Proposed changes to make Dundas and Sterling intersection safer for cyclists

Months after a tragic accident at the intersection of Dundas Street West and Sterling Road, community members of Ward 18 are talking about ways to make the area safer. The fatal accident took the life of a 38-year-old cyclist and mother. It was a terrible way to remind the community of the urgent need for safer infrastructure in the area for cyclists. That corner especially is known for being a dangerous one, as trucks from Sterling Road frequently make right-hand turns on to Dundas, and are unable to leave room for bikers beside them without going into oncoming traffic.

Councillor Ana Bailão has been very active in attempting to put a safer foundation into place for the great number of cyclists her ward sees — either residents or commuters passing through. “Out of all of the cyclist infrastructure in the city, this is my priority, just because it’s not safe,” she says. “You speak to any cyclist in the west end and they’ll tell you this is the most horrible intersection to go through.”

Members of the City’s Transportation Services division, as well as Cycle Toronto and avid bikers from the community, attended a recent meeting where long and short term plans for the intersection were discussed. Councillor Bailão says she hopes to bring this up in the next community council meeting, so short term plans such as painting lines on the street for pedestrian crossings and putting in a traffic signal as well as a no right turn on a red light sign, can happen right away. “I consider this a matter of life or death and I don’t want to have another incident happening in this ward,” she says.

Ellen Rengers is an avid cyclist in the city, as well as a resident of Ward 18. She says the proposed plans will probably make her feel safer, though she’s still very much aware of the dangers involved in biking in the area. “It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s the only option we saw,” she says.

She is more excited about the long term developments, which will include a bi-directional bike bridge which will go along the road all the way from Dundas and Sterling to Dundas and College. They also include an off-street bicycle connection cutting through the City-owned land at the corner of Sterling and Dundas, as well as specified bike crossings beside pedestrian crossings at the intersection. “I think when we get good cycling infrastructure, more people will be on bicycles, less people in cars, so the people that are in cars will actually have more space,” Rengers says.

Recent input including the proposed plans will be looked over by Councillor Bailão, before she takes the everything to other council members. If all goes well, residents in her ward will soon start seeing some necessary changes.

Note: This article was first published in the August edition of the Bloordale Press.

20 comments

  1. “It was a terrible way to remind the community of the urgent need for safer infrastructure in the area for cyclists.”

    Calling for “safer infrastructure” a well-intentioned mantra, but does this really apply here?

    Traffic rules are very clear on right turns: cyclists, like other vehicles, must queue in sequence for turns. 

    http://www.toronto.ca/cycling/safety/car-bike.htm

    Clear as day: “do not pass right-turning drivers on the right”

    Not squeezing by vehicles is literally the safest thing that can be done.

  2. Shouldn’t we also focus on the even more dangerous intersection of college and Dundas? As someone who has woken up in the hospital missing parts of her face courtesy of this incredibly unsafe area – I think we need to make the entire stretch of Dundas from sourauren to college/Dundas safer for the large community of cyclists who commute and enjoy cycling in the area. How many accidents and deaths and close calls is it going to take?

  3. Hey Mike M,

    While I do think that passing a vehicle on the right is a bad idea. I think the need for better infrastructure at Dundas and Sterling is highly overdue, making the debate about how Morrison did or did not ride her bike a moot point. 

    Dundas and Sterling is one of the most dangerous intersections in the city, and the attention and planning required to make it safer is indeed warranted. The rail path is a highly used trail for cyclists of all kinds and levels, and this exit is a major access point for people traveling to Roncesvalles, College Street and Dundas Street.

    Seeing as the city is looking at extending the rail path in the future, and pumping the Junction Triangle for different kinds of re-development, looking at how to make this intersection better is wise. 

  4. I have never seen any issues with Dundas St W and Sterling in my daily commute, but have noticed several bike accidents at the intersection where Dundas and College converge. Dundas and Sterling is just a routine intersection, not unlike the thousands all over the city.
    If you ask any cyclist in the area, they will tell you that turning left onto College going eastbound on Dundas is an absolute nightmare with all of the streetcar tracks and inconsiderate motorists. Going westbound on Dundas at that very same intersection is also incredibly nerve racking because of the traffic coming from multiple angles.
    That is the intersection that should come into question first. Even though there are sets of lights in close proximity, I have always felt that they are necessary there for the safety of pedestrians and cyclists alike.

  5. Mike W, let me get this straight. Cars are allowed to squeeze past cyclists on the left, but cyclists may not squeeze past *stopped* cars on the right?

  6. “While I do think that passing a vehicle on the right is a bad idea”…

    Well, from all accounts that seems to be the cause of the fatality, so you can’t just gloss it over. Otherwise, Dundas & Sterling is an intersection like many others, except of course Dundas already has a bike lane and Sterling is an industrial road.

    What I’m suggesting is that personal responsibility has to come into play, especially if we’re politicizing every fatality for more “safer infrastructure” where it may not be relevant, however well-intentioned. There may be bigger priorities and much less safe areas in the city to spend limited dollars.

    Derek: “Mike W, let me get this straight. Cars are allowed to squeeze past cyclists on the left, but cyclists may not squeeze past *stopped* cars on the right?”

    Nope. I didn’t say that.

  7. I agree with a lot of the comments above. Changes aimed at safety to the intersection at Dundas and Sterling are great, but the real danger spot is the intersection at Dundas and College. It’s always a nightmare there especially with all the the streetcar tracks. Instead of lights at Dundas and Sterling, they should really consider installing a set at Dundas and College with a special left turn for bikes only.

  8. Derek: We should also note that no driver has ever hesitated from squeezing by on the right when a cyclist is stopped on the far left side of the lane. If there is room, they will go for it, cyclists and drivers alike.

  9. Hey Mike W,

    I hear this argument a lot around personal responsibility, and I agree that it is a cyclist’s responsibility to ride safely. However, I still think Dundas and Sterling warrants attention sooner rather than later. 

    Here are the reasons: It is an exit for what is now a popular well used trail. An exit that has almost zero safety features or planning.  Its a classic Toronto “here’s a nice safe route…oh except for the end, where we spit you out into the soup…have fun!”

    Sterling won’t be industrial for long, there is a lot of interest in building lofts, homes, etc. in the area which will only increase  residential traffic (foot, bikes, cars). 

    Starting something at Sterling and Dundas will get the ball rolling for phasing in more work down the street at College / Dundas. 

    i mean in all honesty that entire stretch of road needs serious work. But its easier to start at one point, and go one phase at a time. 

    So, in this case, yes, I am going to gloss over the debate about how Morrison did or did not ride. And I’m going to do it for one main reason: If we keep derailing looking at infrastructure start points by quipping about the HTA, and tossing out “oh well maybe we should look here instead..” hooks, we’ll likely just run in a circle and nothing will even get started in the area. 

  10. This intersection needs to be made safer for EVERYONE… pedestrians and cyclists. My neighbor died at this intersection over a year ago… an event that was barely noticed by the media (2 paragraphs in the Star)… of course he was a senior, working class, immigrant gentleman, who wasn’t on his bicycle but was walking. Sincere condolences to Jenna’s loved ones. But it’s amazing how some deaths seem to matter more than others. The bottom line is all deaths are worth mourning. I’ll also add that taking steps to make the intersection safer shouldn’t mean we ignore the negligent behaviour the deceased engaged in that contributed to their demise (and I would say that was the case with both Ms. Morrison and my neighbor). The fact they engaged in negligent behaviour does not make their deaths less sorrowful. At the very least, we should be mindful of not taking similar risks.

  11. A lot of this is pretty feeble, sorry to say. But with the collective level of analysis and response, no wonder TO biking is so crappy.

    Yes, the general area can be really harsh and dangerous to go through, more for the eastbound cyclist, crossing over the tracks and the urban highway. So yes, some stoplights might make a difference to the speed of the traffic and make it safer to cross from the Rail Trail exit to eastbound.

    I am still suspicious that the Collision Report didn’t really look at things from a cycling standpoint eg. one doesn’t race up the hill; there are few entry points to the southbound travel, so the truck Must have seen Ms. Morrison, and even passed her – to cut her off?

    The real culprit is the City for setting the stage for this collision with bad road geometry and a failure to do anything to make it safer for cyclists when it put Sterling on the Bike Maps as a suggested Bike Route only to take it away this year. Mere signage and a bike symbol would have been a good start, but citizens could figure out that right turning vehicles cut into the corners, and some added bike symbols after Ms. Morrison’s death, but the City painted them out. The City did not adjust the yellow centre line at the intersection that actually has a pinch point in it, almost exactly where she was felled.

    The City’s response is failing to consider adding ANY markings in this tight curve or a bike lane. Worse, the City completely failed to think of rebuilding the final few metres o Sterling Road a little bit to the west, straightening it out to a more “normal” right-angled intersection.

    It’s not like it’s a 9-storey building – it’s empty land, and adjusting the Rail Trail a bit to avoid a direct spilling out onto this corner would be good.

    If we’re trying to prevent another tragedy like Ms. Morrison, we need to fix the road ahead of doing stoplights, and merely pushing a stop bar back is disrespectful, without adding a bike lane, bike symbols, a bike box etc. Yet the City is not adjusting anything perhaps fearing that adjustment means admitting that it was unsafe, therefore millions in liability. And yes, they are really liable for their setting the stage for the tragedy.

    The long-term fix is more of a fantasy given the overall cost of adding more bridge, and politically, stripping westbound College to a single lane after a streetcar is pretty gutsy, and Ms. Bailao would be better advised to champion a Bloor St. bike lane in my view, more acute with the news that Bloor is being rebuilt next year through that area, and that is the time for bike lanes. In the meanwhile, what about some police presence, or does that division not like cyclists?

    Would Ms. Morrison have taken Bloor to the daycare, had there been Bloor bike lanes? The cost of the stoplight c. $80,000, would repaint Bloor from Dundas St. W. to Ossington. No streetcar tracks, a subway for options and a lot of parking atop the subway etc…

    There’s a lot of east-west travel demand, for all modes, but the City has been avoiding a really obvious cheap fix for cycling safety for a long time, and they deserve lawsuits.

  12. Is that collision report available anywhere? I’d be really interested in reading it.

  13. I’ve heard that these Collision reports are not really public documents so to get one that the person doesn’t have a direct personal interest in eg. family may be an FoI with a $1500 cost, unless there’s a public interest case made, so then it would be useful to be part of a group eg. ARC or Cycle Toronto. I’ve held off for a few reasons including the possibility of photos; and it must be harsh being on the frontlines of that work.

  14. IMHO the real solution for this intersection is to start bike lane on Sterling Rd, at least 10 meters before the intersection, and if at all possible, add physical separation like the Dutch design shown in http://spacingtoronto.ca/2012/08/09/urban-planet-dutch-intersection-design/

  15. “I am still suspicious that the Collision Report didn’t really look at things from a cycling standpoint eg. one doesn’t race up the hill; there are few entry points to the southbound travel, so the truck Must have seen Ms. Morrison, and even passed her – to cut her off?”

    So now we’re resorting to conspiracy theories?

    The truck driver was cleared of wrong-doing and by all accounts was in front. All signs point to the cyclist squeezing through the right side (just as slow for a truck to get much speed from a stop as a rider coming up a hill). It’s unfortunate, but  right turns are rather simple matters — vehicles of all strips have to form a queue. This is not to lay blame so much as an explanation — we’ve all been guilty as cyclists trying to squeeze by, but it’s unsafe.

    Again this article presented a tragic death as an example of a problem to be solved, while ignoring the basic rules of the road as the most obvious solution. I’m not against “safer infrastructure” but the arguments have to be better than this, as you can pretty much always say “safer infrastructure” as a blanket statement that no one will disagree with. It’s not a practical approach, especially when trying to prioritize policy with limited dollars.

  16. The Tues. Nov. 8 Star front page GTA section says “Both the cyclist and the truck were attempting to turn right onto Dundas St. W. from Sterling Rd. when the truck’s cab clipped the woman and she fell, according to Const. Hugh Smith…

    And while many cyclists are clearly disrespecting of laws of traffic and peds, I think we can see a systemic “carism” at times from institutions, and willful blindness to a serial killer.

    If Mike W bestirs himself to go out to the corner, it is irregular, with a very tight/sharp right turn that is unusual. The City should know that most all vehicles cut into corners, and that trucks also when sharply turning also intrude more over a corner – that’s why streetcar track turning radii are often marked on roads/corners.

    The City failed to provide a consistent lane width in the 12M or so of marked by yellow line segment at the intersection with the effect of making a pinch point almost exactly where Ms. Morrison fell, and that’s another level beyond the right-turning pinching.

    Also, this Sterling Road was a suggested bike route for about 6 or 7 years until the City removed that designation from this year’s Bike Map, and apart from almost instanteously painting over what citizens did to fix up the intersection in December, that’s been the only real response up to this set of inadequate proposals thus far.

    When other cities put in a suggested bike route, they add a combo of signs and painted on-road bike symbols, but we don’t though in this sad instance, all the paint and signage at the corner would have cost less than the funeral.

    Of course, Ms. Morrison could have played a role, but we can’t hear her side, and she was wearing a helmet, and btw, Mr. Mike W, pregnant moms are almost always the total opposite of reckless.

    The official city response and proposals are slow and quite inadequate for this particular corner, as it needs to be reconfigured somewhat, including maybe with a bit of a separation of bike lanes from the truck traffic with some bollards. Why not?

    As for stoplights, yes, that will help reduce the general speeds, but maybe the big trucks won’t be able to turn out from Sterling westbound because of the stopped cars on the streetcar tracks? And will they drive up onto the sidewalk if this sharp curve isn’t adjusted a bit?

    A friend who’s used this area a lot had another suggestion that maybe the real place for stoplights is actually at the meeting of Dundas and College a bit further east.

  17. Sort of off topic and more than a little speculative, but it seems to me that another thing making this area (Sorauren to Lansdowne) unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians is the abundance of surface parking lots. With all that open space, my sense is that drivers feel they have more room than they actually do and therefore drive faster.

    The gas station on the wedge lot at Dundas/College (currently fenced off for renovations) is particularly unfortunate in that westbound drivers on College can see if someone is coming and before they get to the stop sign. Same with Eastbound drivers turning left onto College. If there was a big building that went all the way to the sidewalk there, drivers would be more cautious as they approached that intersection. Maybe a traffic signal would be appropriate.

    A lot of the land in this area is oriented towards car use (gas station, coin-op car wash, Tim Hortons w/parking, used car lots, convenience store w/parking, Businesses along the bridge w/parking). Discouraging this type of built form should be included in the discussion about cyclist and pedestrian safety.

  18. Actually Mike W,

    Right turn on this intersection is not like most intersections. If one look at the layout — the acute angle for the right turn, and have some experience with turning a vehicle. 

    I don’t even need to look at the map but I bet the Dundas + College intersection (as few commentators mentioned) probably don’t have a regular intersection as well. Most likely a similar case of <90 degree intersection. 

    (I Google Mapped it and it confirmed my suspicion)

    As a driver (of a van) and a cyclist, I can see there is definitely need for alternative solution for this kind of turn angle, regardless who's responsible for the accident. (One can argue if the intersection is not as tight for right turn there might been injuries but not death)

    —–

    That said I think the best solution is not alternative rule enforcements (like a new traffic light etc.) but an actual redesign of the paths each kind of travellers take. 

  19. There’s a lot about this intersection that is poorly designed/implemented, most of all the angle and gradient of Sterling, as well as the difficulty of crossing Dundas safely. It’s also puzzling that the east side of Sterling should have such a huge island of paint stripes that vehicles are not intended to cross – in addition to a traffic light, the width of Sterling could be used to allow northbound turns to stay closer to the curb while adding some separation of the bike lane on the west side, such as a small traffic island.

  20. I frequently ride my bike through that intersection and know it well — I don’t agree that there is anything all that unusual about the corner (many streets are not perfectly perpendicular), and honestly, can’t make sense of the claims written here that say it is so.

    That said, I don’t see how the accident wouldn’t be prevented by following the existing rules of the road (ie. queueing for a right turn, no matter what *type* of vehicle there is).

    PS: I’m for side rails on trucks, however.

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