Note: Please see the update at the bottom
One year ago, I wrote a blog post about the City’s “John Street Corridor Improvement Study”. I called into question the validity of some of the measurements in the report. Specifically, the study claimed that there was not enough road width to include bike lanes and wider sidewalks. It was presented as a choice: bike lanes OR a wider sidewalk. I took advantage of a high-tech quantifying device called a “tape measure” and proved them wrong:
Two percent? I found that hard to believe. Were they actually suggesting that if you took a random group of one hundred people on John Street (pedestrians, drivers, and cyclists) that only TWO would be on a bike? Even stranger was that for EVERY SINGLE time period of the week (morning, evening, weekend, weekday) their data remained the same. 2%. All the time. This lead to me to a simple conclusion: The math was completely fabricated. They didn’t actually count.
So, I decided to organise a community-driven traffic count. I was going to do it last year, but I’ve been awfully busy flying kites. So almost 12 months later, I finally got down to business.
Step One was to find out what those hand-held clicker things were called (‘tally counters’), and where I could buy some (Staples).
Step Two was to make some simple traffic-counting forms.
Step Three was to find an all-star team of volunteer traffic counters! Seven people signed up to help, mostly from the Toronto Cyclists Union.
Step Four was to feed the volunteers with coffee, cookies and muffins as they clicked away for two solid hours. We measured from 7:30am to 9:30am, collecting data at 15-minute intervals. We were seeking the modal share breakdown for John Street, but also getting comparative counts of bike traffic on Peter, Duncan and Simcoe.
Step Five was to take all the collected data, and make pretty charts and graphs.
To be honest, I got cold feet before the count. I was worried that all of this effort might just confirm the original data. What if it really was only two percent? I crossed my fingers and prayed that we would find bike ridership to be in the range of at least 10 percent. Maybe, just maybe, if we were lucky, it might even hit 15%. Or, dare I suggest, 20%?
This is what we found:
32% • Average for cyclists over two hours, southbound at Richmond.
37% • Highest level of cyclists during a 15 minute period at Richmond.
50% • Average for bikes over 90 minutes, southbound, north of Queen.
774 • Southbound rush-hour cyclists in the Entertainment District
0 • Number of bikelanes in the area.
In almost every 15 increment, there were MORE bikes than cars! Sometimes, there were more bikes than cars OR pedestrians.
What’s most worrisome is that this data was being used as part of a public consultation process, to guide decision-making. What’s the point of having a consultation, if the data is actually misleading the public rather than informing them?
These are the questions that need to be answered:
1) How does the city collect data? And how can we re-build trust in these numbers?
2) What role do private consultants play, and how are they regulated/supervised?
3) Why do we STILL have an anti-bike attitude in our urban planning community? When will the 1950s end in Toronto?
4) How can we ensure that roads are being designed for ALL users, rather than just two modes (pedestrians and cars)?
These questions should be answered, before we re-design ANY roads in our city. The way we design our streets has a huge impact on our lifestyle, our environment and our safety. When a street is being re-designed, all stake-holders should be consulted, and they deserve a fair process and good data.
What we saw yesterday was a river of bikes. Over 700 human bodies flwoing through the Entertainment District in two hours. These folks deserve safe streets, including a safe network of bikelanes in the core. And they deserve respect from the City and the processes we use to engage residents in decision-making.
One last question: I spent $30 on tally counters. Who can I send the bill to at City Hall?
Tally Team (first count): Stephen Cooper, Herb van den Dool, Andie Garcia, Dan Godin, Baye Hunter, Ben Sulky & Lynda Young
This post is the first part in a three-part series. On June 22nd, we finally got this note from City staff:
“On the City’s behalf, I’d like to thank you for the effort that you have put in to supplementing our counts with new material gathered in the past weeks…..We agree it was inappropriate and incorrect to have used the 2% figure for weekday peak hours.”
This was great exercise in community engagement and democracy. I want to thank the volunteers who made it happen:
Andie Garcia, Baye Hunter, Ben Sulky, Dan Godin, Herb van den Dool, Jane Farrow, Josh Matlow, Stephen Cooper,Steve Barnes, Lynda Young, Miro Wagner, Ross K and Stephen Cooper.
I also want to thank Stephen Schijns, Manager of Infrastructure Planning at the City, for being very responsive and working with us to resolve the situation.