Saturday 30 November 2013

On Contraflow Lanes and City Cycling Infrastructure

So they have finished the contraflow bike lane on Shaw Street. I have had the opportunity to see the final results, and I’ll admit to being puzzled.

The current set up from Bloor to Dupont has the contraflow lane on the East side of the street beside parked cars, and sharrows on the West side going South. This strikes me as bad placement, for a few reasons:

1. The contraflow lane leaves much less road room for cars and bikes going south, cyclists going South with traffic will have less room, if they ride where the sharrows indicate they will be directly in front of cars that will not be able to easily pass them without going into the contraflow lane.

2. The contraflow lane is beside parked cars. The BICE study ranks the safety of various shared use models on a risk scale. The ratings for areas with parked cars and no bike infrastructure are very similar to those with bike lanes and parked cars. It’s the parked cars that make it dangerous, no matter what bike infrastructure you use. It is always preferable to separate cyclists from parked cars where possible, to eliminate an accident vector.

3. At intersections, cars traveling West cannot see cyclists approaching from the South due to parked cars on the East side of the street.

From Bloor South to Dundas parking is on the West side of the street with the contraflow lane on the East side, so they avoid these issues.

I’m ignoring the set up South of Dundas and North of Dupont as one has dual lanes on either side and the other has no lanes at all. So my areas of interest are from Dupont to Bloor and from Bloor to Dundas.

I think the set up from Bloor to Dupont is less than optimal, and I wonder if it could have been done differently.

So I posted a question about this arrangement on IBikeTO, and Herb (the site’s main blogger) responded with a link to the proposal for the contraflow lane so I could see their rationale for setting things up this way.

Here’s what I found.  

 “This report recommends a combination of bikeway types (traditional bicycle lanes, contra-flow bicycle lanes and sharrows and signage) to provide a continuous, connected bikeway along the entire length of on Shaw Street.”

That is the target.

The report argues that,

“Between Dundas Street West and Bloor Street West, from May to October parking is located on the west side from the 1st to 15th of each month and switches to the east side from the 16thto the end of the month. From November to April, parking is located on the east side at all times. To accommodate the northbound bicycle lane on the east side staff are recommending that the alternate side parking regulations be rescinded and replaced with parking at all times on the west side of the street. The northbound bicycle lane would be located on the east side adjacent to the curb”

So first things first, before the contraflow lane, cars on Shaw from Dundas to Bloor parked on the east side of the street for half the year, and then for half the month of all remaining months. Thus the majority of the year cars parked on the East side of the street.

Switching the parking permanently to the West side is thus a significant change from the status quo.

Furthermore, the report notes that there is one stretch of the street, along Fred Hamilton Park, where parking is restricted, on the West side of Shaw. Before the installation of the contraflow lane, from the 1st to the 15th of those months you lost parking spots on Shaw in front of the Park on the West side. So the existing parking restrictions resulted in, “…24 fewer parking spots available for residents to park between the 1st and 15th of each month from May to October.”

After the lane installation, where parking is permanently transferred to the West side, there will be 24 fewer parking spaces all year round, rather than just between the 1st and 15th of the month for half the year.

So despite the fact that placement decisions are often made to appease parking, in this case the decision will negatively impact parking to a greater degree South of Bloor. I can’t say this with finality, as I don’t know if all West parking would ultimately deliver more parking than all East, despite the losses in front of Fred Hamilton Park, but what I can say for sure is that switching to all West will increase the impact of the parking loss along the park.

The decision to leave parking on the East side of the street North of Bloor and South of Dupont, despite this leading to a contraflow lane right beside parked cars, is stated in the report:

“Moving parking to the west side would allow the northbound bicycle lane to be located adjacent to the east curb consistent with proposed design south of Bloor Street West. However, there are substantially more driveways on the west side of the street and, as a result, relocating the parking to the west side would eliminate approximately 43 parking spaces. Maintaining the parking on the east side would preserve all of the existing parking supply.”

So here we may have a rationale for the decision, having the lane on the East side both North and South of Bloor means that you only lose 24 parking spaces all year round, rather than 43 parking spaces all year round.

However, this leaves out an obvious possibility: have parking on the East side of Shaw all the way between Dupont and Dundas, and keep the contraflow lane on the West side all the way up.

The parking South of Bloor was on the East for the majority of the year before this lane was added anyway, so this does not represent a major change. As far as I know no one in the neighbourhood was clamoring for the switch before the lane was proposed, so I’m not clear on why it is such a concern to simply assign all parking to the East side of Shaw all the way up.

This would have cyclists away from parked cars for the whole route from Dundas to Bloor, and it would mean that you don’t lose the 24 spaces all year round near Fred Hamilton Park, indeed you would gain back 24 spaces you were losing for half the month six months of the year under the old arrangements, and you would lose nothing North of Bloor as the parking would stay the same.

But the biggest safety bonus would be at corners like Essex and Barton and Yarmouth, where visibility issues will be lessened by the placement of the bike lane on the West side.

This seems good for everyone, you gain back some parking South of Bloor, and you don’t lose any North of Bloor, and cyclists get a separated contraflow lane away from parked cars and with great visibility at intersections.

I guess the real question would be this. I am concerned about parked cars and visibility for cyclist safety. But maybe I’m worrying too much. I cycle by parked cars all the time, it can be done. Are there examples of contraflow lanes beside parked cars in Toronto?

The report provides one, there is a contraflow lane on Strathcona from Pape to Blake street, and that it has been in use without significant incident for 10 years. This suggests that my concerns might be exaggerated.

However, if you look at the Strathcona lane there are some important differences.

First, the Strathcona lane is about 1/5 the length of the Shaw street lane from Dupont to Bloor.

Second, the Strathcona lane has no intersections between Pape and Blake, the strip from Dupont to Bloor has 14 intersections between Dupont and Bloor, and 3 of these (Yarmouth, Essex and Barton) admit Westbound traffic and thus will have visibility issues that the Strathcona strip will not have.

I’m happy to have a contraflow lane on Shaw, many, many cyclists rode contraflow there anyway, and a painted lane makes it “official”. I’m also happy that the city is adding to our cycling infrastructure, that’s always a good thing. I’m just not convinced that this was the best way to do it.



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