Posts Tagged ‘ cycling ’

Complete Streets and Dutch Junction design

To most observers of Toronto politics, it was very surprising to see councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the Public Works committee, come out (apparently on his own initiative) to advocate for a road design concept called complete streets. The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) defines complete streets as:

Complete Streets provide safe access for all road users including pedestrians, cyclists, public transit users, and motorists of all ages and abilities.

Given the councillor’s many storied run-ins with cycling advocates, his “ally” status of Mayor Rob Ford, and the generally suburban, auto-oriented prism through which he views transportation, it was indeed a surprise. I am not yet sure of his motivation, but Minnan-Wong is one of those local politicians that doesn’t necessarily stick to one side of the political spectrum.

Regardless, the formulation of Toronto’s complete streets guidelines is a positive step. Whether it leads to any real changes in the way that engineers design our streets is another matter. We are still in the hopeful phase.

It was while this news was appearing that I stumbled upon the video below explaining what blog Bicycle Dutch calls “Dutch junction design”. It is something I noticed throughout the Netherlands when I visited the country last September. Even as a visitor, unfamiliar with the Dutch signal system, it was very intuitive to use. The most danger I felt through these junctions was the potential for a collision with an aggressive cyclist!

A frequent excuse of road designers in Canada regarding European cycling infrastructure is, “well yeah, but we can’t do that here– we don’t have space”. This may be true on some roads where we have decided that driving and parking lanes are crucial. But what is most attractive to me about this concept is this: if you have room for bike lanes, you have room for a Dutch junction.

Evidently, there are some other aspects of the design that would have to be implemented at the same time, in order to make it function properly. Most notably, the video below explains how the signals are timed appropriately to maximize cyclist safety and minimize auto-cyclist collisions. It also occurs to me that this only works at an intersection of two bike lanes– a pretty rare phenomenon in Toronto.

[Edit: OK, I thought of a few, that could at least be pilots for this approach: Gerrard & Sherbourne; Wellesley & Sherbourne; College & Beverely/St. George; Harbord/Hoskins & St. George. Tried to think of/ find some suburban bike lane intersections, but the only one I could think of is a T-intersection– Conlins & Sheppard. Help?]

I think it’s a pretty useful design to keep in mind as we move toward complete streets in Toronto.

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On the Pharmacy and Birchmount bike lanes

Last week, the City of Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, chaired by councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, voted in favour of this motion. It adds some separated bike lanes downtown, but also removes bike lanes in Scarborough at the behest of the local councillor, Michelle Berardinetti.

Ms. Berardinetti made traffic congestion her main campaign issue in the recent municipal election, which may or may not have delivered her a victory over the incumbent, Adrian Heaps. Like Rob Ford, she feels that her victory symbolizes widespread local agreement with her issue of choice (for Ford, it was subways vs. “streetcars”). Perhaps this is so– but I can think of other reasons. (“Traffic congestion is bad” is to local political rhetoric as “God Bless America” is to American political rhetoric). Activist Dave Meslin has a good perspective on Pharmacy and Birchmount lanes here. (Unfortunately his very reasonable amendments were not adopted by committee members.)

Certainly, errors were made in the way in which the bike plan has been implemented in Toronto. This is especially true in areas where residents are skeptical of their worth on high-speed, high-traffic arterial roads. Too often, lanes were built without connections to other cycling infrastructure, or built in short spurts where works crews were already working on the road. (It is also a result of a city unwilling to fully commit to true cycling infrastructure, like bike boxes and separated lanes).

Ms. Berardinetti’s main beef with the bike lanes seems to be that they were built with a “lack of community consultation”. Yet yesterday, fellow councillor John Parker (a member of the PWIC, who moved the motion to remove the Jarvis bike lanes) wrote a blog post for the Toronto Star’s cycling portal to justify his decision regarding Jarvis. In it, he writes:

Since 2001 the city of Toronto has had a comprehensive bike plan that envisions a network of bike lanes throughout the downtown area. It was drawn up after widespread consultation [emphasis mine] and was prepared by the city’s transportation services department together with Marshall Macklin Monaghan, one of Canada’s leading engineering firms.

For one councillor, it appears that consultation on the Toronto Bike Plan was sufficient (Jarvis lanes are not in the bike plan– hence Mr. Parker was using the Bike Plan as justification to remove the lanes). For Ms. Berardinetti, the fact that the Birchmount and Pharmacy bike lanes were planned from 2001 and finally painted in 2008 is, it would seem, irrelevant. That City staff have found that the Pharmacy and Birchmount bike lanes have had no effect on local traffic (pg. 15) is also lost on Ms. Berardinetti.

Pharmacy & Birchmount, the first bike lanes listed in the Bike Plan for Scarborough

The costs for removing these lanes is estimated by staff to be $210 000. That may not seem like much in a budget of $9-billion, but in Rob Ford’s Toronto, every penny counts, and is counted (supposedly). Ms. Berardinetti is hoping that the bike lane removal can be synchronized with pending road repairs, therefore resulting in no additional cost– however, the repairs are not proposed for the entire length of the lanes. If this synchronization fails, the councillor will have to explain to her constituents (“taxpayers” in the verbiage of the day) why she wants the city to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars to remove infrastructure. She might also have to explain how her previous commitment to sharrows, in place of bike lanes on Birchmount and Pharmacy, fell off the agenda. This from the previously-linked Toronto Sun article:

“As for those bike lanes, rather than paint them over immediately, she wants to tackle them when the roads are resurfaced.

When that work happens, Berardinetti said she wants to see the dedicated bike lanes removed and shared lane pavement markings (sharrows) painted within the car lanes.

“I’m not against bike lanes,” said Berardinetti, an avid cyclist. “They had a mandate of laying down so much (bike lane) tread a year instead of having a concrete plan.””

Sharrows, while problematic, seem like a compromise here (though it still does not make a whole lot of sense to remove bike lane for sharrows). Will Ms. Berardinetti remember her previous musings? Or will council decide to kill an already-built portion of Toronto`s Bike Plan?

PWIC’s decision goes to Council on July 12-13.

Thoughts on cycling from North York to Downtown

Yesterday I challenged myself to ride downtown and back from my new home in the Sheppard and Don Mills area. Since I moved in a month and a half ago, I have been contemplating what route would be best and how long it might take. I was also thinking of how arduous the trip back might be–uphill the whole way, I thought.

Thanks to the internet and modern technology, I was able to figure out what the most efficient way downtown would be. I also considered the safety factor and the amount of riding on trails vs. roadways I was comfortable with. After some consideration, I came up with this route.

You will notice that about half my ride was on Don Mills Road, essentially a hilly six-lane north-south highway. I studied some of the ravine trails, as well as the Toronto Cycling Map, but I found most of the connections to be complicated and a bit out of the way (further complicated by the fact that the Leaside Rail Trail is not yet complete– a key connection for this route). Hence I decided to take a risk on Don Mills, with the knowledge that there are “HOV”/Priority curb lanes (meaning only taxis, bicycles, motorcycles, buses and cars with 3+ occupants can use it). It should be noted that these lanes are only in effect during rush hours (7am-10am and 3pm-7pm, Monday to Friday).

The curbside priority lanes on Don Mills Road (Google StreetView capture)

I started out from my home around 5:30pm, meaning the priority lanes were in effect. For the most part, riding along Don Mills was not too bad– cars respected the priority lane and traffic came in bursts from stoplights. Though I would not take my teenage siblings for a ride along Don Mills due to the safety factor, it was efficient and usable enough for me. The only complaints I have would be the large potholes, sewer grates and aggressive taxi drivers that made me uncomfortable at select points.

Following Don Mills from Sheppard all the way down to its unceremonious end at the Don Valley Parkway, I made the mistake of not turning off Don Mills at the Ontario Science Centre. Don Mills south of Overlea Boulevard becomes a four-lane undivided expressway, with cars racing down the hill towards the Don Valley Parkway at speeds upwards of 80 km/h. South of Overlea Boulevard you also lose the priority lane, and so you are squeezed up against the curb (no sidewalks on the west side of Don Mills, either). Finally, at the foot of a long hill, I found the entrance to the Lower Don Trail system that I had identified on my computer at home. However, that entrance (mostly for cars) was a dangerous left turn for a cyclist to make. I was stopped at the side of the road for a good 3 minutes, waiting for a suitable gap in the four lanes of traffic– but it was far too difficult. Fortunately, I rode 100m further south and there I found an entrance to the trail. Safe and sound, off the wild Don Mills Road.

The Lower Don trail is wonderful. Mostly flat and a suitable width for two-way traffic, I zoomed downtown on the second leg of my journey. I saw all sorts of people on bicycles– mid-aged gearheads, families with children, elderly couples, and casual cyclists. While the trail was busy, not once did I get stuck behind pedestrians or joggers while waiting to pass. My only complaint on this portion of the trip were the number of portions where the trail narrowed significantly– especially a portion where it appeared an embankment for the DVP was being rehabilitated. A narrow two-way trail and construction fencing made for some danger.

I was also struck at how the straightened portion of the Don River had the potential to be just like, if not better than, the Rideau Canal in Ottawa. As I cycled, I looked to my left and saw a neighbourhood (Corktown) full of old brick warehouses and shiny new condominiums peering over the DVP towards the Don. It occurred to me that if it weren’t for the tangle of infrastructure (the DVP ramps, rail line, hydro corridor), the chain-link fencing, rusty wall along the Don, and the non-landscaped foliage, this would be a tourist magnet.

Finally, after some confusing detours through the under-renovation East Bayfront area, I reached my destination– Sherbourne Common and Sugar Beach. I cannot write enough about how brilliant these new public spaces are (and Sherbourne Common isn’t even finished yet!). The parks offered brilliant new views of the Toronto skyline and out to the Harbour. While the incomplete Common was not very busy, Sugar Beach was bustling with kids playing in the splashpad, a couple taking wedding photos, hipster women reading books, and groups of people leisurely sitting and chatting. A brand-new restaurant just opened in the Corus Quay building had an enormous patio that has yet to be discovered by mainstream Toronto. As a planner, I really appreciate this type of city-building– creating well-designed public spaces first, and letting the private investment follow.

Sherbourne Common. (My photo)

After a half-hour respite on the beach, I set out on my way back. Knowing the first half of my trip would be flat (contrary to the second half), I really pushed my speed on the trail. I found the trail that took me up to the Ontario Science Centre rather than trying to battle the hill on Don Mills. Still, I knew I would have to conquer a massive hill coming out of the valley, and so I did, up from the Science Centre’s service yard. I made it about three-quarters of the way up before my legs gave out.

Long hill at Ontario Science Centre (Google StreetView capture)

After a five-minute rest, I set out up Don Mills Road, without the safety of the rush-hour priority lanes. However, traffic was light which allowed me some relaxed riding. As I struggled up the last big hill to cross over the 401, my legs cramped up. I got off my bike, walked the rest of the hill, and stopped briefly to enjoy the view. A ride I will surely do again.

From Don Mills bridge over the 401, looking west. (My photo)

Deconstructing Bob Hepburn

Today, Toronto Star editorial columnist Bob Hepburn wrote an article vilifying the recently announced (and yet to be approved) University Avenue bike lane trial this summer, calling it “nuts”. So infuriated was I by his poorly framed argument, I decided to deconstruct his article.

Hepburn begins:

Coming to work during Wednesday’s morning’s rush hour, I drove across Wellesley St., then went south on Sherbourne all the way to the waterfront, then headed west along Queens Quay to Yonge St.

I saw only 15 bicyclists during the entire commute, even though all these roads have bike lanes and the weather was perfect for riding.

At work, I counted a total of just 17 bicycles locked up in the bike racks in our building’s parking garage, despite the fact that nearly 2,000 people work in the 24-storey office tower that houses the Toronto Star, a Canada Post sorting facility, LCBO finance offices and other companies.

Well, good for you Bob, you can count. However, you have just decided to base your entire argument on an unscientific survey of bicyclists using bike lanes in the city. So you only counted 15 from your moving automobile eh? I’ll let it go that you were completely distracted for the duration of your 5-kilometre joyride. Still, I just have to say, traffic counts are never done from a moving vehicle. Mostly because you’re moving, meaning there are no time or area constraints for your little study. It would have been more revealing, scientific, and you could have actually credibly based your argument on it if you studied the number of cyclists travelling, for example, along Wellesley between Queen’s Park Circle and Sherbourne from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 a.m. Perhaps you lack the fortitude to wake up that early.

Oh, and about that bike rack count–that would have been scientific if you included all the other bike racks surrounding your building. Maybe some of those cyclists aren’t aware of that bike rack in your parking garage? Maybe, since it was a nice day, many decided to park outside? Again, one is left to wonder.

Hepburn continues:

Given how few cyclists I saw and how few are actually using the existing bikes lanes, it seems that mayoral candidate Rocco Rossi may be right when he calls the University Ave. plan “sheer madness.”

So, from what we have learned from your study of bike lanes in your 5-km, 10 minute sojourn behind the wheel, we conclude that “few cyclists” use “the existing bike lanes”. You don’t specify which bike lanes you’re talking about, but given your general line of argument, I can only suspect you are targeting pretty much all of the bike lanes in our fine burg.

If it is true that so few cyclists use existing lanes, is that a valid argument against constructing new ones? No. If that were true, the 401, the DVP, the Bloor-Danforth subway, all would not have been built. Sometimes you have to do things in advance to build the city you want. And don’t feed me the Rossi line that it is an “insult to democracy” to build these before the election is decided.

By quoting that beacon of even-keeled rhetoric Rossi, who so eloquently stated that this pilot project is “sheer madness”, you aren’t helping your cause any. Hell, that’s like me quoting Yvonne Bambrick of the Toronto Cyclist’s Union to support my case. Of course Rossi is going to speak against a bike lane– that’s the main plank of his platform.

Oh, and given that Rossi isn’t a transportation planner and has no experience as an elected politician, his quote is an insult to hard-working, well-educated city professionals who actually know what they are talking about. God help him if that’s how he hopes to work as mayor.

More from Bob:

Indeed, the move to convert two lanes of University Ave., a major arterial street travelled by thousands of motorists every day, to bike lanes is the latest sign that the small, but highly vocal, pro-bike lobby in the city and at city hall is stepping up — and winning — the city’s “war on cars.”

If anything, the pro-bike crowd at city hall is being deliberately mischievous and provocative by pushing for the controversial bike lanes in the midst of the current mayoral election. Rossi, who opposes bike lanes on major streets such as Jarvis, Bloor and University, has made the issue a hot campaign topic, winning huge applause from motorists and infuriating cycling activists.

Ah yes, the “war on cars”. I don’t know where that term began, but I can only suspect it was shot from the hip of some right-leaning city councillor, or perhaps another newspaper columnist. Whatever the case, it does not exist. Cyclists have just as much right to the road as an automobile under provincial law. Bob, are you starting a war on cyclists?

Oh, that ever-powerful cyclists’ lobby at city hall. One of many powerful lobbies I am sure. Who will stand up for the thousands of motorists? There is almost nowhere to drive in this town. I mean, the 401 only has 16 lanes for God’s sake! I guess Rossi is the saviour autophiles have been waiting for.

Bob again:

While more bike lanes are a good idea, putting them on major roads is ridiculous. They should be placed on less-busy routes.

Well, if I didn’t think it before, now I know for certain– you have an early copy of Rossi’s platform book. Come on Bob, you are copying and pasting Rossi’s speaking points from his last power point. What about the cyclists that need to get somewhere on University? Should they dismount as soon as they arrive at the intersection of their delegated “less-busy route” and University?

Bob comes to the climax of his argument:

The city staff report claims the impact on University Ave. traffic would be negligible. “Traffic capacity analysis indicates that University Ave. could operate with three travel lanes in each direction in the peak periods with little impact on the current levels of service,” the report says.

That’s just nuts!

Anyone who has been stuck in rush-hour traffic on University Ave. knows that’s not true.

University Ave. is meant to carry lots of cars and truck and removing one lane will likely make it more dangerous by pushing cars into fewer lanes and creating even more congestion, thus producing even more air pollution.

City staff are just nuts! Who are they to be waving their well-founded data in my face! I DROVE EXISTING ROUTES THIS MORNING! I only saw 15 cyclists! FIFTEEN!

Once again, Bob insults the professional city staffers who have actually conducted scientific studies on this idea. But, “anyone” who has been “stuck” in University at rush hour knows its not true. Giorgio Mammolitti knows about the effectiveness of youth curfews on crime.

Despite what staff say from their well-founded study of traffic patterns and road capacity, resident expert Bob Hepburn has his own point of view on road capacity. In fact, Bob says that University Avenue is meant to carry “lots of cars” (that’s from a previous study he did). God knows we can never change roads from their original intent! Wait a minute– the 401 was once four lanes through Toronto. Hmm. Bob continues to pulpiteer  that eliminating one lane will result in DANGER from who knows what, CONGESTION because of all those cars already, and as a result, SMOG! That’s just nuts!

Bob’s just about to wrap it up here:

Like it or not, the University Ave. bike lane trial will go ahead. There’s no way the current council will oppose it.

That’s why it will be critical that the pilot project be conducted openly and honestly.

The evidence can’t just be anecdotal, with cyclists yelling “Yippee, this is great” and producing highly questionable statistics about the number of bikers actually using the lanes.

Before this pilot project is put in place, everyone needs to know how it will be evaluated, what does the city hope to achieve, what will be involved in the evaluation, how will the city know if it is a success or failure, and who will be involved in the evaluation.

Yipee! Finally something reasonable put from brain to laptop. Let’s use real numbers to evaluate this pilot project, and have a sound evaluation process. Good job Bob.

This is my favourite part:

All of this must be determined in advance, otherwise it won’t be a true scientific study.

OHHH, a true scientific study! I was wondering when you were going to bring that up. It almost seems like you know what a scientific study entails. I was beginning to doubt you Bob! Forgive me.

Bob finishes up:

The staff report claims “key stakeholders” along University Ave., including hospitals, the fire department “and the cycling community” will be consulted about the plan and how it is evaluated.

I didn’t see any reference to consulting drivers.

Clearly, they are the losers once again.

Oh, you mean cars didn’t get mentioned ONCE in the staff report? That must sting both you and Rocco. Pity they put the fire department and hospitals above you motorists. I cannot believe the nerve of those city staffers, after all the nice things you said about them, would do that to you! Where do they get off?

I’m sure it’s not personal. I am also quite certain that drivers are not “the losers” once again. This pilot project will go ahead, you and Rocco will be frustrated and pontificate from your editorial page, but the world will not end. The city staff even say so. You do trust them, don’t you?

Hepburn’s article can be found here.