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The Lansdowne Reconstruction: Setting the Record Straight

[Warning: this is one giant post, chock-full of tasty tasty information and research. Make sure you have a cool beverage to quaff while reading to avoid dehydration.]

There seems to be a lot of misinformation out there about the Lansdowne Renewal Project, which will see the section of Lansdowne between College & Bloor reconstructed to make it more pedestrian-friendly, cyclist-friendly and greener.

We here at BikingToronto don’t like misinformation, so we’ve done our research about this project, and now we’re passing our findings on to you, so that you aren’t misled by any misinformation.

Yes, this post is all about the truthiness.

First off, let’s talk about the misinformation – which seems to be coming from the Toronto Lansdowne Residents’ Association (TLRA) – on BlogTO, as well as their own website.

In essence, the TLRA is claiming that 1) they weren’t consulted, or given the opportunity to let their opinions be known, 2) that removing parking is ill-advised, as it is much needed and there are lots of disabled and elderly people who will be inconvenienced, and 3) that the plan will increase traffic congestion on Lansdowne and/or other streets.

All three of these claims can be proven wrong. Here we go:

1) they weren’t consulted, or given the opportunity to let their opinions be known

This is a biggie in the minds of the TLRA, and rightly so… as community participation is what makes Toronto (the city of neighbourhoods) work. Councillor Adam Giambrone told council that he went door to door along this stretch of Lansdowne and found that half didn’t care, 30 per cent supported narrowing and 20 per cent were opposed. The TLRA is claiming that Adam Giambrone did not consult with homeowners about this project.

Luckily, BikingToronto has found comments (via the Funkaoshi blog) that one of Giambrone’s aides posted to the Dufferin Grove Park Mailing List, that not only supports Giambrone’s claim of consulting the community, but references that they can prove it:

Although no consultation is formally required in law or policy for such a project, Adam considered consultation appropriate and took it upon himself to:

1. Hold a public meeting at 3 p.m. on Sunday, May 28, 2006. Flyers were distributed in both English and Portuguese and the meeting was well-attended.
2. Canvass the street about the project in the lead-up to the November election. Subsequent declarations collected and provided by some community members confirm at the very least that this canvassing took place.
3. Distribute a flyer on Lansdowne in April of 2007, in English and Portuguese, advising residents of the project and inviting further input.

A meeting with some residents who have requested one has been arranged for later this week. That was the nature of Adam’s commitment, conveyed by Chris at the BIG meeting, and he will keep it.

2) that removing parking is ill-advised, as it is much needed and there are lots of disabled and elderly people who will be inconvenienced

This claim is easily proven wrong by a quick glance at the city staff report (PDF file) on the project:

Currently, there are 104 parking spaces on east side and 99 parking spaces on west side, for a combined total of parking 203 spaces. At this time, 59 on-street overnight parking permits have been issued for this area. A number of field surveys were done for this section of Lansdowne Avenue to observe day-time and nighttime parking demand. Our field observations during a typical weekday off-peak period disclosed a maximum of 22 vehicles parked on the east side and 11 vehicles parked on the west side, for a total of 33 vehicles. Observations during a typical night-time period, before permit parking hours become effective, disclosed a maximum of 42 vehicles parked on the east side and 12 vehicles parked on the west side, for a total of 54 vehicles.

The proposed plan removes all parking including permit parking, from the east side of Lansdowne Avenue and provides parking at all times on the west side. Existing peak period parking prohibitions would be removed from both sides of the road. The proposed plan will allow for approximately 110 parking spaces on the west side of the road, which will accommodate existing demand as described above.

Removal of permit parking on the east side of Lansdowne Avenue required the City Clerk to place a notice in a daily newspaper advising the public of the proposed change and asking those who object to write the City Clerk in order to be scheduled as deputations at the Community Council meeting. The City Clerk did not receive any written objections in response to the notice.

Two parking spaces for disabled permit holders are located on the east side of Lansdowne Avenue, at Nos. 435 and 639. With the removal of parking from the east side these two parking spaces will be also removed. Councillor Giambrone’s office has advised that the space for No. 435 is no longer required and should be permanently removed. We have also been advised that the resident at 639 Lansdowne Avenue may be making an application for disabled front yard parking. This will require a future report.

So, basically, there are currently 203 parking spaces (none during rush hour), and this will drop to 110 permanent spaces. These 110 spaces will still be underused, as there are 59 overnight parking permits for this stretch of Lansdowne. An average of 54 spaces are used overnight, and an average of 33 are used during the day.

3) that the plan will increase traffic congestion on Lansdowne and/or other streets.

This, in theory, makes sense, and gets a lot of play in the media because heaven forbid we slow down car traffic in residential neighbourhoods where kids play (that’s sarcasm).

The city statistics report (PDF) that Lansdowne is underutilized at present, and reducing the space devoted to cars (or, increasing the time it’s a 2-lane street from 20 hours to 24 hours per day) won’t affect things too much.

Also, and this hardly ever enters the dialogue on road reconstruction projects such as this, is the fact that reducing the space set aside for cars doesn’t make traffic seek out other routes, but makes traffic disappear:

In recent years, urban planners have come to accept a somewhat counter-intuitive theory called “induced demand.” The theory posits that when you build a new road or widen an existing one to try to ease traffic congestion, the roadway almost always fills to its maximum capacity and traffic congestion grows even worse than it was before. In the mid-1990’s British researchers discovered that the opposite of “induced demand” is also true. When roads are narrowed or altogether eliminated, or when it is less convenient or more expensive to drive, traffic doesn’t just pile up elsewhere. Rather, traffic disappears.

Traffic jams, it turns out, are the result of tens of thousands of individual human decisions. When it is no longer convenient to drive, especially in a big city with lots of other travel options, a number of commuters will decide to take a different mode of transportation, travel at a different time of day, car-pool, make fewer, more efficient trips, or simply stay at home. The corollary to “induced demand” is often called the theory of “disappearing traffic.”

But let’s assume you don’t buy into that theory, and think that reducing rush hour traffic lanes from 4 to 2 will mean a doubling of traffic congestion – meaning that it’ll take twice as long to travel Lansdowne – consider the case of Cosburn Avenue, which recently had bikelanes installed in 2004, reducing active motor vehicle lanes from 2 to 4.

If you look at the city staff report on the before and after effects of the bikelanes on Cosburn, you’ll see that traffic congestion did not double – travel times, on average only increased 20% for a car travelling the entire length of the street from Broadview to Woodbine (from ~ 5 min. to ~ 6 min.)

Anyone opposed to reducing motor vehicle lanes would tell you that the other 80% goes into something called “Traffic Infiltration” (meaning that traffic will move to sidestreets), but this hasn’t happened on Cosburn. The sidestreets of Mortimer and Plains Road only saw an average increase of 15% during rush hour, not the 40%+ that would happen if traffic didn’t disappear.

Oh, and bicycle use along Cosburn doubled with the implementation of the bikelanes.

So there you have it… the 3 main issues of Lansdowne resolved. Don’t believe that reducing the space for motor vehicles between College and Bloor (to the benefit of other road users) will mean the end of the world, because it won’t. It’s not a road narrowing, it’s redistributing the public space of this street to pursue a more equitable balance between different modes of transportation and use.

If you made it this far in this post, then kudos to you. You may be interested to check out Vic’s photos of Lansdowne at present, which provided the small photos in this post.

As well, you may want to look at Adam Giambrone’s webpage on this issue – the street rendering clearly has bike sharrows (reminders that cyclists are valid road users with rights to use the road on it (I’ve included it below too) … so I’m hoping that these are put in between College and Bloor. I’ve emailed Adam to get confirmation, and will let you know if I hear from him.

  • Scott

    Joe, I have some problems with your dismissal of the residents’ concerns on this issue.

    The Councillor and members of his staff have tacitly admitted that increased traffic on side streets is a concern of theirs, and they’ve said that they’re going to kickstart the polling process for traffic calming on St. Clarens – a street that is already (or was, before our current street work, soon to be finished) being used as a high-speed short cut by non-residents.

    The trouble is, the process for street calming is far more rigorous than that for the Lansdowne narrowing plan. We will have to spend months educating residents about the process and ensuring that they respond to the official City poll, since we need a minimum of 60% before the results are vaild, then a majority of that. (The Councillor does not have such results. He may say he has some anecdotal results, but they are not official and they are only from Lansdowne.)

    My problem? Even if we’re successful, it maybe months or years before we get our traffic calming to counter the increased flow on our street. That’s too much time with speeding cars, motorcycles and trucks whipping by my two-year-old son, and all the kids on the street.

    My problem is that this “greening” plan was rushed through without ALL affected residents being consulted. Yes, I know it’s been a year but it’s still been rushed under the radar. For instance, I still have not been officially notified of the Lansdwone renewal plan, in spite of the fact that the Councillor’s office has acknowledged that we on St. Clarens will be affected.

    From my point of view, the May 2006 meeting was an announcement of the plan, and the April 2007 meeting was a poorly advertised last chance to have a say before the vote. There has never been a properly advertised meeting for actual input for ALL affected area residents. That’s what we want.

    I am for greening Lansdowne. (Why not add a real bike lane?) But not at the expense of my family’s safety.

    This is such a stunningly silly political blunder on the Councillor’s part — I don’t think it would have taken much to get the majority of residents onside with many of the plan’s points, if only he had reached out to them more, and actually listened.

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