Speed Vest is not what you think

Initially I assumed a “speed vest” was a vest that magically made you speedier. Thankfully, the actual speed vest is much different. Connecting to an off-the-shelf bicycle computer, the speed vest displays your current riding speed to drivers (and other cyclists) behind you. The idea is that motorists unfamiliar with driving around cyclists often misjudge their speed and the results are poor passes and right-hooks.

Want to make your own Speed Vest? Visit MAKE

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.

 

Sharrows Miss the Point on Harbord

In the cover of night, workers began installing sharrows along Harbord.

A point of contention for years, the disconnected bike lane between Bathurst and Spadina has inspired Urban Repair Squad intervention and left Councilor Adam Vaughan singing the same old tune that the very sparse car parking on this strip is essential to the survival of the businesses here.

Ignoring the fact that this is one of the most direct east/west bicycle routes connecting west end residents to downtown work and school this gap reflects the overall disinterest in the City of Toronto for providing continuous, consistent and much needed bicycle infrastructure.

Like placing a band-aid over an axe wound, sharrows, painted stencils that encourage motorists and drivers to ride right over them, now “fill” the gap.

There’s no denying that space is limited along this street. Yet while further west street parking alternates sides of the street to accommodate bike lanes this effective use of space is ignored and instead pictures of bicycles place cyclists directly in the door zone:

And to make matters worse, the boxed in parking space designations are too small, maximizing the potential for door prizes:

It is clear that steps to improve this route for cyclists have been taken. Repaving the curbside lanes has eliminated sticky seam sealing and countless potholes meaning that cyclists can spend more time looking ahead than scanning below for hazards. Bike boxes have also been installed in the heart of the University of Toronto at Harbord/Hoskin and St. George to increase the visibility of cyclists and decrease the possibility of right hooks.

Yet, while the effectiveness of sharrows in Toronto is currently being studied, including part-time sharrows in use along the west end of College Street, it is clear that these stencils are a compromise. Sharing the road is a feat accomplished day after day by most motorists and cyclists. Sharrows offer up a reminder that space is limited and we must do what we can to make room for everyone. However, sharrows ignore more issues than they address. In the case of the new Harbord sharrows, they do nothing to prevent the problematic door prize and do even less to convince aggressive drivers to share space.

I must note that I am not a city planner and I am not diligently studying the road use along Harbord or College, however, I do ride along these streets almost daily and in my experience sharrows do little more than remind me of where better bicycle infrastructure is needed and how poorly our demands are being met.

More photos of the sharrows on Harbord in the slideshow by Martinho below:

“Watch for Bikes” CAA Campaign Launches Today

Five years ago the City of Toronto and CAA handed out 150,000 “Door Prize cards” (PDF) that included a sticker drivers could put on their side view mirrors to remind them to watch for cyclists and warning them of the dangers of the “door prize.”

Here’s what the old cards looked like:

Watch for Bikes 2005

Watch for Bikes

Today, June 9th, 2010, another “Watch for Bikes” campaign launches in Toronto.

Looking back at the 2005 campaign there was also mention of a 1998 bylaw that requires taxis to be equipped with 3 stickers warning the drivers and passengers to watch for bikes:

Watch for Bikes Taxi Bylaw

2010 Toronto Cycling Map has Bike Boxes

2010 Toronto Cycling Map CoverEach year, the City of Toronto releases a comprehensive map of cycling infrastructure and suggested routes.

The map indicates bike locker locations, stairs with bicycle groves, bicycle rental locations and clearly indicates every bike lane and multi-use path throughout Toronto.

With a stalled Bike Plan, the 2010 edition varies only slightly from its predecessor.

One noticeable change is the addition of bike boxes to the illustrations explaining cycling infrastructure for cyclists (and motorists).

Hopefully we’ll be seeing these installed this summer!

To download PDFs of the cycling map, visit the City of Toronto web site here.

2010 Toronto Cycling Map Bike Box 1

2010 Toronto Cycling Map Bike Box 2

Fewer Stop Signs Attract Motorists, Not Cyclists

stop-sign-bikes_0095In Winnipeg, city planners are looking at ways to make cycling a more attractive option for commuters. Fewer stop signs for cyclists eyed While changing traffic law to allow “Idaho Stops” would have to happen at the provincial level (same as in Ontario) there has been another idea put forth. The report suggests:

“Reducing the number of unwarranted stop signs on streets identified by ATAC will improve the efficiency of these routes for cyclists as well as reduce unnecessary vehicle stops, reduce fuel consumption and emissions, reduce traffic-noise levels and may promote overall compliance at stop signs in general”

Of course, this doesn’t sound like a good idea. Removing stop signs will increase traffic speeds and is likely to attract more motorists than cyclists. Streets without stop signs are highways something Winnipeg resident Dan Prowse elegantly points out:

DEAR EDITOR:

Reducing stop signs on routes preferred by cyclists “to reduce unnecessary vehicle stops, reduce fuel consumption and emissions, reduce traffic-noise levels” (Fewer stop signs for cyclists eyed, March 5) makes sense if you are thinking about cars. If you are actually thinking about saving fuel, reducing emissions and reducing noise, or if you are actually thinking about the interests of cyclists, which was the reason for the City of Winnipeg transportation report, the decision is absurd. The proposed approach would only attract more cars to use routes favoured by cyclists making it more dangerous to cycle.

The quoted report doesn’t want to treat bikes and cars differently. But that is the whole point — bikes are different. Cycling is three to 10 times more space efficient (in road use and parking space) and 100 times more energy efficient. Being energy efficient means no fuel, no emissions and essentially no noise.

I became a convert to active commuting almost 40 years ago in Toronto based on the superior mental and physical condition of my retirement-age boss who walked to work. Since then, I’ve mostly walked but also run, cross-country skied and biked to work. In the last year, I’ve become an all-season cycler, commuting to downtown Winnipeg.

With modern technology, winter cycling is no longer a miserable experience.

I’ve got cheap clothing that keeps my skin warm and dry, studded tires, amazing LED lights with lithium batteries that will light up signs two blocks away at -30C and hi-tech goggles. I, with two or three dozen other co-worker cyclists, would have to be the president to have a better parking spot. My route is relatively safe. My commute times are often better than a car and shorter than the bus. My commute is as scenic as a holiday. In winter rush hours, it is a delight biking under bridges on the river trail from Churchill High School down the Red River and up the Assiniboine compared to driving over those bridges.

What’s not to like about biking? More frostbite risk in biking than walking. It takes the city a couple of days to plow the cycle/walking path from Osborne to the Forks. There aren’t enough safe routes to keep bikes and cars apart. Most drivers are very considerate but probably only professional drivers appreciate how big a safety zone cyclists need.

About 75 per cent of regular cyclists stop for winter, not because of the cold, but because there are insufficient safe routes.

We can fix those things, but only if we treat bikes differently than cars.

It’s taken me about 40 years of trying out commuting options to figure out what Apple, and before them, Sony have demonstrated so well — elegant solutions to human needs that are space and energy efficient married with good technology are winners. Let bikes work.

DAN PROWSE

Winnipeg

LINK

Stop Sign photo via BikingToronto Flickr Pool

Lower Simcoe Taxi Stand… Wait, That’s A Bike Lane!

I found these images on the blog Torypages. Looks like taxi drivers have found a new place to wait for fares on Lower Simcoe… the bike lane.

More photos here.

UPDATE: Here’s reaction from other sources in Toronto

Anger as cars clog new Simcoe St. bike lane (Toronto Star)
So, this is a cycling city? (Toronto Star)

UPDATE the 2nd: The Toronto Star is really digging in to this story!

Traffic cops powerless to enforce bike lanes

Keeping lanes clear may take higher fines and more ticketing power

three main obstacles for parking enforcement officers trying to enforce bike lanes.

One, there’s no specific bylaw. Smith can’t track how many tickets are issued to cars sitting in a bike lane because such tickets are bundled with any others handed out for parking in a no-stopping zone.

Next, the fine is too low. Last November, Yvonne Bambrick of the Toronto Cyclists Union made a presentation to the Toronto Police Services Board, asking for tougher enforcement around bike lanes.

She wants the $60 fine for cars that cross a solid white line to enter a bike lane to be doubled to $120, which is closer to the $100-$150 fine charged for parking in a fire route or a handicapped space.

“We’re told to stay as far right as possible, then we’re forced to swerve into traffic,” says Bambrick.

Her suggestions were passed on to the city manager. Councillor Adam Vaughan, a police board member whose ward includes the convention centre, says council should be discussing a bike lane bylaw by the spring.

“Ticketing is the only way to do it,” said Vaughan, who said the discussion would include the possibility of raising the fine.

Smith also sees it as a major problem that parking enforcement officers are required to ask drivers to move before ticketing them. Most will just pull away if they see an officer approaching their illegally stopped car.

The constable, who is on the Cycling Advisory Committee, thinks parking officers should have the power to immediately issue a ticket to any car parked illegally, and to have the ticket stick even if the car leaves. That’s a recommendation police have made several times to the province, which has said only that it will consider changing the “drive away” ticketing rules.

LINK (Toronto Star)

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

Safety Overkill

As all Toronto cyclists know, crossing over rail tracks can be intimidating at first. Over time, you build up your confidence and begin riding along Queen or King with ease. And, just sometimes, you stop paying attention long enough and the tracks take you down. And this can really hurt.

In Seattle, it seems that one awkward rail crossing has become quite the hazard. Here’s how they are dealing with the problem:

Helping cyclist navigate train track crossing is great. But, is this much paint and that many signs really necessary?

Bicycles Use Caution

And this one is in ALL CAPS, which we all know is YELLING!

BIKES! DISMOUNT!

To be fair, this is only temporary while the city redesigns the area and the crossing.

Via StreetFilms

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.