Bikes Belong on John • Send your comments to the city today

Note: ACTION ITEM – There is a link to the official “Comments Sheet” at the bottom of this post.

The longest uninterrupted north-south bike lane in central Toronto is ‘Route 35‘, which travels along Beverly, St George & Poplar Plains all the way from St Clair down to Queen Street.  At Queen it comes to a dead-end, feeding into a black hole of car-priority streets with no bike infrastructure anywhere nearby.  Ten years ago, City Council approved the Toronto Bike Plan, which includes north-south bike lanes on Spadina & Peter, and physically separated bike lanes on Richmond & Adelaide.  Ten years later, including seven years under Mayor Miller, we still have no bike lanes in that area.

Now, to make things worse, the City is planning to re-design John Street and it looks like bike safety is not part of the equation.  In fact, they seem quite ready to push bikes off the street completely.

The City has released a report that puts forward six ‘Alternative Solutions‘ which seem to be carefully written to ensure that cyclists’ needs are excluded from the final plan.  One option goes as far as banning bikes completely. Another option includes bike lanes but without wider sidewalks (this option will surely be discarded as it contradicts the primary goal of the re-design: to enhance the pedestrian space). Strangely absent from the report is the most practical option: to add bikelanes and increase the sidewalk width.  There is more than enough room to do this, despite the misinformation found in the report.  Instead, the entire scenario is unnecessarily  framed as a bike VS pedestrian battle.

The conclusion of the report essentially says that in order to accommodate bike lanes, we’d have to keep the sidewalk widths as they are, or move the buildings back a few feet.  Honest!  It actually says that in the report.  They even have a drawing of the buildings, shifted backwards away from the street. (?!)

Here are the ‘Solutions':

1) “Do nothing”.
2) “Shared street”.  Adults, children, bikes, cars and trucks, all sharing the same lane – like a really busy parking lot.  Very smart.
3) “Pedestrian mall”.  No bikes allowed at all.
4) Reduce lanes from 4 to 2.  Increase sidewalk width. No bike lane.
5) Reduce lanes from 4 to 2.  Add bikelanes. Keep sidewalks the same width.
6) Move buildings over, to make room for both bike lanes and wider sidewalks.

I was pretty sure that there’s enough width on John Street to make room for everyone to travel safely.  So this afternoon, I went down to John with a measuring tape to see why they can’t fit bike lanes AND a wider sidewalk into the plan.  Maybe the street is narrower than I remember?  Maybe the consultants forgot to measure the street? Maybe their abacus is broken?

I first stopped by St George Street, which has very nice sidewalks, lots of trees, two lanes for cars AND two bike lanes.  I measured the width at Wilcocks Street:  9.5 meters.  That sounds about right.  Municipal streets have to be 9 meters wide to accommodate bike lanes (car lanes have to be 3 meters each, and bike lanes 1.5).

So then I headed down to John Street, and this is what I found:

John at Richmond = 10.1 meters
John, north of Adelaide = 11 meters
John, south of Adelaide = 13.1 meters!!!

There’s enough room at Adelaide to put in 2 bike lanes AND widen the sidewalk by 3.5 meters!  In fact, most of John Street is wide enough to do that.

Here’s the breakdown, visually:

It’s quite frustrating to have to go out on the street, as a volunteer citizen with a measuring tape, and produce basic data that contradicts the city’s high-paid consultants.

This six “Alternative Solutions” seem to be intentionally designed to push bikes off John Street.  It’s part a growing anti-bike trend we’re seeing from the City, all in the name of “improving the public realm”.  The mantra in the planning department is “increase sidewalk width and narrow the roadway whenever possible”.  This phrase is used in the John Street report, but I’ve seen it in many others as well.  It’s the same language that kept bike lanes off of the original Jarvis re-design.  And it’s the same approach that has pushed bikelanes off of almost every major road reconstruction we’ve seen in recent years (including Lansdowne, Bloor, Roncesvalles, St Clair, Dundas, etc..)

Meanwhile, the City has adopted a commitment to expand the bike network.  The John Street reconstruction is a perfect opportunity to complete the north-south bike route that currently ends at Queen Street.  And as the report shows, it would be the perfect bike/pedestrian  corridor to link up dozens of major buildings and attractions (right).

Here’s the really frustrating part.  The report begins with a huge graphic of traffic stats that tries to show that there are very few cyclists on John Street. First of all, the stats are bogus.  They show fluctuating numbers for cars and pedestrians at different times of the day, but somehow cyclists are always pegged at exactly 2%.  This is obviously a fabricated number, and not worthy of being included in an official City report.  More importantly, let’s just say for a moment that cycling is at 2%, there are two conclusions that can be drawn from that data:

1) Clearly cyclists don’t like this street.  Therefore, why would be bother to put in bike lanes? Or…

2) Clearly, people are more likely to use a street when they are offered a safe space to do so.  Pedestrians have a wide sidewalk to use on John Street, and are seen in much larger numbers than cyclists who have not been given a safe space.  Therefore, we should give cyclists a safe space to travel, to encourage green transportation.

I would argue that the streets with the lowest cycling counts are precisely the ones that need bike lanes.  We need to encourage bicycle use in the areas where residents don’t currently feel safe riding bikes.  I have a hunch that pedestrian traffic would be quite low on John Street if there were no sidewalks! Would that be a reason not to install them? Of course not.

Finally, there is no reason for the report to assume that the entire length of John Street needs one single consistent design.  Obviously, what’s best up at Queen near Grange Park might be different than what’s suited for John and King.  We need a sophisticated approach that looks at each block separately and includes overlooked options (including a Complete Street with bike lanes, and also looking at one-way car traffic on John, which was also not explored).

As this City Council lives out it’s final months in office they have a few chances to show us they care about bikes.  The downtown progressive Councillors in particular have very little to show us after four years in office.  The downtown wards have had virtually no new bike infrastructure added during this term.

Let’s take advantage of the John Street re-construction and build a roadway that gives more space to pedestrians, and also increases safety for cyclists. A complete street would be consistent with the City’s own transportation priorities, and would set a precedent that ‘bikes belong’ downtown.  There is enough room to do it.  Is there enough will?

Send your feedback to the City before Thursday!

Download the official comment form here.

Sign up for John Street updates from the City here.

Send official comments to:  JohnSt@toronto.ca
CC:
Councillor Adam Vaughan:  councillor_vaughan@toronto.ca
Planning Consultants: info@planpart.ca
Toronto Cyclists Union: info@bikeunion.to

21 responses to “Bikes Belong on John • Send your comments to the city today

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  2. I thought you were being sincere when you called Alternative 2 “very smart.” Then I realized you were being sarcastic.

    Too bad, because Alternative 2 shows a “woonerf” concept where users of the road would self-regulate, a concept that very smart traffic gurus such as Hans Monderman have found to be safer and sometimes even more efficient than designs that rely more on lines and signs. Monderman found that in some cases, clear rights-of-way lead to more aggressive assertion of these rights, and thus more accidents. These ROWs include bike lanes, which, let’s not forget, imply entitlements for motorists as well.

    The question is, will John St. be seen by users as a transportation artery, where the goal is to get through as quickly as possible? Or will it be a slow street, like Augusta, where everyone knows to go slowly and watch out for each other?

    It is possible that the preferred Alternative 4 is a unreasonable compromise between two reasonable concepts; ie: a full woonerf concept vs. a regulated street with clear ROWs. It may be better to just pick one concept, and go all the way. If so, I would lean towards a woonerf.

    Also, there is no reason why cyclists can’t ride through a pedestrian mall safely. Some distinct paving treatments should provide sufficient cues for users without triggering the aggressive behavior of a sharply defined ROW.

  3. Donna Flemming

    The woonerf concept sounds very civilized in an environment that is used to cyclists on the road. Toronto cyclists need to be recognized and protected from busy traffic, thus we need bikelanes. Commuter cyclists can move as efficiently as cars, they should not be confused with recreational cyclist who can share space with walking pedestrians, thus we need bikelanes. The woonerf concept may work well on non-arterial roadways. Come-on City Hall, its time to get on with the Bike Plan Network safely connecting all the micro-communities in the city.

  4. Hey John,

    Thanks for your comments. Some quick feedback:

    • I’m quite skeptical of the Woonerf or “naked street” model, for Toronto. I can’t imagine it works very well in most scenarios. Trucks and strollers just don’t mix. It seems way too idealistic for me. (and I’m quite the idealist…)

    • Transportation artery VS slow street. I don’t think that’s the question. It’s transportation vs destination. And the answer is: it can be both. No one is proposing a fast street with multi-lane traffic. But if it’s just turned into a pedestrian mall (destination), then it will not be transportation corridor at all (slow or fast).

    “There is no reason why cyclists can’t ride through a pedestrian mall safely. ”

    • Current legislation does not allows bikes in a pedestrianised area. Either all vehicles are in, or all are out. That’s why ‘Car Free Day’ in Toronto has no bikes allowed on their street closures.

    • Have you ever tried to bike on Augusta during a Pedestrian Sunday? (which is an illegal act, by the way). It’s not an easy thing to do.

    ~ dave

  5. All valid points. However, these same points have been used to express skepticism for woonerf concepts that turned out to work very well.

    Part of the opposition to expanding cycling infrastructure is the idea that “Toronto is not Europe” or something like that. Well, Europe was not always the bike-friendly place it is now, and it was through changes in policy AND culture that the situation improved.

    In any case, the success or failure of woonerfs is what you might call “a testable hypothesis,” and I think it is worth giving it a try in some places. I don’t believe any of the proposals for John Street envision it as some arterial road, but as more of a slow street like St. George, making it a reasonable candidate for a woonerf. St. George does have bike lanes that work very well, but because so many pedestrians frequently cross mid-block it is already quite safe for cyclists, since the cars are already traveling slow.

    Anyway, my two cents.

  6. Dave

    At least you caught this one. Moore Street, between Bayview and Mt. Pleasant went under construction without any notice. I’m sure the residents who have driveways onto the road got notice, but a commuter cyclist like me, who uses that route, a route that is marked in the City’s bike map as a connector road, did not receive notification or any opportunity for input.

    Moore Avenue in this location use to be one lane in each direction with a wide paved, badly potholed shoulder that was shared by cyclists, pedestrians (none except those going to and from the bus stop) and for parking (with no parking allowed between 7am-9am and 4pm-6pm). With parking restricted, and very few pedestrians, it was a good commuter route, despite the potholes.

    From what I’ve seen of the construction so far, they are adding sidewalks with an “island” jutting out at intersections and bus stops. The space between the islands I suspect will be permanent parking. The road will still be one lane in each direction, but it will not be wide enough for a car and bike to share comfortably.

    So looks like I am going from having a paved shoulder to cycle on to having to either take the entire car lane, and endure the wrath of the drivers or stay at the curb and be buzzed by cars.

    I’ll send photos of the fiasco when the work is completed.

    veronica

  7. Hi Veronica,

    That sounds horrible. Which ward is that in? Who is the Councillor?

    ~ dave

    • Turns out my fears were unfounded. I just got off the phone with the City’s Transportation Services and this section of Moore Avenue is suppose to have a 1.8 m bike lane in each direction upon completion of construction.

      I’m skeptical that all of what’s planned for this stretch of road will fit, but I look forward to being proven wrong.

      I think its telling that I immediately jumped to the most disadvantages and cynical conclusion in the absence of information. It speaks to how little goodwill there is between myself and the City that I am not willing to give them the benefit of the doubt. I think that’s true of the larger cycling community. Its rather sad, in my view.

      But today I can focus on good news. My commute to work should be no worse, and should get a whole lot better, once this construction is completed.

      veronica

      • Veronica, I hope that includes Moore in front of Mt Pleasant cemetery, as that is the most dangerous stretch on one of my bike routes.

  8. What strikes me as quite odd about the information presented by the planners is the absence of any block-by-block commentaries that would clarify the usage of each section and the effect of specific changes. For example, the section north of Queen is very different from the section south of Adelaide. Why should a single “solution” be applied to each section? Where are the locations with “must have” traffic access points, and which portions can survive complete conversion to pedestrian/cycling use?

  9. re: widths of streets, sidewalks, etc.

    It may not help you in this case, but there is public info out there about measurements of streets. The City just launched the streetscape manual:

    http://www.toronto.ca/planning/urbdesign/streetscape/index.htm

  10. (pressed submit before i intended to)

    I’d like to see John be used more as a cultural corridor and less so as a commuting road for drivers. I think both Simcoe (near University) and Peter (near Spadina) are better options to explore rather than John for bike lanes. John St gets closed down too often by Much Music and with the TIFF Lightbox opening at King & John I can only imagine that the street will continue to blocked often at different times of the year.

    Simcoe and Peter are both wider than John and both present better riding options for those that use Spadina and University. I think lanes on those roads also support the St. George/Beverley route better as it provides more options for cyclists.

    While John Street is going to be reconstructed it is funded by a lot of local businesses rather than just a City-only venture. TIFF, Much, etc are chipping in so that the streets can be transformed easily into no-car areas for events.

    I think the fight for lanes in this part of the city is better placed on Simcoe and Peter since bike lanes will be effected less by events. And in the case of Simcoe there are already lanes in the southern part of the street, so it makes sense to connect and finish that route.

  11. Some points by a long-time cyclist around the town.
    – I’m with John, I like the woonerf idea. It may not be as fast as a dedicated bike lane on an arterial, but it’s a damn sight more civilized. And I think Kengsinton Market (see it now, before it gets gentrified and safety’d to death) is our local inspiration. Cars and trucks, strollers and bikes all manage to use it smoothly and deftly. A problem is that John St does not have the variety to interest a sauntering crowd. Too many Industrial drinking establishments, and plastic Much Music events. Perhaps that could develop.
    – I don’t fully subscribe to the mania for bike lanes. I’d much rather the lobbying effort went into exempting bikes from certain auto-centric rules like obligatory stops (yield!) and one-way streets. I prefer to follow the side streets with cleaner air, more trees and less traffic. Mind you, east-west there’s not much choice.
    – Thanks for doing the tape-measure work, Mr M. Shouldn’t heads roll if a city committee presents inaccurate work? (And I used to think that corruption only happened in far-off places….)

  12. Dave,
    Thank you for posting, and for making it easy to send in comments.
    Here’s the letter I wanted to send:
    “Don’t do it! Don’t make us fight you again. Don’t make us come down there with our bikes and our bells and protest again and again and again for our safety. Stop repeating your mistakes of Bloor, and Jarvis, and University. Please no more angry blog postings of wars on cars. Just find a creative solution already. AGHHH”. But then I came a little bit calmer, and wrote what I’d want in a public record.

    Following is the letter I just sent:
    “I am writing to encourage you to explore all possible options to accommodate bicycle lanes in the proposed redesign of John St. I cencouragte you to avoid setting the foundation for a divisive debate on bikes vs. pedestrians by ensuring that a solution is on the table that facilitates modest improvements in both the pedestrian and bicycle realm. This City has had so much division over bicycles. Their growing importance on our streets is undeniable. Please ensure that cyclists are accommodated on John St.”

  13. Hey Matt,

    A few responses to your comments:

    1) “Simcoe and Peter are both wider than John”. Not true. Peter and John are both 4 lane streets for most of their length, and have similar widths. Simcoe is only 3 lanes, from Queen to Wellington, and is narrower.

    2) Simcoe doesn’t have a traffic signal at Richmond.

    3) How would cyclists coming down Beverly, connect to Simcoe? One possibility is a special bike route along Stephanie, and then somehow down to Renfrew with new signals and McCaul and st Patrick. Is the city planning this? I don’t think so.

    4) Peter could work, but how would cyclists get from Beverly to Peter safely? Maybe Phoebe and Soho? That would mean a contraflow lane on Phoebe. Is the city planning this?

    If we saw a serious plan to connect the Beverly lane to Front, via Peter or Simcoe, then we could forget about John St.

    But there is no plan. Indeed, there hasn’t been any attention for cyclists in the area for a decade.

    John St is actually the easiest way to connect Beverly southbound. The bike lanes can divert to John before Queen, and then cross at the signal.

    If Adam V or anyone else wants to show us another route, I’d love to see it. In the meantime, cyclists have to stand up and be heard. The ‘public realm’, ‘narrow street’, ‘pedestrian mall’ crazy is literally pushing cyclists off the street. John St is just the latest example.

    The irony in all this, is that by pushing bikes off our downtown streets, we’re actually re-enforcing the automobile as the main way to get around, and closing the door on the opportunity for a green downtown with Complete Streets.

    As for the occasional street closure for some red-carpet film event, I don’t think we should be planning our transportation network to accommodate film openings and Music Video Awards. Even if CTV and Lightbox shut down John every Friday and Saturday night, that would still leave John open as a practical transportation corridor for 90% of the week. We can put in the bike lanes, and still allow for occasional closure.

    This is a no-brainer to me. It’s a redesign of an important north-south street, in an area that has no north-south facilities for cyclists. Bike lanes should be automatic. No debate, no ‘alternatives’ or ‘options’. Cyclists need safe spaces to ride downtown. Period. If we can fit them on Simcoe and Peter as well, then great. Let’s put them on all three. Cars have multiple lanes on all three. Pedestrians have designated sidewalks on all three. Why shouldn’t cyclists have their own space on all three.

    The Simcoe/Peter argument is similar to the arguments against Jarvis (we already have a bike lane on Sherbourne) and University (we already have a bikelane on Beverly and St George).

    ANY downtown road that has enough room for a bikelane, should get one. John Street has enough room to expand the sidewalk, and also put in a bike lane. Why wouldn’t we do it? it would be absurd not to.

    ~ mez

  14. If we have to choose between John Street or Simcoe Street to be the official bike artery, Simcoe would be the better choice.

    Why? Because Simcoe Sreet now reaches the lake, whereas John Street ends before the CN Tower.

    Getting to Simcoe from Beverly requires using a laneway, shouldn’t be to difficult to implement a connection.

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  16. Hi Mes,

    I agree with you, this city is being silly building so many sidewalks. If you elect me for mayor, I will end the madness, and remove sidewalks from arterial streets.

    Please see my campaign literature by clicking my name link above. It’s time to take back our city!

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