Thursday, October 27, 2016

New Bike Infrastructure Lately

I think we can safely say, Toronto is in the midst of a new era for bike improvements.  Wait, wait, before you start crying foul (yes, yes, we have a LONG way to go), let's stop and think about all the good that has come over the last few months.  Bloor, Simcoe, Bayview, and the Viaduct.  In the midst of being frustrated about the slow pace of change in Toronto, take a moment to think about some recent successes.

The new pilot project protected bike lanes along Bloor sure did cause quite the media hoopla in August. Never has road works been so heavily reported!

September there was the Bells on Bloor victory celebration lap, and Ward 30 Bikes co-hosted with Scarborough Cycles a feeder ride from Logan / Danforth to meet up with the main ride - great turnout in the east end:

Danforth & Logan feeder ride

Bells turnout was huge!

Councillor Layton speaks at Bells on Bloor, photo: Cycle Toronto

Bells on Bloor Photo: Toronto Observer

And then in early October we learned that a new Forum poll shows that 70% of respondents approve of bike lanes in Toronto!

But since then, quite a few other improvements have been installed to much quieter media reaction. Here's a rundown of what's happened lately:

Simcoe upgrade
Last year Councillor Cressy put forward a motion to separate the rest of Simcoe Street bike lane.  For those familiar, what was there before was mostly separated lane (with planters!) from Richmond St to Wellington.

The better parts of Simcoe

After that... the bike lane down to the waterfront trail was left to your faith in the magic repellent powers of painted lines.

Before: Simcoe Bike lanes - the painted lines, they do nothing!

Well, in October, we got better separation:  bollards.  Not the best, but better than before (note: can't find a good after photo)

Upgrade in process.  After the buffer, bollards were installed

And on a personal note, I biked my son to the 2nd last Jays game of the post season and was super thankful that coming up from the waterfront trail I had those plastic sticks to keep vehicles (mostly) in check, what a difference it made for that section leading up to major family destinations.  It's actually kind of shocking that major destination like Rogers Centre, Steamwhistle Brewery and Train Museum, Ripleys Aquarium and the CN Tower didn't have a safe way to get there by bike.  From now on, Waterfront Trail to Simcoe Bollards and I'm there!

Bayview near Brickworks

The media picked up on this one, and called it a game changer.  Given that the connection is only from Pottery Road to Rosedale Valley Road, and doesn't go all the way south to the Corktown Common trails down there, or north towards Moore and the paths in the Mt Pleasant Cemetery, i'm going to say calling it a game changer is bold. Or it's just click bait.  Also... a metal guard rail?  That a'int no game changer.  Ya! Way to reinforce that feeling of riding beside a highway!

I will concede however, it's a game changer specifically for getting to the Evergreen Brickworks. Because if you've ever done it from Ward 30 with kids in the past.... your heart palpitations may still not have stopped.  Ride down Pottery, then a poorly paved Shoulder-Of-Death and a blind corner right before the Brickworks.... ya...   So then you probably did what we did, crossed the viaduct went on an extended detour through Rosedale and picked up the Milkman's path.  Which is fine and dandy until you need to get out of the valley and your kids can't push their bikes up the rough wooded trail let alone bike it (and your dutch cargo bike can't make it out either - to much pretty nature!)  So you try one more time by going deeper through Rosedale, find the switchback ramp over the tracks at Summerhill and make your way up to Moore and try to get to Brickworks from the north via the Beltline trail.  Only to find not only do you have the same rough wooded trail problem on your way home, but by now your young kids have biked 5km out of their way just to find a safe way into Brickworks.

So, yes... for us folks in Ward 30 trying to safely get to Brickworks, this is indeed a game changer.  The most direct route now has significant safety improvements.
October view of Bayview bike paths across from Brickworks, note the bike traffic signals too! Photo: @Sean_YYZ Twitter

And the new pottery road multi use bridge is a HUGE improvement as well.

But I need to have another go at the guard rail protection of Bayview bike paths:

Not good enough! I feel that living in Toronto I am condition to cheer for whatever we can get.  Our love affair with plastic flexi-post bollards are not going to win any best practice awards in Denmark or the Netherlands.  So a metal guard rail is better, yes... but, we can do so much better!!

Grass buffers perhaps?  This is the Don Valley, there is space.

Netherlands - family friendly bike heaven

The Viaduct
Well this was a surprise to I think almost everyone.  Protection for the viaduct was approved YEARS ago, but we've been forever told that the membrane of the Viaduct cannot be drilled into, so protection couldn't happen.  And then city staff quietly went x-rayed the bridge and figured it out. Install happened over one weekend, with a giant crew of TWO workers and ONE hand drill.  And ta-da, protected-ish.

My safety assessment:  I won't let my 6 year old ride on this, but when I ride I have less fear of orphaning my 2 kids.   Let us know in the comments how you feel about the width of the bike lane for passing etc.,

Still under construction and finishing asap:  upgrades to Gerrard bike lane between Sherbourne and Ryerson (spoiler... protection with trees!) and Peter Street.  Stay tuned, we'll report back soon.

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Upgrading the Dundas Street East bike lanes

We spend a lot of time at Ward 30 Bikes discussing potential new bike lanes and bike routes. As part of the new 10 year cycling network plan, however, the City of Toronto is also looking to identify routes that can be upgraded from painted bike lanes to protected bike lanes or cycle tracks. Here in Ward 30, there's an obvious candidate: the Dundas Street East bike lanes, which are a major east-west route across the middle of the Ward, used heavily by commuters heading to and from downtown.

Recently, City staff have suggested to us that, although they have identified Dundas Street East as a candidate for upgrading, these upgrades might need to be limited to improved road markings and paint, rather than a fully separated lane with bollards, planters, or hard curbs.

So let's take a closer look and see what's possible with the current roadway space on Dundas, using the City's online GIS map, and Streetmix. Keep in mind that this is just an initial look at possibilities, and some of these ideas may not be feasible upon further study.

The current bike lanes on Dundas run for about 3.3 km, from Broadview Avenue to Kingston Road. Dundas Street is classified as a Minor Arterial street, and it is consistently 14 metres wide for basically this entire length. There are basically three different road configurations for the bike lanes.

The first of these is where there is parking on one side of the street, such as from Broadview to the railway tracks near Logan.

This is how these sections look like today:

The bike lanes here are quite wide, as are the travel lanes. As such, it should actually be pretty easy to make space for bike lanes buffered by paint, bollards, or even planters or hard curbs. Here's one possibility:

As we head east along Dundas, we have a few sections that have no parking, and either a painted buffer or a left turn lane in the middle of the street. Again we can fairly change the current arrangement... accommodate separated bike lanes:

The tricky part is where there is parking on both sides of the street, which is most of Dundas east of Pape - a distance of 2.5 km, the vast majority of the route. Basically, each section of the roadway here - bike lanes, parking lanes, and travel lanes - is already at or close to the City's recommended widths:

Of course, if some of the on street parking was removed, there could be space for a configuration like the one above with parking on one side of the street. This is happening on Bloor, and on Woodbine and it's great that it is. But until parking studies are done, maybe there's a path of less resistance that would make parked cars, bicycles, and their people all happy on Dundas East.

Because the space is so tight, the easiest thing to do would be to just add some painted buffer space. We can just bring the traffic lanes down to recommended width to do that:

We could also move the buffer next to the parked cars instead, to avoid "dooring" - although this is less of an issue on Dundas East as it is on other commercial streets, since it has almost exclusively longer-term residential parking.

So far, we could fairly easily have some properly separated lanes for almost 1 km from Broadview to Logan or Carlaw, to connect to north-south routes, and then have painted buffers added to the bike lanes for the remaining 2.5 km to Kingston Road. Add some new paint and bike boxes at the intersections, and that might be ok. But maybe, just maybe, we could do better.

If we squeeze everything down to absolute minimum widths, we can fit the bike lanes in behind the parked cars, so that people on bikes are protected by parked cars, instead of the parked cars being protected by people on bikes:

My sense is that City staff don't like to squeeze things in so tight, so this might be a stretch to achieve. But it may be worth pushing for, as it keeps parking, while helping protect cyclists. We know that any kind of protected bike lane is better than a painted one for bike safety, and bike lanes adjacent to parked cars are the least safe type of bike lane.

So far, we've only looked at uni-directional bike lanes on either side of the street - of the kind Toronto has installed so far. In other Canadian cities, however, there are many bi-directional bike lanes, such as these on Cannon Street in Hamilton:

Bi-directional lanes may not be ideal for Dundas Street East, with its relatively short blocks. But since it would only need one buffer zone, it does allow some breathing room in the space of the roadway, such as this example:

There might be a need for additional intersection treatments, including potentially turn restrictions and dedicated bike signals with bi-directional bike lanes. But it does show that separated bike lanes are at least theoretically possible within the current width of Dundas Street East.

I'll save the issue of improving the sharrows on Dundas west of Broadview for another post - a tricky but worthwhile project. But for now...

What do you think? 
Are painted buffers fine for part of the route?
Should there be separated lanes the entire length of Dundas? Uni-directional or bi-directional?
Take out the parking?

Let us know in the comments, or by sending us an email or coming out to an upcoming meeting.

Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Woodbine Bike Lanes Approved - First Ever Protected Bike Lane for East End!

City Council met last week and we're thrilled to report that the Woodbine Bike lanes were unanimously approved! Not much in Toronto's cycling world happens unanimously, so this is special!

It's also the result of some serious outreach efforts from our friends at Ward 31 and Ward 32 advocacy groups, the efforts of the local councillors who really pushed hard for this, and city staff who organized a massive public outreach.

And it's not just a painted line!  Buffers and flexi posts!   Is this the best that cycling infrastructure can be?  No, not at all.  It's unlikely Scandinavian traffic engineers are going to get any best practice tips from this. BUT its moving in the right direction.  Buffers are better than single painted lanes.  And buffers turn into flexi posts, flexi posts turn into curbs or planters.   Curbs and planters turn into full fledged separated from vehicles paths like the waterfront trail.

You can read more here

Stay tuned for the installation!