photo by Martin Reis
Harbord mystery lane surprise
Two-wheeled troubles on Harbord brewing?
by dandyhorse staff ~ originally published on Oct. 17, 2013 ~
A separated bike lane is coming to Harbord next year. It is implicitly intoned to be a Montreal-style, bi-directional lane on the north side of the street. That is all. Nothing more to see here, move along.
It usually takes a long time to get anything done at City Hall so it seems odd that such a grandiose and new-to-Toronto type of bike lane proposal would go through to council with much less rigour.
In the case of the new Harbord bi-directional bike lane, we’re told the design suggestion is a result of community consensus and political will. Yet there have been no design proposals or even vague plans from the city for alternative options, such as a uni-directional bike lane – just a few photos in a presentation to the public of the recently installed cycle track on Sherbourne, which is meant to be part of this network of separated bike lanes we keep hearing about.
These slides were from the public meeting in July to present the idea of the bi-directional bike lane option to the public.
But to get things done – especially at City Hall – you need to have a plan, preferably a big plan. Denzil Minnan-Wong, chair of the public works and infrastructure committee, assures us that separated bike lanes are the way to go, and that more will be coming to Richmond and Adelaide next spring.
Though Councillor Adam Vaughan cautions against what seems like pro-bike lip service and pandering rhetoric from right-leaning councillors who traditionally oppose expanding cycling infrastructure too far into car territory.
“As Denzil sets up these winner takes all high stakes, highly polarized debates…we are waiting. We have nine bike lanes that have been approved by council that are ready to go, and that build out a network in this ward. We have consensus on them. The community wants these.”
However, while new lanes have been approved by council, implementation is delayed due to the construction of what Vaughan called "luxury lanes" like that proposed for Harbord – lanes which are great for improving safety, but do little to improve connectivity and build the network.
"Denzils big thing is connectivity" Vaughan notes, but "where does the Harbord bike lane end – it ends at Ossington. And what does it connect to? That, we are also waiting on.”
Still, if Harbord is to become a separated bike lane, Vaughan will tell you: it’s bi-directional or nothing.
Some would say a perfectly safe, functional bike lane already exists on Harbord between Ossington and Bathurst. And that the problem with Harbord is between Borden and Spadina, in the heart of “Harbord Village” where the bike lane ends, and is replaced by on-street parking and sharrows.
“The bi-directional protects the parking that is needed,” says Vaughan. When asked for specific numbers his assistant helps out: “Right now there are 48 parkings spots – and with the bi-directional plan, we are trying to salvage 95 to 98 per cent of parking.” The unidirectional plan would take out all of the on-street parking.
“If the choice is bi-directional or nothing then bi-directional is safer,” says Vaughan.
Yet according to technical guidelines outlined in Velo Quebec's handbook for Planning and Design for Pedestrians and Cyclists, bi-directional lanes are inadvisable where there are too many cross streets, hidden lanes or alleyways and intersections, because of the interference caused by crossing and turning traffic. The stretch of Harbord between Ossington and Spadina has 23 intersecting streets (not to mention the over 20 laneways), making it less than ideal.
Rather, the bi-directional lane is best suited along parks, shorelines and hydro and rail corridors, where there are long stretches of uninterrupted straightaways. Separated uni-directional lanes are almost always preferred when physically possible. Still, says Vaughan, “I can tell you right now that uni-directional is never going to happen here.”
Basically, Vaughan explains, that if we have uni-directional bike lanes with wholesale businesses like the bakery on the street, there would be no way to stop the delivery vehicles from blocking that lane while doing their pick up and drop offs – it would disrupt the bike lane and disrupt parking.
“The safest and most politically attainable option is the bi-directional lane,” he says, reiterating earlier comments.
Councillor Mike Layton's ward encompasses the west portion of the Harbord bike lane. Layton, a lifelong cyclist, says, "One of the biggest things we are going to accomplish with the separated lane network is the increase in the number of cyclists. If we build the network we are going to get more people on bikes."
Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto also touts the separated lane network as a top priority for Toronto, but he has his own concerns, particularly with the width of the proposed lanes: “Look around the world and you’ll see that when you build a separated lane it brings out all the latent demand – so a 3 metre width may be good for the [bicycle] volume of today, but what about the volume of tomorrow? We want 3.5 width all the way and 4 metre is great and absolutely possible in some places.”
Vaughan admits there are many design issues that will need creative solutions, like dealing with transit stops and pedestrian crossings.
“We’re going to do this really smart – we’re going to create a consensus where people know what the trade offs are and know what the expectations are and everyone is going to have to give up a little to get something better.” says Vaughan.
Although there appears to be a loss of consensus – the BIA no longer seems to be on board with the bi-directional plan.
In the end it seems that on-street parking from Spadina to Borden is the ultimate concern for the entire design of Harbord street, from Queen’s Park to Ossington Avenue.
Presumably the obsession with parking is due to the fear that there will be loss of business, yet we now have numerous studies from all over the world, including research conducted right here in Toronto, that show cycling and cyclists are a great boon to the local economy.
According to this Bells on Bloor video the Bloor-Annex BIAs and residence associations are chomping at the bit to get some bike lanes. To quote Wade McCallum, Chair of the Bloor-Annex business owners association from the video: “We are, as a board, pro-bike lanes. We've had many conversations over the last several years…and we have made an official stance: We want bike lanes on Bloor,” he said noting successful public consultations.
“Everybody is in favour of trading parking [spaces] for bike lanes—it's unanimous.”
In the same video, Nancy Smith Lea of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) said, “It’s time for some political leadership…to remove some of that on-street parking to improve safety for cyclists. I think we're just used to doing things the same way; that's it more than anything else.” Smith Lea concluded; “… based on our research we found that you could be using the [Bloor street road] space more efficiently, and increase safety for cyclists, and it is good for business–so there really is no trade-off at all.”
Tell that to the Harbord Village BIA.
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