Just three days into this year’s Bike Month, a damp May 28th was host to Bike Summit 2009, a day-long conference on cycling policy co-hosted by the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation (TCAT) and the Clean Air Partnership. International and local presenters covered everything from bike parking to economic and health improvements, sharing perspectives and recommendations that could greatly improve our city’s cycling potential. Spacing will revisit and follow up on some of these ideas, perspectives, and words of two-wheeled wisdom, in hopes of continuing this momentum and encouraging Toronto to actually reach some of the best practices presented at the summit.
I thought the above photo rather apt, as a pretty basic don’t in bike-friendly street design. This is Annette Street. The small, predominately residential, west-end strip that has been home to all sorts of controversy, confusion, and convolution around the implementation of new bike lanes — a saga which seemed to see an innovative community advocacy organization come out on top. While it’s been a few weeks since the bike route was finally painted in, unfortunately, the pavement painting folks and the parking signage folks seem to be out-of-synch. Certain patches of the Jane to Lansdowne route have had parking signs appropriately changed, meanwhile other blocks seem arbitrarily left parking-oriented, allowing cars, like the one above, to sit leisurely (and legally) in the way of safe biking along this new route. Now with the city-workers’ strike, it’ll be another delay before the signs are changed and west-end cyclists can enjoy Annette as a safe, consolidated, well-designed bike route. And all this ironically in time for this year’s Bike Blitz on cyclist safety.
In contrast, panelists at the Bike Summit session, New Approaches to Street Design, had all sorts of insight as to smart approaches in designing multi-use infrastructure. Joshua Benson of the New York Department of Transportation shared stories from the Big Apple’s much-buzzed-about new bike facilities; while Norma Moores of IBI Group and Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals discussed signage, pavement markings, and other indicators that work best in Canada; and the city’s Nigel Tahair swung it back to a local focus, discussing cycling and transit design for Toronto’s waterfront.
Some key themes resonated throughout, including:
- 1. Out with cookie-cutter street design. Bike-friendly designs must be street-specific. While we may be influenced and inspired by innovative designs in cities like New York and Copenhagen, the best lesson we can learn from them is to consider a diversity of design ideas that best adapt to the realities of our own streets. This means thinking about their aesthetic, safety, and geographic conditions, as well as taking into account competing interests specific to the locale.
- 2. Intersections are key. Since the vast majority of cyclist fatalities and injuries take place at intersections, this is where the most creative planning needs to take place. Moores has been working with the Transportation Association of Canada on an updated version of their 1998 Bikeway Traffic Control Guidelines for Canada, conducting various studies as to what kind of signage and pavement indicators are most effective. This includes design ideas for separate bike crossings, combined crossings, and bike boxes (an area where cyclists wait ahead of car traffic).
- 3. Cyclists should not be an afterthought. Along with all other forms of street-use, whenever possible cycling must come into consideration at the outset of the design process. This way our transportation planning is better consolidated and coherent. This means, of course, making sure policy is set up to support multi-use street design.
Sorry, Annette Street, you may have missed out on some of the insights these panelists had to offer. But with all kinds of new bike infrastructure purportedly going in by 2012, let’s try to treat some of Toronto’s other streets with the ingenuity and respect they (and their various traversers) so deserve.
Photo by Emma Feltes