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Bike Lanes on John Street?

The City of Toronto is currently looking into changing the existing street design of John Street in order to improve this vital downtown corridor. John Street runs just east of Spadina Road from Front Street to just north of Queen Street. John Street is a short downtown road but is considered a Cultural Corridor as it links up several places and destinations of importance both to locals and tourists including the AGO to the north and the Rogers Centre to the south.

The Planning Partnership, a consulting firm heading the Environmental Assessment Study, has identified six alternative designs for John Street which takes into account various factors including transportation, streetscape design, and economical costs. The preferred alternative identified by the Planning Partnership proposes reducing the lane widths for vehicles, removing the right turning lanes, expanding sidewalk widths and improving the aesthetics of the street façade. This alternative, however, does not include a bike lane. Many people have argued that the John Street Corridor Improvement should include a bike lane as there is the bike network lacks adequate north/south connections in the downtown core, especially south of Queen Street. In addition, the John Street bike lane can connect to the existing Beverley/St. George Street bike lane (Route 35) providing an important north/south connection without forcing cyclists to hop through major arterial roads or take many detours to connect to other bike lanes.

Street Design ExampleAn example of what John Street’s streetscape could look like

Adding a bike lane on John Street would provide a great north/south connection for cyclists but having the bike lane there may not be ideal for a few reasons. Firstly, according to a traffic assessment pedestrian traffic is dominant across John St, whereas cyclists average only 2% of the traffic flow. Efforts to expand the sidewalk, as opposed to reducing them for a bike lane, would result in increased space for pedestrians. Furthermore, decreased space often acts to limit speed, furthermore increase safety to cyclists and pedestrians. Widening and improving the sidewalk space would greatly benefit the existing pedestrian sphere while also serving a dominant, yet often underserved, modal type.

Another reason why a bike lane on John is not needed is that there are already plans for providing bike lanes within the immediate area as part of the City of Toronto Bicycle Plan. The existing plan proposes bike lanes on Peter Street/Blue Jays Way as well as Simcoe Street which are situated to the west and east of John Street. In addition, these roads not only pass through Front Street but continue south along to Bremnar Road which already has a segment of bike lanes implemented. While a bike lane on John Street would be beneficial for several reasons, efforts at expanding bike lanes could better be concentrated on projects with a more noticable impact; specifically, expansions on Peter Street and Simcoe Street.

Proposed Bike Network
The proposed bike network under the Bike Plan

Cyclists do need improved bike lanes and connectivity in the downtown core and John Street may be one of the locations to start. Given the fact that Peter Street and Simcoe Street are proposed locations for bike lanes and they provide greater connectivity to other bike lanes it may be best to shift the focus from bike lanes on John to bike lanes on Peter and Simcoe.

Posted: August 6th, 2010
Filed under: Transportation Issues
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Bike lanes needed on arterial roads

For many urban cyclists, roads with designated bicycle lanes offer safe passage along busy streets without worrying about conflicts with other road users such as motorists. However, there have been recent criticisms regarding the implementation of bike lanes on Toronto streets namely from not-so-bike-friendly mayoral candidates. Some cite that bike lanes impede vehicular traffic and that they should only be allocated on minor-arterial or local roads rather than major-arterial roads in efforts to increase traffic flow and better protect cyclists. This change, however, is counter-intuitive as it essentially renders the bike lane useless and may only make traffic flow on major arterial roads worse.

The purpose of a bike lane is simple: rather than have both automobile and bicycle traffic share a single lane on a road a separate lane is created specifically for cyclists (the width ranging from 1.2~1.5m in Toronto; wide enough to create a buffer, narrow enough to prevent cars from using it as a car lane) via a painted strip or other physical buffers. In separating cyclists from motorists it helps motorists pass cyclists without having to decrease speed or change lanes which is important in keeping the traffic flow moving efficiently in major arterial roads. That means bikes and cars can use the same street without impeding each other. What’s better is that almost every bike lane in Toronto was implemented without removing a car lane (with the exception of Jarvis street but that was part of the street revitalization so the middle lane was going to go regardless) since the lanes were wide enough to accommodate a bike lane and a normal vehicle lane.

The bike lane on St. George Street allows both the driver and cyclist to move along without hindering each others’ movement.

Another benefit to bike lanes on major arterial roads is that it deters vehicles from parking along the curb which slows down traffic (Well, not always). For example: most sections of Wellesley Street are wide enough for a car and a bike lane but not a normal road lane and side parking. Vehicles parked on the side do not give drivers enough space to continue moving so they must slow down and negotiate with the adjacent lane with oncoming traffic in order to pass the parked vehicle.

If bike lanes were to be removed from major arterial roads it would negatively affect traffic flow on major-arterials and would be a waste of tax-payers’ money to put on minor roads. Bike lanes are utterly useless in minor roads since the level of traffic and the speed of which vehicles travel at are very low. Local roads have speed limits posted anywhere from 20~30km/h so it is already very safe for cyclists on most of these roads. Many local roads are designed in cul-du-sacs or have lots of stop signs to deter drivers from using them as thoroughfares and that will affect cyclists as well.

Removing existing bike lanes on arterials will not have a positive effect on traffic flow for motorists as the number of lanes will not increase. Rather, it will work against them as they must now share the same lane with slower moving cyclists thus slowing down traffic flow and increases the risk of car-bicycle collisions. If the aim is to remove cyclists from major-arterial roads then it will not be very effective in Toronto. Major arterials such as College Street are fast and direct routes to navigate from one area to another. If a cyclist was forced to use minor-arterial or local roads it will only add time and distance to a commute as they attempt to navigate through a myriad of stop signs and cul-du-sacs. Chances are, many cyclists will still use major arterial roads regardless of whether or not a bike lane is there since it is efficient and sometimes the only direct means of getting where they need to go.

Riding from University of Toronto to Ryerson University via College Street. This route is fast and safe thanks to the bike lane and the rider encounters only a handful of controlled intersections.

Alternative route from University of Toronto to Ryerson University avoiding major arterial roads. Aside from the fact that it adds extra distance to the commute it also adds extra time due to the additional stop signs and lights a cyclist encounters.

In some cases, there is no alternative route; the bike lane on the Bloor viaduct is an important east/west connection as it is only one of two bridges in Toronto with a bike lane allowing safe passage into the downtown core or into the east end.

Preventing bike lanes from being put onto major-arterials is counter-intuitive and removing existing lanes is a complete waste of time and resources. Though not every major road is suitable for a bike lane it should still be something that planners and traffic engineers can consider on roads that would be appropriate, closing off  any plans or deliberation on implementing bike lanes on arterial roads would have a negative impact on both drivers and cyclists.

Posted: May 17th, 2010
Filed under: Transportation Issues
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Toronto’s Best Bike Lane

Over some drinks at the Pilot last week a challenge was issued at the table of Biking Toronto Bloggers (Bloggees? Blogsters? Bloggites? Bloggonauts?): find the best bike lane in Toronto (Sure the answer can be pretty subjective but I think that’s sort of the point). I’ll be writing about my nomination: the St. George St/Beverley St bike lane. This bike lane, marked as route 35 in Toronto’s bike lane network, is the best bike lane for cyclists downtown and here’s why.

Source: Transport Canada

Network Connectivity

Running north/south in downtown Toronto, the St. George/Beverley bike lane is an important connection for those coming from midtown to downtown. A great bike lane is a bike lane that connects to other bike infrastructure making travel safe and efficient for cyclists. From the north, the bike lane connects to a series of sharrowed lanes including Balmoral rd/Tichester st (route 20), Russell Hill rd (route 35), Old Forest Hill rd/Dunvegan rd (route 33), and Barton/Lowther (route 16).

There are also several bike lanes which either connect to or are within easy access of reaching the St. George/Beverley lane such as Davenport rd (route 18), Harbord st/Hoskin rd (route 14), and College st (route 12). All of these connections easily make St. George/Beverley one of the best connected and important bike lane in the bike network.


St. George Street was originally a busy thoroughfare for drivers adding danger for cyclists and pedestrians a like. In 1997, St. George underwent a “road diet”, narrowing the lane width for cars, increasing sidewalk widths, adding a bike lane as well as speed controlling infrastructure. These changes came in response to an increasing amount of drivers using a road with a really high flow of cyclists and pedestrians. Not only does the uplift look great but it has also increased safety for all users. This route may also be one of the faster alternatives; using St. George/Beverley from Dupont St down to Queen St W there are only six controlled intersections (some are semi-actuated and most of the time you will encounter them as green lights) and a handful of stop signs.

Road Use

Heading downtown during rush hour can be daunting for some since an increased volume of all types of traffic funnel into what little road space we have. Without the St. George/Beverley, cyclists would have little choice in terms of north/south connections into the downtown core: Spadina Ave, McCaul St, University Ave and Bay St are all examples of less than desirable routes for cyclists and the use of side roads which twist and wind all are not practical.

The road itself is in fantastic shape. Unlike roads such as Harbord it’s rare to encounter any potholes that can lead to a bumpy commute and the speed bumps on St. George between Harbord and College and cyclist friendly while slowing down traffic to a safe speed for everyone.

Neighbouring Amenities

One of the best things about St. George/Beverley is that it connects cyclists to where they want to go; it isn’t a road to nowhere. Neighbourhoods like the Annex, Queen West, University of Toronto, Chinatown, Kensington Market, and Hospital Row are either adjacent to or are a stone’s throw away from the bike lane. In addition, there are a lot of attractions within proximity from the Bata Shoe Museum to the Art Gallery of Ontario. And if you run into any bike problems there are a few bike shops nearby such as Urbane Cyclist, Bikes on Wheels, La Carrera Cycles and Curbside Cycle.

Posted: April 12th, 2010
Filed under: Transportation Issues
Tags: , | 5 Comments »