September 06, 2016

Get Ajax Moving - Part 1

Before I left Ajax five years ago for Downtown Toronto, I used to bike the Duffins Creek and Waterfront Trails regularly, but was not familiar with other cycling facilities in the area. Having heard good things about cycling in Ajax from various sources and their most recent maps indicating a Minimum Grid in the making – thanks in part to Ajax Mayor Steve Parish being a cyclist - I wanted to learn more first hand. My two three part Ajax discussion will focus on a ride done on Saturday, September 3 and what the Town of Ajax and the Durham Region Cycling Coalition (DRCC) are doing to improve cycling.
Map of Ajax to Rouge Hill ride (48 km) - Note Google Maps did not have the
new Carruthers Creek Trail marked yet and Rossland Avenue was closed.
Acknowledgements

Before starting this discussion, I would like to thank Bruce MacDonald – DRCC Executive Director – for providing me route suggestions and highlighting some of the region’s cycling concerns (more on this in Part 2). I would also like to thank fellow cycling advocate Helen Qu for joining me on the ride and providing the perspective of someone who hasn’t previously biked in Ajax. The 48 kilometres ride went from Ajax GO station to Rouge Hill GO station.

Duffins Creek North
Comparison of bicycle parking at two GO transit stations - Ajax (left) and Rouge Hill (right)
 
After bringing our bikes off the GO train in Ajax, we saw fourteen racks next to the parking garage; enough for more than 100 bikes. While the supply is good, it could be improved by moving the racks inside the garage for protection against the elements. Sheltered bike racks such as those at Rouge Hill GO station could also work.
Atlantic salmon (?) in Duffins Creek (via Helen)
From Ajax GO station, there wasn’t a path available to go straight to Church Street, though it is proposed in Ajax’s official plan. Since the path adjacent to the station wasn’t easy to find, we used Westney Road to get to Bayly Street and the Duffins Creek Trail. The trail along Bayly is paved and some good sized fish (Atlantic salmon?) could be seen from a bridge; hence the presence of people with fishing rods further upstream. Church is the only continuously safe north-south route crossing Highway 401, while going north provides you the choice of continuing on the trail or using bike lanes on Church to Rossland Avenue.
At Church Street, cyclists can use the bike lane or trail to go north
The Duffins Creek trail could be improved with the following changes:
  1. Place the walk buttons on the other side of the poles at Bayly & Church (southeast corner) and Church north of 401 (east side) for easier access.
  2. Pave the Duffins Creek Trail to ensure consistency with Ajax’s other trails. The gravel is still passable, but could become problematic after some rain.
  3. While there are some wayfinding markers, they should be added at every direction change and branch off to avoid getting lost.
The Duffins Creek trail forks near Delaney Drive (left)
but lacks wayfinding posts used downstream (right)

Minor Gaps, In Boulevard Paths & New Findings

Traffic is light where the Duffins Creek Trail ends at the Riverside Golf Course, but bike lanes are planned for installation by next summer. Rossland Avenue was closed for road widening and extending the existing multi-use path west to Pickering. The hydro corridor trail on the other side of Rossland from Riverside was smooth, but abruptly stops at Church, which has a posted 60 km/h limit and no paved shoulders; making cycling to Taunton Road unsafe. The official plan calls for the extension of the hydro corridor and the Church bike lanes to Taunton, but should be accompanied with a traffic signal.
Rossland Avenue - note the barely visible multi-use path at the top of the hill
An in-boulevard path is provided on Taunton from Church to Audley Road (just before Whitby), which is recommended given the posted 80 km/h limit. Aside from a “Cyclists Dismount” sign under the CPR bridge at Harwood Avenue, it is a pleasant ride.
Exercise machines along the new Carruthers Creek Trail
When we arrived at Carruthers Creek (just west of Warner Drive), we noticed a new trail was recently installed which provided a safe route all the way to Kingston Road with underpasses at arterial roads. Some exercise machines were placed along the way and the trail is abundant with wildlife such as rabbits, chipmunks, and butterflies. Again, wayfinding needs work.

Major Gaps on Kingston and Harwood

Where the trail ends at Kingston Road, going westbound required walking the bike across a grass median and biking one kilometre along a road with a posted 60 km/h limit and no paved shoulders until the bus rapid transit corridor starts at Salem Road. The BRT corridor is expected to be extended east to just before Carruthers Creek (Galea Road), so a west trail spur to Galea is recommended to close this gap.
Kingston Road BRT at Harwood Avenue with green conflict zone markings (and illegal use)
The BRT corridor goes to Harwood Avenue and is expected to go as far west as Rotherglen Road, with two additional segments covering most of Pickering. A small buffer separates the bus and bike lane, which felt reasonably safe to ride. Green paint marks the conflict areas, though indirect left turn boxes used in York Region could have been added at Harwood and other arterials.

A multi-use path was provided on Harwood north of Kingston, but no bike lanes were proposed in the official plan from Harwood to Highway 401 due to further study being required. However, bike lanes are proposed south of Highway 401 and the bridge offers 1.2 metre wide shoulders; thus providing the second safest highway crossing after Church. It should be possible to narrow the traffic lanes to 3.3 metres each and widen the shoulder to the recommended 1.8 metres for a bike lane.
Shoulder markings provide cyclists space on Harwood Avenue to cross Highway 401
From Highway 401, we used in boulevard paths on Achilles Road, Salem Road, Bayly Street, and Audley Road to get to the Waterfront Trail. Salem at Achilles has a small stretch of sidewalk which should be widened to accommodate bicycles. The official plan calls for cycling facilities on Salem under Highway 401 (still prefer Harwood given the highway interchange at Salem) and a bridge linking the two sides of Audley Road in order to make doing a trail loop around Ajax feasible.

Pickering Waterfront Woes
Once on the Waterfront, wayfinding is good thanks to a continuous line and signage similar to those found on the Duffins Creek Trail. There are plenty of picnic tables available to stop for lunch and the trail surface is mostly smooth. However, two bridges at Carruthers Creek and Duffins Creek have “Cyclists Dismount” signs which should be replaced with “Yield to Pedestrians” signage. Some hawks could be seen flying along the Waterfront, though I didn’t have my telephoto lens to capture them.
A "Cyclists Dismount" sign placed near Frenchman's Bay Marina
Despite these shortcomings, the conditions are considerably worse in Pickering (a.k.a. Durham Region’s cycling laggard). By the Pickering Nuclear plant, the trail surface is cracked and switches sides at Brock Road; requiring two signal phases to access. “Cyclists Dismount” signs appear on several stretches with the most ridiculous placement being along the 500 metre boardwalk leading to Frenchman’s Bay Marina!
Liverpool Road leading to Frenchman's Bay Arena (via Helen)
If that wasn’t bad enough, the Waterfront Trail dumps cyclists onto Bayly Street for 750 metres to West Shore Community Centre with a posted 60 km/h limit and only a narrow sidewalk available. That sidewalk must be upgraded to a proper multi-use path as soon as possible given the large numbers of cyclists present. A mix of trails and quiet streets are used to guide cyclists from the community centre to Toronto.
Lack of multi-use path on Bayly Street (via Helen)
Closing Thoughts

One thing Helen mentioned about Ajax was its small size and relatively flatness; conditions of which helped make cycling practical in places like Amsterdam and Copenhagen. Aside from improving wayfinding and filling the gaps (e.g. Riverside, Rossland, Kingston, and highway crossings), intensification is also needed to generate a critical mass for cycling in Ajax. This is already happening in Ajax’s Downtown (Harwood & Bayly) and Uptown (Harwood & Kingston), though single family homes still reign supreme. Not only would these improvements encourage more Ajacians to bike, but also tourism with GO train access and the presence of Ontario By Bike businesses.
Downtown Ajax - Harwood Avenue south of Highway 401
Ride on!
Rob Z

UPDATE (2016/09/16) - A reworded version of this post has been put up on Dandyhorse, which can be viewed here.

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