Saturday, January 8, 2011

Toronto's Separated Bike Lanes: Just Build Them Already

When Rob Ford was announced Toronto's next mayor, I think many cyclists buried their face in their handlebars and gave a great bit frustrated sob. So it was a surprise when Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, public works and infrastructure committee chair, announced his proposal for a network of curb-separated bike lanes in the city. These lanes would mostly create separated bicycle lanes on streets that currently have painted lanes, such as Wellesley, Sherbourne, and St. George but would also see one on John St and the creation of a new two-way separated lane on Richmond Street. Below is a map of what the gist of the network would look like, give or take a few blocks.

In this same area, separated lanes on Harbord/Hoskin, University Ave, Jarvis Street, Bloor east of Spadina, College, and Bay would be nice as well, and there are many other opportunities across the city to have them installed. The lanes would be separated by a curb and use a line of parked cars as a buffer, much like they do in Montreal as seen in the photo below (source).

Although the Ford administration did some back-pedalling (thank you Globe and Mail for that gem), it's encouraging that the idea has even been raised. Of course, the usual criticisms have been trotted out: But how would we do garbage pick-up? What about parking and delivery? How do we snow plow them? Can someone help me tie my shoelaces? I mean, c'mon. In a city as innovative as Toronto, one filled with both great thinkers and doers, are you telling me that the reason against separated bike lanes is that we can't figure out how to collect garbage or get deliveries?

If we have an issue bending our mind around that problem, then we can, of course, always look to other cities like Montreal, New York, Copenhagen, and most recently Vancouver to see how they solved that issue. I doubt they have garbage piling up on the side of the road and delivery truck drivers idling in roadways scratching their heads. Below is Vancouver's reworking of Hornby Street to accomodate a separated lane (source), which has since been built and is open. (Note: even though parking was taken away, parking was incorporated into the plan and 160 spaces are planned on neighbouring streets)

Only one of the proposed lanes (Richmond Street) actually takes space away from cars as well, which should assuage the fears of those that get riled up about the imaginary war on the car, which apparently is now over anyway.

The fact is that every driver in downtown Toronto should be behind this proposal. Physically separating bikers from drivers doesn't just increase safety for both parties, but also creates predictability--ie, you know exactly where the biker is going to be and where the car is going to be. Tired of white-knuckling your steering wheel wondering whether that crazy cyclist is going to weave out in front of you? Easy! Put a curb between the two of you.

Sure, there are some kinks to work out, but some problems are just worth taking the time to solve.

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