The Benefits of TOD

Via Streetfilms:

For the first chapter in our Moving Beyond the Automobile series we’ll take a look at Transit-Oriented Development, more commonly known by its “TOD” acronym in transportation industry circles. TOD is a high-density, mixed-use residential area with access to ample amounts of transportation. There are usually many transportation nodes within its core and contains a walkable and bike-able environment.

Full article here: MBA: Transit-Oriented Development

The Invisible Cyclists

About this video:

They ride on the sidewalks around the city, many of them without helmets or lights. For thousands of immigrants in Los Angeles, the bicycle is their primary means of transportation. But while “everybody’s sort of aware of these bikers,” says Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition organizer Allison Mannos, “there’s not really any outreach. My interest is to address the people who never get taken into account.”

Mannos has co-founded a program, called City of Lights, to do just that. The program is bringing material benefits to immigrant bike riders, but, more broadly, is trying to strengthen the sometimes tenuous-seeming links between transportation and social justice.

Read the rest of the article The Invisible Cyclists: Immigrants and the Bike Community

Via Urban Velo

Real Life Bicycle Stories

Putting a face on the people who use a city’s infrastructure can help others understand why certain changes are happening (or are proposed).

The San Francisco Bicycle Coalition has created the Connecting the City campaign to promote proposed connections to existing bicycle infrastructure in San Francisco.

The above video shows one family integrating all forms of transportation into their daily lives and expresses the concerns many parents have and how infrastructure could improve current conditions.

Reminds me a little of this, too.

Via Velo Vogue

Is There a Bike War in NYC?

While I, and almost anyone who has ever ridden a bicycle in any city, object to the word “war” used in any form of transportation debate, this is a great little look at the changing face of New York City streets. In a city where 80% of the public space is comprised of streets and sidewalks, making that space accessible for all is ruffling some feathers. As pointed out changes that affect daily behaviours will always be met with some resistance as everyone learns to adapt.

Via Urban Velo

The Changing Face of the NYC Commute

11 miles is just shy of 18 kms and a fairly long commute. Yet, because of constant development and political support for cycling infrastructure 90% of this journey includes streets featuring some form of cycling infrastructure.

Notice that only a small percentage of the ride is along streets with sharrows and, notice too, that NYC DOT isn’t trying to squeeze one size fits all cycling infrastructure onto a wide variety of streets.

Thinking back on my former commute, 25 kms each way and exactly 0% of my route including any form of cycling infrastructure, it’s no wonder I was often alone on two wheels. Cycling along major arterials with boulevards wide enough to play soccer on I wondered why there wasn’t a bike path there. I would cross over multi-lane bridges that themselves spanned across 400 series highways and wondered why both cyclists and pedestrians were ignored there as well.

Real cycling infrastructure influences real change. How hard is that to understand?

Via StreetFilms.org

What are Bike Boxes?

The 2010 Toronto Cycling Map includes a brief description of bike boxes, a piece of infrastructure soon to be seen on Toronto streets.

Bike boxes will soon be installed at several intersections on Harbord and College. They allow cyclists to move to the head of waiting traffic, giving them priority for making left turns. Intersections with bike boxes will also restrict right turns on red lights (a safety feature I feel ALL Toronto/Ontario intersections should have) for both drivers and cyclists.

In anticipation of the soon to be installed bike boxes, the City of Toronto recently updated their cycling web site with a short postcard explaining bike boxes. I’ve include the postcard content below and you can also download the info here (PDF): Introducing Bike Boxes

Images via City of Toronto

A Different Bicycle Shapes a Different Kind of Cyclist

Today in the Toronto Star, Catherine Porter writes about her unintentional conversion to a different kind of cyclist. Her conversion is from a “road warrior” to a “Mary Poppins” or as some would say, she’s become a convert to the Slow Bicycle Movement.

In North America the bicycle is a sporting tool. If you’re an adult, then the market sees you either as an aggressive trail shredder on super-suspension or as a spandex-clad Tour de France hopeful. Yet most North American cyclists are neither of these. $3,000 carbon fibre, full suspension rigs are used for leisurely rides along the lake shore and paper-light road bicycles become commuter rides with far more potential for speed than our roads can allow.

Currently, the type of bicycle pictured above and now owned by Catherine Porter, make up less than 10% of the annual bicycle sales in North America. Yet, these bicycles, with their upright positioning, room for baskets and limited gearing are possibly the best fit for the majority of people who use bicycles here.

Hidden within this small market is a growing movement, one that praises the ride over the destination, preaches respect on the roads and asks just one thing of all members; simply slow down. Slow bicycle movements are born of a particularly European kind of cycling. The kind of lazy Sunday morning cycling where no one is overly rushed, no one seems to be racing and everyone appears to be smiling. Only they ride like this every day.

For Catherine Porter, the gift of one of these city or urban or cruiser bicycles has changed how she rides. A less aggressive positioning helps one develop a less aggressive riding style. On my single-speed I am transformed into the racer I never was. Pedestrian crosswalk countdown timers give me reason to race through intersections and every car I pass is a notch on my belt, a step closer towards “winning” my commute. However, on my city bike, it’s about the journey. I’ll take a side street that I know will probably end or turn into a one way the wrong way, but that’s OK because I have my camera and will probably find some hidden part of the city.

If these bicycles are such a fit for many North Americans, then why do they make up such a small percentage of sales? Quite frankly, and as Catherine Porter also mentions, it’s that our infrastructure doesn’t promote this style of cycling:

The Highway Traffic Act is not written for bikes. The city’s roads were not made with them in mind. And the cycling equivalent — the bikeway network — remains a tattered quilt, leaving drivers irritated and cyclists unsafe.

Earlier this month, city hall decided to shelve a proposal to stitch up the network in the downtown core for yet “more study.” (The city’s bike plan is nearing 10 years old and still less than half done, despite a pro-cycling mayor.) Infuriating. Until things improve, even Mary Poppins will have to break the law from time to time.

Read Catherine Porter’s full article here.
Learn about The Slow Bicycle Movement here.
Photo is of the OPUS Cervin.

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.

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