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.

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.

“Jarvis lanes tell the story of a city that pretends to be committed to the bicycle” Hume

Taking over Jarvis

Via Toronto Star:

Hume: Cycling in Toronto is a joke
July 29, 2010 18:07:00
Christopher Hume
Star Columnist

Toronto’s bicycle policy is no policy at all; it’s a series of half-measures that add up to little.

The latest example, the much loathed bike lanes on Jarvis St., finally came to pass this week after years of rancorous debate. The new lanes begin at Charles St. in the north and end, as abruptly as they begin, on Queen St. to the south.

In other words, the new lanes are all but useless to anyone who happens to be travelling anywhere above or below that particular stretch of Jarvis. The new lanes do connect with others that run along Wellesley, Carlton and Gerrard; the failure, of course, is that they don’t connect with either Bloor St. or the waterfront.

Yet in their way, the Jarvis lanes tell the story of a city that pretends to be committed to the bicycle as an alternative means of urban transportation, but is anything but.

Instead, city officials have responded with rhetoric about the War on the Car. If only.

Rather than build a cycling network that would enable riders to reach all parts of the city, we have a hodge-podge of rules, regulations and lanes that probably make a bad situation worse.

Read the full article here.

Photo via BikingToronto’s Flickr Pool

Cycling is an Inspiration for Toronto Author

Via Toronto Star:

Cycling around Toronto helped author recreate childhood

One writer’s own private T.O.

As a child growing up near Bathurst St. and Davenport Rd., Kirshner says she stuttered so badly she rarely spoke. Speech therapy eventually cured her but for a long time she found talking embarrassing.

“It’s a strange sensation,” she recalls. “The words are in your mouth but not coming out.”

To compensate she used her eyes – “like little computers storing stuff” – a visual orientation that led to her research-by-bicycle method.

As she rode, Kirshner also picked up smells. Gliding south on Gladstone Ave. from College St., she sensed the Cadbury chocolate factory from its aromas and worked those into the book.

“You don’t really smell things if you’re walking slowly,” Kirshner says. “I don’t know if it’s true but scent seems to travel at the exact speed as a bicycle. It’s like the wind is carrying it into your face or something.”

Near the chocolate factory, she also saw “a house where I want to make something wonderful happen,” she says. For her next book, her eyes filed it away.

Full article here

The solution to winter snow and slush – a “track” bike

Via Toronto Star

Via Toronto Star:

Preddy said he rides for recreation and to stay in shape. His Ktrak kit converts just about any mountain bike into a kind of pedal-powered snowmobile, with a ski in the front and a track wrapped around a back wheel. A full kit will cost almost $550; the track alone, about $420.

And if the Ktrak’s creator has his way, bikes like Preddy’s will join the crush of winter traffic on Toronto streets before the year is through.

“I absolutely see it as a commuting tool,” said Kyle Reeves, the Ktrak’s 37-year-old inventor, from his home on Vancouver Island, B.C. “Most commuters aren’t going to use the ski on the front … just the track for its traction.”

Michael Costello, a long-time winter cyclist and proponent of automobile euthanasia, rides his bike year-round for financial reasons.

“I put down my last car 14 years ago, and I save about $7,000 a year by using a bicycle,” he said.

There are plenty of options – all less transformative, and less expensive, than the Ktrak – for cyclists looking to winterize their bikes.

Michael Cranwell, general manager of Duke’s Cycle on Richmond St. W., suggests attaching fenders to your bike and swapping for studded tires, which cost from $70 to $110 each. Lights are important, too, for days when visibility is poor. “What’s most important, is dressing for it – having the right gear.”

Full article here

More info on Ktrak here

Ktrak

Bikephopia?

Bells on Bloor - Queen's Park Montage

Is “bikephopia” a spelling mistake? Or is it a strange mish-mash word meaning a city where it is fear-inducing to bike in? Sort of a bicycle negative of utopia…

From The Toronto Star:

How to conquer bikephopia

A new study suggests women fear cycling in infrastrucutre-poor cities like Toronto. I’m trying to get over it

My bike is going to kill me. That was all I could think about as I rolled the thing out of my apartment and made those initial awkward pedal pushes in my first ride around downtown Toronto.

But gliding along Queen St., with no angry cars honking or getting too close to my wheels, I figured I might actually get home alive. If I could just remember the road rules.

Hand signal directional changes. Turn left on left lanes only, or get off the bike and cross the intersection like a pedestrian. If you’re changing lanes near streetcar tracks, approach them at a sharp angle so your tires don’t get caught in them. And for God’s sake, don’t pass cars on their right-hand side at stoplights.

You know the saying that you never forget how to ride a bike? Apparently I had. Or was too scared to remember. Either way, I’m not the only one. Studies from Australia and the U.S. identify me with a demographic researchers insist is key to promoting urban cycling: women.

Jan Garrard, senior public health lecturer at Deakin University in Melbourne, Australia, calls us an “indicator species.” Women are more likely than men to avoid cycling because they see it as dangerous. The extent to which women hop on their two-wheelers, or fail to do so, is a good indication of how developed a city’s cycling infrastructure is – how safe it is for biking, how accessible and extensive its bike lanes are.

Women in North America largely don’t ride bikes. In areas where they do, such as Europe, there are more cyclists on the road overall.

John Pucher, a professor of planning and public policy at Rutgers University in New Jersey, has studied this trend for over 12 years. He found that in Denmark, where 18 per cent of all commutes are by bike, women make up 45 per cent of cyclists on the road. In the Netherlands, where women cyclists are in a slight majority at 55 per cent, cycling takes up nearly a third of all commuting trips.

We Canadians, however, aren’t doing so well at a 30 per cent bike share for women, and maybe a 2 per cent commute share for bikes. (The trend is similar in the U.S and Australia.) In Toronto, just 1.7 per cent of the population rode to work in 2006 – just 35 per cent of them female. But we’re not the worst city, laughs Pucher. “In Dallas, Texas, 95 per cent of bicyclists are men. Which is disgusting!”

Garrard, meanwhile, explores the psychology behind the numbers – why most women refrain from riding in the first place. She surveyed Melbourne’s cycling population by asking what situations kept them from the road.

“For just about every constraint we included in our item list,” she says, “women were more likely to say it was a constraint. And these things included traffic conditions, weather, lack of time.”

Sounds familiar to me. Though I’d have added fear of my face in the pavement.

A larger number of women also indicated they preferred off-road routes, or paths separate from cars. Last month, Scientific American reported on a Portland, Ore. study that coincides with this, having tracked Portland cycling commutes by GPS. When given the choice, women were more likely to take longer routes to a destination if it meant using a car-separate path.

Which is something cycling advocates in Toronto would argue we don’t have enough of. Most are intended for recreational use – not a lot of help if you’re trying to get to work, which is largely why I wanted to cycle in the first place.

Pucher points out that the idea isn’t to paint the non-cycling majority of women as timid creatures, and that other bike minorities, children and seniors, are also important in gauging a city’s bikeability.

“I’m pretty risk-averse myself,” he says. “I think anyone who is concerned with safety is going to want some kind of facilities that address those concerns.”

There are bike shops in Toronto that try to, by offering women-only programs that teach bicycle repair and construction and traffic laws.

Sherri Byer, co-ordinator at the Community Bicycling Network on Queen St. W., finds she still gets condescended to in unfamiliar cycling shops, even though she’s been fixing bikes for eight years.

“I think that’s why Wenches with Wrenches is so popular,” Byer says of CBN’s four-week program, which aims to provide women with a non-competitive learning space. “I kept thinking the market for it would dry up for it, but it’s not.”

I figured the Sunday sessions for women and transgendered people at Bike Pirates, a cycling co-op on Bloor and Lansdowne, was a good place to start. If I did the work they would supply me with the help, space and tools to build a bike of my own.

And as Lisa McLean, a Sunday volunteer, points out, there’s a certain confidence that comes from knowing how your bike works.

That may not stop me from slamming into the open door of a parked car, I think to myself as McLean shows me how to install ball bearings into a stem. But at least I can fix my bike afterwards.

Besides, I can’t imagine any of the women working at Bike Pirates fitting into the description of risk-averse or road-shy. With any luck (and a lot more riding), hopefully I will eventually count myself among them.