Getting down to bare pavement: The City's plan for winter clearance of bike lanes
Story by Corey Horowitz
The upcoming renewal of the City’s snow clearance contract will allow for the formal inclusion of priority cycling routes for the first time. Up until now, there has been no official council-approved level of service specific to winter maintenance of bike lanes. Recent infrastructure investments such as the Sherbourne cycle track, Richmond-Adelaide bikeway and separated lane on Wellesley all present a timely opportunity to properly address winter service standards for cyclists.
If you’ve ridden the streets after a snowfall, you’ve no doubt noticed that the current plowing service often leaves bike lanes as half-cleared, de facto snow — or worse, slush and ice — depositories. This can make for an unsafe surface that is often more of a barrier to cycling than the temperature. The City has now, finally, identified a comprehensive plan to address winter maintenance levels, albeit one that won’t be implemented until December 2015. As you trudge through this hopefully not-too-hellish winter, try to exercise some patience as the City works to nail down the budgetary and logistical details of clearing bike lanes.
For the time being, Dec. 11 saw the City's intentions realized to keep the downtown cycle tracks plowed, with clear pavement on both Sherbourne and Richmond-Adelaide. Some people on foot are taking full advantage of this, as the lanes seem to offer a more attractive option for walking than the snow-covered sidewalk .
Hector Moreno is Road Operations Manager for Transportation Services with the City of Toronto. He states that it would cost between $3-5 million per season for full snow clearance and removal on Toronto’s 220 km cycling network. The plan being put forth will cost in the area of $650,000 - 700,000 (for comparison, the purchase of a new TTC streetcar runs about $1 million). This is made possible due to prioritization of the essential and most frequently used cycling routes. Based on the City’s ridership data, key east-west and north-south corridors were identified, all exceeding 2,000 cyclists within a 24-hour period. The goal of the new service levels will be to achieve "bare pavement" on all designated priority lanes.
Prioritized routes will comprise cycle tracks (including the Roncesvalles bus pads) and contra-flow lanes, as well as St. George/Beverley, Wellesley, Harbord, College, Gerrard, River St, Shuter St, Lower Simcoe, Lower Yonge, Strachan and the Bloor/Prince Edward Viaduct. Upon implementation, these streets will also receive identifying signage.
As with general-purpose roads, a combination of plowing and multiple salting applications will be employed, with plowing beginning at 5 cm of accumulation. All downtown on-street bike lanes will be salted with liquid brine at a more aggressive level than the roads they are on/adjacent to. When necessary, a "slusher" blade would also be used in plowing to help break up snow and ice, making it more susceptible to salt. Reaching "bare pavement" conditions may prove difficult on bike lanes that receive salting and plowing only. The weight and road coverage of motor traffic benefits the road surface by effectively activating the salt to an extent that is not possible for bicycles.
On the priority bike routes, snow will be fully removed to achieve "bare pavement" where possible and as on-street parking allows. This would take place under minimum conditions of cumulative Storm Type 2 (5-15 cm, 3-6 times/year). On all other lanes, it would be possible to reach near "bare pavement" levels through removal of the windrow or bank created by a snow plow.
The machinery involved will likely be some combination of the equipment used to clear sidewalks and the Martin Goodman Trail. This Bobcat-type machine will reportedly be used on protected bike lanes such as Sherbourne and Richmond-Adelaide. However, these vehicles tend to operate quite slowly, and are not considered as safe or flexible as a small tractor-style machine that is also being discussed.
There will no doubt be logistical challenges, such as the removal of snow where bike lanes exist between a parking lane and the main road. Hector notes, “it will not be a one size fits all approach. Downtown is unique for snow removal in that there is not much space for clearance relative to more suburban locations, where fewer problems are presented by pushing snow towards the curb and gutter.” Despite the challenges, the investment is justified on the strong potential to ease the burden on a transit and roadway system that is especially overcrowded in the winter.
Many Toronto residents have experienced the painstakingly slow and congested commutes typical of travel by auto and public transit. With the right strategies in place, this reality — along with the psychic and health benefits of cycling — can contribute to a stronger cyclist mode share. According to 2009 data reported by Transportation Services, only about 10 per cent of all cyclists continue riding through the winter. More importantly, 29 per cent said that better clearance of bike routes would encourage them to ride in the winter.
The initiative will commence with two or three pilot projects targeting key routes to determine suitable approaches in different locations. dandyhorse will continue to follow the plans closely and provide updates as they come.
Related on the dandyBLOG:
Plowed bike lanes vital to winter cycling (Spacing, 2008, by Tammy Thorne)
City's cycling advisory committee 2008 minutes (requesting snow removal on the Martin Goodman Trail)