Metrolinx' massive, $50 billion draft transportation plan was revealed this last week. "The cost of not proceeding with this plan would be higher than the cost of proceeding with it. We cannot be scared away from this challenge," Metrolinx chair Rob MacIsaac said.
Metrolinx has been charged with coming up with a regional transit plan to move people and goods more efficiently in the GTHA (Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area). This is no small task. This work covers the areas of 5 regional governments and 25 municipalities. Cycling infrastructure gets a small but significant chunk of attention in the plan.
The biggest problem is the congestion caused primarily by single-occupancy automobiles on our roads. There is not one magic answer, and Metrolinx has recognized that this mess must be cleaned up, and that a multi-faceted approach must be used.
The province has started to step up to the plate with "Places to Grow" legislation, and by starting to protect the Greenbelt. Still more will need to be done by the province to curb sprawl. Besides big bags of money for capital investments of all kinds, Queen's Park will have to offer other legislative changes to make the Metrolinx plan work, perhaps even dismantling the OMB, or at the very least, severely curbing its powers. I'll explain why soon.
The Metrolinx plan (pdf) is not a five year solution to gridlock, and no one should expect immediate results. The "cure" is more like an exercise plan than a pill. And as such, it will take some effort on all of our parts to make it happen.
Like all plans, the Metrolinx plan starts with its vision, goals and objectives. (pgs 11-16) and then starts to outline what need to happen to achieve these. One of the things that cyclists should like is the emphasis on choice in modes to travel, which includes bikes.
Pages 29-31 specifically talk about cycling as part of it is "Active Transportation" and where much of the meat, and hope, of cyclists lies within the plan. There are 8 points, all of which are good, and some of which have already already started to happen, albeit slowly.
2.1 Plan and implement a complete, integrated walking and cycling network for the GTHA, including Toronto’s PATH system, that addresses key barriers to walking, such as bridges over 400-series highways, and that brings every urban resident to within a maximum of one kilometre of a dedicated bicycling facility. This will be supported by a provincial funding commitment increased over time to at least $20 million per year for municipalities to complete the network.
Good. We need to get more paint on the road, and it needs to be part of a coherent network of routes that people can actually use.
2.2 Create pilot bike-sharing programs in major urban centres.
This is something that at least some Toronto citizens are hoping for, and that Councillor A. Heaps has promised is "in the works" on more than one occasion.
2.3 Research, standardize and promote best practices to integrate walking and cycling in road design, such as scramble intersections, bike boxes, and signal prioritization.
Toronto used to be pretty experimental. Now we can't even get the few kilometres promised to us this year or last. I'd like to see this happen for cyclists, and I am happy that it's happening in Toronto for pedestrians. But these are good ideas for Toronto and for the region. What we need is to see the action.
2.4 Install bike racks on all buses and Light Rail Transit (LRT) vehicles and amend both the Highway Traffic Act (Section 109) and the Public Vehicles Act (Sections 23 and 24) so that transit vehicles with bike racks would not require special permits.
This something that is already in the works.
2.5 Identify and implement opportunities for promoting active transportation and connecting key destinations, including mobility hubs and major transit station areas, when designing greenways strategies and park systems.
And we have clouds when it rains. We know that this is a good idea, and I'm happy that the TTC has finally started to do this. Now we need Parks and Hydro one to do their parts. (Hey Queen's Park! Can you lean on Hydro One so that we can get some cycling corridors in the Hydro rights of way? Please.)
2.6 Municipalities should develop Official Plan policies and, where appropriate, use the bonusing provisions under the Planning Act to require that any application for major commercial, employment or multiple residential development, particularly those in mobility hubs, provide appropriate facilities for cyclists and pedestrians such as secure bike storage, showers and change rooms.
Toronto has taken its first step in this direction by coming up with the draft guidelines that will govern this, see the Guidelines for the Design and Management of Bicycle Parking Facilities for the details.
2.7 Establish a coordinated, region-wide bicycle registry with the ability to report and look-up stolen bikes.
Stolen bikes are a real drag, and have a way of ruining your month. Discouraging bike theft, and giving the tools for police to be able to return your stolen bike when found is a definite plus for all cyclists. Now all we have to do is make the retailers register the bikes for us at the time of sale so that we have high compliance and can actually affect the bike theft rates.
2.8 Define school catchment areas on the basis of maximizing walking and cycling as the primary means of school travel.
Does anyone really need to be told that kids on bikes is a great idea? Well, obviously many people do, or else we wouldn't see the morning and afternoon rituals of the queues of cars and SUV in front of too many of our schools, and we likely wouldn't be talking about the epidemic of childhood obesity, either.
These are good things, but nothing earth shattering, and nothing that Toronto isn't already doing (or at least trying or planned to do). But it isn't so much that anything is new or improved but that it adds to the momentum of what cyclists have been advocating for years. Namely that cycling (specifically, and active transportation generally,) needs to be a part of our transportation planning mix from the outset, and not an afterthought. If Metrolinx is successful in making this finally a reality, then we'll all be better off, regardless of the mode(s) of transport that one ultimately chooses, and we'll have better choices for all of our travels.
The specific example of this intention is outlined in section 4 titled "Consider All Modes of Transportation" (page 35), where we see the following:
4.1 Establish the following passenger transportation hierarchy to be used as the basis for planning, designing, financing and operating the transportation system:
- Trip reduction, shortening or avoidance
- Active transportation
- Ride-sharing and taxis
- Single-occupant vehicles
4.2 Broaden the scope of traffic impact studies that are submitted in support of applications for planning approvals to become comprehensive transportation impact studies. These studies would consider the impacts of new development on all forms of transportation, including transit, walking and cycling, as well as the impact of induced traffic.
4.3 Evaluate opportunities to incorporate all transportation modes as part of the Environmental Assessment process for road constructions, reconstructions or widenings.
4.4 Municipalities should establish protocols to obtain the input of transit agencies and public health departments on all major planning and transportation matters.
For many cycling advocates, we want more than bike friendly streets, we want bike friendly communities, stuff built at a scale that is people friendly, not car friendly. Cycling is really a wedge issue for us. And the Metrolinx plan seems to understand that in order to discourage car use and make car use less necessary, one needs to build communities that can be walked and cycled in to begin with. Here we get to see part of the gestalt forming. It's about more than transportation, because that is just infrastructure. It's about what the infrastructure will be supporting: our communities. Metrolinx's plan would see us "Build Communities that Make Travelling Easier" and "Build Communities That are Pedestrian, Cycling and Transit-Supportive" (page 41). Many have long held that part of our car dependence was fueled by our planning and parking policies. In order to break our car habit, we'll need to stop our habit of putting free (or nearly free) parking for cars everywhere, and start building our communities at a sane and human scale.
This section goes even farther to discuss the concepts of "complete streets" and provide a "Safe Streets" example from Chicago.
There's a section on "Focus Growth and Development along Transportation Corridors." This is what Hamish Wilson would call "carterials." As we put an emphasis of public transit on these roads, we see the plan call for
- facilitate a mix of modes, including active transportation;
- discourage free parking, minimize street-facing surface parking lots, accommodate appropriate streetside parking and minimize the impacts of parking on other forms of transportation such as walking and cycling
This should not be radical to anyone, but we have failed to accomplish this on many of our current corridors to date. Let's hope that we'll do better moving forward.
One thing which is radical is the intention to "Develop a National Strategy for Transportation in Urban Regions." I think that it would be good to get the federal government involved in a constructive way to help us with their role in the plan. Shipping, air and rail are under the federal jurisdiction, and in order to support these plans they need to help coordinate and support these activities. And as the GTHA is not the only region in Canada, and as the markets in Canada need to be linked and to integrate with each other, the feds should be playing their role in the best way possible. While this has no direct impact on cyclists, the indirect impacts are huge as it deals primarily with the movements of goods, which we all have a roll in making and using.
The last thing which the plan calls for is some results, these are the specific targets Metrolinx is attempting to achieve for walking and cycling:
Proportion of morning rush hour trips taken by walking or cycling:
In 25 years: 12.5%
Approximate percentage of school children 11 years of age or older who walk or cycle to school
In 25 years: 50%
As far as cycling goes, I feel that these targets are far too modest, and that the current estimate of the cycling mode share is far too generous. We can do better, much better. Cycling on College Street already has a 15% mode share. We can do the same for more of our city's streets and move College's cycling mode share up even higher.
Although only touched upon, there are two good reasons why "Active Transportation" plays a role in this plan. First off, because it improves the quality of life in the city. But another big part of the reason is that, per person, supporting pedestrians and cyclists is much, much, cheaper than providing car parking at stations (hubs) and much, much, cheaper than putting more feeder surface routes (buses) on the road. It's not just that we have a bunch of nutty cyclists to support, it is that it is cheaper to create and provide for a bunch of nutty cyclists than it is to provide more transit, more car parking spaces, or even more lanes on our roads. We can move more cyclists on one bike lane than cars in two regular lanes for a small fraction of the capital and operational costs. We cannot afford to ignore active transportation as an option if we want to get people moving, even within a region as big as this.