December 28, 2015

Twelve Days of Bicycles - Seven Pots A Planting

Being involved with cycling advocacy requires keeping up with the latest urban planning jargon such as mid-rise buildings, cycle tracks, protected intersections, walkable communities, and transit-oriented development. Among these topics, there is another which unites them all and is currently being reviewed by the City of Toronto (and elsewhere) known as Complete Streets.
avenue Thiers in Bordeaux

Since the Second World War, cities around the world (even bike-friendly Amsterdam) designed their streets primarily for cars, along with single family homes and big box stores. (a.k.a. suburbia) Today, several factors have led to the revitalization of city cores whose residents are more likely to get around by foot, bicycle, and transit. While I suggest reading Ken Greenberg’s “Walking Home” and Charles Montgomery’s “Happy City” to learn more about these factors, they lead to the need to completely rethink the way our streets are designed to prioritize other road users; hence the name Complete Streets. While they come in all shapes and sizes, avenue Thiers in Bordeaux (France) is the first thing that comes to my mind.

On arterial roads such as that one, separated bike lanes are a key component. A question which often gets debated is which separation to use. Plastic flexi-posts (a.k.a. bollards) are the lowest cost to install. While they are OK for short term pilot projects such as Richmond-Adelaide (a decision on making the cycle tracks permanent is due in 2016), they are not very effective if they are spaced too far apart. This issue prompted many Toronto cyclists to use social media to call out bike lane blockers. One company in particular, Beck Taxi, was the subject of numerous recent call outs Cycle Toronto called for a boycott of their services.

The taxi cab issue got even worse. On Wednesday, December 9, taxi drivers clogged Toronto’s streets to protest the popular Uber ride sharing service; claiming their ability to operate outside existing laws and charge considerably lower fares threatened their livelihoods. While jeopardizing livelihoods is no laughing matter per Desmond Cole's Toronto Star column, the hypocrisy was too much to handle when I saw this “enforce the by-laws” sign on Twitter.
Within minutes of seeing that photo, I created an Internet meme to call out this hypocrisy. While Uber drivers have also been caught blocking bike lanes, taxi drivers shot themselves in the foot with this protest, since it will send even more people to Uber.
To prevent future incidents of bike lane blocking, another means of separation is needed. For Ottawa’s Laurier Street, they use concrete parking curbs with bollards at intersections for their pilot project. While more effective than bollards, you can’t beat planter pots, given they offer effective separation and beautification in one shot! During the Christmas season, the planter pots on Simcoe, Richmond, and Adelaide have been decorated appropriately to show their versatility. For permanent cycle tracks, permanent curbs or raised cycle tracks may be more appropriate.
Christmas theme planter pot on Simcoe Street
Of course, a complete street cannot be considered complete without looking after pedestrians and transit users. For transit users, dedicated buses or light rail lanes can improve service reliability. Green grass surfacing can make the light rail line more aesthetically pleasing, while also helping reduce the heat island effect. This treatment is expected for the surface portion of the Eglinton Crosstown light rail line due to open in 2021 as per the approved Eglinton Connects plan.
Pedestrian only street in Lisbon
For pedestrians, wider sidewalks which may accommodate benches can be used. In cases like Queens Quay, they use granite pavers with maple leaf motifs. For a truly pleasing pedestrian experience, entire streets could be closed off for pedestrians like they do in Lisbon (Portugal). Toronto does this in Kensington Market on the last Sunday of the month (Pedestrian Sundays), though a permanent one should be considered. Another idea is to have public squares which can host local merchants, artists, and street performers. Last, but not least, adding trees can provide much needed shade during the summer months.
Recently completed Argyle contraflow bike lane
One last consideration for Complete Streets is that their principles be adapted to streets of all sizes. For instance, the Netherlands have the Woonerfs where pedestrians and cyclists have priority and motor vehicles are limited to 20 km/h. Closer to home, parts of Toronto’s Argyle Street is one way for cars but two way for cyclists and speed limits are 30 km/h. After all, Toronto’s residents (and those elsewhere) have a right to safe streets, whether they are on arterial roads or residential streets.

Be complete!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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