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Physically Separate Bikelanes Coming to Downtown Toronto

It looks like Mayor Rob Ford‘s statement that the “War on Cars is over” may be just rhetoric for the suburban car-centric parts of Toronto… as the new regime at City Hall is voicing no opposition to physically separate bikelanes (separated from car traffic by curbs) along such streets as Wellesley, Sherbourne and Richmond, a plan headed up by the new head of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who we can all be proud of, as he just learned how to bike in 2009:

Ford’s team has voiced “no opposition” to a comprehensive plan put forward by the newly minted public works and infrastructure committee chair, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, which would see an connected network of curbed cycling routes along busy roads such as Sherbourne, Wellesley and Richmond Sts.

“I think there’s a misconception that Mayor Ford has an opposition to bike lanes. He wants to create bike safety. He wants it where it makes sense,” said Minnan-Wong, adding that both the cycling community and local community groups support the plan.

“This shouldn’t be about ideology. It’s about making a pragmatic choice and recognizing that cyclists need solutions and those solutions don’t have to conflict with cars.”

Most of the streets affected already have bike lanes, with some minor additions needed to connect the existing patchwork. The one big exception is Richmond.

A two-way bike lane would need to be constructed along that one-way street, which would likely mean removing one of its four lanes, Minnan-Wong said. Not ideal, but necessary to connect the network.

Read more at the Toronto Star

What do you think of this initiative by the Ford Administration?   It’s a plan that was being put forward during “Miller Time”, but I give Ford and Minnan-Wong credit for pursuing it.

[Photo from the Toronto Star]

  • I reserve judgment until it’s passed. Still, I’m a bit shocked and pleased.

  • Danforther

    “See you pinkos? You have your downtown network. Now shut up while we take back Jarvis, Pharmacy, Cosburn, Eastern and College for their proper use, for cars.”

  • I was totally shocked to hear about this on the radio this morning! I figured that any cycling infrastructure was dead under the regime at city hall. I love the idea of connected routes but do have some concerns about the safety and practicality of curbs (what if I hit one and take a tumble into the car lane?).

    I do disagree with references to the “war on cars” not being over. I honestly don’t believe there is a war and never has been. Once again, I believe that an investment in cycling infrastructure doesn’t mean a loss for cars – anything that encourages safe cycling and more cycling is a huge benefit for those who choose to drive cars!

  • TorontoDad

    Sounds like a stunt from previous cycling opponent M-W.
    Separated lanes are like ‘subways’ for bikes. Trap cyclists in a trench full of crappy road, and may the Force be with you. The triumphal shot above is on a carefully selected *decent* stretch of road.

    There better be a budget for road repairs – and there better be a signage budget or there will be a LOT more car-bike collisions at intersections. And I will opt-out of the lanes, as is my right under the HTA.

    Oh, and in the meantime, Mr. Councillor, please equip a Sikorsky Skycrane with a giant magnet to grab all the real traffic-blockers, the selfish vans and cars stopped illegally curbside picking up their secret packages or Timmies – and fling them in a long, slow arc into Lake Ontario.

  • Danforther – this is not a site for trolls. Any more trollish comments will be deleted.

  • On the face of it, separated bike paths might sound awesome — until you’ve actually tried them. Then you realize their design pitfalls.

    Simple separation of a bike lane from flow of traffic — notably the two-way style prevalent in Montréal — is actually quite dangerous. To do it right, the grading from the rest of road should be higher (to prevent cars from using it), but not be hard-divided by a tall curb. The higher grade should allow cyclists to have evasive manoeuvre space.

    Tall curbs/berms, like for selected Montréal arterials, prevent flex room for evasive manoeuvres if avoiding a sudden hazard because it crams in tight the inexperienced riders with the experienced riders. In non-winter months, this is especially acute. What I see play out my window (which faces one of these installations in Montréal) are weaving cyclists unaccustomed to being on a bike for very long alongside seasoned riders who are trying to avoid being struck by the wobbling. The unpredictability factor gets pretty high.

    Seasoned riders who are experienced with the flaw in this design have come to just avoid using them altogether and continue to use the main road (which, for traffic engineers and anti-bike car drivers, just annoys them more). When I rode in MTL, I tended to avoid the separated bike lanes unless it was late at night, and even then, car drivers would seldom show awareness for traffic flow along these paths and inevitably try to make right turns without looking.

    While on the plus side it can make riding on major thoroughfares for kids a little less dangerous than without separation, they too can and do meander and weave, sometimes into oncoming bike traffic headed the other way. In the end, it’s still not “safe” for kids, which means it’s not really safe for anybody. This approach of having two-way bike thruways crammed into the width of a single, conventional car lane is devised by traffic engineers whose discipline and world view is driven by the efficient flow of cars.

    The lane miniaturization approach for bicycles, placed alongside cars and separated by a hard curb divider, is not a safe solution.

  • Mark

    Joe T., I think Danforther may be joking. His comment is in quotes, like this is what some Ford supporter would say.

  • Doug

    I remain skeptical, too.

    What’s needed in this city is an extensive, integrated, well-planned and well-maintained NETWORK of bike lanes, paths and throughways across the city, some of which need to be physically separated from cars and some which don’t.

    I have a feeling that the establishment of a few physically separated lanes on just 4 downtown streets will be the showpiece the Ford administration can point to as it’s good deed for cyclists. Then it can dust its hands and say, “See how bike-friendly we are?”

    I want to see a plan, not a few ad-hoc favours designed to quell the bike lobby.

  • @Mark – thanks… I hadn’t noticed the quotation marks on Danforther’s post.

    @accozzaglia and @Doug – there will definitely be some learning curves with this new type of infrastructure, but it’s overall beneficial to have something obviously dedicated to cyclists. Encouraging new cyclists on these streets will automatically increase the numbers of cyclists on other streets too.

  • ron

    Franklly, I’d rather see the money spent on basic road maintenance, and more vigorous bylaw enforcement. Until we’re ready to follow Scandinavia and build actual infrastructure, these plans always end up more like PR than policy.

  • Great news. But I second some of the cautionary comments above.

    My comments here refer exclusively to the proposed Richmond Street Bike Lane.

    I’m very happy about the proposal; it seems to address some of the key omissions from the Bike Lane infrastructure plan that have evolved over the last nine years – namely the lack of ‘Commute Ways’ through the core.

    I agree accozzaglia’s take, about slopping curbs and concrete abutments that, as nodders points out as well, are dangerous. If one loses control of their bike, parking lot type abutments will launch cyclists into the freeway-like traffic, and the 2 foot high construction barriers are just as bad. The best design I’ve seen imagined is a one-lane-wide Bikeway west-bound on Richmond, and a corresponding Bikeway east-bound on Adelaide – both with wide, planter-style separators on the car traffic side spaced so that cyclists can change lanes in and out of the Bikeway to make north or south bound turns – but not wide enough for cars and trucks to get into the Bikeway.

    Bicycle messengers – who constitute the largest number of trips on this in-the-core infrastructure in a given day – will not the proposed two-way Bike Lane on Richmond because of the danger and inconvenience ‘amateur’ cyclists pose. There needs to be passing lanes to make that idea work – but that means taking 1.5 lanes of car traffic away from cars on Richmond – so this is a no-go – motorists will flood City Hall with letters and emails.

    It seems the director of advocacy and operations with the Toronto Cyclists Union, Andrea Garcia hasn’t thought these issues through. The Cyclists Union needs to stand firm for these essential standards – if we don’t do this right it will back-fire – it will not reduce auto trip numbers – resulting in more congestion rather than less – and will result in calls for removal of the lanes in the future.

    Done right these lanes will reduce the volume of auto trips into the core by making it safe and efficient to bike to work.


  • John

    This proposal has generated understandable skepticism from cyclists, but it is important that we not sniff cynically at a meaningful proposal. The issues raised above are valid, but none of them are fatal to the idea of a separated, safe and connected network of bike lanes — which is the only design that will encourage large numbers of people to choose a bike over a car. For example, passing lanes can be created via bi-directional lanes, so that faster cyclists can pass in the same way as cars pass each other on single-lane highways. Also, curbs are not the only way to separate bike lanes, as anyone who has ridden the separated bike lanes in Europe can tell you. Yes, we should watch for traps, but this sort of “can’t do” attitude will only ensure that nothing happens.

    Also to Adam Vaughan: for years you have accused people like DMW and Karen Stintz of bad faith, scoffing at their claims that their opposition to various bike lane proposals was based on poor process, and not opposition to bike lanes in principle. Well, now DMW has thrown down an honest-to-goodness bike lane proposal, and here comes Adam Vaughan opposing it on the grounds of process. I realize politicians gotta be politicians, but this petulance makes you look small. And your record here isn’t pure either, as anyone who has taken their family cycling along the missing bike lane in front of the Harbord bakery knows full well. Stop the pissing contests and get something done!

  • As John is saying, the idea alone is a good one, indeed. The question which we need to ask is not “if”, it’s “how”. It all falls and stands on it. And yes, we should look into Europe for clues how to build separate bike lanes.


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