What’s happening on Harbord? Bike lane upgrades… we hope

Many cyclists use the Harbord Street bike lanes every day in Toronto. Photo by Martin Reis

What’s happening on Harbord? Bike lane improvements...we hope

On the surface, Harbord is a cyclist’s paradise. But patches of missing bike lanes and controversy surrounding big new plans for bi-directional buffered lanes reveal giant cracks under Harbord’s smooth surface. (Read our latest update posted on Oct. 17, here.)

By Tammy Thorne ~ originally published on Sept. 20 ~

Something is happening on Harbord Street in Toronto. Every day thousands of cyclists ride back and forth on this bike lane – and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.

The thing is, there’s a bit of a gap in the bike lane on Harbord, just west of Spadina. The gap is right where you’d want a bike lane too: when crossing one of the busiest streets downtown, Spadina Avenue. From Spadina west to Borden there are these markings called sharrows instead of a bike lane. Now, sharrows are meant to show cyclists and motorists where and how to share the road, and when placed in the middle of the road they encourage cyclists to take the lane if there isn't enough room for a car to pass safely, but in some cases they have caused confusion.

Next to the sharrows on Harbord are parked cars. In Toronto, every cyclist’s nightmare is getting doored, and placing bike infrastructure like bike lanes and sharrows right in the “door zone” is a typical "made-in-Toronto compromise” (much like sharrows themselves).

But Harbord is also one of the best bikeways in the city. Cycle Toronto has come forward in strong support of a plan to build a Montreal-style bi-directional and buffered bike lane along the north side of the street. At first blush it appeared to be something that Harbord businesses had been on board with, but following an August 23 Toronto Star article, it seemed something was afoot in the bike lane.

In the article, Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, announced plans for a “love-in” style protest at Harbord bakery (reportedly opposed to the lane proposal) this Saturday, Sept. 21.

It’s important to have separated bike lanes in any city to encourage new commuter cyclists, to help ease congestion and, of course, to make things much safer for the existing masses of cyclists already biking daily. People are injured every day riding their bikes, usually due to careless driving, but also often because of dangerous, incomplete or downright shoddy infrastructure in our city.  People are dying in our streets. Safety is a serious issue. So where are our separated bike lanes?

We're quite fond of the Sherbourne cycle track, even though more parking enforcement is clearly needed for that lane. We think a network of connected and protected bike lanes should definitely be a top priority for Toronto. But the questions are: Is Harbord the best place to start? And, is bi-directional (or Montreal-style) the way to go?

Following a Toronto Star article originally titled “Harbord bakery versus Harbord bikery” (newspaper clipping below)  the BIA was not pleased with being characterized as “anti-cyclist” and BIA chair Neil Wright claimed that the bakery was unfairly targeted. “We have many members on our BIA who ride bikes. The Harbord BIA has always supported bike lanes,” Wright says. “Harbord bakery is innocent and it is very, very disturbing that Cycle Toronto decided to pinpoint the bakery – just one member of the BIA.”

Wright said the entire BIA is concerned about the bi-directional proposal as it doesn’t take into account access for clients and delivery vehicles to businesses on the north side, noting the gas station specifically, as well as the fact that the design might very well be too narrow to accommodate the many cyclists who use that route every day and may want to pass each other in the bike lane. “We’re open to bike lanes of any kind. It just seems like this plan was completely top down and that someone at City Hall, like our mayor and [public works chair] Denzil Minnan-Wong, just decided to ‘get it done’ – that this is totally in the hands of politicians.” Wright says the BIA’s number one concern is for the safety of all road users: pedestrians, cyclists and cars too.

In response, the Harbord BIA (which includes businesses from Spadina to Borden, with associate members to Bathurst) sent this letter below to local politicians and The Star, dandyhorse magazine, and others. (dandyhorse has garnered attention by doing Bike Spotting streeter sessions on Harbord asking cyclists what they think of the bi-directional proposal.)

Wright said that protesters this Saturday will be greeted with a table of free food, and any sales inside the bakery will be donated to a charity.

Note that sharrows are dark pink on the new bike map from the City -- the Harbord-Hoskin/Wellesley bikeway is across the very top of this map section below. (Ed's note: The sharrows on Spadina are an example of very poorly placed sharrows: They provide no use at all and are slated to be removed this year.)

So what is actually going on here?

Do the thousands of daily cyclists – many of them new, student cyclists – and drivers have to endure this dangerous bottleneck without the aid of proper infrastructure or guidance on how to share the space properly just to avoid removing a few measly on-street parking spots?

Why not complete the bike lane as it is now from Spadina to Harbord and move the parking to the side streets?

The Wellesley bike lane upgrade, according to this City's website, includes putting in bollards along the existing uni-directional bike lanes. It will also involve - gasp - removing some on-street parking. What would a bi-directional bike lane on Harbord-Hoskin do to improve safety that a uni-directional separated bike lane wouldn’t do?

Next week we will continue to discuss Harbord and other proposed separated bike lanes with Councillor Adam Vaughan.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Harbord update: parking safe but bike lane design unknown (Oct. 17)

Harbord Bike Spotting 1

Harbord Bike Spotting 2

City plans to install bi-directional bike lanes on Harbord

Sherbourne Bike Spotting (Sherbourne cycle track story from issue #10 will be posted on the dandyBLOG soon along with new Bike Spotting sessions this fall.)

Safety Issue is here

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3 responses to “What’s happening on Harbord? Bike lane upgrades… we hope”

  1. hamish wilson says:

    I’m glad that you all are focusing a bit on this – including asking ordinary cyclists now using Harbord. Real thanks, but let’s explore the safety, function, cost, and politricks a lot more please.
    Safety: vital, but Harbord was fixed up for $342,000 about three years ago, with Cycle Toronto blessing to the gap “fix” of sharrows (I’d pushed to fill in these missing four blocks but Joe wanted to have Bike cred, and the Fix was in). The compromise involved 24-hour parking and putting the car traffic onto one lane only, and this was an improvement.
    Harbord hasn’t been historically all that dangerous: 1983 stats show lightness, c. 2000 still light, and current crash stats are also light compared to other east-west roads. And we still don’t count all the crashes from the streetcar track twists – did the latest fatality get thrown from her bike by the track? So truly it’s not that bad – joepocalypse is another person backing this up.
    Complicating the proposal is the simple fact that the new style of bidirectional is not going to be a real safety improvement due to the high number of intersections from the many short blocks that go into Harbord, just as those same blocks entering Bloor in the Annex scuppered a proposal 16 years ago from a Bloor St. business owner to convert a lane of Bloor to bi-directional bike traffic. I wish it were not the case – a LOT of Toronto could use this model eg. Queen, or the Danforth… But both Quebec and Danish technical guides also dismiss or lay many conditions upon using this type of “fix” in urban settings. Harbord just isn’t right for bi-directional.
    With the Cost – $342,000 could do Bloor’s 8kms and what will any changes to Harbord eat up? Half a million or more? Given the relative safeness and good function of Harbord – including how I think most motorists using Harbord know to expect bikes and share – it’s just not good value to blow such sums on reworking a best in the west end bike lane. Only real bike lane in the west end that goes to Ossington… there’s a true shortage of other facilities, and what happened to the West End Bikeways project? The one that excluded Bloor because it was a separate study? Lots needs doing elsewhere.
    And just paint too – let’s get a reasonably good done with paint network first, though separations on some streets like Richmond and Adelaide, and it should have been done some years back.
    And that leads into the politricks.
    Sadly, I think many of the advocates are naifs, dupes, Fordies etc. There’s a very large city out past the core and it really sucks to bike in many areas including most of the core west of Bathurst. So in pushing forward harbord and a bad “fix”, we are ignoring the 90% of the rest of the City. There may be a set of ulterior motives from malevolent politicians: deflect from Bloor; create divisions within bike types and core communities; create stress for core councillors; waste staff time; ensure no NEW bike lanes go in as a consequence.
    There are lots and lots of other places in the City, even beyond Bloor, that need fixing up and making more bike friendly. Like what about the area where Peter Cram died? Smooth pavement and some sharrows/sh**ows in the Dufferin underpass would be nice compared to what is there now. Truly.
    Where Jenna Morrison was killed – simple paint and sharrows costing less than the funeral might have prevented that true tragedy, and the “fix” approved by the City fails to recognize the real cause is that the intersection geometry is horrible. The “corner” needs to be smoothed out a bit, and why not 20 metres of separated bike lane there? The City plows the bridge sidewalks already, so tack on a bit of separated bike lane too.
    No – Harbord isn’t perfect now. There is real need for a good connection through to Wellesley. Paint would help on the bike lanes, and yes, filling in the four block gap by using the Central Tech Parking and the parking lot behind Knox/Ukrainian hall would help us too – a job for Green P?
    But it is a sad and frustrating false solution sucking in far too many people while many other areas of the core and the larger city really need improving ahead of Harbord.
    Yes, I (still) go on too long….

  2. hamish wilson says:

    OK; let’s try again.
    Thanks for some focus and depth on this issue – but if it’s about safety we should avoid doing too much in the way of change along here in favour of the 99% of the rest of the City.
    Historically Harbord’s been safer than most other east-west roads, but it ends at Ossington.
    The four-block gap between Borden and Spadina is not great, but it’s waaay better than it was, and it was fixed up a mere 3 years ago. Some of us like me were pushing to fill in this gap, but Cycle Toronto under Yvonne had met with the City and rolled out the compromise plans as there was no time as some politicians needed to be seen to be bike friendly etc., and so $342,000 was spent, and some safety fixes occurred. So it’s better now than it was.
    Bi-directional in contexts like Harbord don’t work – if one believes in the expertise of Velo-Quebec and the Danish who also have backwaters like Copenhagen. Both guidelines fault b-directional when there are multiple entry/conflict points; the Danish go as far to say/urge don’t do this “through cities”.
    That aligns with what staff indicated to me about 17 years ago with a proposal for Bloor bi-directional.
    It makes no sense to take the best in the west end bike lane and convert it at what a million!? to a dubious facility for safety, but also function, as I don’t see how it will work that well for all those bikes coming into the City and wishing to turn south. There’s also a serious clunk in safety and function at the crossover from Queen’s Park crescent east side to Hoskin – so flawed, the whole thing should be postponed till there is something worked out that is safe, and doesn’t compromise cycling safety to keep the car lanes.
    There’s an underlying political agenda possibly too: create some relatively bogus scheme to eat up all the staff time and resource so that nothing NEW gets done, including Richmond/Adelaide. To have the alleged advocates champion something unsafer and very costly is no help to the broader cycling community.

  3. Tosca says:

    Unfortunately I’ve missed all the meetings, and had really hoped to attend from the beginning to share my ideas. I have a business on Harbord (322 Harbord street) and since living in Toronto (’01) have cycled everywhere for everything. That said, having spent time in the Netherlands I was hoping to bring along some concepts for upgraded bike lanes in TO.
    Rather than cars parking near the sidewalk -thus inducing ‘door prize’ anxiety, have the bike lanes near the side walks, and the cars parking along the outer edge of the bike lane creating a wall (in theory) protecting cyclists from traffic. Cars leaving they’re parked position do not enter into the bicycle lane, just merge into traffic. Bus lanes also need to be reworked where the bus (drivers) never cross into the cyclists’ path.
    There is certainly more than enough room to accommodate the idea above and not take away from parking, cyclists or adding to traffic issues.

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