Four bad ideas for bikes

There are bad ideas, and then there are really bad ideas. And then there is the idea mused about by Adriane Carr, a Green party candidate in Vancouver’s upcoming civic election, to create some bike-free streets to appease drivers who may be annoyed at the city’s downtown separated bike lanes. When I first saw the headline in Vancouver’s The Georgia Straight, I thought I had read it wrong. Surely, it didn’t read bike-free streets? This was a Green candidate, after all. Albeit one with a suspicious last name.

Carr told the Straight that she had spoken with several frustrated drivers who had mentioned that it would make it better for them to have some bike-free streets. This seems to me like a very bad way to come up with a very bad idea.

And this isn’t the only bad idea for bikes. There are many, but they all have one thing in common. None were created with the cyclist in mind.

Bad idea #1: Create bike-free streets

Let’s just get something straight: Rob Ford was right. The vast majority of roads are built for cars, trucks, and busses. These are already, for all intents and purposes, bike-free streets. Yes, it’s not illegal to ride a bike on any street, but it sure isn’t welcoming on many either. Cyclists who don’t feel comfortable on those streets are corralled, especially in Toronto, to a few different corridors that contain bike lanes. This isn’t to say that a street like Bloor Street, which has no cycling infrastructure, doesn’t have cyclists—it does, in large numbers. But these cyclists are basically left to appropriate road space on what is essentially designed as a car-only route.

I have a sneaking suspicion that if these bike-free streets were to be created, they would be just as congested if not more so than other streets. After all, it’s not cyclists that are causing congestion, but the cars.

Bad idea #2: Make cyclists pay for roads

This is something that always seems to rear its ugly, ignorant head in discussions about cycling. It goes something like this: “Those crazy pinko cyclists need to cough up their fair share for the roads they drive on, just like us drivers.”

First, many cyclists are also, gasp, drivers. Second, cyclists, if they rent or own property in Toronto, pay for roads through their property taxes, just like drivers. You want to talk about making people pay for the roads they use? Better start looking at all those drivers who come in from outside of Toronto. Their property taxes aren’t helping out Toronto’s roads, but their cars are sure helping out its congestion.

The times they may be a-changin’, though. According to a poll conducted for the Toronto Star, while road tolls were given the thumbs down, congestion charges may have some traction in the GTA.

Bad idea #3: Licensing cyclists

Toronto is, of course, no stranger to its fair share of terrible, no good, very bad ideas for cycling. The latest one an oldy, but a baddy floated by Councillor Frances Nunziata who raised the idea of licensing cyclists. Licensing cyclists is a bad idea for cyclists (it will discourage cycling), a bad idea for police (it’s not needed for enforcement), and a bad idea for taxpayers (a costly system will need to be maintained).

But, hey, don’t take my word for it, you can read the City’s own report from 2005 [PDF], which highlights all of the reasons this idea sucks. In fact, it sucks so bad that the City has looked at it three times in the past and rejected it every time.

There are also numerous questions like: Do you license children, and at what age? What about those coming from outside the city? What about trail riders and mountain bikers? And now that the city has Bixi, it presents another challenge for licensing cyclists: what about tourists coming in and riding Bixi bikes?

Bad idea #4: Make it illegal to park anywhere but official bike parking

Then there’s this vaguely-written gem passed by the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee last week as part of the street harmonization by-law, which caused an immediate vein-throb in cyclists who interpreted its intention as making it illegal to park your bike anywhere but on a designated bike post. City staffer Christina Bouchard who runs the City of Toronto Cycling Facebook page, quickly corrected this, writing that, “the interpretation that the purpose of the bylaw harmonization is to remove locked bicycles which are in good working order from City streets is an incorrect interpretation of the harmonized bylaw.”

That’s good to hear, because there is a dearth of bicycle parking in many areas of the city, even with all those ring-and-posts, forcing cyclists to lock up to poles and wherever else they can. Businesses should be wary of this fact, as it makes it harder for them to be reached by cyclists.

Although this seems largely like a case of misunderstanding it reflects how sensitive the relationship between city hall and cyclists are in Toronto.

Good idea: Create cycling policies for cyclists

Ideas around cycling should not be created by knee-jerk reactions; they should be created with the cyclist in mind. What makes cycling safer, better, easier, for both cyclists and cars? What makes a transportation system that works for everyone? Demands for better cycling infrastructure are not just rantings that can be easily dismissed; the lack of cycling infrastructure in our city has real, devastating impacts on the safety of our streets. A fact which is now being studied by Ontario coroner Dan Cass.

Good cycling ideas don’t come just in the shape of on-street infrastructure, however. As Ben Spurr wrote yesterday in NOW Magazine, mandated side guards on trucks could go a long way in avoiding accidents that killed a Toronto cyclist yesterday in what Constable Hugh Smith called a “preventable collision.”

The City has made some progress by approving an environmental assessment for separated bike lanes and installing more bike boxes around town, but these gains are often hampered by the musings of politicians who come up with bad ideas based on “frustrated” drivers.

There are 5,365km of roads in Toronto and 116km of on-street bike lanes, give or take a cancelled bike lane or three. Remind me who should be frustrated here?

photo by psd

12 comments

  1. How many more times are people going to re-state that bike locking bylaw incorrectly? The proposed bylaw says that locking to anything other than a post for _more than 24 hours_ is what will be illegal. If you’re locking up to freestanding parking sign and your bike falls over into the sidewalk, and it sits there for a week, you deserve to have your bike taken away.

  2. I don’t know if it’s just me, but there doesn’t really seem to be much of an argument in this article for why we shouldn’t have bike-free streets/areas. If we can implement car-free or pedestrian-only zones, then calculated bike-free zones could very well make sense. If you think of it as a pro-car implementation than it obviously sounds negative, but if you think about making bike-free streets to protect cyclists – in areas where car-centric road infrastructure is too dangerous for cyclists – I don’t see that as a bad idea. How about helpful signage to re-route cyclists away from potentially hazardous areas? I am a cyclist and do not drive, and as an example I know certain roads & intersections that are just not feasible to create a safe cycling environment due to geographic constraints.

  3. Toronto already has bike-free streets: Don Valley Parkway. Gardiner Expressway.

    That’s two more bike-free streets than downtown Vancouver has.

  4. There was an interesting presentation by a guy at Trampoline Hall last month, about new cycling laws around the city. Despite the fact that the guy could not possibly relate to cycling downtown, he did present a fairly interesting metric for deciding where cyclists should or should not ride – just base it on speed.It’s unsafe when there is a large difference in speed between cars and cyclists, so why not just establish a simple rule – if a road’s speed limit is less than or equal to 50km/h, cyclists are free to ride. If a road’s speed limit is 60km/h or greater, no cyclists allowed.

    Beyond this, I thought – where the roads are 60km/h or greater (which is typically on arterial roads with a very wide right of way) there should be MUP’s instead of sidewalks. It would give cyclists a safe place to ride and maintain a path of travel across the city. It’s not a perfect set of solutions, but it’s a step in the right direction and should be easy to implement.

  5. I think TWT’s suggestions are quite sensible. Most of Toronto’s 60+ roads are in the burb. Realistically, you should expect the cars to go 70+ there. These are indeed dangerous places for cyclists. However, along those roads the sidewalk is mostly under-used with grass on the side. Just pave over the useless grass you have nice separated bike-lanes.

  6. Some arterials like Black Creek Drive and Allan Road also ban bikes. As in the US, TO’s suburbs are being built with a tighter and tighter grid of motorist only expressways that offer the most direct routes over barriers like rails & creeks. Suburban planners & pols aren’t thinking a great deal about bike access in non-rec terms, so blocking bikes from 50 or 60kph routes means suburban cyclists limited to a) round about routes b) illegal cycling or c) the sidewalk. Another excuse to drive to the park to ride.

  7. As much as I like Yu’s ideas in theory, I could see a possible complications that would need to be resolved. The first is that riding on trails beside sidewalks create safety issues when crossing streets. Drivers don’t notice when a bike is on that trail and don’t look for them when they make right hand turns. It’s a recipe for collisions (if you ever bike in Oakville, you can experience this for yourself). The second issue is paving over grass. This grass plays an important role in stormwater management in the suburbs and prevents the city from having to upgrade the pipes. If the city ever decides to make stormwater management a higher priority and wants to save money at the same time, they will use that grass space to make biosvales for water infiltration and ponding.

  8. Anna – the stormwater management issue is exactly why I would suggest the conversion/replacement of the sidewalks, rather than going in next to them like Yu interpreted. A multi-user pathway (MUP) is the best option because it’s inclusive of cyclists and pedestrians. To be honest you rarely see pedestrians out walking next to 60+ roads, so the MUP benefits cyclists while not excluding pedestrians – it’s exactly why the NCC’s MUP system in Ottawa is exactly that. 

    With respect to crossing streets, in my opinion more cyclists need to understand that, for all intents and purposes, they are invisible – and should be acting accordingly. Slow down when you come to a driveway or street… shoulder-check for turning cars… STOP if you can’t make eye contact with the car’s driver. As much as I want to believe that motorists will eventually learn to look for cyclists, they won’t. Being a defensive cyclist will always be the safest option, and it doesn’t have to mean that we yield complete ownership of the road to motorists, as many fatalists will have you believe.

  9. I disagree that bikers should not pay road taxes. Here is how it goes: Property taxes are payd so there are roads available to you, in order for emergency vehicles, garbage disposal, etc to come to you. When you drive, you pay extra taxes via license fee and gas taxes because you use the road more. it only logically follows that cyclists should also pay more since they use the road more than just pedestrians. You know that paint that marks the bycicle lanes costs too. I am always in favor of people paying for what they use, no “unlimited” bulshit. ‘Cos otherwise others end paying up (somebody has to pay), and that’s not normal or good.

  10. @Anna, TWT, you made valid points and I agree with you. But MUP as commuting route has its own problems too. While MUP as a recreational route is perfect, cyclists doing commuting are probably going not at a leisurely pace, which can upset peds and cause tensions between the two groups of users. In Europe (Germany at least where I stayed for a while) it is common to have bike path running side-by-side with sidewalk, and trust me they have way more rain fall than we do, so I am not sure why that would be a very big problem here.

    As for intersection, it is true the cyclists need to ride defensively, but in a conflict between crossing bike and right turning car, the bike clearly has the right of the way. The driver should not get away with saying they are not expecting bikes. We can probably do something to raise awareness on the driver side. Clearly marking bike-crossing (alongside crosswalk) helps to make the driver realizes that bikes are expected. Also our driver test should make blind-spot-checking mandatory for right turn.

  11. Colea,

    your argument do not hold water unless there is a full-on analysis to check if drivers are paying the full cost of the road infrastructure they use, or are they being subsidized by others’ property tax. Plus even if you embark on such an analysis you will have too many variables and you can always argue it is biased one way or another. Plus many, if not most cyclists, myself included, own cars too, so we also pay registration tax even though we use our cars much less, so you are telling me I should pay another registration fee to cover my less usage?

  12. Colea, look at the provincial budget. The gas tax doesn’t even fully pay for Provincial Highway maintenance. No city streets are maintained by gas taxes. Licensing fees barely cover the cost of keeping drunks and criminals from behind the wheel.

    And paint for bike lanes? Seriously? That’s nothing compared to:

    – New road construction (federal taxes)
    – Oil & gas production (federal/provincial subsidies)
    – Paramedics, police for dozens of daily collisions (provincial)
    – Toronto Parking Authority’s mandate: provide BELOW MARKET RATE parking (city subsidy)
    – Damage to roads, proportional to Axle Load Cubed (subsidy to truck and car drivers)

    The public pays about 1/3 the cost of your car driving, depending on rush hour, etc.

    What about taxing shoes to pay for sidewalks?

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