The trouble with those “cyclists dismount” signs

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Recently, I wrote about inconsistent, misleading, and problematic signage at road construction sites. Too often, cyclists are instructed to dismount and walk when a bike lane or general traffic lane is closed for construction.

But these signs also exist where many multi-use trails and paths cross intersections. In suburban municipalities such as Brampton and Mississauga, multi-use paths adjacent to major roadways are preferred over on-street bike lanes (protected or not). But they too, are littered with signs instructing cyclists to stop, get off their bikes, and walk across the intersection, such as the example illustrated below, in Mississauga.

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The trouble is, the Ontario Traffic Manual (OTM), used by transportation planners and engineers to design roadways and install the appropriate signage, takes a dim view of signage requiring cyclists to dismount when on roadways or on multi-use trails:

“It is sometimes necessary for cyclists to dismount their bicycle and walk when the terrain or cycling conditions are difficult and no alternatives exist. However, the option of asking cyclists to dismount and walk their bikes should not be relied upon in lieu of adequately accommodating cyclists through appropriate road design.”

Book 18 of the OTM (available here as a PDF) states that the “dismount and walk” sign should “be used only in exceptional cases, such as where an in-boulevard facility ends, and cyclists would discharge into a sidewalk or pedestrian zone.” This clearly means that these signs should not exist when a bike route or multi-use trail crosses a driveway or an intersection, but only when the route ends and becomes a sidewalk, or at a pedestrian mall where cycling is not permitted. (Page 118, OTM Book 18, 2013 edition.)

OTM Book 18 page 118Excerpt from page 118, book 18 of the Ontario Traffic Manual, December 2013 edition

The OTM also says that “…cyclists usually find it difficult to rationalize why “dismount and walk” restrictions are in place, and conclude that they were a poor, illogical or arbitrary decision. Thus, if facility designs cause cyclists to make what they consider to be unnecessary stops, this will increase the likelihood that they will ignore or disobey traffic controls.”

What the Ontario Traffic Manual does specify, is how signage, road markings, and design should be made to clearly mark crossing locations, warn motorists to watch for cyclists, and to remind cyclists to yield to pedestrians. Figure 4.103 from OTM Book 18, shown below, illustrates how a mixed pedestrian and cyclist route on the side of a road — like those in Brampton and Mississauga — should meet an intersection. While signs warn motorists and cyclists to watch out for each other, and for cyclists to yield to pedestrians, there are no “cyclists dismount” signs to be seen in the diagram.

OTM Book 18 page 124 .jpg
Illustration of how a multi-use trail should meet an intersection. Figure 4.103, from page 124, book 18 of the Ontario Traffic Manual, December 2013 edition

Multi-use trails are an effective way of providing safe cycling infrastructure, especially in the suburbs, where traffic speeds are higher and politics may not make installing bike lanes an easy sell. Traffic engineers have figured out that those ubiquitous “cyclists dismount” signs are not effective and developed designs that instead accommodate cyclists.

It’s time that municipalities figured this out.

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New TTC subway stations have great architecture, but they may not attract enough riders

IMG_4071-001.JPGVaughan Metropolitan Centre Station

On Saturday, October 28, the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) held open houses at three of the six new subway stations set to open on December 17, 2017 when the Line 1 subway is extended to York University and Vaughan. It was a fun afternoon with friends, checking out the architecture and the layout of Vaughan Metropolitan Centre,* Highway 407, and Pioneer Village Stations.

Some of the station architecture was stunning, and I came away feeling much less skeptical about Vaughan’s commitment to building a new urban district around its station. Most stations along the subway corridor will be well-used. However, I remain critical about the issue of transfers between transit agencies, and the usefulness of at least one station.

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Toronto can do better for cyclists at construction sites

For years, cyclists in Toronto have not been getting enough respect. In 2011, City Council voted to remove bike lanes on three streets — Jarvis Street, Pharmacy Avenue, and Birchmount Avenue. Major off-road cycling routes are closed for months or years at a time, while additional funds are found to accelerate road closures and construction on the Gardiner Expressway. Mayor Tory is committed to spending $1 billion to maintain the eastern section of the Gardiner, despite low traffic volumes and lost opportunities for the revitalization of the eastern Harbourfront. Yet funding for a comprehensive grid of safe cycling routes remains hard to come by.

There have been some positive news, however. The new Bloor Street bike lanes — officially a pilot project — between Avenue Road and Shaw Street were recommended for retention by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee this month. New bike lanes were added on Woodbine Avenue this year. And the Toronto Police Services’ parking enforcement officers have been targeting cars and trucks stopped in bike lanes.

But one problem that still needs to be addressed is proper messaging at construction sites where bike lanes or general-traffic curb lanes are closed for construction. Too often, cyclists are told to dismount and walk their bikes, despite their status as vehicles, entitled to use the road as any other vehicle. (There are, of course, exceptions such as freeways and some high-speed roads where pedestrians and cyclists are expressly not permitted.)

For example, cyclists heading west from Danforth Avenue over the Prince Edward Viaduct were greeted with a sign reading “bicycle lane closed – cyclists dismount and use sidewalk.” Next to that sign was a “sidewalk closed” sign, directing pedestrians to the south side of the viaduct.

The Ontario Highway Traffic Act says that cyclists are to ride as close to the right of the roadway as practicable. But this does not necessarily mean cyclists must ride right next to the curb either, especially if there are blockages, debris, or other hazards. Motorists must also pass cyclists at a distance of at least one metre, and must wait for a safe opportunity to pass.

147 (1) Any vehicle travelling upon a roadway at less than the normal speed of traffic at that time and place shall, where practicable, be driven in the right-hand lane then available for traffic or as close as practicable to the right hand curb or edge of the roadway.  R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 147 (1).

4) Every person in charge of a vehicle on a highway meeting a person travelling on a bicycle shall allow the cyclist sufficient room on the roadway to pass.  R.S.O. 1990, c. H.8, s. 148 (4).

(6.1) Every person in charge of a motor vehicle on a highway who is overtaking a person travelling on a bicycle shall, as nearly as may be practicable, leave a distance of not less than one metre between the bicycle and the motor vehicle and shall maintain that distance until safely past the bicycle. 2015, c. 14, s. 42.

After several complaints, new signage directing cyclists and motorists to yield and share the lane was installed on Danforth Avenue approaching the viaduct.

On Yonge Street, where construction between Wellington and Richmond Streets has reduced the road to two lanes, “cyclists dismount” signs have appeared as well. While this part of Yonge does not have bike lanes, the signage is still wrong. Cyclists have the same right to take the lane. I complained to a construction worker nearby after spotting these signs, who complained about cyclists riding through anyway, not getting my point.

IMG_3940.JPGConstruction signage on Yonge Street, south of King Street

Signs telling cyclists to dismount are generally ignored, like those on multi-use paths in suburban Toronto. They’re placed at intersections and at narrow pinch-points for safety (drivers not expecting cyclists to cross; conflicts with pedestrians on sidewalks), but they are poor substitutes for solutions such as traffic calming, painted cross-rides at road crossings, and gentler, more effective measures to slow fast-moving cyclists, such as speed humps and barriers where necessary. At construction sites, it is far better to remind motorists to yield to cyclists and share the road, than expect cyclists to get off their bikes and walk around the construction zone. That said, “cyclists dismount” signs and enforcement is necessary and useful in pedestrianized zones, such as street festivals and pedestrian malls.

Signage telling cyclists to dismount at construction areas is lazy, de-legitimatizes cycling, and sends the wrong message to motorists. I hear enough complaints about “cyclists who break all the rules.”

Of course, it’s best to provide a safe passage for cyclists at construction zones, such as detouring a bike lane around the construction. On Richmond and Adelaide Streets, some building construction sites have shifted the separated bike lane around the site, an encouraging development. Where it’s not possible or feasible to maintain a bike lane through the construction zone, the signage still can be improved.

At a construction site on Simcoe Street, confusing signage and a poorly marked diversion endangered northbound cyclists, forced out of the separated northbound lane and into oncoming traffic. This resulted in at least one close call.

On a recent visit to Chicago, I came across a sign that delivers the right message. It read: “bike lane closed ahead — shared lane — yield to bikes.” The large orange sign was mounted in the road, in a way that it would be seen by motorists. It also makes it very clear that cyclists not only have the right to use the general traffic lane, it also makes it clear that motorists must give way to cyclists detouring around the closed bike lane. Toronto would do well to follow this example.

The City needs to develop mandatory standards for bike lane and curb lane blockages, in order to reduce confusion, as well as promote the safety and legitimacy of cycling in this city. It must also enforce those standards vigorously.

IMG_2904-001.JPGSign in Chicago sends the right message

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Some answered questions about Toronto’s next subway extension (updated)

36354175911_632dc72411_o.jpgYork University Station, August 2017

Updated October 10, 2017

Ten months ago, I wrote about some of the unanswered questions about the Toronto Transit Commission’s Line 1 subway extension to York University and Vaughan. At the time, I was concerned about fare integration once the subway opened, especially if suburban GO, YRT, or Brampton Transit passengers headed to York University were required to make new transfers to the subway at Vaughan Centre or Highway 407 Stations.

We now know the day the six new subway stations will open: Sunday, December 17, 2017. We also know how the TTC, York Region Transit, and Brampton Transit will serve the new extension and York University. And today, we also have some indication of how GO Transit passengers will be affected by the changes.

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How YRT and Brampton Transit will serve the Line 1 subway extension
(from the YRT website)

On Friday, Premier Kathleen Wynne and Transportation Minister Stephen Del Duca will announce a new co-fare between the TTC and Metrolinx services (GO Transit and Union Pearson Express), to take effect in January 2018. (The Star previously reported that the fare change will take place as soon as the subway extension opens.)

Transfers from GO Transit or UPX to the TTC will cost $1.50 for passengers using Presto cards, a 50% reduction from the full adult fare of $3.00. Passengers transferring from the TTC to GO or UPX will get a $1.50 fare discount. It is expected that the new co-fare subsidies will cost the provincial government $18 million a year. The fare discount will not apply to passengers using fare media other than Presto cards, including TTC tokens, Metropasses, or paper one-way tickets or day passes.

These are similar to the co-fares offered between GO Transit and transit agencies outside the City of Toronto, including MiWay, York Region Transit, Brampton Transit, and Hamilton Street Railway. However, these co-fares are generally more generous — ranging from $0.60 in Hamilton to $1.00 in York Region.

There was no news on reducing the fare penalty for transferring between the TTC and connecting local bus systems such as York Region Transit and MiWay.

For many commuters, the new TTC co-fare is great news, and it represents a good first step towards proper fare integration. It helps to make GO Transit more useful for trips within the City of Toronto, and it helps suburban commuters who use the TTC for part of their trip, such as University of Toronto students, who are located too far a walk to Union Station.

(John Tory is also claiming a victory, calling it “a step in the right direction” for his SmartTrack proposal. At this point, “SmartTrack” is little more than a GO/TTC fare agreement and a few new proposed GO stations.)

However, this could also affect York University students as well. Previous plans for the Line 1 subway extension saw GO Transit buses serve the Highway 407 station, requiring a transfer to the subway to get to campus. York University has been long eager to remove the buses from the York Commons area, which GO and the TTC use as their campus terminals.

York Region Transit will continue to operate many bus routes into York’s campus, on the Ian Macdonald Boulevard ring road, and Brampton Transit’s Queen Züm bus route will remain on campus. Their university-bound passengers won’t be required to transfer to the subway and pay an additional fare. But it appears, for now, that GO Transit passengers will have to make a connection, costing $1.50 each way. (This will not be the case for in the short term, see update below.) This will also apply to GO train customers on the Barrie Line who currently use York University Station, if that station closes as planned when the subway connection at Downsview Park opens.

This will be a blow for GO Transit customers who commute to and from York University, accustomed to a one-seat ride direct to campus. But it will be an improvement for GO operations on the Highway 407 corridor, with buses no longer stuck in traffic in the Keele Street and Steeles Avenue area. It will also benefit GO Transit passengers who aren’t headed to York University. Providing good public transit is not be about giving everyone a one-seat ride.

Despite these benefits, if GO Transit serves Highway 407 Station as planned, it will impact many passengers with a new transfer and an additional $3.00 cost per day. I’m curious what GO Transit’s messaging and final plans will be, because they have yet to communicate their new schedules and connections when the subway extension opens. Hopefully, we will learn the answers to the rest of those questions soon.


Update: According to the CBC and Metrolinx’s Anne Marie Aikins, there are now no immediate plans to re-route GO Transit buses from York University. at least in the short term. This is a short-term solution, however, because the Highway 407 station was designed with a large terminal for GO Transit buses, and York University has been vocal about wanting the hundreds of GO and TTC buses a day out of the York Commons area.

I don’t see this as a long-term solution, however. Hopefully Metrolinx and the TTC can figure out how to best serve York University passengers, though that should have been figured out a long time ago. After all, the subway was originally supposed to open by the end of 2015.

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Mount Pleasant: New Urbanism that almost works

IMG_2706-001Mount Pleasant Square, Brampton

A few weeks ago, I visited Cathedraltown, a subdivision in north Markham built in the new urbanist style. Cathedraltown made the news thanks to a controversial metallic sculpture of a cow installed in a parkette. (Last week, Markham City Council voted to move the sculpture.)

I came away disappointed by Cathedraltown. Despite a dense built form, and a main street lined with storefronts, it did not live up to the new urbanist promise: it was still a very car-centric subdivision, without the retail, nor the density required to make it a walkable community. The central focus is a Slovak-Catholic cathedral, recently re-opened after lengthy dispute between the development company and religious leadership. “No trespassing” signs still stand in front of the imposing church. Transit connections are poor, making a car virtually necessary to get even to nearby employment areas.

Mount Pleasant, in Brampton, fares somewhat better, despite some similar issues to Cathedraltown. What distinguishes it though are superior transit connections, and a better-programmed central focus.


Satellite view of Mount Pleasant via Google Maps 

Mount Pleasant started off as a small settlement between Brampton and Georgetown, where Highway 7 and 3rd Line West (later Creditview Road) crossed the Canadian National railway line between Toronto and Guelph. For most of its existence, it was little more than a collection of houses, two churches, a motel and a service station. By the 1960s, the local trains no longer served the flag stop there, and Highway 7 — now Bovaird Drive — bypassed the hamlet on a new railway overpass in the 1960s, also severing Creditview Road.

A few buildings — two houses and a former Presbyterian church, now a mosque — remain at the former crossroads. New subdivisions now surround the historical community.

IMG_6725Mount Pleasant’s old Presbyterian church is now a mosque.

Mount Pleasant GO Station opened in 2006, just as northwest Brampton was transforming from farmland to new subdivisions. The GO Station was built like any other in Toronto’ suburbs: a large parking lot, bus loop, and pick-up and drop-off area, with easy access to Bovaird Drive. But on the north side of the tracks, the City of Brampton, and the developer, Mattamy, tried something different.

At the core, the City of Brampton built a new library branch that incorporates the dismantled Canadian Pacific Railway station that used to stand on Queen Street in Downtown Brampton. (The station was moved in 1980 to a then-rural site on Creditview Road when it was threatened by demolition by the CPR. But the station building was left to rot before heritage conservationists carefully dismantled the structure.) Behind the library is a public school. In front, there’s a public square that includes a small playground, as well as a reflecting pond that’s a skating rink in the winter.

IMG_2709-001The Brampton Public Library incorporates the former Brampton CPR Station, rebuilt here at Mount Pleasant Village

To the west of the square are several low-rise apartment buildings, the sort of “missing middle” housing needed in Toronto’s established urban neighbourhoods. To the east are several retail/residential blocks, the sort of mixed use buildings that are uncommon in new subdivisions. The storefronts are all mostly occupied with businesses serving the local neighbourhood, such as hair salons and spas, a convenience store, a dentist’s office, and a restaurant. To the south are entrances to the GO Station and the bus loop for GO and Brampton Transit buses.

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How two Ontario cities are re-imagining abandoned railway relics

Brockville and St. Thomas are two small Ontario industrial cities that wouldn’t normally attract much attention. But both communities are working on remarkable projects that re-purpose former railway infrastructure to create interesting public spaces that don’t just lure out-of-town visitors, but add a significant asset to be enjoyed by the entire community. The St. Thomas Elevated Park and the Brockville Railway Tunnel are the type of local, community-driven projects that I can get excited about.

St. Thomas likes to call itself the Railway Capital of Canada. One hundred years ago, five separate railway companies served the city. The Canada Southern (CASO) Railway, later purchased by the Michigan Central Railroad (which became part of the New York Central empire), built its headquarters and shops here; its double-tracked corridor was the fastest route between Buffalo and Detroit. St. Thomas was a stop on the London and Port Stanley Railway, a busy electric railway that ran regular passenger services until 1957. On the edge of town is the Jumbo monument, near the site where the famous Barnum and Bailey circus elephant was killed during a train stop.

IMG_1330-001Jumbo Monument, at the westerly entrance to Downtown St. Thomas

IMG_1310-001The 1873 Canada Southern Station. The tracks it once served have disappeared.

Today, most lines into St. Thomas are abandoned, including the once-mighty Canada Southern; major rail customers such as Ford Motor Company closed local factories. The last passenger train, Amtrak’s Niagara Rainbow, departed from St. Thomas in 1979. The Port Stanley Terminal Railway runs tour trains along part of the old L&PS route, but its trains — for now — only board in Port Stanley.

Despite the loss of the railways, St. Thomas has retained much of its railway heritage. The Elgin County Railway Museum has made its home in the old Michigan Central shops. The station building still stands too — built in 1873, it is one of the longest stations in Canada, extending 108 metres. It was recently renovated and houses offices and retail businesses. A replica of the LP&S station was built downtown, with the hopes of accommodating Port Stanley-bound tour trains. Just west of Downtown St. Thomas is the Kettle Creek Viaduct, which is slated to become a new signature park.

IMG_1326-001Kettle Creek Viaduct, the future St. Thomas Elevated Park, in August 2017

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The ravine run around

IMG_2475-001Wilket Creek trail closure, September 2017

Last week,  my wife and I went for a walk through the Toronto Botanical Gardens, Edwards Gardens, and Wilket Creek Park, all part of Toronto’s wonderful and extensive ravine system. The ravines are one of Toronto’s greatest assets, and many are connected by multi-use trails, allowing pedestrians and cyclists to experience nature, close to home. Some trails, like the Lower Don, are also important commuter routes for those who walk or cycle to school or work.

Unfortunately, several of these trails are closed for long periods for construction, and they do not get the same attention that roads and highways get.

The Wilket Creek Trail, between Edwards Gardens and Sunnybrook Park, has been closed since Spring 2017, and will remain closed until Spring 2018. The Toronto Region Conservation Authority (TRCA) is repairing damage caused by erosion, and restoring the local ecosystem. The same trail was closed two years ago for similar construction work.

The pedestrian detour on Leslie Street is straightforward, and does not deviate too far from the route. However, Leslie Street is busy and motorists drive at high speeds, so it is not a good safe route for cyclists. To the City of Toronto and TRCA’s credit, at least, the detours are well mapped and construction notices are signed well in advance. (I’ve experienced trail closures without any warnings or suitable marked detour routes.)

IMG_2476-001Advance warnings and a detailed detour map on the Wilket Creek Trail

Further south, the Lower Don Trail between Pottery Road and the footbridge at Riverdale Park will re-open on September 23, 2017, fourteen months late. That work was done to replace an underpass at a disused rail corridor owned by Metrolinx.

As Metro reporter David Hains points out, that re-opening was re-scheduled several times between July 2016 and August 2017 — unexpected soil conditions and wet weather were blamed for the delays.  Pedestrians and cyclists were directed to use either Broadview Avenue or Bayview Avenue to get around the closure; both are busy roads, and Broadview Avenue is at the top of a steep grade from the Don Valley.

Other major closures included the Humber River Trail under Highway 401 near Weston Road, which was closed for several months in 2016 so that trail users would not be in the way of construction vehicles. The suggested detour, a 3 kilometre long circuitous route, followed Wilson Avenue, a busy suburban road.

This year, the Etobicoke Creek Trail under Highway 401 in Mississauga is also closed for two years for bridge work. There are no safe alternatives for crossing Highway 401 in that area.

Humber.jpgThe circuitous and dangerous 2016 Humber River Trail detour at Highway 401. Source: MTO.

The long and dangerous closures of major pedestrian and cycling routes can be compared to the way road repairs are prioritized. Mayor John Tory announced $3.4 million to speed up construction on the Gardiner Expressway in 2015, when the elevated highway was reduced to two lanes in each direction from three. In August, Tory announced additional funds to speed up watermain and streetcar track construction on Dundas Street between Yonge and Church Streets, perhaps not coincidentally a route many city councillors drive to get to City Hall.

If only there were some additional money and attention given to projects affecting pedestrians and cyclists in Toronto. It would also be nice to ensure any detours were well signed, and made as safe and comfortable as possible.

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