URGENCY FOR A BIKE FRIENDLY CITY
The days of painted bike lanes ending randomly and dumping a person on a bike back into hostile territory must end if we are to safely invite more Torontonians out of cars and off of an overburdened/underdeveloped transit system to relieve some of the congestion that is choking our city and frustrating those who must drive. We’ve had the solutions to make this a safer cycling city for years but have been unwilling to implement them in a timely or consistent way, or with the urgency this issue demands. The studies have been done, the data gathered, the analysis is complete – the myriad positive impacts are known, proven, celebrated even, and yet despite some important successes, and a clear demand for these solutions, Toronto continues to drag its heels as it shuffles incrementally towards the implementation of a city-wide cycling network, as part of their stated commitment to the Vision Zero concept.
Our city streets must be adapted to allow for the safe and efficient movement of people and goods, not just motor vehicles. I don’t think any of my cycling advocate colleagues have any aim to turn Toronto into Copenhagen. Rather, we wish to see the best examples of infrastructure from other successful cycling- oriented cities used as the foundation on which to create made-in-Toronto context-sensitive solutions for the safe movement of people using all modes of active-transportation. We want our streets to move more people with less conflict within the same fixed roadway widths by reimagining and redesigning some of our streets to safely accommodate bicycles in a connected, protected, and reliable city-wide grid.
We’ve all heard the arguments in favour of creating a truly bike-friendly city, and yet here we are in 2019 once again making the case to shift into higher gear and get the bollards and paint on the pavement instead of endlessly debating each project proposed as part of our second, thus far unachieved, 10 year Bike Plan. The City has recently admitted to issues with achieving the longer term plan and has just set a shorter, 3 year plan in place.
I commend City staff and council for acknowledging the inadequacies of the previous 10 year plan and creating instead a new plan with a shorter, council session based implementation timeframe. However, budgetary considerations, and driver convenience, are still being prioritized over Torontonians’ safety despite having adopted the Vision Zero Road Safety Plan.
New streets, and the design of streets scheduled for rebuild, must avoid recreating the roadway, curbside and intersection design mistakes of the past, but plan instead to safely incorporate personal bicycles and e-bikes, bike share, new shared micro-mobility devices, and people on foot through a complete streets model that also has tremendous benefits for people who drive and take transit. Intersections are where conflicts between road users are most frequent and making them measurably safer through protected intersections, where road widths allow, is one of the keys, along with reducing distances between crossings, to eliminating catastrophic injury and death amongst vulnerable road users. Good design is critical to reducing the likelihood and consequences of human error, and Toronto has a critical need for good design.
We’re barely managing the ever increasing volume of people cycling and using e-bikes as it is, so what happens when even more non-automobile personal mobility options hit the streets in greater numbers? Where do the hotly anticipated and contentious shared electric kick-scooters go, and the growing number of seniors on their power scooters, and skateboards, and electric one- wheeled contraptions that have started to pop up? Do all of these other micro- mobility devices belong on already crowded sidewalks?
The answer is a hard no. I imagine that the bike lanes and separated cycle- tracks of today will increasingly become the territory of not just those on bicycles but the space in which all non-pedestrian active forms of transportation will travel. And that doesn't even address the changing shape of goods delivery with smaller human-powered, and in some cases autonomous and/or electric vehicles... So where to go from here if we want to move more people more safely and keep our city streets from becoming ever more chaotic and unsafe?
A few things to prioritize and consider in planning and doing:
• Achieving and maintaining State of Good Repair (SOGR): Existing bicycle facilities should receive annual SOGR Spring
audits and needed repairs. The City of Toronto’s roadway user counts, and cycling app stats and route preferences,
could also be used to determine which roads without cycling facilities have the highest volumes of bicycle use and
then also work to guarantee that those curb lanes achieve SOGR to at least ensure a fraction of added safety if proper
cycling facilities are not feasible.
• Year round access: Proper, reliable and timely winter maintenance and snow clearing is of course key to year-round use – other winter cities are showing it is possible, ex: Montreal, Oulu, etc. Waiting for the sun to come out and melt away ice/snow, or simply dumping carpets of salt onto our roadways (and waterways) is not good enough.
• Encouraging social norms: We know the power of marketing, so how about activating a city-wide, image based (language barrier free), ongoing public education campaign regarding shared positive social norms about the rules of the road, mutual respect between modes, and the shared rights and responsibilities for all new and long-time Torontonian road users.
• Using existing resources: Consistent, ongoing enforcement of existing rules of the road by police is critical for reducing crashes/collisions/ injuries/fatalities – speeding, dangerous/distracted driving, illegal parking, aggressive driving, red light running, will continue to proliferate if we don't start making enforcement a priority.
• Slow it down: speeding can be lethal, and a reduction of speed limits is part of a comprehensive approach to road safety.
• Intersections and small improvements: Large bike plan projects must be combined with smaller, more quickly deployable gap-filler projects. A city- core wide audit could be undertaken to identify where small interventions and installations, at intersections in particular, could improve safety where there are currently no cycling facilities (other than bike parking) and high volumes of people on bikes. Little improvements can have big impacts on safety.
• Tapping into local resources: Community members and advocacy groups can provide volunteer data collection support and help conduct local audits to share recommendations to staff for neighbourhood-based safety improvements.
• Re-evaluating on-street parking: Curb space is some of the most valuable real estate in the city and it's time to have a proper discussion about its use. Should it remain storage space, or is it time to reallocate more of it for the movement of people and goods?
• Shed some light on it: Non-intrusive (for nearby residents) intersection lighting enhancements could dramatically improve night time pedestrian and cycling safety by better highlighting non-motor vehicle roadway users at intersections.
• Preparing for the transportation revolution: E-bikes (pedelecs) and e-scooters are the new wave of urban mobility that is spreading rapidly across North America, the e-mobility revolution is underway – is Toronto ready? In addition to roadway space in which to safely operate, will there be charge stations for e-bikes alongside those for electric cars, etc.?
• Adapting for autonomous vehicles: Retro-reflective high contrast tape developed by 3M has been deployed on the 407 for autonomous vehicles to read. What plans do we have for adapting City of Toronto roadway and bike lane markings, and cycle track facilities, to help autonomous motor vehicles operate safely on our city streets and at intersections?
If the fundamental role of streets and roadways is as a safe and reliable network of travel lanes on which to move people and goods, we can no longer ignore the fact that continuing to operate our roadways as we always have, with the motor vehicle taking priority, will eventually lock us down in complete gridlock with all the noise, air pollution, and anger that comes with it. We’re basically there now during peak hour.
As our population continues to increase, and age, one of the most cost-effective solutions to moving more people safely across the city’s core and suburbs within the same fixed amount of space is to reconfigure some of our public roadway space and start prioritizing active forms of transportation via a safer, connected, city-wide network of active transportation lanes that keeps all road users safe, and reduces the chaos we've all grown so weary of. The question is, what kind of city do we want to live in?