Categories
Cycling Infrastructure Roads Toronto Walking

A tale of two streets: Winona Drive and Shaughnessy Boulevard

Typical Quiet Street signage and pylon placement, Crawford Street

Earlier this month, as part of Toronto’s long-overdue response to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the city introduced ActiveTO. ActiveTO includes several measures addressing the need for safe active transportation and recreation routes as summer approaches and businesses slowly reopen.

Current ActiveTO initiatives include weekend traffic closures of sections of Lake Shore Boulevard and Bayview Avenue to take pressure off narrow and busy multi-use paths, designating specific “quiet streets” to provide safer cycling and pedestrian corridors, and the construction of new bike lanes and cycle tracks, accelerating work on the painfully slow implementation of the city’s cycling network plan.

One of many families enjoying the Bayview Avenue extension closure on May 16. The weekend closure provides a safe, spacious alternative to the crowded Lower Don Trail

I visited two Toronto streets this week included in the initial list of ActiveTO quiet streets that were announced on May 14, 2020.

On Winona Drive, the pylons and signs placed by city work crews were moved by residents to block an entire lane of traffic at each intersection. This enhances their effectiveness in reminding motorists that the space is for local traffic only and that the roadway is shared with pedestrians and cyclists.

Winona Drive at Benson Avenue, May 25, 2020
Close-up of relocated pylons on Winona Drive

Shaughnessy and Havenbrook Boulevards, near Sheppard Avenue and Don Mills Road, connect the densely populated Fairview Mall and Don Valley Village neighbourhoods with the Betty Sutherland Trail, part of the Don River ravine system. Though Shaughnessy is mostly fronted by comfortable, midcentury homes, it borders several apartment buildings and townhouse complexes, including several Toronto Community Housing properties.

Shaughnessy Boulevard looking north at Rochelle Crescent

In 2012, some road calming measures were undertaken on Shaughnessy to slow down traffic, particularly near local schools and parks. A four-lane section between Sheppard Avenue and Glenworth Road was narrowed, including a very short section of bike lanes. A shallow concrete median was added between Glenworth and Esterbrooke Avenue. However, the street remained problematic.

The shallow median on Shaughnessy Boulevard does nothing to slow down aggressive motorists

In a recent Toronto Star article, resident Robin Sacks noted that the street was unsafe as motorists used it as a bypass of parallel Don Mills Road. She, and many of her neighbours, supported Shaughnessy’s designation as an ActiveTO quiet street.

Unfortunately, other residents took it upon themselves to remove the pylons and signs and complain to their local city councillor as soon as they were installed. By the weekend, they — along with concrete barriers placed in the median — were removed, and the street wiped from the city’s website.

Councillor Shelley Carroll, a progressive, was quoted in the Star article that she felt those who objected to the traffic calming measures were on “solid ground,” as there were no community consultations before the measures were introduced. She also noted that Shaughnessy is “a safe street with ample sidewalks and, unlike denser parts of downtown, ‘no one’s having any trouble distancing.'”

To Carroll’s credit, a consultation is planned for Wednesday, May 27. Overall, her track record has been supportive of safer streets in her community and in Toronto as a whole, so I was surprised by her comments. Hopefully, Shaughnessy, like many other suburban streets, will see improvements shortly.

Quiet streets, if planned as a network, are helpful for encouraging active transportation, especially where wider sidewalks and cycle lanes are unable to be installed on parallel major roads (due to streetcar lines, for example), or where they can connect major parks, off-road trails, and other cycling corridors.

To make such quiet streets permanent, curb extensions at intersections and other physical cues should be used to slow down traffic. Traffic circles and well-marked crosswalks could also take the place of four-way stops, which are easily ignored by motorists while frustrating cyclists.

The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed severe inequities; between those who work in the logistics, healthcare, and food service industries, and those who are able to work at home; between those who have comfortable homes with access to ample green space and those who do not, and those can rely on their own automobiles, and those who must walk, cycle, or take transit. This is why expanding public space and providing safe routes to travel is so important.

“please drive carefully” – sign in median of Shaughnessy Boulevard

Categories
Brampton Cycling Infrastructure Ontario Roads Walking

Room to share: How cities can make physical distancing work

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Blackfriars Bridge open to pedestrians and cyclists in London, Ontario

For my latest TVO article, I spoke with Councillor Shawn Menard in Ottawa, Councillor Rowena Santos in Brampton, and Ryerson University epidemiologist Anne Harris about how cities in Ontario are reallocating road space for pedestrians and cyclists during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, or why they may be hesitant to do so.

In Brampton, five kilometres of new bike lanes, proposed in that city’s new transportation plan, were quickly approved as part of its response to COVID-19. This benefits both pedestrians and cyclists by reducing conflicts on sidewalks, reducing congestion on city paths, and recognizing that cycling is an increasingly important mode of transportation.

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Cyclists on Howden Boulevard, Brampton

In Ottawa, despite resistance from the the mayor and council, Shawn Menard, who represents an urban ward just south of Parliament Hill, was able to temporarily close two lanes of traffic on a narrow bridge on a major retail street, and worked with the National Capital Commission to re-allocate a section of parkway for active transportation.

Meanwhile in Toronto, the mayor and medical officer of health were resistant to increasing calls for sidewalk expansions in congested urban areas, including where queues formed to enter grocery stores, pharmacies, hardware stores, and LCBO outlets.

This was one of my favourite articles I have written so far. 

 

Loblaws queue on Church Street
Queue on Church Street at Carlton to enter Loblaws supermarket

With Walk Toronto, I have been involved with pushing the City of Toronto to take action, especially in pinch points where store queues, construction barriers, and other obstructions have made it difficult — if not impossible — to safely practice physical distancing when walking or cycling for essential purposes, or even getting a little bit of fresh air or light exercise in dense urban areas.

The good news is that ten problem areas — including the intersection of Carlton and Church — have finally been identified for curb lane closures, with potentially more on the way. This is a timid first step, made after weeks of advocacy, but it is welcome.

Categories
Cycling Travels

Biking off to Buffalo

IMG_6241Tondawanda Rail Trail

Back on Victoria Day weekend, I biked down to Toronto’s Union Station, loaded by wheels onto a GO train, and headed for Niagara. I have biked through Niagara before, and it is a very pleasant place for cycling, with many paved paths, quiet roads, and paved shoulders and bike lanes along many busier roads. Charming towns such as Niagara-on-the-Lake and Port Colborne offer many places for cyclists to eat, drink, and stay. If you haven’t yet done so, GO Transit’s bike train is worth checking out this year.

It is also possible to cross the border by bike as well, where there are many great bike routes and parks worth exploring. On my last trip, this is exactly what I did.

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GO Transit’s bike train at Union Station

Officially, cyclists may cross at three of the four bridges over the Niagara River. To the north, cyclists may cross at the Queenston-Lewiston Bridge, which connects Ontario Highway 405 with Interstate 190. However, cyclists must cross with traffic (there’s no sidewalk, and pedestrians are prohibited), an unappealing option.

The Rainbow Bridge allows both pedestrians and cyclists, though cyclists can not use the sidewalk (which offers great view of the nearby falls),but must also ride with traffic. But the Rainbow Bridge prohibits trucks; it is easy to access from city streets in both Niagara Falls, Ontario, and Niagara Falls, New York.

The Peace Bridge, at the end of the Queen Elizabeth Way in Fort Erie, also permits pedestrians and cyclists, though cyclists must walk their bikes on the sidewalk. A multi-year rehabilitation project closed the sidewalk, but work was recently completed and the sidewalk will open shortly. In the meantime, the Peace Bridge offers a shuttle van (I called on July 1 2019 to confirm its operation, the representative I spoke to advises to call the Peace Bridge office to request a pick up). The Peace Bridge’s website offers detailed instructions on how to access the crossing on both sides.

The Peace Bridge is free to pedestrians and cyclists in both directions, though cyclists on the Rainbow Bridge are charged $1 (US or Canadian) to travel to Canada.

I chose to take the Rainbow Bridge both ways. It being a long weekend, I had to wait in traffic both ways, but at least the views are decent, and it’s a flat bridge deck.

IMG_6166Crossing the Rainbow Bridge by bike means waiting in traffic…

IMG_6169…though at least the view is nice

Once across in Niagara Falls, New York, it is easy to access Niagara Falls State Park, which offers great views of the Falls, and is free to enter (though there are charges for parking and for accessing the viewing tower and lower gorge trails). Cyclists are asked to dismount and walk in sections of the park, though it is a reasonable request due to the crowds.

I then biked along the Niagara Scenic Parkway upriver towards Tondawanda. The parkway was formerly named the Robert Moses State Parkway, but it has since been tamed to improve pedestrian and cycling facilities along the Niagara River, with the road closed completely at the Rainbow Bridge, and narrowed elsewhere. I doubt the Power Broker would have approved.

1-IMG_1624.JPGAbandoned section of the Robert Moses State Parkway under the Rainbow Bridge

South of Tonawanda, I chose to follow a new rail trail that followed an old interurban line that connected Buffalo with Tonawanda and Niagara Falls. The International Railway Company once operated a large network of street railways in Buffalo and Niagara Falls, as well as rural lines leading as far as Hamburg and Lockport. It also once operated a tourist trolley along both sides of the Niagara River tourist trolley along both sides of the Niagara River, making it a truly international operation. Interurban service ended in 1937, while the last streetcars ran in 1950.

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Tonawanda Rail Trail guide sign

The Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority, the public successor to the IRC, retained ownership of the Tonawanda corridor, planning a spur line of the new Buffalo Metro LRT. But local opposition and a lack of funds derailed those plans; happily, it is now a wonderful trail with safe, signalized crossings at every major cross street.

Once in Buffalo, there are many bike lanes, and lower levels of traffic. Not once was I honked at or felt threatened by motorists. The city is mostly flat, and there are many neighbourhoods and landmarks worth checking out, with great restaurants, bars, and breweries. There are many hotels and bed and breakfasts in Downtown Buffalo and in the Allentown area.

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Bike Lanes on tree-lined Richmond Avenue

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Symphony Circle, one of many traffic circles as part of Fredrick Law Olmsted’s parkway system developed for Buffalo

Visiting Buffalo on a Sunday/Monday of a Canadian long weekend also meant being in town on normal working day on Monday, where commercial and institutional buildings are open to the public. The view from the observation deck at Buffalo City Hall is fantastic, while the Council Chamber is an art deco masterpiece.

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I had lunch in the Ellicott Square Building, which, when completed in 1896, was the largest office building in the world. The building was designed by Charles Atwood of Chicago’s D.H. Burham & Company, and its interior courtyard is spectacular. Several food vendors operate weekdays.

1-IMG_1570-001Courtyard, Ellicott Square Building

Buffalo is an attractive cycling destination because a back-up option exists. The NFTA buses are all equipped with bike racks; the Route 40 bus runs direct from Downtown Buffalo to Downtown Niagara Falls, New York. The Monday was cool, wet, and windy, and I was tired (I later found out I was coming down with a bad cold), so I opted to spend the extra time cycling around downtown and the Erie Canal Harbour area and take advantage of the bus service back.

The GO Niagara bike train operates every weekend until Labour Day, and again during Canadian Thanksgiving Weekend. The Buffalo-Niagara region has a lot to offer cyclists, and it is worth your consideration.

Categories
Cycling History Ontario Roads

Punkeydoodle’s Corners and the world’s highest numbered address

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Last weekend, I went for a ride in Waterloo Region, particularly in Wilmot Township, to the west of Kitchener-Waterloo. Despite some deceptively difficult hills and a strong headwind going back east, it was a very pleasant ride. Outside of Toronto, motorists seem to be quite courteous towards cyclists, with most giving me plenty of room. It helped too that many of Waterloo Region’s rural roads have paved shoulders.

I made several stops along the way, including Castle Kilbride in Baden, a wonderfully preserved Victorian home. It was built by the Livingston family, who made their fortune in flax and linseed oil. The house, a national historic site, is now a museum operated by Wilmot Township.

Castle Kilbride.JPGCastle Kilbride

I biked as far west as the interestingly named hamlet of Punkeydoodle’s Corners, located at the point where Waterloo Region, Perth County, and Oxford County meet.

Though the origin of the crossroads’ name is not known for sure, the most common theory is that a local innkeeper on the old Huron Road (an early colonization road that connected Guelph with Goderich on Lake Huron) like to sing “Yankee Doodle,” but it sounded more like “Punkey Doodle” to his patrons. The hamlet is now bypassed by Highways 7 and 8, and local business migrated to nearby New Hamburg, located on the railway.

The Punkeydoodle’s Corners signs are commonly stolen, and one of the signs was obviously missing when I visited. But there’s one more claim to fame: the world’s highest street address number: 986039 Oxford-Perth Road.

986039.jpg986039 Oxford-Perth Road, a private residence with what is probably the highest numbered address in the world. Road markers for Oxford County Road 24 and Perth County Road 101 are in the background. 

In many parts of Ontario, rural addresses have a six-digit number, often known as 911 or fire numbers. In Dufferin County, for example, the first two digits refer to the road itself, with each rural road assigned an unique number. Each road is then broken down into sections, represented by the third digit. The last three digits indicate the distance — in decametres — from the beginning of the road section to the property’s entrance, with even numbers on the west or south side of the road.

Before 911 numbers were introduced, addresses might only consist of a family or business name, rural route number and the name of the village or town with the nearest post office, or by the property’s lot and concession numbers.

For example, 795112 3rd Line East, Mono, is the address of Mono Cliffs Provincial Park. The number 79, an odd number, has been assigned to the 3rd Line East of Hurontario Street (which runs north-south), while the third digit, 5, represents the section of 3rd Line East north of Mono Centre Road. The entrance to the park is 1.12 kilometres north of Mono Centre Road, on the west side of the road.

This system allows emergency responders to pinpoint an address quickly and accurately. This is especially important in rural areas, where emergency personnel may be volunteers arriving in their own vehicles. In many parts of southern Ontario, rural roads may simply go by a name, or they may also have a highway or county road number, or still be known by their concession or line numbers. Urban areas, like Orangeville and Shelburne in Dufferin County, have their own numbering systems, separate from the rural 911 addresses.

Each county may have a slightly different system, but they all have the same purpose. 986039 Oxford-Perth Road just happens to be in the far southeast corner of Perth County, hence its high number. The lowest address numbers in rural Perth County can be found in the northwest corner, near Molesworth.

It’s worth noting that not all rural areas developed similar numbering systems. In Toronto and York Region, road addresses are based on their origin point. For east-west streets that cross Yonge Street, street numbers start on other side. For example, Yonge Street’s numbering starts at 1 Yonge Street, the Toronto Star Building, and ends at 21137 Yonge Street, where it unceremoniously disappears into the Holland Marsh. 

Categories
Cycling Ontario Travels Urban Planning

Brantford’s downtown was the “worst in Canada” – but has it bounced back?

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Interior of former Eaton Market Square, 2018

On Labour Day weekend, I paid a visit to Brantford. I brought my bike on GO Transit, taking a train to Aldershot and a bus from there to the Telephone City. I then biked from Brantford to Hamilton on one of Ontario’s best rail trails.

Over a decade ago, Mayor Chris Friel called Brantford “the worst downtown in Canada.” It was not hard to understand why. Colborne Street, Brantford’s main street, was lined with neglected commercial buildings, many with boarded up streetfronts. In the 1990s, many of the plywood hoardings had been decorated with pretend business names and silhouettes of customers, either as an attempt at beautifying the street or recalling the variety of businesses that had once occupied the strip. Only a few stores and restaurants remained open.

4360965559_d1aa044078_o.jpgBoarded up storefront, Colborne Street, 2010

There were several reasons for Downtown Brantford’s decline. In the 1980s, Brantford’s major industries, including the once-mighty Massey-Ferguson, had shut down local operations. Other industries like Cockshutt (later White Farm Equipment) had also departed Brantford. By the early 1990s, the unemployment rate hit 24 per cent.

Cockshutt plant offices in 2004, and the remains in 2018

The city also made some questionable urban renewal decisions. The old open-air marketplace at Colborne and Market Street, along with a whole city block was cleared for Eaton Market Square, which opened in 1986. The city also built a new parking structure to the south, as well as a new office building across the street from the new mall. Like most downtown malls built in Ontario, Eaton Market Square was a commercial failure. Brantford already had two suburban malls — Lyndon Park Mall, anchored by Sears, and Brantford Mall, anchored by the Right House, a Hamilton-based department store, Woolco and Loblaws.

While parking at the suburban malls was free and plentiful, customers had to pay to park downtown, and Eaton’s in the 1980s was too upmarket for a smaller, blue collar city. Brantford’s downtown parking garage, built by the municipality, was to be paid for with parking fees.

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Eaton Market Place dropped the Eaton name after its anchor closed, but the mall’s past has since revealed itself

While Eaton Market Square brought in many of the remaining retailers that were left on Colborne Street when the mall opened, as the mall floundered, most major tenants left as soon as their leases were due for renewal. By 1997, when Eaton’s entered bankrupcy and closed the Brantford store, many of the other shops had already closed.

But the mall wasn’t the only thing Brantford officials did to try to revitalize its city centre.

Like Flint, Michigan’s efforts to attract tourists and shoppers downtown coincident with the decline of its manufacturing base (described in Michael Moore’s film Roger and Me), Brantford pursued other projects along with the new mall to revitalize its downtown core. The provincial government planned a new electronic processing centre, but was cancelled by the NDP-led government in the early 1990s due to budget pressures.

Icomm was to be a new telecommunications museum, science centre, and research hub, built on an old industrial site just south of downtown. While the building was completed in the early 1990s, it was left vacant after Bell Canada pulled its funding for the venture. Though city officials hoped for a post secondary educational institution, the Icomm building became a casino. Next to the casino, a commercial plaza, including a supermarket, fast food restaurants and a LCBO store was built, along with free surface parking.

IMG_7676-001.JPGMarket Square

Eventually, Brantford found a viable solution for revitalizing its downtown core. In 1999, Wilfrid Laurier University opened a satellite campus, starting out in the old Carnegie Library sold by the city for $1. By 2002, there were 340 students; today, enrollment is  about 3,000. Laurier now owns dozens of building downtown, including a previously abandoned movie theatre, and even the old old Eaton Market Square building. Hundreds of students live in local residences.

IMG_7664-001The old Carnegie Library, Brantford

Yet, there is still little retail downtown, though there are now several newer restaurants, bars, and coffee shops.

It hasn’t been all good news. Nipissing University, based in North Bay, also established a satellite campus in Brantford. In December 2014 it announced that it would be winding down its presence there, including its joint programs with Laurier. The Ministry of Education had capped the number of funded spaces for Bachelor of Education students and reduced funding for the program. The joint programs were one of Brantford-Laurier’s main draws.

4360965043_88fea24940_o.jpgColborne Street, January 2010

Meanwhile Colborne Street continued to languish. In 2010, the city expropriated and demolished the entire south side of the street, including several commercial blocks still occupied. A new joint Laurier-YMCA athletics and recreation facility was built on the site, which will open by the end of the year. Sadly, the new building contributes very little to Brantford’s main street.

IMG_7674-001The architecture of the new YMCA-Laurier athletic building is sterile compared to the old Colborne Street storefronts

At the least, Laurier’s Brantford campus has brought some life back to a moribund downtown core that suffered through misguided urban renewal schemes, a major restructuring of the local economy, competition from suburban retail developments, and urban neglect.

But a satellite post-secondary institution on its own isn’t necessarily a panacea for other suffering downtowns. As Norma Zminkowska pointed out recently in an article for TVO, satellite campuses aren’t necessarily permanent boosts to the local economy. In Barrie and Bracebridge, small campuses were closed for financial reasons. They weren’t able to attract enough students. Small campuses, especially those with fewer than 3500 students, often struggle to attract students and faculty — and scattering programs can weaken the institution. This is a warning worth considering as Laurier plans another satellite campus in Milton and Ryerson plans its second campus in Downtown Brampton.


As an aside, Brantford is an interesting town, and is well-positioned at the junction of three major cycling trails connecting it to Cambridge and Kitchener-Waterloo to the north, Simcoe and Port Dover to the south, and Hamilton to the east. The Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail is one of Ontario’s best trails, in excellent condition, and a gentle grade climbing the Niagara Escarpment.

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Hamilton-Brantford Rail Trail

Within Brantford itself, there are several interesting sights. The Bell Telephone building features a statue of Alexander Graham Bell, who resided just outside of town for a number of years. The world’s first long-distance telephone call was made between nearby Paris, Ontario and Brantford in 1876. The area surrounding Victoria Square north of Colborne Street and the mall is reminiscent of a New England town square.

IMG_7649.JPGBell Telephone Building

Brantford was named for Joseph Brant, the anglicized name given to Thayendanegea, the Mohawk leader who allied with the British in the American War of Independence. His community, which previously resided in what is now Upstate New York, was given a large land grant on the Grand River. That land grant shrunk to what is now Six Nations. Her Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks is one of the oldest buildings in Ontario, built in 1785. It is worth a visit. Nearby, the Woodland Cultural Centre is a museum and art gallery housed in a former residential school. The museum is dedicated to the history and future of the province’s First Nations.

IMG_7727.JPGHer Majesty’s Royal Chapel of the Mohawks

IMG_7709-001.JPGWoodland Cultural Centre. This building formerly housed the Mohawk Institute, one of many residential schools built as part of Canada’s shameful attempts at eradicating Indigenous heritage. It is now a First Nations museum and art gallery. 

 

Categories
Brampton Cycling Parks Walking

Brampton’s multi-use path problems

IMG_2362-001Recreational Trail: no loitering

Brampton, my hometown, has a great network of parks, many of which are connected by multi use paths that follow local waterways like the West Humber River and Etobicoke Creek. In suburban neighbourhoods where curvilinear street networks and cul-de-sacs predominate, these paths are necessary as shortcuts for pedestrians and cyclists, and for anyone looking to take a stroll away from the busy arterial roads.

But these multi-use paths, called “recreational trails” by the City of Brampton, do not properly accommodate all users. And where these paths meet major streets, users must either detour far out of their way to a designated crossing, or attempt to cross a busy roadway. Where Toronto and even other suburban municipalities can get this right, Brampton consistently gets it wrong.

IMG_2361-001Entrance to Addington Park at Balmoral Drive, Brampton. Part of the Don Doan Trail.

The first problem Brampton has is the consistent lack of curb cuts where a park path meets any roadway, be it a residential side street or a busier road. Curb cuts are necessary not just for cyclists, but for pedestrians with strollers, or anyone using a mobility device such as a walker or wheelchair. In many cases, a nearby private driveway or a nearby intersection can provide the necessary curb cut, but this is not always the case. Perhaps the reason not to provide the cut is to discourage cyclists or children with wheeled toys crossing without stopping and dismounting, or preventing motor vehicles from entering the path. But it instead encourages cyclists to ride on the sidewalk instead, where most cyclists shouldn’t be, and makes it more difficult for parents with young children, or pedestrians with disabilities from using the paths.

Categories
Cycling Politics Roads Toronto Urban Planning Walking

The John Tory Way

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Yonge Street looking south from Richmond Hill

There’s an episode of The Simpsons where Homer Simpson changes his name to Max Power, after he’s ridiculed for sharing the name with a buffoonish television character. It’s not a great episode — it came out at the time the show was in transition from its glory years to the “Zombie Simpsons” era — but it has a few good laughs.

There’s one good memorable quote:

— “There’s the right way, the wrong way, and the Max Power way!”
— “Isn’t that the wrong way?”
— “Yeah, but faster!”

On important transportation projects, the John Tory way is the wrong way, but costlier. We’ve seen this several times during his mayoralty.

When it came time to replace the underused eastern section of the Gardiner Expressway, Tory and his suburban allies on council voted in favour of a more expensive “hybrid” option that maintains much of the elevated highway, instead of a cheaper at-grade option that would provide a better pedestrian realm on the Eastern Waterfront and better support new development.

In Scarborough, Tory stubbornly supports building a one-stop subway extension that was last estimated to cost $3.35 billion dollars, instead of supporting a seven stop LRT route from Kennedy Station that would extend the existing grade-separated Scarborough RT route to Centennial College and Sheppard Avenue. A proposed SmartTrack station at Lawrence East (whose estimated construction cost has risen from $26 million to $155 million) may not be able to be built while the Scarborough RT is still in operation.

And on February 27, Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) voted against plans backed by city staff, the local councillor, John Filion, and many residents and road safety advocates, to transform Yonge Street in North York Centre between Sheppard and Finch Avenues. This section of Yonge Street is due for reconstruction, hence the opportunity to rethink the street to better serve the community.

The REimagining Yonge Street plan seeks to improve the pedestrian realm with widened sidewalks, would add new cycling infrastructure. To make room for these improvements, two traffic lanes — used for street parking outside of weekday rush hours — would be removed. This stretch of Yonge Street has seen many new condominium towers built over the last decade, and there are three subway stations serving this stretch of Yonge Street.

Mayor Tory, who has the power to select committee chairs and members, stated his preference for the status quo on Yonge Street, suggesting that the bike lanes be moved one block west, to Beecroft Avenue. PWIC moved for this alternative option as well, even though city staff reported that the change would cost an additional $20 million.

YongeCrossSectionYonge Street between Sheppard and Finch Avenues would have seen new separated bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and new public art. (From the EA materials.)

The decision to maintain the status quo on Yonge Street benefits commuters outside of Toronto more than local residents, so it is puzzling why Mayor Tory has declared his support — once again — for an option that puts drivers first. Nearly three-quarters of rush-hour drivers on Yonge Street through North York come from York Region. A majority of residents take transit, walk, or cycle; they would benefit from a safer, more pleasant street. Moving the bicycle route to Beecroft Avenue serves to move cyclists out of the way of cars, rather than providing a direct route with better access to transit, shops, and homes.

With Doug Ford focused on the Ontario Progressive Conservative party leadership race, there are — as of yet — no high-profile challengers to Mayor Tory’s re-election bid. There is no need to pander to a voting bloc angered by a so-called “war on the car” unless Tory actually supports suburban commuters over his own constituents. And this decision will only cost more money.

Once again, Mayor John Tory has chosen the wrong way.

Categories
Cycling Infrastructure Roads

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.

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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.

Categories
Cycling Roads

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

Categories
Cycling Infrastructure Parks Toronto Walking

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.