January 23, 2022

RANT – Toronto’s Winter Biking Gong Show

Last Monday saw 36 centimetres of snow fall in Toronto. While it may not be as much as the 48 centimetres fallen in December 1944 or the over one metre over two weeks in January 1999 which prompted then Mayor Mel Lastman to call the army leading to national ridicule, the aftermath still merits a rant. Especially from a cycling perspective after what I found while biking to do some errands yesterday.

We first biked to Nations (Stockyards) near St. Clair and Keele. This involved taking the Fermanagh contraflow (pictured above), Dundas West bike lanes crossing the rail tracks, West Toronto Railpath, and Davenport bike lanes. Fermanagh had only wheel tracks visible; some of which lead to the bike lane being exposed. While Fermanagh being a quiet residential street made things somewhat tolerable, any oncoming vehicles meant having to pull over to let motorists through. One silver lining with downtown residential streets such as Fermanagh is this is the first winter which the City cleared the sidewalks instead of requiring residents to shovel them. Finally!

On Dundas, the bike lanes were not cleared at all; prompting us to walk our bikes on the sidewalks. Even though the sidewalks were plowed, there wasn’t much room which made passing people walking uncomfortable.

Fortunately, the City of Toronto did an excellent job clearing the West Toronto Railpath all the way from Dundas to Cariboo with lots of room to pass other trail users.

Once we got to Davenport, the snow was piled inside the bike lanes which made us take the traffic lane. There was also a fair bit of snow next to parked cars which would require motorists to shovel the surrounding snow before they could drive out. With Davenport being a primary east-west bikeway between Bloor and Eglinton, it’s insulting this bikeway didn’t get cleared almost a week later. Especially when the City’s website clearly states all on-road bikeways are salted and/or plowed at about the same time as the adjacent road based on the level of service after a snowfall.

The experience on Davenport also shows the danger of placing bikeways in the door zone. Sometimes, the parking lane clearing doesn’t quite reaches the curb which forces motorists to block to bike lane even if it was cleared. Instead, the entire bikeway needs to be upgraded with protection. (more on this in a bit)

On St. Clair, we had to walk our bikes on the sidewalk the rest of the way to Nations. The sidewalk clearing there was poor with only a narrow strip of sidewalk exposed and several ice patches.

After Nations, I biked alone to the Parkdale library (and nearby stores), as well as Dufferin Mall. There have been several reports of busy bikeways such as Bloor, Danforth, Yonge, and Richmond-Adelaide not being cleared almost a week after the storm, so I checked out a part of Bloor from Brock to Lansdowne on the way back home.

The Bloor bike lanes were relatively cleared along that stretch per the above photo. However, things became treacherous at Lansdowne Avenue which highlights a long standing weakness with winter bike lane clearing at intersections. I would be curious to find out how protected intersections will help with winter bike lane clearing given Toronto has dozens of them in the planning and construction stages. Should the one at Bloor and St. George get done this year, I will be keeping an eye on this one for next winter.

Coming back on Lansdowne, I noticed the cycle tracks were cleared well. However, the same couldn’t be said for Brock which had only painted bike lanes under the railway bridge. This stresses the need for Toronto to upgrade as many painted bike lanes as possible to protected ones which will happen on College this year. Having protected bike lanes provides an added benefit of having snow as a buffer, even in places protected only by bollards or smaller parking curbs.

Back to the cycle track matter, this post would not do justice without showing some examples from Richmond-Adelaide, Bloor, Yonge, and Danforth shared by others on Twitter.

Some of the complaints were put up in this BlogTO article, while even UK based The Guardian went as far as attributing Toronto’s snow clearing woes to its dependence on cars.

The worst of these complaints has to be the Bike Lane Closed sign found on Danforth accompanied by an equally insulting Cyclists Dismount one. I remember Montréal had some bike lanes closed during the winter in 2017, but this is ridiculous. Montréal also use sweepers and brine which are better than salting and plowing done in Toronto and elsewhere.

As public transit usage remains low due to the pandemic and drivers stuck for as long as eight hours on Highway 401, Toronto has the obligation to ensure all sidewalks and bike lanes are properly cleared to allow year round active transportation. Especially considering a recent Supreme Court ruling which found cities could be held liable for poor winter clearing (of sidewalks). There is no such thing as bad weather. Just bad maintenance.

Here's a nice companion video Heather of Bromptoning created, while Jun N's recent blog post also has some good reports on the poor clearing conditions.

UPDATE 2022/01/28 - This blog post lead to a feature in this Toronto Star article by Maria Iqbal about winter cycling along with several other people who bike.

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