Urban Repair Squad Questions Harbord’s Missing Bike Lanes

Toronto’s anonymous group of activists known as the Urban Repair Squad are no stranger to Harbord Street. They’ve installed bike boxes, comically expressed the sensations of cycling along the street pre-repairs and now they’re questioning why, with fresh pavement laid, the Harbord bike lanes do not extend between Bathurst and Spadina.

City Councilor Adam Vaughan has answered this question time and time again, stating that he believes that street parking is essential along this strip. Funny, because Joe Pantalone didn’t seem to have any issue with having less street parking on Harbord between Ossington and Bathurst that I know of. Sure, there are less businesses there, but considering that Harbord connects many U of T students and many downtown workers with their homes in the West end, this disconnect endangers many for the benefit of so very few.

Segway of Ontario Turns Rob Ford Hate into Marketing Opportunity

Oh those nutty “Fun Officers!” As the video states, mention that you saw their rebuttal to Rob Ford and get the first 2 hours of your bicycle rental for free before September 20th, 2010.

More information about Segway of Ontario bicycle rentals here.

67 km of Separated On-Street Bike Lanes in Montreal and Other Numbers That May Make Me Cry

Montreal, Canada’s second most populated city boasts 502 km of cycling paths and bike lanes and is currently increasing that number by another 51 km this year.

In Toronto, we just painted 2 km of bike lanes along Jarvis.

But, you may be thinking, Quebec and Montreal are known for having fantastic trails and much of this cycling infrastructure must be through parks and just for recreational riders. So, let’s let the Montreal Gazette break down the numbers for us (click on the image for a clearer look):

http://communities.canada.com/montrealgazette/blogs/metropolitannews/archive/2010/05/27/bike-paths-montreal-network-piste-bande-cyclable.aspx

More information about Montreals expanding cycling network from the Montreal Gazette:
breaking down montreal’s 502-km cycling network
montreal adding to its cycling path network

The Challenge of Bixi Thriving in Today’s Toronto

Bixi station at Mount Royal Metro Stop photo by Duncan H

What can you learn about bicycle sharing and cycling infrastructure over just one weekend?

I was recently in Montreal to attend the Osheaga concert in Parc Jean-Drapeau. We rented a car and drove from Toronto. A collision backed up traffic on the 401, effectively setting us behind by 2 hours. One closed down lane and all forward movement halts.

We checked into our hotel and took the STM (Montreal’s public transport system) to the event. Our transit ride was free when we presented our paid for tickets to Osheaga.

You see, I had no intention of discovering Montreal’s cycling infrastructure or even riding a Bixi bike. I was in town for a concert, I had access to free transit to and from the event, why would I even consider riding a bicycle?

Had this event been held in Toronto, a bicycle would not have presented itself as an option. Our morning plans involved walking to a restaurant for brunch and then hopping on transit to the event. Montreal is a stunningly beautiful city. The hills provide grand views and the unique architecture is certainly worth seeing on foot. As we stepped out of our hotel and began our morning walk we saw a couple people riding Bixis. We soon passed one Bixi station, located in a spot that once provided parking for 3 cars. Next to the station was a bike lane and on the opposite side of the street there was a bike corral for non-Bixi bikes.

We continued our walk, passing another street with a Bixi station, more bike lanes and sharrows. As we walked up avenue du Parc we passed by a completely separated bike path, one with bicycle specific traffic lights, sharrows through road crossings and dotted with several Bixi stations.

I hadn’t planned on biking in Montreal, but cycling soon became an attractive option.

We stopped at a Bixi station to look at the large city map on display and figure out where we were heading. From the distance we’d already walked we discovered we’d be late if we kept on going by foot. And this is when Bixi grabbed us and said, “Here’s the better way.” The map showed us a Bixi station near our destination, the map also indicated that there were bike lanes along the entire route.

While the Bixi system isn’t designed specifically for tourists, it is exceptionally easy to use even if you’re unfamiliar with the city and bike sharing. A quick swipe of my credit card and I had access to two Bixi bicycles for the next 24 hours. A code is provided for you to unlock a bicycle and when you reach your destination you simply return your Bixi to a station and walk away.

Sure, it sounds simple, but this concept is almost completely foreign to North Americans (and elsewhere I imagine) when it comes to personal transportation. We’re familiar with having to return to the same vehicle and to find and pay for parking or locking space. We’re tethered to bicycles and cars, never wanting to stray too far from them as we know we must return to where we left them. Bixi cuts the strings associated with personal vehicles. Bixi is hailing a taxi from anywhere and not worrying about where the cab will go next. Bixi is hopping on transit and not having to care if the train keeps on moving. Bixi is public transit, personalized to you and your destination.

Still on our way to brunch, now on Bixi bikes, we had an idea of where we were going but couldn’t quite remember the French street names. From the map we knew we’d encounter bike lanes, but we didn’t realize what we would encounter.

In Toronto, bike lanes exist, but if you’re standing at an intersection, you probably wouldn’t know it. Bike lanes here often end many metres before intersections and there’s almost no indication that they will start up again on the other side. This isn’t true of all intersections, but the majority of bike routes in Toronto are this way.

You can imagine my surprise when I saw bright yellow sharrows indicating that I should turn left at the approaching intersection to connect to a bike path. You can imagine my surprise when this bike lane was separated from moving traffic by parked cars and bollards. You can imagine my surprise when this bike path became a contra-flow lane on one way streets, when bright yellow sharrows took me around bends and guided me to the next part of the bike route. You can imagine my surprise when I was able to get to my destination on cycling infrastructure without having to cut through parks or find recreational paths.

Bixi Sharrows Separated Bike Lanes Montreal

After brunch we found a different Bixi station from the one we dropped our first bikes off at. A quick credit card swipe and we had 2 new codes to unlock our Bixis. We followed the bike path in the opposite direction aided along by clear markings on the road and signs. I noticed that one separated bike way was only temporary, removed during the snowy months to allow for snow removal. We crossed a rather dramatic section of avenue du Parc with little concern, simply following the traffic lights and sticking to the path.

avenue du Parc bike path crossing

So thrilled with our morning Bixi experience, we opted to skip the free transit ride to the show and get there by Bixi. We twisted and weaved throughout downtown Montreal, guided by ever present cycling infrastructure including sharrows, on-street bike lanes, separated bike paths and even a few stretches where the sidewalk doubles as a bike lane. We were never left high and dry by a bike lane ending when a street narrowed. We did get sidetracked at one point by a detour, but were able to find our way back to the bike lanes that took us over Jaques Cartier Bridge and to our destination within Parc Jean-Drapeau. At the venue entrance a Bixi station awaited us, attendants on hand to manage the influx of bicycles and keep a few docks open at all times.

Separated Bike Way Montreal

We’d take the free transit home from Osheaga but we’d use Bixi again throughout our trip. It was where we were and where we wanted to go. $5 for 24 hour unlimited use (in 30 minute intervals) was less expensive than repeatedly taking transit or taxis. We saw more of the city than we planned. We enjoyed Montreal as tourists, through the aid of Bixi.

This brief experience in a city embracing cycling as a form of transportation and not just recreation has me looking at Toronto’s plans to launch Bixi in May, 2011.

Learning to use Bixi is easy. I saw a few tourists mulling over the bikes at one station. They were adding up prices in their heads. They wanted to take the bikes out for a few hours and were trying to calculate how much it would cost. Having only used the system for a day, my girlfriend and I explained that it would cost them only $5 (plus the $250 deposit placed on your credit card). They simply couldn’t imagine just riding the bike and leaving it, then getting another when they were ready to ride again. We don’t interact this way with personal transportation. Even car sharing requires you return the car where you picked it up.

Bixi in a Business Suit

Bixi works not only in accessibility but also in connection with Montreal’s infrastructure. The planned Phase 1 of Toronto’s Bixi system is in an area devoid of continuous and intuitive cycling way-finding. Certainly, there are some bike lanes already in use downtown Toronto and there are plans to add a few more in the area, too. But as it stands these lanes are a hodge-podge and require you to find the connections between them. For example, if I take the bike lane on Simcoe street from Queen’s Quay and head north to Front, I’m left without any indication of where to go next to keep heading north. If I take the bike lanes along St. George from Bloor and head south I’m abandoned by our current system at Queen Street, a destination for sure, but if I want to go further south I’m on my own.

That said, these are not impossible infrastructure challenges to overcome. Routes can be extended and connected with sharrows and contra-flow lanes that require little more than paint. Bixi has the potential to get many more people using bicycles on Toronto’s streets, but are our streets ready for more everyday people on bikes?

You can learn more about Bixi in Montreal here. Support the launch of Bixi in Toronto by registering here. Support the growth of cycling infrastructure in Toronto by contacting your city councilor.

All photos by Duncan H.

“Jarvis lanes tell the story of a city that pretends to be committed to the bicycle” Hume

Taking over Jarvis

Via Toronto Star:

Hume: Cycling in Toronto is a joke
July 29, 2010 18:07:00
Christopher Hume
Star Columnist

Toronto’s bicycle policy is no policy at all; it’s a series of half-measures that add up to little.

The latest example, the much loathed bike lanes on Jarvis St., finally came to pass this week after years of rancorous debate. The new lanes begin at Charles St. in the north and end, as abruptly as they begin, on Queen St. to the south.

In other words, the new lanes are all but useless to anyone who happens to be travelling anywhere above or below that particular stretch of Jarvis. The new lanes do connect with others that run along Wellesley, Carlton and Gerrard; the failure, of course, is that they don’t connect with either Bloor St. or the waterfront.

Yet in their way, the Jarvis lanes tell the story of a city that pretends to be committed to the bicycle as an alternative means of urban transportation, but is anything but.

Instead, city officials have responded with rhetoric about the War on the Car. If only.

Rather than build a cycling network that would enable riders to reach all parts of the city, we have a hodge-podge of rules, regulations and lanes that probably make a bad situation worse.

Read the full article here.

Photo via BikingToronto’s Flickr Pool

Handling Street Car Tracks and Difficult Intersections With “Indirect Left Turns”

Indirect Left Turn Sign on Bloor at Sherbourne

What is an indirect left turn and how can it help you navigate streetcar tracks and other awkward intersections?

Making a left turn through a busy intersection can be a very tense situation for many cyclists. You’re worried about getting hit from behind, you’re trying to watch for oncoming vehicles, you’re watching the sidewalk for pedestrians, you’re hoping to cross streetcar tracks at a 90 degree angle and you can’t be sure everyone around you actually sees you waiting in the middle of all this.

To help make left turns a less stressful experience, the indirect left turn allows cyclists to proceed through an intersection on a green light in the curb lane (or bike lane should one be there) and join the curb lane of the cross street to wait for the next green light. This eliminates the hazards of waiting in the left most lane and allows cyclists to remain in the right most lane completing a left turn in a two part process.

In Toronto, there are 2 intersections where indirect left turns are suggested through existing infrastructure.

Heading West on Bloor Street in the bike lane extending from the Prince Edward Viaduct, an indirect left turn allows cyclists to turn from Bloor and head south on Sherbourne. Here’s an explanation from a 1997 issue of Cyclometer:

As you cycle west on Bloor St. towards Sherbourne St. there are two blue signs with a pictogram describing an ‘indirect left turn’ for westbound cyclists wanting to turn left onto Sherbourne. Cyclists can ride straight through on the westbound green and stop at the far curb in the white painted ‘box’ to wait for the southbound green light. To ensure that waiting cyclists aren’t in conflict with right turning drivers, the southbound ‘right turn on green’ has been prohibited. Also the crosswalk was moved north just enough so that cyclists don’t have to block the crosswalk while waiting for the southbound green. The ‘box’ is large enough to accommodate 2 or 3 cyclists at a time.

The bike lane and sign still exist (although the sign is hung exceptionally high for cyclists):

Bloor Street Bike Lane Sherbourne indirect left turn

Unfortunately, the past 13 years have not been kind to the “box”:

Box location for indirect left turn Sherbourne

Early Bike Box location Sherbourne

The second location where an indirect left turn is suggested for cyclists is at the awkward intersection of Dupont, Dundas Street West and Annette.

In order to get to the bike lane on Annette from the bike lane on Dupont, simply follow the sharrows. While I did not notice a sign explaining the turn at this intersection, the sharrows quite clearly illustrate a path for cyclists:

Sharrows for indirect left turn at Dupont Dundas Street West

Sharrows connect Old Weston Road to Annette bike lane

The indirect left turn is also popular with motorists at this intersection as I witnessed 4 drivers make a similar move on the underused Old Weston Road to avoid waiting in the left turn lane.

Indirect left turns are a great way to help people on bikes build confidence on busier roads where turning left can be both nerve-wracking and dangerous. In fact, the Toronto Cyclists Handbook even recommends this strategy, calling it a “two-part left-turn from right of lane”:

I’ve used this turning method at intersections with streetcar tracks and multiple traffic lanes and you’re bound to witness it at many intersections along Spadina. However, is it legal to make this type of turn?

I contacted Sgt. Tim Burrows of Traffic Services and here’s what he had to offer on the subject:

Why I like the indirect left turn.

1.) Avoid potential conflict by trying to cut through traffic to move into
proper turn position. (safer)
2.) Most drivers expect to see bicycles on right side of road adding to the
‘predictability factor,’ (safer)
3.) Riders can always keep eyes forward, with glances to left/right for
safety instead of turning back to get a ‘big picture.’ (safer)
4.) Faster (better for cyclist)

Intersections are one of the most dangerous areas for all our road users
and especially so for our vulnerable groups such as cyclists.  Anytime we
can find safer means for them to travel…its better for all of us.

The Sherbourne site has one draw back. The sign shows a painted stop line,
but there isn’t one.  Maybe this is a given, but I wouldn’t want cyclists
to think they are supposed to drive into the pedestrian walk way, nor have
officers ticketing a cyclist for riding too close to the crosswalk.

As long as you stay out of the crosswalk indirect left turns are a perfectly acceptable and possibly even faster way to make a left turn on a bicycle at busier intersections.

While I’m uncertain if there are plans to add indirect left turn infrastructure in the current Bike Plan, Toronto may soon see something similar in the form of “Bike Boxes.”

Over at Giddy Up Toronto, a blogger has suggested that we use indirect left turn boxes instead of the proposed bike boxes. The planned bike boxes would allow cyclists to move to the head of the line at red lights and position themselves for a left turn from the centre-most lane. While this clearly marks a space where cyclists will be turning it doesn’t address the issue that you’re still in a position that makes it difficult to cross streetcar tracks at a 90 degree angle. Both our planned bike boxes and indirect left turn boxes work best when right turns are prohibited on red lights, but only the indirect left turn box positions cyclists to safely cross streetcar tracks.

The most important aspect when considering any piece of infrastructure, and this is something that Sgt. Burrows also mentions, is that we create an environment that promotes predictable behaviour. Intersections, especially busy ones with streetcar right-of-ways and multiple lanes (including bike lanes) provide the greatest opportunity for serious collisions. Clearly marking paths for all users helps to promote predictable behaviours and can keep all road users “on the same page” reducing the possibility of confusion and ultimately collisions.

Update November 12, 2010: A sign explaining indirect left turns has been posted at the Dupont/Dundas/Annette intersection. Although to make this sort of turn here as indicated means you’re now blocking the bike lane. Here’s the sign as photographed by Martinho:

P1010685

Anonymous Sign Maker Points to Benefits of Bike Lanes on Jarvis

Thank You Cyclists photo by HiMYSYeD

Thank-you Cyclists for paying more for these roads than you get in services. Roads are paid for by property tax (and rental fees) most cyclists live in Toronto and pay this tax. Many drivers do not and get a free ride.

Thank you cyclists 2 photo by HiMYSYeD

Thank you cyclists for choosing a life-enhancing, noise- and heat-free form of transportation.

2% photo by HiMYSYeD

Cyclist get bike lanes on only 2% of the roads they pay for. Roads are paid for by property tax (and rental fees) most cyclists live in Toronto and pay this tax. Many drivers do not and get a free ride.

Photos via HiMYSYeD

How Bike Lanes are Born – HiMYSYeD on Jarvis

Today, Sunday July 25, 2010, the old lane markings on Jarvis Street are being removed and new bike lanes are being painted. HiMYSYeD is documenting the process on Twitter:

Bike Lane Painting on Jarvis Street

Paint Truck on Jarvis

The above machine paints lines, the machine below removes them:

Bike Lane Painting by HiMYSYeD

Yellow Line Remover

Yellow Line Remover on Jarvis Street

All photos by HiMYSYeD, follow him on Twitter.

Setting a Fine Example on Jarvis

DSCN2432

DSCN2433

Looks like our boys (and gals) in blue get their news from The Sun. And according to the photographer they weren’t approaching the citizen on a bike.

Photos via Sweet One on Flickr

Jarvis Rejigging Confuses Mainstream Media, Toronto Cyclists Union Sets the Record Straight

1IMG_6476

Why are these people riding their bicycles down the middle of Jarvis?

Well, it’s quite possible that they’ve been following some mainstream media outlets, and these outlets have been giving them the wrong information. I’m looking at you Toronto Sun.

Rome wasn’t built in a day and bike lanes painted on city streets don’t appear overnight. In order to avoid delays and stave off a mainstream media feeding frenzy of “OMG, GRIDLOCK” stories, city crews are slowly changing over the lane configuration of Jarvis Street that will extend from Queen St. and run north to Bloor St..

Here’s the facts. 5 lanes will become 6 (2 bicycle lanes separated by 4 regular lanes) and street parking is being nixed.

For further elaboration, Yvonne Bambrick of the Toronto Cyclists Union shares more information on the street redesign with photos here: BikeUnion.to Jarvis St. – Need to Know Info!

Photo by Yvonne Bambrick via Flickr

Please note, BikingToronto is also following the progress of the bike lane installation on Jarvis Street with Neal Jennings providing photos and video.