Richmond & Adelaide: Two-Way or Bikeway?

Richmond 2012

A Manhattan-style bike lane, photoshopped onto Toronto's Richmond Street.


Note: This article also appears in the third issue of Dandyhorse Magazine (September ’09), available at a bike store near you!

While much has been said about the pedestrianisation of Times Square in Manhattan, little attention has been focused on another bold project unfolding on the streets of Manhattan.  While the Times Square experiment turns Broadway into a pedestrian-based destination, a recent re-design of 8th and 9th Avenues transforms those streets into bicycle-friendly routes with physically separated lanes for cyclists.  The NYC Department of Transportation calls them “fully protected bicycle lanes”.

For many years, I’ve heard bicycle advocates fantasize about physically separated lanes.  Usually their dreams are referencing examples in Amsterdam, Copenhagen or other far-away cities.  It’s easy for our politicians and planners to reject ideas that originate across the Atlantic, but once they start appearing in North America it becomes harder to write them off as something that “wouldn’t work here”.  Both Montreal and now New York City have implemented protected bike lanes that give cyclists a safe dedicated space on major arterial streets.

The idea isn’t just to make the streets safer for those who already ride around town, but to create safe spaces on our streets that attract new cyclists.  One thing they’ve found in New York is that people are using the 8th and 9th lanes who wouldn’t be riding on the street otherwise, including families with children riding their own small bikes.

So, could we do it here?  Yes, but the hard part is finding a street that can accommodate the space required. “Fully protected” bike lanes take up more space than a typical bike lane, when done properly.  The Manhattan lanes for example have enough room for passing, in addition to a buffer zone that keeps parked cars a healthy distance away from moving bicycles. We’ve seen how hard it is to push for regular bike lanes on arterials like Bloor.  Imagine how hard it would be to advocate for a wide separated lane?  The trick is to find streets that have more than 2 lanes running in a given direction. If you have three or four lanes running one way, then you can more easily remove a lane of traffic (as we did on Jarvis).  The best north-south location is University Avenue, and the best east-west corridor is Richmond & Adelaide.  In fact the Toronto Bike Plan singles out Richmond and Adelaide as an ideal location for a major east-west bike route downtown.  The plan says “more downtown commuters will be encouraged to cycle if an east-west bikeway in the Richmond-Adelaide corridor were provided.”  The Plan specifically mentions the success of the separated lanes in Montreal and proposes a study for implementation on Richmond and Adelaide.

Here’s where things get complicated.  The reason that Richmond and Adelaide could support wide “fully protected” lanes is because they are one-way streets, much like 8th and 9th Ave in New York.  With four (sometimes five) lanes running in one direction, there is more than enough space to easily accommodate this kind of bicycle infrastructure into the existing streetscape

A recent proposal from Councillor Adam Vaughan to make Richmond and Adelaide 2-way streets could eliminate the possibility of having separated east-west bike lanes in downtown Toronto.  Vaughan’s two-way plan is motivated by a desire to make the neighbourhood more liveable and to convert the streets from ‘conduits for moving traffic’ into ‘grand boulevards to host pedestrians’.  But traffic doesn’t just consist of cars.  Traffic includes bicycles and transit as well. The problem with looking at a situation through a “cars VS pedestrians” lens, is that cyclists often get left out.  If our only goal is to reduce automobile traffic, then two-way lanes on Richmond and Adelaide would be the best approach.  But if our goal is to create ‘complete streets’ that provide a safe space for all modes of transportation, then perhaps we need to take a step back and look at various options for these streets including both the two-way model and the one-way model with separated bike lanes.

It’s exciting that Adam Vaughan has launched this process.  We need more politicians like Adam who are willing to propose bold steps to transform the downtown into a green and liveable community.  When we do take those steps however, let’s make sure we’ve looked at all the options and made the best choice for all users of the road.


18 responses to “Richmond & Adelaide: Two-Way or Bikeway?

  1. Great Article!

    The goal of the two way proposal is to stimulate conversations just like this and to challenge everyone who lives and works along the corridor to make sure their uses for the street form a basis for it’s design. Fo rtoo long the streets have been a transportation corridor designed for people passing through. This has created an environment hostile to pedestrian and cyclists alike.

    We need to explore all options and the first step is returning control of the street to local residents and businesses. Bike lanes must be part of a solution but so too must be better places for people to walk after the get out of their cars, off their bikes or off the street car.

    I look forward to working with all concerned to make sure the new streetscapes work for everybody.

    Adam Vaughan
    City Councillor

  2. Thanks Adam!

    I’m looking forward to the conversation too. Thanks for starting it!

    I think where we disagree is the point about “transportation corridors”. Personally, I have no problem with streets being transportation corridors. Although my roots extend back to “Reclaim the Streets” days, I actually wouldn’t want to live in a city where every street was just a ‘destination’ or a street party. We live in a BIG city, and we need streets to get around. The questions are:

    1) How do we balance the needs of a street, to exist as both a transportation corridor as well as a liveable destination?

    2) How do we convert our roads into ‘complete streets’ to encourage a modal shift away from the car?

    Transportation Corridors are fine. As long as they aren’t four-lane Carways, with no transit and no safe space for bikes.

    Any re-design of Richmond and Adelaide needs to recognise that the streets are used by local residents and businesses as well as people who are trying to get from Point A to Point B in as safe, healthy and green way as possible.

    ~ mez

  3. THANKS Mez! I like the 2012 photo rendition ! See you tonight xo the duchess of dandy

  4. Cool ! A nice reply from Adam ! VEry promising :)

  5. Great to see the first reply is from Adam Vaughan.

    That photo shop of protected bike lanes is the kind of thing my dreams are made of…

  6. Duncan, let’s turn those dreams into reality.

    The Bike Plan is already EIGHT years old. It was supposed to be fully implemented by 2011. They are way, way, way behind. We need to get the Plan implemented, and then move beyond it. It was supposed to be only the first step towards a bike-friendly city.

    A dream is the first step towards change. Thanks for sharing.

  7. How about a pedestrian only zone for downtown Yonge Street?

  8. Hi Mes!

    If Adam Vaughn is checking back, I have a similar request, that isn’t pedal-power but comes a close environment-friendly second due to its people-moving capacity. I live in mid-town and work @ Richmond & Spadina, which in the winter is tough for anyone to consider as a safe bike route.

    As a mass transportation advocate, and to avoid the horrible congestion in the subway, in the mornings and evenings I take the Mount Pleasant 141 Express the route of which, going downtown, heads down Jarvis, loops West on Richmond to Peter, then down Peter and back across Adelaide. I am hearing through the grapevine that this Express service (along with similar N/S routes down Avenue and DVP) will become more frequent to further alleviate the subway crush during rush hour.

    I cannot imagine how horrid the trip would be if Richmond & Adelaide become “2-way”. For those who counter “well, take the subway”, note that these bus routes only operate from 7-10 and 4-6 and will continue to do so.

    I do hope Mr. Vaughn considers that a lot of the human presence along the corridor are those who work there (not just passing through), and that a bus-only rush-hour-specific transit lane should be advocated along with a dedicated bike lane.

  9. Dave,

    I see a lot of merit to the inclusion of protected bike lanes as part of any re-design of Adelaide and Richmond and certainly believe moving forward our City needs to look at better ways to integrate the many modes of transit people can use to get around, especially in the core.

    Having a city that is bike and pedestrian friendly, a transit system that encourages both, while balancing these with the need planning that reflects the reality of car use is important. Generally speaking, Toronto’s record is one of favouring one over the other and failing to recognize the need or value of integrating these together.

    That being said, I think your suggestion recognizes that balance well and would love to see it debated at Council.

  10. Melissa Goldstein

    I already use Richmond as my primary westbound bike route, and find that tour busses parked behind the Sheraton Hotel to be the biggest impediment to bike-friendliness because of how they hog the right-hand lane. A curb cut or proper bus parking would solve that problem.

    Additionally, allowing westbound bike travel along the eastbound-only section of Richmond west of Bathurst would be helpful. Or at least legalize my currently illegal bike riding practices…

    Of course a luxurious seperated bike lane would be wonderful, but the current design ain’t half bad for a road that has no bike-oriented modifications to date. Minor changes (like a bike lane, the moving of those dang busses, and that “extension” past Bathurst would be cheap and easy to do and would have big payoffs.

    I’d love to bike east on Adelaide, but the last couple of times I tried it all the construction forced me to the sidewalk and I vowed never to go back.

  11. I’d like to see some emphasis on safe N-S routes thru the ward to get to Richmond/Adelaide or even the trail.

  12. This set-up will create a hazard with turning vehicles hitting bikes in the blind-spot.

    Keep Richmond & Adelaide as one-way streets for regular traffic, but add a nice wide contra-flow bike line, one with a median protecting it from the motor traffic on the other side.

    This is something that should be done by NEXT SUMMER, not 2012. Call it a “pilot project”, so no need for an EA. You can tell the opposition “it’s a pilot project, if it brings mass havoc, we just go back.”

  13. whats slm?

  14. kettal: i don’t know. could be a spam comment…

  15. Pingback: 2011 Bikeway Network • Part Two: Separated lanes on Richmond and Bloor | Mez Dispenser

  16. Pingback: 2011 Bikeway Network – Part Two: Separated lanes on Richmond and Bloor – Dave Meslin | dandyhorse magazine

  17. Pingback: One Step Closer to Separated Bikelanes on Adelaide and Richmond Streets | Biking Toronto

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