A Failure to Address the Intersection Problem


In the distance, approaching the camera, a work in progress bi-directional path becomes a sidewalk and a danger for all path users, Bayview at Pottery.

There are no words to describe my disappointment and disgust with a recently installed “major multi-use path” along the Bayview extension, but I’ll try.

According to the Toronto Bicycle/Motor-Vehicle Collision Study (2003), cyclists who ride on the sidewalk are more likely to be involved in crashes and collisions. To those who commute by bicycle daily, or are “avid” bicycle riders, this risk is immediately apparent. Riding on the sidewalk makes a rider less visible to motorists and the rider’s behaviour cannot be easily predicted. A driver has to ask themselves, “Is that cyclist on the sidewalk coming to a stop at a storefront? Are they heading into a park or driveway? Are they just looking for parking at an empty post an ring?” And, if that same bicycle rider is completely overlooked by the parallel driver, then an even larger problem arises, especially once their paths inevitably cross.

When and where the cyclist may or may not enter a road from a sidewalk cannot be determined by simply watching them. On roads, we have painted lines and signalled or signed intersections, all designed to increase the predictability of all road users. This lack of predictability is the major danger a cyclist entering a road from a sidewalk and into a crosswalk faces. On the road a cyclist’s behaviour is more predictable as many riders will conform to street directions and make turns at expected areas and while collisions do occur they are less frequent in these cases.

However, to more novice bicycle riders, the risked posed by cycling on the sidewalk may not be as easy to recognize. Sidewalks are separated from faster moving vehicles and curbs prevent motorists from driving on sidewalks at high speeds. To a novice cyclist the sidewalk appears to be a safe haven.

Recently, the City of Toronto has undertaken a project to connect the isolated Evergreen Brick Works for pedestrians and cyclists. An almost unknown section of the Don Trail has been repaved, a bridge resurfaced and jersey barriers are to be installed to separate this major multi-use path from high-speed traffic as it follows Bayview Avenue between Rosedale Valley Drive and Pottery Road. The path is bi-directional and approximately 3 metres across in width to allow pedestrian and cycling traffic to pass safely.

Access into the Evergreen Brick Works site from this extended path is further improved by dedicated cycling traffic lights and a new traffic lighted intersection on Bayview. All of these improvements are much needed as pedestrian and cycling traffic was previously forced onto this high-speed road or left to travel along narrow, crumbling shoulders.

As the 2003 study mentioned above identified, intersections are a major area of concern and recommendations were made to improve infrastructure to make cycling behaviour more predictable to motorists. Improvements like the Bike Boxes installed on 2 major downtown routes address the problem of right hooks and work to improve cyclist visibility.

With a knowledge of the dangers sidewalk cycling and intersections can pose to cyclists and with a trail expansion in an area more likely to attract novice, weekend cyclists (the hills entering and exiting the Don Valley make this route less enticing and longer for daily commuters) then imagine my surprise to find out that at the intersection of Bayview and Pottery Road, the major multi-use path ends well before the intersection and quickly becomes nothing more than a regular, narrow sidewalk.


A dedicated turning lane appears to be a regular intersection, bicycles are not included in the equation.


For cyclists, there is no access to the path, except for the crosswalk and sidewalk, both areas illegal for bicycle riding.

The extension of the existing stretch of the Don Trail adjacent to Bayview has been part of a larger construction project in the area. Pottery Road dives into the Don Valley and until this year the pavement was crumbled and pothole infested. A narrow path previously ran along Pottery Road, though a connection to the stretch of the Don Trail that runs on the east side of the river was mostly non-existent. The construction project reduced Pottery Road to two lanes and has widened and connected this path from the intersection of Pottery and Broadview down the escarpment to the Don Trail.

The newer, wider path ends here. When I took my concerns to the City of Toronto Cycling Facebook page I was informed that the bridges at the lower end of Pottery Road are heritage designated and that there were no plans to integrate any cycling infrastructure either over them or beside them. In light of this obstacle the City choose to simply do nothing, ending the path before it had an opportunity to connect to Bayview.

While bridges are an expensive piece of infrastructure (one this city only values if it is for cars and trucks) I can understand the problem posed here when it comes to creating a connected cycling and pedestrian route. What I can’t understand is why, when faced with this problem, the course of action taken was to not only ignore cyclists completely, but to also create a major conflict area in accessing the newly installed multi-use path on Bayview.

It is these vital connections that are the most important part of any cycling and pedestrian network. The straightaways are great but even when installed poorly are rarely the site of serious injury or death. Intersections, time and time again, have proven to pose the most risk to our most vulnerable road users, walkers and cyclists. As the current administration plans on installing 100 km of off-road bicycle routes then we must demand that they address intersections first and foremost. The increased safety of a separated path is only valuable if the route is connected and visibly represented in areas that provide the most risk of conflict. Never mind the idiom that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link, in Toronto our current “chain” of cycling routes is completely missing links and the strength and security these could bring.


From the City’s current cycling map. Pottery Road and Bayview intersection is coloured with yellow boxes as a “Suggested On-Street Route” defined as “Quiet residential streets.” Since when has the Bayview extension ever been a quiet residential street? The speed limit is 60 km/h here.

UPDATE: Work along Bayview and at Pottery Road appears to have completed. The cycle path is not separated from high speed traffic on Bayview as expected and the intersection of Bayview and Pottery provides no clear routes for both cyclists and pedestrians. If you are concerned for your safety and want answers as to why this intersection is so poorly designed, I urge you to contact the local city councillor Mary Fragedakis councillor_fragedakis@toronto.ca, Daniel Egan, Manager of Pedestrian & Cycling Infrastructure degan@toronto.ca and 311 Toronto 311@toronto.ca

The Successful Push for Safer Infrastructure

How many of these factors exist in North America today? Outrageous number of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities – Check. Absurd amounts of public space dedicated to the movement and storage of private vehicles – Check. Oil and financial crises – Double Check. Public outcry – Check. Political will to change – Very Little.

We’re seeing major changes in cities like New York, Chicago and in Canada Montreal, Vancouver and Ottawa. The addition of cycling infrastructure isn’t just to make cycling more attractive or easier. This is people-friendly infrastructure. These are changes that promote shorter commutes and allow citizens to spend less money on day-to-day transportation costs.

For more, read David Hembrow’s blog.

Dutch Cycling Embassy

Mia Birk at TEDxPortland – Pedalling Towards a Healthier Planet

Mia Birk: President — Alta Planning + Design
In her book Joyride: Pedaling Toward a Healthier Planet, Mia Birk tells the dramatic story of how a group of determined visionaries transformed Portland into a cycling mecca and inspired the nation. She has spent over 21 years creating active communities where bicycling and walking are safe and fun daily activities. Former bicycle program manager for the City of Portland, Mia is currently teaching urban studies at Portland State University and is the president of Alta Planning + Design.

Laurier Avenue Separated Bike Lane in Ottawa

Via Bike Lane Diary

Councillor Ana Bailão Proposes Reversible Centre Lane on Dupont

Here’s a letter I received from Cllr. Bailão in response a plea I sent for councillors to not accept PWIC’s motions to remove the Jarvis bike lane and to not begin removing the Dupont bike lane:

Thank you for taking the time to email me with regards to Toronto’s bikelanes and for your patience in awaiting my reply.

As our city grows, the need for cleaner, alternative methods of transportation becomes increasingly necessary for a healthy and mobile city. The predicted population increases for Toronto will put further strain on rush hour traffic use. To alleviate this we must invest in infrastructure that supports alternative ways of moving around Toronto. Bicycling reduces vehicle traffic, promotes health, is environmentally-friendly and I will continue to support bicycle infrastructure in the City of Toronto.

The proposed removal of the Jarvis Street bike lane was due to concerns that traffic, specifically travelling North in the evening, is being significantly delayed. Traffic congestion is a serious issue in the City of Toronto and poses a significant economic threat due to lost productivity.

I feel strongly that it is irresponsible for Council to remove the Jarvis Street bike lane before City staff has an opportunity to implement their solution and revaluate the situation which is why I voted to maintain the existing bike lane. I am particularly disappointed with Council’s decision to eliminate the Jarvis bike lane because it offers a safe commuting option to hundreds of cyclists every day, and without the most up-to-date information, the removal of this bike lane is premature and unjustified.

The bicycle lanes on Dupont Street were installed under the previous Councillor and I feel strongly that many concerns surrounding their installation could have been resolved with greater community consultation.

These bicycle lanes have caused significant congestion for vehicle traffic during peak commuting periods. Not only has this made it very difficult for residents living in the area to access their homes, but the idling of stationary vehicles in this congestion can offset the environmental benefits of the bicyclists using the lane.

City Staff indicated that a large amount of congestion was occurring around the Landsdowne and Dupont intersection, where the bike lane begins. On staff’s recommendation, moving the Dupont bike lane a short distance West of this intersection will allow vehicles to more easily turn at this intersection and reduce traffic backlog.

In order to alleviate the concerns of residents in the area, I have been working with City staff to develop a strategy to improve traffic flow while maintaining bicycle lanes on Dupont as it is a critical East-West cycling route. During the last meeting of the Public Works Committee, a motion was approved to have City staff examine the installation of a middle vehicle lane on Dupont Street that would alternate with rush hour to provide an extra lane of traffic during peak hours.

By working with the interests of cyclists, local residents, and City staff, these changes will go a long way to improving traffic concerns in this area. I will continue to create forums of dialogue between groups in addition to supporting the increase of cycling infrastructure in the City of Toronto.

Thank you again for taking the time to contact my office and please do not hesitate to do so in the future.

Sincerely,
Ana Bailão
City Councillor
Ward 18, Davenport

councillor_bailao@toronto.ca (416) 392-7012 www.AnaBailao.ca

I guess this motion means removing either sidewalks, the bike lanes or on-street parking to make room for an alternating lane of doom on Dupont. I’ve written the councillor asking for further information about this proposal as it appears nowhere in PWIC or City Council records online.

Passing the Buck on Safety at Ontario Place Parking Lot Entrances

There’s a steaming pile of mess out front of Ontario Place, and for once it isn’t left behind by our mounted police officers.

To redirect cyclists, joggers, rollerbladers and other non-Ontario Place guests from interfering with park entrance line ups (do they even exist these days?), the Martin Goodman Trail was redirected in 2008 and now runs beside Lake Shore Boulevard. In the process of straightening the trail and separating it from park visitor foot traffic, which is a good thing and a benefit to the hundreds who use this path to commute year round, a new issue has arisen.

As seen above, there are signs, there are traffic lights, and there are p-gates that narrow the path drastically.

I’ve written why these gates create more hazards than they supposedly prevent. Toronto Star’s The Fixer has written about the gates, not once, not twice but three times now.

First, The Fixer: Barricades are a big bang for cyclists:

The barriers, which are mounted to poles on both sides and swing out to cut the width of the trail by half, force cyclists to squeeze between them, sometimes with disastrous results, said McNally.

“I had a bad crash into one more than six weeks ago, when they were unexpectedly closed for the first time in my memory, during a morning commute,” he said.

“While I waited for assistance, another cyclist had similar spill,” he said, adding that it took five weeks to recover from the accident.

Then, The Fixer gets action: Martin Goodman Trail a little safer already:

The trio talked over ideas for thwarting motorists while reducing the risk to cyclists from the barriers, nearby utility poles and vehicles crossing the bike path as they turn onto Ontario Place Blvd.

The ideas include better signage for cyclists and painting the path red at the approach to the intersection (to warn them to slow down), as well as barriers made of flexible material that will give if a cyclist runs into one.

For now, Dann has agreed to open barriers on one side of the path, which will allow more space for cyclists to pass each other, while still serving as an impediment to vehicles.

And he’s looking hard at the other ideas, saying anything that is feasible and will improve safety at the intersection will be seriously considered.

And now, The Fixer: Metal gates return to menace cyclists:

The city parks department, which is responsible for the trail, decided to open them after our column, figuring the hazard they posed to cyclists was greater than the need to keep cars off.

But Ontario Place owns the property over which the trail runs and overruled the decision. It closed the gates again last week, saying vehicles on the trail are more dangerous to people than the barriers.

Jonathan Daley, Ontario Place’s director of corporate affairs, said drivers leaving from the Remembrance Dr. entrance at the west end of the park try to sneak onto the trail to get a jump on slow traffic.

Ontario Place decided to close them to ensure drivers don’t start using the trail again, said Daley, adding it is responsible for the safety of people on its property, even those using the trail.

In The Fixer’s follow-up, a van is seen driving along the trail. How did that van get there if the gates were closed? Obviously, the only activity these gates are actually inhibiting is the use of common sense in intersection design.

It appears as though Jonathan Daley at Ontario Place needs more encouragement to not only open and remove these p-gates, but he also needs a hand when it comes to creating a solution that does not put trail users into dangerous situations. Let’s take a visual look at what can be done to stave off the supposed problem of trail driving dummies:

portland springwater trail road intersection

How staggeringly simple! A single bollard on the dividing line and two more permanent fixtures on the path’s edge. The Martin Goodman Trail is cleared of snow all winter and to allow snow removal vehicles the p-gates remain open all winter. Using the above solution, the centre bollard can easily be removed and will not impede snow clearing vehicles.

Why then does Ontario Place (or at least their representative) feel that trail users must take full responsibility for a problem not caused by them and deal with a current solution that places them at greater risk of personal injury?

Send an e-mail to Jonathan Daley, Ontario Place’s director of corporate affairs, jonathan.daley@ontarioplace.com and let him know that the current situation along the Martin Goodman Trail is unacceptable, needlessly dangerous and finally, easily fixable.

 

Poor Planning at Martin Goodman Trail and Ontario Place

The photo above should be studied by city planners and infrastructure builders around the world. And the lesson should be, this is the worst possible way to build an intersection.

Every one of the signs in the photo, including the two cattle gates, are an admission of planning failure.

“Yield to pedestrians because we’ve created a terrible intersection where pedestrians are expected to wait to cross Lake Shore Boulevard in the same area where through traffic from the path is expected to proceed.”

“Watch for turning vehicles because we haven’t planned to properly handle conflicts that arise from turning cars and trucks and we’d never make them actually stop because that impedes traffic flow.”

And then there’s the cattle gates. A sign states that no unauthorized vehicles are permitted on the trail so these may be to keep pushy, lazy drivers from taking a shortcut on the mixed-use trail. But they also work as the last line of protecting-our-ass infrastructure because who ever designed this intersection was unable to learn from 100 years of street design and handle pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers and motorized vehicles.

All of this may not be instantly obvious, so let’s have a look at what trail users are expected to do upon approaching this intersection:

1) Yield to pedestrians – If you’re on your feet you simply stay right as the path narrows, watch out for other people and act like you do on any sidewalk. As a cyclist you must avoid a) the cattle gates, b) watch for oncoming pedestrians, cyclists, rollerbladers, whatevers and also c) watch for pedestrians approaching from your right who have just parked their cars and plan to cross Lake Shore Boulevard to access the CNE grounds.

2) Watch for turning vehicles – While watching for pedestrians, avoiding the cattle gates and preparing to cross the intersection you must also shoulder check to your left to watch that vehicles turning from Lake Shore into the parking lot both see you and are prepared to stop. While you’re at it, also shoulder check to your left even further to make sure that whoever is behind you is prepared to slow down while you navigate the cattle gates and isn’t about to overtake you. And once you make it into the intersection you have to watch again for turning vehicles exiting the parking lot because a right turn on red is legal in Ontario and while stopping in a crosswalk is illegal, the legal turn often requires the illegal stop and when’s the last time you saw someone ticketed for stopping in a crosswalk?

3) Watch for and obey the pedestrian and bicycle lights – While looking to your left, right and rear you must also be aware not only of the cattle gates in front of you but also of the bicycle traffic lights where green means “Go” but doesn’t mean “Go because turning traffic from Lake Shore isn’t going to just pop-up in front of you.”

Are you exhausted yet? Is this how anyone should be expected to handle an intersection? Yes, we must approach all crossings with caution and be aware of our surroundings but why would someone intentionally create any intersection where the possibility of a collision is actually increased by the infrastructure?

While trail user heads are bobbing and twisting to stay aware of every possible conflict point, what are drivers expected to do? A medium-sized yellow sign instructs drivers to yield to pedestrians and cyclists. Excellent. Yield is a specific command that means proceed only when clear. Wait, aren’t we missing a step? How are drivers going to know that there isn’t anyone approaching if they do not stop? The lights controlling motorized traffic do nothing to ensure that drivers stop and properly yield here. Solid green, yellow, and red are the only lights you’ll see. Green means “Go,” so who’s going to read that yellow sign? Red means “Stop and proceed right when clear,” but when is the last time you actually saw a driver stop at a red light before a right turn?

I’m not a city planner and yet I can identify that this intersection above is an absolute mess. An absolute mess built in just the past few years. This isn’t old infrasture, everything is new.

Did the planners here not know about traffic lights that can be used to control right turning traffic? Did the planners not see that pedestrians waiting to cross Lake Shore would be standing directly in the path of oncoming trail traffic? And why does pedestrian and bicycle traffic split while crossing the parking entrance forcing awkward merging that in my experience no one does.

If Team Ford is so gung-ho on building off-road trails and if this is the example they’ll be following then I’d rather ride my bicycle on a 400 series highway. At least there everyone will be going the same direction.

Complex Intersections Made Easy

Look at that mess of road paint and lanes and street signs… yet traffic (all traffic) flows seamlessly in this short clip.

Lots of visitors stare in wonder at the ‘organized chaos’, as in: “How come they don’t crash into each other?”, I answer accordingly: “They don’t because they grow up biking and never stop. They’re skilled and the key thing to their effortlessness is that they’re good at anticipating traffic, specially other people on bicycles.” Add to that that car drivers also cycle, and you have a situation where people on bicycles are taken seriously.

Read the full story of a UK lawyer’s experience in Amsterdam at Amsterdamize

Changing My Point of View

The point of viewI’ve recently realized that I was a bad driver.

I remember sitting in my car in traffic, judging and hating everyone around me, “You call that a signal, idiot?!” “Get off my ass jerk or I’ll just tap my brakes a little harder and see how you like the taste of my bumper.”

Yet, the minute I arrived at my destination and stepped out of my car all my rage was lost. I couldn’t talk in that tone, in those words to my co-workers, I couldn’t treat the cashier at the grocery store with the same disdain.

And for some bizarre reason this all felt perfectly normal. Outside the glass and steel of my car everyone was out to annoy me or run me into a wall. But once I stepped out of my car I couldn’t blame anonymous others.

But now, after a few car-free years and experiencing a lot of road travel on a much smaller vehicle, I have finally realized that the problem was me.

In the one fender bender I was involved in it was everyone else’s fault but my own. The other driver braked too hard, the road was icy, the light was still yellow. Now I realize that I was traveling too fast for the conditions, that I was following too close and that I had no right to proceed through a yellow light without slowing down.

But it has taken me a very long time to come to this realization. It has taken a combination of no longer driving cars and reading about the way we behave in cars to come to the conclusion that I was a bad driver. But I was actively looking for reasons why my car made me miserable. It wasn’t just the price of gas and constant maintenance costs. It wasn’t just the insurance charges I felt too were too high, after all I thought I was a good driver. There was an underlying issue here and thankfully more and more people are studying why our cars can change perfectly decent people into rage-aholics.

In a recent Grist article, Sarah Goodyear looks at why people in cars seem to hate people on bicycles:

If you’ve ever been behind the wheel of a car, you’ve felt it: The dead certainty that everyone around you is a complete idiot who should get the hell out of your way.

If you’ve spent much time riding a bicycle, you have been the target of that wrath. And without the protective metal-and-glass bubble that shields drivers (mostly) from each other’s anger, it’s easy to feel the hate. A horn honked in your ear by someone zooming past, an insult shouted out a window, the grit kicked up in your face by someone passing too close — just to make a point. It’s scary.

To explain why this happens, Sarah looks to Tom Vanderbuilt, author of the book Traffic: Why We Drive the Way We Do (And What It Says About Us):

What happens to most of us, in most driving conditions, is that we’re losing some of the key attributes that facilitate human cooperation and, in a larger sense, society.

Eye contact, for example, has been shown in any number of experiments to increase the chance of gaining cooperation – that’s why when drivers give you what was called on Seinfeld the “stare-ahead,” your chances that they’ll let you merge in ahead of them are greatly reduced.

Then there’s the anonymity in traffic – there’s no one to spread rumors or gossip about you about how bad your behavior was — not to mention the lack of consequences for acting like an idiot. It’s all strikingly similar to the way we act on the internet, in what’s called the “online disinhibition effect.”

This is how door prizes happen. A driver, still in complete social isolation, fails to look for cyclists approaching and opens a door into their path. In an instant, the oblivious driver has made a potentially fatal mistake.

The question now is how do we socialize anti-social drivers? Most don’t realize they behave this way and those who do often feel it is absolutely acceptable behaviour.

As Joe Simonetti explains to Tom Vanderbuilt in a recent Outside article:

“As a couples therapist, I tell people that we take things so personally,” he says as we near the Whitestone Bridge, on the first dedicated bike path we’ve seen in more than two hours. It’s easy, when a car edges too close or cuts him off, to “go to that paranoid place where they’re just trying to fuck with me. We’re so worried that someone else can steal our sense of self that we fight for it at every turn.” But it could have been just that the driver didn’t see him. Under the spell of what’s called “inattentional blindness,” people have been known to miss obvious things simply because they’re not looking for them. Either that or what seems inconsequential in a car—passing by within a foot or two—can be terrifying to someone on a bike.

In my car I believed that every move I made was the right one. I was always acting in my own self-interest. When I first started commuting by bicycle I often behaved in the same manner. Only now I was exposed and on a different vehicle. I was confused when I’d aggressively “take the lane” only to have my aggression thrown back at me with 2 tonnes of steel. That’s how you behave in protective cocoons. You can be aggressive and the consequences are rarely anything at all, sometimes just an annoyance of expensive bumper dings and scratched doors. On a bicycle the consequences can be more dire, fatal.

Changing driver attitudes isn’t something that will happen inside of our cars. Listen to talk and news radio any morning and you’ll hear a consistent mantra in the news reports and commercials reinforcing the idea that other drivers are out to get you, other drivers are creating terrible traffic and other drivers are the ones making dangerous maneuvers… it’s always someone else.

So some cities are looking not at changing how we drive but at making changes that encourage people to get out of their cars. Vanderbuilt explains:

Few American cities have done a better job of getting people on bikes than Portland, Oregon, where around 7 percent of the population bikes to work and children cycle to school in huge “bike trains.” And yet, last year, like many recent years, no cyclist was killed. (By comparison, Tampa, Florida, a city where fewer than 1 percent of the population commutes by bike, had nine cyclist fatalities in four months in 2009.) Greg Raisman, a traffic-safety specialist with Portland’s Bureau of Transportation, says one key to getting people biking is providing infrastructure—actual or symbolic. The city features “bicycle boulevards” and bike-only traffic signals, and it’s planning new six-foot-wide bike lanes. It recently put some 2,100 “sharrows” bike symbols on 50 miles of residential streets. He says the symbols send messages to motorists and are, as many Portlanders have told him, changing “people’s mental maps of the city.”

“We need to get people to change the way they think about transportation,” Raisman says. While all road users need to step up in terms of behavior, he believes, calling for cyclists to be licensed, as some critics have lately done, isn’t the right place to start. “I recently got my driver’s license renewed,” he says. “They just asked me if my address was the same.” Among the things he was not asked was whether he was aware of traffic-code changes like the 2007 Vulnerable Road User law or a new Oregon rule that makes it legal for cyclists to pass on the right so they can filter to the front past queues of cars stopped at traffic lights.

I’ll be renewing my own drivers licence in Ontario this year. In the five years since I last renewed, I’ve changed my address from a small Ontario town with few bicycle lanes and even less pedestrian infrastructure to a Toronto address in a city with pedestrian activated crossings, turning and parking restrictions and a new piece of cycling infrastructure known as “sharrows.” Yet I won’t be asked if I’m familiar with any of this. I’ll confirm my address, get my photo taken and away I’ll go, free to drive as I’ve been driving since I became a G level driver more than a decade ago.

Will Toronto’s reputation for terribly long commutes make others search for alternatives? Or will we continue to think only of ourselves and place the blame on a faceless other? When looking in our rear view mirrors will we catch a glimpse of ourselves and realize that we are someone else’s “other?” As I’ve found out, changing our own behaviour is extremely difficult but it can be done.

Read Grist: Why Do People In Cars Hate People On Bikes So Much?
Read Outside: Rage Against Your Machine

Photo via BikingToronto Flickr Pool