the City.
Vaughan told cyclists in emails in June and July, 2010 just after the Environmental Assessment process had started but nowhere near completed that he was opposed to protected bike lanes on John Street because of the “cultural values” of the John Street pedestrian plaza. Why was Councillor Vaughan taking a position on the EA process even before it reached conclusions? What would he do if it concluded that bike lanes could be accommodated, or that they would be a useful addition?
The funding for the design EA process is coming from the John Street Business Improvement Association (John Street BIA). Two of the largest financial supporters of the plaza are probably the two largest employers on the street, CityTV and TIFF. Are we seeing a repeat of the Bloor Yorkville BIA exclusion of bike lanes? Where local business interests are prioritized over other users of the street? Will we see another street marginalize cyclists with no dedicated space on the road? With bad bike parking?
John Street compromise for protected bike lanes
Councillor Vaughan wants a pedestrian plaza on John Street (or at least one that still allows cars). He can still create a street that greatly enhances the pedestrian realm but also accommodates cyclists safely. The proposed network by Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong and the Bike Union, however, makes a compromise. The bike lanes need only travel from Stephanie, one block north of Queen down to Richmond Street - just two blocks. All of the rest of John Street would be available for a pedestrian plaza without bicycle lanes from Richmond to King Street or Front Street. Just so long that cyclists can easily get to the proposed bike lanes on Richmond Street.
As a cultural corridor, the plan is to make it easier to close off John Street for special events and concerts. But why can’t we have a John Street that is closed occasionally and still includes dedicated bike lanes that are also closed at the same time? If roads can be closed for cars during special events, they can be closed for bicycles as well. Yonge Street closes for Pride, University closes for the Santa Claus parade and so on.
We can fit bike lanes and still improve the pedestrian realm
The project managers for the John Street EA have stated that all their design options will "accommodate" cyclists. Their definition of accommodating cyclists, however, means cars and bikes will "share the road". Their definition is so broad that it includes all Toronto streets other than the Gardiner, DVP and 400 series highways.
Actually John Street has enough width to widen the sidewalk and install bike lanes on all sections of the street except for the block north of Queen Street, and even there bike lanes would have minimal impact on the pedestrian realm (source: Bike Union):
- Stephanie Street to Queen Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks would be reduced by 1.6metres. However, the existing sidewalk width is already 13.5metres!
- Queen Street to Richmond Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks could still be widened by 1.2metres
- Richmond Street to Adelaide Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks could still be widened by 1.2metres
- Adelaide Street to King Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks could still be widened by 3.8metres
- King Street to Wellington Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks could still be widened by 3.8metres
- Wellington Street to Front Street block - with bike lanes, sidewalks could still be widened by 3.8metres
I hope this has made a convincing enough case for the City to reconsider their preferred options for John Street. I, the Bike Union and others are asking them to take it seriously that bikes belong on John; and that it is a major key in the bikeway network. Please put in your calendar that there will be a public open house to learn more about and comment on the City's project seeking to improve the public realm of John Street. Thursday, June 16, 2011 6:30 - 8:30 p.m. Room 309, Metro Hall 55 John Street.
This meeting will give you the chance to review the evaluation of various alternative designs for John Street and provide feedback on them. All comments received by June 30 will be considered by the Project Team in finalizing the project's recommendations and Environmental Study Report.
Here's the list of current organizations and groups supporting the protected bike lane proposal:
South Rosedale Residents Association, Curbside Cycle , The Toronto Cyclists Union, the Moore Park Residents Association , Mountain Equipment Co-op (700,000 members in the GTA) , the York Quay Neighbourhood Association, The Palmerston Residents Association , the Parkdale Residents Association, Toronto Island Community Association, The Bay Cloverhill Residents Association, The University of Toronto Graduate Student’s Union, the St Lawrence Neighbourhood Association, the Oak Street Housing Coop Inc. and the ABC(Yorkville) Residents Association.
Antony (not verified)
You've made a good case thatTue, 06/14/2011 - 15:18
You've made a good case that John is the superior street to connect bicycle infrastructure.
Unfortunately, the way that Toronto delegates infrastructure redesign & funding to local BIAs makes it very hard to design for city-wide transport needs. Local business interests come first, since they're paying the bill. If Muchmusic & co. want a pedestrian/taxi John St. it will be very hard to oppose it.
In the negotiations ahead, I'd be content with Beverly/Soho/Peter/Richmond.
John (not verified)
I was going to post a commentTue, 06/14/2011 - 15:26
I was going to post a comment about woonerfs and Hans Monderman and how separations are not the be-all and end-all of cyclist safety. I still believe there has been far too much emphasis on physical barriers, and not enough about pedestrian vitality, tress, narrowed traffic lanes, shortened crosswalks and other traffic calming features that instil user responsibility and true safety.
But looking at your first picture of John Street, it sure seems like the small stretch from Queen to Richmond is not likely to achieve the same type of vibrancy Vaughan has envisioned for the rest of John. I mean, the west side of the CHUM building is not exactly going to burst open with patios. I am pretty sure the overall vision will survive a little extra bike infrastructure.
But that doesn't mean the bike lane has to be ugly. What if the City removed the east sidewalk, kept the trees, and planted another row of trees to create a bike corridor where the northbound lane currently sits? That huge expanse of unused roadspace in the middle (outlined by the yellow lines) could become the new northbound lane. There's no need for a northbound left-turn lane on what will become a pedestrian-focused street.
Anyway, there are options available that should satisfy both cyclists and the local community. I think Vaughan has a point about the relentless focus on curbs and concrete, but there is a middle ground. It will take goodwill and proper community consultations to find it.
And while Vaughan needs to try much harder to get ahead of this debate, I think certain proponents of the protected bike network are insane to adopt Minnan-Wong's hard line against Vaughan, as if DMW's demonstrated record against cyclists can be brushed aside because he drew some lines on a map. I remain concerned that DMW's support for the bike network is less about creating a safe transportation alternative to the car, and more about getting "pain in the ass" cyclists out of the way of motorized traffic. So the Bike Union and others would be wise to show greater independence from various City Hall "champions," including both Minnan-Wong AND Vaughan. And they might also want to seek out their own sources of legitimacy, and reach out more to those local communities who keep being unfairly portrayed as NIMBY obstacles.
Councillor Adam... (not verified)
If all that was proposed forTue, 06/14/2011 - 20:00
If all that was proposed for John was markings on the road between Stephanie and Richmond there may be merit in much of what has been posted. The trouble is Denzil Minnan Wong (DMW) insists on post or curbs and seperated bike lanes and the status quo regarding sidewalk widths on this stretch of John.
The trouble with investing all of the bike routes that cross Queen onto this one route, fails to acknoledge how the street is currently used. The block next to Muchmusic is blocked off several times a year. What do cyclists do then?
We need better cycling routes all along Queen. We need more east west routes south of Queen. We need to get cyclist across Queen safely There are several communities that need to be knit together. This is where the Ward 20 plan emerges from.
History and road patterns provide little relief and even less help. All options have problems. Despite the above chart the Beverely John Richmond Simcoe option actually requires 4 not 2 turns, and the movements require left hand turns mid block or at unmarked major intersections. I agree that political will is needed to steer lanes through this part of the city, I agree that Peter and Queen has Challenges. So to does Richmond and Simcoe.
Peter/Blue Jay Way has grade issues, so too does Simcoe. Wind is wind
The Ward 20 plan aims to drive Simcoe all the way to The University Health Campus. The same plan was Wellington connecting Simcoe, Peter and Portland, but the Ward 20 plan also asks cyclist to support pedestrians. This group is also suffering from poor infrastructure in the area.
For what ever reason John Street has emerged as a pedestrian and cultural corridor. It presents the city with a incredible opportunity. It asks a little from everybody, but the neighbourhood as a whole is improved when all of the improvements are dealt with in unionson and in relation to each other
Let's create a balanced approach. Not everyone will get all they want, but I believe the W20 plan is the best shot at improving most of the streets for most of the people.
Antony (not verified)
Dear Adam, In dinnerTue, 06/14/2011 - 21:59
In dinner conversation with friends last night it came up that we had all either been doored ourselves, or had a close friend injured. One of my softball teammates, a new mother, had her arm broken by a car door last year and after walking with a cane all year is going back for surgery to try and knit the bones together properly. She has said she will never ride a bicycle in Toronto again.
The status quo with painted lines on the street does not work for many people on bicycles. Riding next to parked cars is an insane risk to ask parents of young children to take.
No other infrastructure is built with such disregard for safety. Compare the building codes for sidewalks - it's illegal to build a door that swings open onto the sidewalk, because the risk of injury is obvious, even to slow-walking pedestrians. Yet it's considered a 'balanced' design to let cars be parked where their reinforced knife-edge steel doors are placed to swing directly into unprotected road users.
I am happy sharing the road with pedestrians. However I am sick and tired of having to put myself in danger to evade delivery trucks and personal cars parked in bike lanes. All I ask for is a curb the same height as used to separate the St. Clair streetcar from the car traffic lanes. That's hardly a huge obstacle to the pedestrian realm.
John (not verified)
Antony's comment above aboutWed, 06/15/2011 - 08:13
Antony's comment above about door prizes and children is useful. Cycling infrastructure should be safe enough for a child, not just cycle warriors. And parents of young children who are experienced cyclists can provide good advice here, because they are in a position to understand what riding is like for an inexperienced cyclist while still having good knowledge of cycling overall.
But Antony, a curb is not physical protection. Cars can and occasionally do drive up over curbs and crash into pedestrians. But curbs seem safe, and most often are safe, because most people respect the curbs as sacrosanct. It is the respect that matters, not the physical separation.
As long as drivers treat bike lanes as niceties that can be ignored whenever it is convenient to do so, bike lanes will be less safe, whether there is a curb there or not (and can we please remember that most accidents occur at intersections, where physical separation is not possible?). But conversely, if drivers learn to respect the bike lane and cyclists, physical barriers won't matter so much either. I'm not sure how to get from one state to the other, and perhaps ugly and obtrusive barriers may be necessary to show drivers that the City is serious about protecting bike lanes (better enforcement would help too). But I think it is perfectly fair for Councillor Vaughan to think about the long-term vibrancy and attractiveness of John Street when discussing what will be long-term cycling infrastructure. We should not be designing based on the cluelessness of yesterday's motorists, but should be anticipating the driving habits of tomorrow, when cycling inevitably becomes a normal and much-used transportation option.
Antony (not verified)
Thanks John, I agree withWed, 06/15/2011 - 10:00
Thanks John, I agree with your points. It's not physical separation per se that I want (obviously that's impossible in a 2-D world), it's just discouragement of driving behaviors that intimidate and harass people cycling.
What will change the behavior of drivers is when most people who drive cars have also ridden a bicycle since childhood. Then they will better understand bicycle traffic behavior, and identify with bicycle riders as part of their tribe, not some alien trespassers.
A chicken-and-egg problem if ever there were one.
But this is not some NASA race to the moon here. European traffic planners have done all this before. All we have to do is copy them. Hardly rocket science.
Councillor Adam... (not verified)
All your points areWed, 06/15/2011 - 17:10
All your points are important. Bike riding needs to be safer, bike lanes need to be better designed and motorists get far too much attention when it comes to road design. Comparing how many pedestrian are killed or maimed to the number of cyclists are badly injured or die on city streets is morbid. But it is a problem that needs to be addressed.
Politically speaking Pedestrians and Cyclists need each other. Motorists almost always win when the needs of non-motorists are played off against each other.
he answer to that question.
Can John Street take bikes?, physically the answer to that question is the same answer to any street in the city, obviously the answer is yes.
Can a cultural corridor that links OCAD, AGO, CTV, MuchMusic,NFB, TIFF, Scotiabank Theatre, Artscape, CBC, Rogers Centre Round House Park,and Harbourfront Centre be created anywhere else in the city? The answer is no.
Are there alternatives to John and other options to improve cycing infrastructure in the area. The answer is yes.
Building streets that are safe, beautiful and do more than just move people should be a rallying cry for everyone.
Fabien (not verified)
"Cars are good for business"Wed, 06/15/2011 - 21:33
"Cars are good for business" is increasingly being challenged by affluent urbanites of all ages who prefer to leave their car at home, take the bike and shop locally. Want to increase business in Toronto? Encourage bike transportation and watch your local businesses florish.
This sounds like a simpleThu, 06/16/2011 - 14:13
This sounds like a simple abuse of our public space. That is the term "Cultural Corridor" sounds to me like a euphemism for the privatization John Street.
If CHUM/CTV/MUCH etc needs space for it's events, and if Hooters/Jack Astors et al want larger patios, then let them BUY John Street from the city and they can do what ever the hell they want with their private property. But I don't see why I am being asked to subsidise those private businesses with my tax dollars. especially with the additional expense of my safety.