Monday 14 April 2014

Various and Sundry

My riding frequency has increased with the tolerable weather. It’s not so much the cold, but the sheer amount of snow and ice this winter were a pain for my commute. Not only are you forced out further on to the road but there were whole WEEKS when I couldn’t ride. Compared to last winter, where I was on the road 4 days a week on average, it was abysmal.

Spring riding is at the cusp of ideal. The weather is cool and crisp, not ridiculous and freezing, and people are generally in good spirits as the seasons are changing. The long thaw, spring brings renewal. But it also increases the bike population on the roads. The more of us the better, the more motorists get used to bikes the less accidents we will have. But the influx in spring meets a driving population who saw cyclists shrink significantly in winter. They forgot we were there. So I get honked at much more in the spring than any other time of year. Then drivers settle in (some never do, but you get the idea).

I love arriving to work NOT soaked from sweat, I love that you can dress lightly again on the bike (15c/59F is about t-shirt weather by my estimation), and this season, since I’ve been on public transit for months, I’m raring to go.

A few thoughts upon reflection.

1. The Harbord Lane Proposal
I’ve been reading a lot on the Harbord bike lane proposal, and I find it challenging. I find the route very safe and well laid out as is. I can think of dozens of other places where any sort of infrastructure would be welcome. What we are getting isn’t even separated infrastructure, so I’m ambivalent there too. So I went out for a ride recently, I rode from Harbord at Ossington to Wellesly and Parliament to get a feel for how it is with the existing infrastructure. For someone with my commuting experience, I find it reasonable, but for a more inexperienced cyclist it is quite hectic, lots of cars, parked and otherwise, lots of opening doors, pedestrians, other bikes, etc.  

I think what is important about a piece of bike infrastructure is both visibility and space. You need space on the road that is designated and separated in some way, and you need to have good sightlines, a route where there are side roads you don’t notice, obstructions at intersections, etc. are riskier. 

I find Harbord/Wellesly to have good visibility and good space, and the road is wide enough that there are rarely situations where I’m obstructing a car. However, as it is busy, there are lots of opportunities for sudden obstacles, and I’ve been cycle commuting for 5 years, newer cyclists would find this daunting. 

So I would prefer a separated infrastructure in this case for less experienced riders.

Why does bike infrastructure have to cater to less experienced riders?

Because experienced riders don’t need infrastructure. They can ride anywhere. Infrastructure is thus oriented to those who cannot have that level of performance (e.g. the young, the elderly, those who do not wish to ride in heavy traffic, etc.). So this means that you should prioritize the safest infrastructure on the heaviest use routes (heaviest use for bikes that is). Since Harbord is a heavy use route, it seems sensible to go forward with some form of separated infrastructure.

2. A Railside Route?
There was a proposal floating around a few months ago for a bike route to parallel a rail line going N/S through the middle of the city, leaning to the West End.
I have marked out  the route here:

I would love to know if anything was done with this, as a somewhat central N/S route is what is really missing from the cycling toolkit in this city.

3. Fix Our Roads!
Dear City of Toronto, please mobilize your street sweepers en masse to clear out the piles of dirt that line the gutters of Toronto streets. Most of the roads I ride at the moment are free of snow and ice, but there is literally a pile of dirt (which slows you down and can make you unstable) on most of them right along my space beside the curb. This is easier to fix than potholes, and just as important!

4. The Shaw Contraflow Lane

OK, I’m confused.

They recently placed a contraflow lane on Shaw street. I have commented on the fact that I don’t like the basic layout of this lane. The bike lane is located immediately beside cars (no buffer zone, no physical barrier), which is dangerous. And there are visibility issues at the corners where parked cars block the sight of oncoming bicycles.

Still, cyclists rode the wrong way on Shaw for years, and adding a contra-flow lane was the city acknowledging that people were voting with their pedals, so to speak. Obviously a lot of cyclists disliked their options on Ossignton and Christie, and this is a compromise to address this dislike. Although I dislike the idea of riding the wrong way on a one way street, I do acknowledge that getting change and new infrastructure for bikes in this city takes forever, so riding the wrong way to “protest” the lack of infrastructure isn’t beyond the pale.

So I get the addition of the lane.

However, having had a few weeks to live with the new lane, I have discovered something; many cyclists are riding the wrong way in the contraflow lane. Rather than riding on the West side of the street they switch to the east side contraflow lane and ride against oncoming bike traffic.

I have to say, I don’t get this.

It could simply be that they want a bike lane, any bike lane, rather than riding on the road. But the contraflow lane is CLEARLY marked as Northbound, and the sharrows opposite it are CLEARLY marked as Southbound. So I’m finding this hard to justify. 

Added to it, I have seen a few near misses with bikes riding both directions in the contra-flow lane, as it is not wide enough for two bikes. Add to this that when bikes are going in both directions (e.g. in the lane going North and in the sharrows going South) there is not enough room for a car in between. I have seen a few altercations already, honking motorists and frustrated cyclists.

I’m curious as to why cyclists are using the lane this way, any observations would be appreciated.



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