Categories
Infrastructure Roads Toronto Transit Walking

Dysfunction junction: Union Station’s continued disruption

Over two years later, concrete Jersey barriers continue to disrupt pedestrians in front of Union Station

A year ago, I wrote about the unsightly Jersey barriers that were plopped down in front of Toronto’s Union Station in April 2018, creating bottlenecks at two of Toronto’s busiest pedestrian intersections. Though the city promised improvements in 2018 and in 2019, the only changes were the application of decals to the existing Jersey barriers.

Though the front of Union Station looks slightly better, and the bottlenecks have been lessened by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, this is not a satisfactory solution, especially for Toronto’s busiest and most important transportation hub.

The Jersey barriers were hastily plopped down on Front Street after the April 23, 2018 van attack, where one man steered a rented cargo van onto busy sidewalks in North York, killing 10 and injuring 16 more before he was apprehended by police. As an iconic and crowded pedestrian area, it was felt that special protection was necessary. At the time, the assumption was that the van attack was an act of terrorism, requiring such drastic measures. (It was soon found the motives were not terrorist related.)

In 2018, city councillor John Campbell likened the front of Union Station to “a war zone” while a city spokesperson said that a broader security plan was “in the works,” including for protecting the station has been in the works for some time, including interim measures that would fit into the streetscape.

In March 2019, nearly a year after Jersey barriers were added, the Toronto Star’s Jack Lakey dismissed complaints about their awkwardness and appearance, calling them “effective in stopping a driver bent on another deadly attack.” However, Lakey noted that another city spokesperson said that “city is finalizing the design of permanent vehicle barriers around Union Station”, that would “be smaller, more aesthetically pleasing and easier to navigate for pedestrians.” Those barriers would be installed later in 2019.

Afternoon rush hour crowds navigate around the Jersey barriers at Front and Bay Streets, August 2019

It is now August 2020, and the concrete barriers are still there, creating a mess for anyone using a wheeled mobility device, or for anyone in a hurry.

Bay and Front Streets, August 2020

The only thing that has changed are new artistic vinyl stickers covering the bare concrete, with messages saying that “artwork is donated by TD [Bank].”

TD is the “premier sponsor and exclusive financial services partner” of Union Station, most of which is owned and operated by the City of Toronto. (Some sections used by GO Transit are owned by Metrolinx.) TD enjoys exclusive branding rights, ATM locations, and sponsors Union Station’s wifi and charging stations.

“Artwork is donated by TD”

Perhaps TD was embarrassed by the Jersey barriers (after all, it has its headquarters just up Bay Street). Or perhaps the city decided that something needed to happen here., after two years of unfilled promises.

While examining the barriers, I noticed construction signage wedged within the gaps, creating a trip hazard. I also saw the original metal bollards installed when Front Street was rebuilt for a more pedestrian-friendly streetscape in 2014-2015.

Construction signage creates a trip hazard in the gaps between Jersey barriers. Note the original metal bollard behind.

Though the inconvenience caused by the lingering “temporary” concrete barriers has been lessened as there are fewer pedestrians entering and leaving Union Station right now, it also makes it a good time to finally make the necessary renovations by installing permanent sturdy bollards.

Categories
Infrastructure Roads Travels

A driver’s case for banning right turns on red lights

Entering Montreal on Autoroute 20, with a sign reminding motorists of the blanket ban on right turns on red on Montreal Island

During the August long weekend, my spouse and I rented a car and drove to Montreal. Normally, I take the train, as it’s a long and boring drive on Highway 401, while VIA Rail offers a quiet, relaxing, and more interesting ride. But with the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, driving seemed like a good idea. (In doing so, I finally drove the entire length of Highway 401 — I had not yet done the section between Cornwall and the Quebec border).

Despite Montreal’s infamous potholes, never-ending construction, and stereotypically aggressive motorists, I found driving around the city less stressful than in my own home city of Toronto. It may sound counter-intuitive, but a big reason for this was the city’s blanket ban on right turns on red.

Outside of North America, turning movements on red lights are generally prohibited. They were only widely introduced to the United States as part of an energy-saving measure in the 1970s, as a response to the first oil shock; a regulation was written into a 1975 federal bill that provided federal aid to states provided that they permit right turns on red lights (along with carpool programs and energy, thermal, and lighting efficiency measures), though many western US states had such laws on their books much earlier.

U.S. Energy Policy and Conservation Act, 1975, Section 362(c)

Each proposed State energy conservation plan to be eligible for
Federal assistance under this part shall include —
 (1) mandatory lighting efficiency standards for public buildings
 (except public buildings owned or leased by the United States);
 (2) programs to promote the availability and use of carpools,
 vanpools, and public transportation (except that no Federal funds
 provided under this part shall be used for subsidizing fares for
 public transportation);
 (3) mandatory standards and policies relating to energy efficiency
 to govern the procurement practices of such State and its political
 subdivisions;
 (4) mandatory thermal efficiency standards and insulation
 requirements for new and renovated buildings (except buildings owned
 or leased by the United States); and
 (5) a traffic law or regulation which, to the maximum extent
 practicable consistent with safety, permits the operator of a motor
 vehicle to turn such vehicle right at a red stop light after
 stopping.

The Province of Quebec was the last subnational holdout in North America, permitting the practice in 2003. However, the City of Montreal continued to outlaw turns on red, following New York City’s continued prohibition, while Mexico City introduced a new prohibition in 2018.

North Americans may have given up the small cars that they began driving in the 1970s in favour of SUVs and aggressively styled pickup trucks (whose proportions and poor sightlines increase the danger to pedestrians), but we continue to cling to the right turn on red as a matter of convenience.

In my experience, though, I found driving less stressful when I knewI could not turn on red. I did not have to worry about a driver behind me inching forward, pressuring me to move past the stop line and into the intersection so they could turn. If I was waiting to turn right, I knew I could relax and wait for the green signal before I had to try to make the maneuver. The leading pedestrian interval common in central Montreal (which also allows through traffic — including cyclists — to go first) made pedestrians easier to see and predict as I was making my turn.

Montreal’s leading pedestrian interval signal

I might have saved a minute or two on each car trip had I been able to turn on a red light. But it did not feel like much of a difference. The reduced stress was worth it.

As a pedestrian and as a cyclist, I appreciated turn-on-red prohibitions whenever I was in a city where they are in place, as I did not have to worry about right-turning motorists not seeing me as I crossed at a street corner, or those motorists who rush red lights or refuse to stop before turning. As a driver, I appreciated it too.

Categories
Infrastructure Toronto Walking

A year later, progress on Canongate Trail

IMG_8531-001
Canongate Trail, February 2019

In February 2018, Duncan Xu, an 11-year old boy, was struck and killed crossing a residential street in North Scarborough on his way home from school. He was one of forty-two pedestrians unintentionally struck and killed by motorists in Toronto last year.

Not long after Duncan’s death, I visited the neighbourhood and wrote about the tragedy.  Canongate Trail, where Duncan was struck, is a two-lane residential street. At the time, there were no traffic calming measures in place to slow down motorists, many of whom used Canongate as a shortcut around the busy intersection of Kennedy Road and Steeles Avenue. The local councillor, Jim Karygiannis, decided to unilaterally close a walkway linking the rear schoolyard with Canongate Trail, close to where Duncan was killed. Duncan used the walkway before he tried to cross the street.

Since then, more permanent fixes were made. At the request of Karygiannis and local residents, city staff studied both reducing speed limit and installing traffic calming measures. While staff recommended reducing the speed limit to 30 kilometres an hour, they concluded that traffic calming measures such as speed humps were unwarranted.

The speed humps were added anyway, along with other measures. A new all-way stop was added at Ockwell Manor Drive, near where the walkway meets the Canongate Trail sidewalk. Beyond the point where the walkway meets the sidewalk, fencing was installed to discourage children from running into the street. These are significant improvements.

IMG_8530-001The walkway to the school and a nearby park is reopened, with a metal barrier between the sidewalk and the roadway

Still, more can always be done. Curb extensions or bulb-outs at intersections would be another effective traffic calming measure, narrowing the roadway, slowing down turning vehicles, and increasing pedestrian visibility while reducing pedestrian crossing distances.

What’s most disheartening though is that it took a young child’s death for these measures to happen. All residential streets should have a 30 km/h limit and streets designed to slow motorists down, including measures such as curb extensions and speed humps. As with the “Slow Down – Kids at Play” lawn sign campaign, action only comes after a high-profile tragedy. Even then, it’s not enough.

It’s good to see progress on Canongate Trail. But this should be the standard everywhere. We can and should do better in Toronto if we are all serious about implementing a true Vision Zero policy.

IMG_8535-001New 30 km/h speed limit and a new stop sign on Canongate Trail, February 2019

IMG_6027-001What Canongate Trail looked like in March 2018

Categories
Roads Toronto Walking

Pedestrian flags at crosswalks are not a solution

IMG_0772-001Pedestrian crossing in Dartmouth Nova Scotia equipped with pedestrian flags

Toronto Star article this weekend profiled three elementary school students installing pedestrian flags at local residential intersections near their school in Leaside. Pedestrian flags are not a new idea; they have been common in Halifax and other communities in Nova Scotia for several years. (I wrote about this before on my blog after visiting Halifax this past summer.)

On the surface, it sounds like a good idea. Eleven-year old Arnav Shah describes their use in the Star: “what happens is when a pedestrian comes to cross, they look both ways, the regular stuff, maintaining eye contact with the drivers, and then they put the flag up and walk across. Not only does this make them more visible, but makes them (the drivers) more aware of the problem at hand.”

Residents have complained about additional traffic in the neighbourhood as impatient drivers use residential streets to avoid transit construction on nearby Eglinton Avenue. Photos in the article show the flags being used at the corner of Rumsey Road and Donlea Drive, near the school. The intersection is already controlled by a four-way stop, it is located in a signed school zone, and the local speed limit is 40 km/h.

The local councillor, Jon Burnside,  rightly praised the children for taking initative. But he added that “…it’s also a sad commentary on the state of our roads and the way people drive.” He’s right. Burnside further adds that adults “can take some cues from the kids’ creativity.”

If we need bright flags to cross the street at a designated crosswalk because motorists wouldn’t see pedestrians otherwise, then we’ve failed to provide safe infrastructure. The adults — namely Toronto’s mayor and city council — have resisted investing in safe pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.

The city has put up signs on wide five-lane and seven-lane roads designating them as “Seniors Safety Zones” but has done little to actually make those roads safer for the pedestrians using them. The mayor and the committee responsible for roads and infrastructure rejected making Yonge Street in North York safer and more pleasant to walk and cycle, deferring to motorists instead. And last week, it responded to a child killed while crossing the street in a residential area by closing a walkway to the school yard and not doing anything to slow down motorists speeding in a school zone.

Simply installing flags at crosswalks for pedestrians to carry would be in line with Toronto’s ineffectual Vision Zero program. While I can admire the children’s action, I would really like to see this taken much farther by the leaders in charge.


Correction: the local councillor quoted in the Toronto Star is Jon Burnside, not John Campbell. I regret the error

Categories
Cycling Infrastructure Roads

The trouble with those “cyclists dismount” signs

IMG_3940

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.

IMG_2302-001

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.