Why is the Queen’s Quay Bike Lane a Parking Lot?

The bike lane on Queen’s Quay at Bathurst has always been a parking lot. This lane, connecting directly to the Martin Goodman Trail to the west, is bordered by condos, townhomes and a park. The condo tower on the corner of Bathurst and Queen’s Quay contains a small grocery store, one that constantly receives deliveries from large trucks who use the lane as their own private loading zone. Next to the store is the condo entrance, and at all times of the day you’re likely to find a cab or car idling, waiting for someone exiting the building.

What I’m describing above could in fact be any bike lane in Toronto. The current (and building) resentment by non-bicycle riders towards bike lanes is best represented by the overwhelming number of vehicles idling, driving and often parked in Toronto bicycle lanes.

However, something has changed at the foot of Bathurst Street and this change has translated into cabbies using the Queen’s Quay bike lane as a spot to queue. With the introduction of Air Canada flights to the Island Airport, no doubt the increased taxi idling is a direct result of greater air traffic at the airport.

Where there was typically just one or two (and far too many at that) cars and trucks in the bike lanes has turned into more than a dozen cabs, some idling, some with their engines off and occupants out chatting.

The above photo was taken on the morning of Wednesday, April 4, 2012. Frustrated, I called the police to report the cabs. Toronto City Council recently voted to increase the fine for bike lane parkers, yet just last year Toronto Police Services stated that they are impotent in enforcing the law.

Seconds after hanging up the phone with the police dispatcher a symphony of horns started roaring from the idling cabs. Do the cabbie dispatchers monitor Toronto police radio? Is this something that happens in 2012 or am I stuck in a 1980s ham-radio TV reality?

While a few of the cabs pulled forward and one drove off, another 3 quickly replaced them just as a police car arrived. The officer proceeded to park in the intersection of Bathurst and Queen’s Quay and direct the cabbies toward the airport.

I assumed the officer may line the cabs up on Bathurst and begin writing tickets. While the officer did move his vehicle from the intersection and spoke with one cabbie, the others quickly disappeared or joined the long queue near the airport and I did not see the officer write a single ticket.

I confronted one remaining cabbie parked in the bike lane, telling him to move because the cop was writing tickets, he resisted but when I pointed to the parked cop he finally moved.

But what happens now? I expect the cabs will return and Toronto Police, whose bike cops I have witnessed use this bike lane while ignoring cars parked there, will have to be called by concerned citizens to simply issue warnings.

Why am I so pessimistic? Because as I proceeded along Queen’s Quay I found an officer parked in the bike lane at Yonge, his car idling, chatting on the phone. While emergency services are exempt from parking laws, using a bike lane as a phone call lane seems like an abuse of this power to me.

How can you help?

If you see a vehicle illegally blocking a bike lane you can call 416-808-6600 to alert the Toronto Police’s Parking Enforcement Division, so that they can dispatch an officer.

Report Toronto Traffic Problems Online

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It sometimes feel like Toronto police get stuck in a rut when it comes to enforcing traffic violations. They have their preferred locations where they camp out and rarely seem to stray from these established areas.

To me, that means that many places in the city, places where law violations seriously risk the safety of pedestrians and cyclists, are ignored.

For example, the newly installed Bike Boxes on Harbord and College streets are a prime example. My daily travels take me by the intersections with bike boxes and more often than not there are drivers either ignoring the stop lines or making illegal right turns on red lights. Yet, I have never seen police officers on site ready to both educate and ticket drivers who make these violations.

Is it because Toronto police don’t know or don’t believe that these are trouble areas? Well, if the reason is the former then thankfully Toronto police have an easy-to-use online reporting system that allows you to submit complaints.

Is there a stop signed intersection that drivers constantly fail to stop for (like the entire stretch of Barton from Christie to Bathurst)? Is there a key area where you observe a large number of drivers using handheld devices? Is there a stretch of road where drivers consistently exceed posted speed limits?

Let Toronto police know! Submit your complaints here: Online Citizen Police Reporting System

Photo by Martinho

Acura brings “elegance” to vehicular homicide

Acura ad in Toronto encourages aggressive driving

Since I work in marketing, and advertising is a large part of what I do, I tend to spend a lot of time thinking about words.

I’ll turn over a short sentence dozens of times trying to find a word or words that instantly convey my message. Some sentences speak volumes and every ad copy writer knows this.

The above ad is currently on display in Toronto. It overlooks both the Martin Goodman Trail and Lake Shore Boulevard West. This ad can be seen by thousands of commuters heading into downtown Toronto for work. I ride this stretch of trail by bicycle almost every day. I witness bumper to bumper traffic and on more days than not there are traffic police positioned to stop speeders and control aggressive driving.

Yet some copy writer, some ad agency and some company executive who approved the above ad felt that “Aggression” was the best word to use. To them aggression may mean strength. To them aggression may symbolize the drive to succeed in a busy metropolis. To them aggression is a powerful buzzword that connects their product, a car, to a life of financial success.

But “aggression” is much, much more than that, especially in Toronto right now.

Aggression and violence are sibling words. Aggression is usually first on the scene but where aggression exists you can be sure that violence isn’t too far behind. Aggression is the reason we have the “Street Racing” law in Ontario. Aggression is the reason why hundreds of people every year are killed on roads around the world. Aggression is the reason why we have so many police officers on traffic patrol.

Acura, there is nothing “elegant” about aggression. Aggression is an ugly and offensive word. In a busy city where you are going to encounter people who drive slower than you, people who walk across streets and people who are in just as big a rush as you are, aggression leads to collisions and regrets and death.

Let’s ask the family of Darcy Allan Sheppard what the word “aggression” means to them.

Let’s ask the family of Tahir Khan what the word “aggression” means to them.

Aggression is why there is strong opposition to the current mayor’s use of war metaphors to describe transportation choices. Behind the wheel of a car, on the saddle of a bicycle or simply walking on your own two feet is never an act of aggression. Aggression leads to rash decisions. Aggression is the result of selfish, anti-social behaviour. Aggression exists outside of rational thought.

Yet here is an ad placed outside of Ontario Place, a family destination. This ad faces thousands of people who may be frustrated that their drive was so long. This ad faces the commuting cyclists who will each have a story or two to share about the face of aggression.

You see Acura, Toronto has no room on its roads for aggression.

Important Number Missing From Toronto Police Bicycle “Blitz”

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Every time the Toronto Police launch a “blitz” campaign, all we seem to care about are the numbers.

How many tickets were issued? How many law-breakers were brought to justice? How many scofflaws now have to pay a hefty fine?

But when all is said and done there is one number that is almost always absent. This is probably the most important number, the one that ultimately frames the true issue at hand. The one number that could reveal whether or not these “blitzes” actually yield results at all.

Let’s look at the numbers we already have: Prior to the “blitz,” Toronto Police warned 250 cyclists that they were breaking laws in relation to the Highway Traffic Act.

During the “blitz” 367 tickets were issued to cyclists. (PDF: http://is.gd/eF3q0)

Without the missing number though, these totals are meaningless. Alone, these totals can be spun to mean whatever you want. And that’s exactly what is happening…

You see, the missing number from this scene is the number of people on bicycles that the Toronto Police actually encountered. With this number we’d have an idea of possible problems. We’d have a percentage, one that would carry over to future campaigns. We’d have context.

However, without these numbers we have generalizing. We have people jumping to conclusions based solely on their limited experiences. Is 367 tickets a lot? Since we do not know how many cyclists passed by Toronto Police during these 3 days, then we cannot know. Did they ticket 90% of the people on bicycles they encountered? Or was it just 10%?

If the Toronto Police really want to influence positive change, then include this vital missing number. Every cyclist should follow the rules of the road. But how many do? We want to know! Do not let anecdotal evidence, the kind that runs rampant in news article comments, distort the facts.

Photo via the BikingToronto Flickr Pool

Set an Example; Stop for Open Streetcar Doors

Darren

Toronto Police Services are currently handing out warnings to drivers and cyclists who fail to stop for open streetcar doors.

I’ve seen some people on bikes coast by open doors in the hopes of passing streetcars and getting ahead of traffic. While illegal this behaviour is also incredibly rude. People often rush when leaving or trying to catch streetcars and even a small collision with one of these people is going to completely negate the few seconds you’ve saved trying to pass a loading streetcar.

My advice, stop at the rear of the streetcar and position yourself in the middle of the lane. Anxious drivers are going try to blow past a streetcar once those doors close and you do not want to be caught in the squeeze.

Completely unrelated photo, although it involves cyclists and a streetcar during a 2007 Critical Mass, by Leanne Eisen via the BikingToronto 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:

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Setting a Fine Example on Jarvis

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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

What to do if your bicycle was removed from the G20 security zone

Jennifer Hassum Twitter Status

The above “tweet” continues to make rounds on Twitter. Already, bike racks are being removed from the G20 security zone and if you’ve chosen to lock your bicycle to fence or other remaining post, you could return to find no bike at all.

If your bicycle is removed from the security zone, it will, after a few days, end up at the Property Bureau of the Toronto Police Services located 799 Islington Avenue, Toronto, ON , M2Z 5W8, phone: 416-808-3750

Should you be unable to bring your bicycle inside during this week, now may be a great time to discover the Bicycle Station located within Union Station which will remain open this week, with southern access only.

Scenes from Toronto’s Group Commute – May 31, 2010

Bike to Work TorontoWhile I no longer bike to work, (I actually roll and then step to work in my home office) I still wanted free breakfast pancakes and chose to join the hundreds of Torontonians in the Bike Month Group Commute.

A whole lot of cyclists on the same route sure slows things down, but unlike when this happens with cars (every day), you can chit chat with your neighbour, sing a song or two and simply enjoy the fresh morning air.

Every day should be bike to work day for you. If it isn’t, ask yourself why? What is keeping you from biking to work? Is it because you feel you live too far? Is it because you don’t want to get sweaty? Is it because you don’t have a bike?

Remember, there are no good REASONS for not cycling to work, there are only EXCUSES.

Police Escort

Taking the Lane on Bloor Street

Join the Group

Into the Light

Congestion

The Meet Up

Cyclops in the Morning Light

Cyclops Dance

Political Will

Ontario Transportation Minister

Bike Union Mobile Service Station

Toronto Police Officers on Bikes; Pylon Training

Some very basic training drills run by Toronto Police bicycle officers via InsideToronto:

I wish the news crew had caught something a bit more interesting, like a takedown while riding or bunny hopping over Hummers, something like the opening credits of the TV show Pacific Blue: