The Cycle Track; Portland Upgrades the Bike Lane

Portland's Cycle Track

Today, possibly right now, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee is voting on the proposed separated bike lanes to run along University Avenue.

In Portland they’ve moved beyond voting and have started implementing advancing bicycle lane designs, most notably the Cycle Track.

Here’s a fantastic video on how it works:

On the Right Track from Mayor Sam Adams on Vimeo.

Retire Your Ride – Trade Your Old Car for Bicycles, Transit Passes and More

Screen shot 2010-03-24 at 9.19.07 AM

It’s not too often that I take notice of the ads on the back of TTC buses. But this morning, one really made me look twice.

The program is called Retire Your Ride:

Retire Your Ride is an initiative of The Government of Canada, Summerhill Impact and its partners, designed to enable people to get their high-polluting cars off the road and reward them for doing so. The program is committed to improving air quality by responsibly recycling vehicles and aims to retire at least 50,000 vehicles per year until March 31, 2011.

If you have a car that needs retiring, we’ll recycle its parts in an environmentally responsible way, and reward you for it.

Reducing Emissions and Saving the Environment

Did you know that 1995 model year and older vehicles produce 19 times more smog-forming pollutants than 2004 and newer models? In fact, these older vehicles make up one quarter of vehicles driven by Canadians and can generate as much as half of the smog-forming pollutants caused by personal vehicle use.

By ensuring that vehicles are properly recycled, we can prevent the release of toxins into the environment. By retiring vehicles earlier, you’ll be helping reduce harmful emissions.

Okay, the “environment” may not be the biggest incentive out there for many people. So, how about rewards?

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When my car was on its last legs my mechanic offered me $300 for it for parts, so this offer isn’t quite as low as it sounds.

For more info on the program, visit Retire Your Ride

Do Pedestrian Crossings Make for Safer City Cycling?

Crossing

A few weeks after getting my G2 driver’s license, I was on a trip through Guelph when I made a huge mistake. Even though I saw the flashing yellow lights and painted yellow stripes on the ground I blew right through a pedestrian controlled crossing. My passenger gave me a pretty good scolding, “How could you be so ignorant?” “Why didn’t you stop?”

I was later forgiven and thankfully I didn’t run anyone over. I don’t know why I didn’t stop. My hometown didn’t have crosswalks like this but that’s certainly no excuse.

Years later I moved to Toronto and, as a driver, it felt like there were pedestrian controlled crosswalks everywhere. I was always on the look out, careful not to drive through when the lights were flashing, careful even when they weren’t.

Pedestrian Crossovers (as they’re called in Toronto) allow pedestrians to cross safely under flashing lights at areas that do not have stop signs or traffic lights. There’s one on Christie Street at Fiesta Farms that gets a lot of use and for the most part drivers approach this crossing slower than they drive through other intersections in the area.

Now that I’ve ditched my car, the pedestrian crossovers I felt were everywhere have seemingly disappeared. Probably because the space between them takes just seconds to cover in a car yet on foot the time and space in between is much longer.

In fact, I’ve noticed that pedestrian crossovers are few and far between on roads where they would get the most use.

Along Bloor, between Bathurst and Spadina, there are only 2 pedestrian crossovers. One at Brunswick and one at Walmer and both at intersections with traffic lights. Yet, the distance from Bathurst to Brunswick is 300 metres. Now, that may not sound like a large distance, but consider that to cross from one side of Bloor to the other is only about 16 metres, well, who is going to walk an few extra hundred metres to get to the nearest crosswalk?

As anyone who’s traveled this strip in the very popular Annex area knows; most people will simply cross where they want. There is ample space to add more pedestrian crossovers here. There is certainly demand from the thousands of pedestrians who shop and live in this area, so why then aren’t there more crossovers? Well, when you design a city around cars and not people, just like much of Toronto has been, the answer becomes clear. Here arterial roads are for moving cars, with as little delay as possible.

As a cyclist I believe pedestrian crossovers can work to our advantage. On a busy street such as Bloor I’m constantly scanning parked cars to avoid door prizes, shoulder checking to see who is going to pass on my right and keeping an eye out for pedestrians who can pop up in the narrowest spaces. The more pedestrian crossovers along a stretch of popular road, the slower the cars will drive (for the most part) and the more predictable pedestrian crossings become. Yet, this isn’t how the city of Toronto handles streets that have a demand for more pedestrian crossings.

Take for example the intersection of Northumberland Street and Dovercourt Road just north of Bloor Street:

Dovercourt and Northumberland

Bloor Street is just a little further south, out of frame at the bottom of the above image.

This intersection is one where pedestrians want to cross. The city knows this and instead of installing a pedestrian crossover, we get a sign. Yes, Bloor Street is where pedestrians are expected to cross:

Cars and trucks tend to speed along here. Impatient drivers heading north from Bloor floor it after waiting at the lights and take the bend in the road at pretty intimidating speeds. Exactly the recipe for disaster when pedestrians are involved:

Why then isn’t there a pedestrian crossing here? Why not slow the cars and trucks down and make this street safer for pedestrians and cyclists? Why, instead, has the city ignored the bull in the china shop? Of course, the bull is asked to watch out, there are children around:

Bike lanes seem to be hogging the headlines in Toronto these days, but I want to know why there aren’t more pedestrian crossovers? Wouldn’t these be an easier sell to the neighbourhood residents who probably want little more than to just cross the street without running?

First photo via Flickr photographer Seeing Is
All other photos by Duncan

Angles Morts – Blind Spots

Angle Morts

My French is pretty terrible, but the visuals in the video blow are certainly clear enough.

While many could see this as why cycling is dangerous, I believe that this video illustrates the need to re-imagine city streets and change a collective attitude concerning public space. In Toronto, I have noticed that drivers will rarely double-park. They will drive up on sidewalks, block bike lanes and park on the grass, but never will I see someone block in another car. How messed up is that logic? How disrespectful is that behaviour? And how much does this illustrate that a hulking mass of steel and rubber can dominate our public space?

Cycling is not a dangerous activity. Unattentive, selfish and careless individuals make our public spaces dangerous for everyone.

“If you don’t have congestion, then you’re actually in trouble because people aren’t moving around wanting to do things.”

Group Commute

Congestion. Downtown Toronto is congested with pollution-emitting vehicles. Yet, pockets of our city also have other forms of congestion, ones we certainly aren’t as worried about.

The congestion of foot traffic in Chinatown and Kensington Market. The congestion of bicycles along the Don River trails.
This is the congestion we want. Congestion that provides opportunities to be social, deliver a constant stream of shoppers to local merchants and gives you the feeling that we live in a city populated with more than just the latest models of Toyota, Ford and BMWs.
From The Globe and Mail:

Et tu, Toronto? Traffic a problem Caesar couldn’t solve

Options up for consideration at Transportation Futures conference include toll roads monitored by GPS and High Occupancy toll lanes

Anna Mehler Paperny

More than 2,000 years ago, Julius Caesar is said to have gotten so fed up with traffic congestion in ancient Rome that he banned all transport vehicles from the city during the day.

The ensuing nocturnal clatter resulting from this “war on the cart,” as Romans took their commute to the city’s narrow nighttime streets, caused mass insomnia and apparently drove Juvenal mad.

Traffic congestion is far from a new problem, or one exclusive to Canada’s largest city, whose overcrowded roads, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development, are costing the Canadian economy $3.3-billion a year. Across North America, individual vehicle trips have grown at a rate far outpacing either population growth or new transportation infrastructure for years. When Toronto Mayor David Miller was first elected in 2003, he made addressing the city’s jam-packed roadways a priority – and was the target of a political drubbing for suggesting tolls might be the answer.

This morning in downtown’s Metropolitan Hotel, Transport Futures, a non-partisan think-tank, will host a conference to discuss the options open to planners seeking respite from clogged transportation arteries.

This meeting comes on the heels of an Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development report released this week that found congestion in Canada’s most populous city costs the country an estimated $3.3-billion annually, and a gauntlet thrown down by the Toronto Board of Trade challenging the city’s mayoral candidates to come up with innovative solutions.

Here are some of the options up for consideration.

The Phantom Tollbooth

Nineteenth-century Torontonians had to stop and pay a fee at toll booths on Kingston Road, and although the endangered species of traditional toll booth is almost extinct, it’s still in common on bridges.

In the meantime, far more fancy incarnations are taking the “free” out of freeway: Toll gates that could be installed on highways around the Toronto area could charge drivers based on anything from their mileage and driving time to their carbon footprints.

Taking the high-tech route

The congestion-pricing system of the future operates like a souped-up Global Positioning System. It’s used in Singapore, the planet’s dean of congestion pricing – the island city-state has been fighting clogged roads since 1975. The latest technology involves transponders installed in each vehicle, and charges drivers based on where they drive, what time of day and for how long. Singapore adjusts its prices depending on how crowded roads are, charging more as vehicles’ average speed slows to a traffic-clogged crawl and dropping it when space frees up.

London and Stockholm, both cities with a clearly demarcated downtown core, charge drivers each time they enter the inner city. While London has a flat rate, the peninsular Swedish capital changes its fees based on time of day – a far superior, nuanced strategy in targeting congestion, argues Bern Grush. Mr. Grush is chief scientist at Skymeter, a Toronto-based company that researches and manufactures this radio-frequency identification for vehicles.

But a toll strategy that cordons off Toronto’s downtown could be a hard political and logistic sell. An ambitious alternative that just received legislative approval in the Netherlands would cover a wide swath – conceivably as much as the entire province of Ontario – so vehicles would be tracked and automatically billed varying prices wherever they went.

High-Occupancy Toll lanes

One more reason to bring your spouse, child or cubicle-buddy along for the ride. Within the next 25 years, Ontario has plans to create 450 kilometres of High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes that would be reserved for multi-passenger cars. But many jurisdictions are turning to High-Occupancy Toll lanes and letting solo drivers use them – for a price. Shortly after HOT lanes were set up on a bottleneck stretch of California highway between Orange County and Riverside County, almost half the drivers opted to use the less crowded toll lanes.

Parking

Simple equation: You’re less likely to drive your car to work if there’s nowhere to put it once you get there. In many jurisdictions there’s a growing push to lessen the number of parking spots available, or at least to make them more expensive. Copenhagen has been doing just this – taking away a few parking spots every year in an urban-planning version of musical chairs – for decades, says University of Toronto geography professor Paul Hess, and it seems to be working on the congestion-fighting front. That might not go over so well in Hogtown, however, where business owners and landlords are still required to provide a minimum number of parking spots in their establishments.

Transit and cycling

All those wallet-protecting commuters will have to go somewhere. Although some road space is expected to be freed up when drivers take less clogged routes or make their drive in off-hours, improved transit and cycling infrastructure is a vital part of the equation, says University of Toronto urban planning professor Paul Hess: The city needs to act aggressively to beef up its “skeletal” transit system and make the city safe and attractive for would-be cycling commuters – something it has taken other cities decades to accomplish.

But, Prof. Hess noted, “all successful cities face congestion issues.

“If you don’t have congestion, then you’re actually in trouble because people aren’t moving around wanting to do things.”