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

Do you bike to shop? Let business owners know!

Bags

Via Third Wave Cycling Blog:

Bike Helmets on Customers Exposes Unnoticed Business For Retailers

January 11, 2010 by Jack Becker

We received an email earlier last week from the local ratepayers’ group:

There has been a request from VANOC and the Olympic committee asking Citygate and False Creek residents to keep their festive lights up and on throughout the Olympics so the world can see us.

Presumably this request can even include the festive Christmas lights that some boat owners festoon their masts along the waterfront.

What would be an equivalent, visibility tactic for the cycling community to announce the significance of cyclists?

It could be as simple as keeping your helmet on your head when you are shopping.  This action would go a long way towards changing the perception of local business retailers that their customer base and retail sales comes from car drivers.  It may start stopping retailers’ complaints any time that a new bike lane at their store entrance takes away more street car parking.  It may start retailer action to call for more storefront bike parking racks.  It may change perception that cyclists in a store does not contribute to the bottom line of retailer sales and profitability.  A “helmet-on-campaign-while shopping” would remind retailers that cyclists do comprise more of their customer base than retailers might realize.

Cyclists do shop, contribute to local businesses and the economy. Like everyone else, they still consume products and services.  In fact, cyclists, without the burden of paying for car maintenance, may have more money available for shopping.

In downtown Toronto, there has been an ongoing debate on implementation of a bike lane on the busy Bloor Street west of Spadina  Rd., an area  known  as the “Annex”.  For many decades and still now, the Annex is a gentrified neighbourhood with busy cafes, restaurants, independent shops, community centre and services that draw patrons and convivial street life.

A recent study of 61 local merchants, 531 patrons, and parking space use, revealed only 10% of patrons drive to the Bloor-Annex area. Pedestrians and cyclists were spending more money than the drivers.  This is not surprising since the area is served by 3 different subway station exits, feeder bus lines and an established bike lane grid in this Bloor St neighbourhood.

Meanwhile in Vancouver, the Canada Line opened in late August 2009.  Now changes in customer levels have been noted to be modest for businesses along the Canada Line on Cambie St.   Businesses closer to stations have seen an increase in foot traffic.  The full effect of a switch from car-based shopping to people-based shopping takes time.  It takes more than a full year business cycle for commuters to establish changes in their transportation choice, travel and shopping patterns.

Since no one is constantly monitoring where bikes are locked up outside  shops, then the bike helmet is the beacon to signal retailers that another customer that just arrived –in a different way.

Since cycling is on the rise in Toronto, it’s time to make yourself visible to shop owners who apparently don’t believe that cyclists and pedestrians are good for business. Carry your bike helmet, keep your pant leg reflector on and make sure to mention how much you appreciate the bike parking or bike lane you found nearby.

Photo via Flickr user Life in a Lens

Bloated Roads and Bloated Bellies

Intersection

The problems are obvious. Our manufactured environment is detrimental to our health, when done wrong. Physical activity not only makes you smarter, it helps improve our lives. Yet, when we let our built environment get in the way, well, the results are clear.
From The McGill Daily:

Walking life
Max Halparin outlines steps to a healthy city

Overlooking Autoroute 20 on Angrignon one July afternoon, my friend Elizabeth and I decide it would be a good time to dismount our bikes and document our relative danger. As more and more cars rush to the on-ramp leading to the Turcot, the sidewalks and pedestrian lights seem increasingly out of place in the blatantly car-oriented area. But it’s not just highway interchanges surrounded by industrial parks, barren land, and mega-mallas that are ill-suited to bikes and pedestrians. It’s anything designed beyond the human scale. Riding north toward Montreal-Ouest, I wonder how many four-or-more wheelers even noticed the two non-motorists crashing their hurried, gas-guzzling routine.

Any trip beyond the extended McGill bubble reminds me that this is exactly what has defined Canada’s (predominantly sub)urban landscape for the past 60 years. While trekking around Montreal for the better part of the summer and fall conducting a walkability survey of neighbourhoods in nearly every borough, I was struck by how much of the city resembles the stereotypical suburban layout I thought I’d escaped after bidding farewell to the sprawling, monotonous blob that is “outside Toronto.” This would be far less important if the issue was purely one of aesthetics. However, as study after study shows, the way we build our environments can have a significant influence on our health.

Sprawling cities have lead to sprawling waistlines. Our reliance on cars as opposed to our feet or pedals is central to the decreasing rates of exercise – especially that which is incorporated into the daily routine. Automobile emissions in turn affect air quality, leading to smog days in cities and respiratory illnesses in residents.

“It’s probably not that my grandparents went to the gym more, or that our genetic disposition has changed significantly over the past 30 years,” explains University of Washington pediatrics professor Brian Saelens when I ask him why he focuses on understanding the built environment’s effect on health. “If I’m to explain increased rates of obesity and inactivity, the only plausible thing is that we’ve changed our environment.”

“A fantastic amount of energy has gone into making the cars happy and providing capacity for more traffic, as if there were no other important issues in the city,” explains architect and urban designer Jan Gehl. Recorded by CKUT-Radio, Gehl’s talk at McGill this past July draws heavily on his experiences making Copenhagen one of the world’s most people-oriented cities, as an example for Montreal to follow.

Businesses, however, often claim that if customers can’t park, they won’t shop. Though this line of thinking is often used to derail the installation of bike lanes, data proves these fears illegitimate: other modes of transport increase the number of passersby – to the tune of 8,000 more per year on some Copenhagen streets, Gehl says.

Proponents of more liveable cities can find common ground with environmentalists who decry the increased carbon emissions and energy use predicated by suburban living; so can local food advocates fed up with the conversion of arable land to parking lots, buildings, and chemical-addicted lawns. The same is true for teachers and parents who see a correlation between their child’s health and academic performance. “There’s lots of synergies there, but if [the message is] splintered, it’s not going to be nearly as effective,” Saelens notes.

Since the implementation of all this information produced in academic fields still rests outside institutions, connections between public health researchers and other advocates for liveable cities are key. There are encouraging signs that this message is getting out there: the U.S. Centre for Disease Control (CDC) recently published 26 different strategies for preventing childhood obesity suggested by researchers, and the Active Living By Design organization links planners with public health researchers to advocate for healthier living through infrastructural change. Further, Projet Montréal’s success in the mayoral elections suggests the growing popular appeal of people-oriented planning.

At a conference discussing the CDC report, Saelens was asked what change would have the greatest impact over the built environment. His response? “Making gas $10-12 gallon, and the reason isn’t because I don’t want people to drive – there is some utility in it.” With people paying the real price for their behavioural choices, Saelens argues, “then you can have serious conversations about land use and true public transportation.”

LINK

Photo via Flickr