Image above from the City of Toronto at toronto.ca/bloorbikelanes.
Another small step forward for bike lanes on Bloor-Danforth
Opinion-Editorial by Albert Koehl and Michael Black
City Hall has now released its preferred option for a pilot bike lane on Bloor Street. This option was the topic of a public drop-in on the evening of March 9, 2016 at the Trinity-St. Paul Centre. There are strong opinions in the community for and against the option - but one thing is for sure: after decades of fighting about if Bloor should have a bike lane, it's nice to be fighting about what that bike lane should look like.
The pilot bike lane on Bloor will be a modest 2.5 km from Avenue Road to Shaw Street but it will be a big step forward for Toronto, where every centimeter of road space liberated from parked or moving cars has the feel of a blood feud. This short pilot stretch is certainly not the ultimate goal but only a foot in the door for a transformational east-west bike lane that would stretch 24 km across the city.
The pilot still has at least one major hurdle: it must pass a vote at the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC). If the green light is given, it’s likely the pilot will be launched late this summer. A pilot should be an easy preliminary step … but it has already consumed almost three years of dedicated advocacy by Bells on Bloor, Cycle Toronto, and the Annex Residents Association, among others.
Yesterday's open house was preceded by a drop-in last December. Earlier plans to retain parking on both sides of Bloor from Spadina to Avenue Rd. have been replaced in the current design by a single lane of parking, which will allow a widening of the bike lanes east of Spadina by almost half a metre. This is good news. Indeed, Councillor Joe Cressy (a strong supporter of the pilot) is already talking about finding funding for planter boxes that will provide separation east of Spadina.
Staff are now recommending a single lane of on-street parking for the entire project, with parking areas to be located on alternating sides of the street. Last year, they had been waffling about providing an adequate buffer in the door zone. Feedback from cyclists, however, has resulted in the opting for a continuous buffer that will protect against the dreaded 'door prize'.
The actual location of the remaining parking relative to the bike lanes is also good news. If parking is situated next to the curb, the bike lane ends up in a dangerous sandwich between parked cars and moving cars in the traffic lane. However, the current design calls for the bike lane to be between the curb and the lane of parked cars. (How’s that for irony: parked cars will protect cyclists.)
There is another reason why positioning a bike lane next to the curb is good: cars do not have to pass through it in order to park, which in turn means that the bike lane can be separated from motor vehicles by a hard barrier. Once separation is achieved, the status of a bike lane changes: incursions by taxis and buses are prohibited (unlike mere painted lanes.)
One of the options presented last December did not provide any separation whatsoever. But because staff decided in favour of curbside bike lanes, they have been able to build in separation for five out of the pilot's six sections (82 per cent of the project.) The cramped stretch between Bathurst and Spadina is the only place where the bike lane (on the side of the street where there is no parking) will not be protected by any kind of hard separation from vehicular traffic. Elsewhere, the pilot will rely on flexiposts for protection, to give vertical visibility. In addition, Toronto planners would do well to copy best practices from other cities, like adding horizontal protection by bolting narrow wheel stop strips on the pavement, in between posts.
One of the disappointments of the new design is a failure to provide any protected intersection designs, particularly at major intersections.
One notable exception appears to be the removal of the right turning lane from Bloor onto Spadina, thereby eliminating a problematic conflict zone with cars crossing the bike lane.
Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, the City's cycling manager, noted that it is difficult to build a sophisticated protected intersection without reconstructing the street, something that lies outside the scope of a pilot project. We hope that the City will be more ambitious when it designs the permanent installation of the Bloor bike lanes.
There are plenty of other reasons to celebrate the city’s proposed pilot:
First, cyclists will be getting something on Bloor they have never had: a dedicated space. This is a big deal. Some stretches of Bloor are so narrow that cyclists cannot pass cars, regardless of how closely a cyclist hugs the curb. This is especially true during rush hour when one parking lane is currently converted to a motor lane.
Second, the narrowing of the remaining parking lane means that lane can no longer be converted to a rush-hour lane.
Finally, getting a pilot in place means that people who are ambivalent can be shown they have nothing to fear. It will help us all move forward.
The revised design is not perfect, but it does incorporate the best options that were presented at the December 2, 2015 public event. There’s no doubt that better cycling infrastructure exists; the question is whether at this pilot phase it is worth engaging in a concerted advocacy effort that might simply further delay the project (to accommodate further design alterations) or give council opponents a reason to scuttle the project altogether. The pilot can instead be a valuable opportunity to build on existing evidence to buttress arguments for improvements to the final and permanent design.
For example, parking could have been removed from both sides of Bloor west of Spadina but this would almost certainly undermine the current tentative support of the local BIA, thereby providing ammunition for council naysayers. As well, there is little doubt that lower speed limits would benefit not only cyclists in the area but also pedestrians, including the many tourists, students, and shoppers. But such an effort as part of this project risks riling up additional sleeping enemies. Once PWIC and then council approve the project for implementation this summer, we can move forward on gathering evidence to support an even better final design.
Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer, founder of Bells on Bloor, and Vice Chair of the Annex Residents Association. Michael Black is the 2016 TCAT Champion of the Year, member of Bells on Bloor, and a founder of Walk Toronto.
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