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#MinimumGrid: Toronto Advocates Move Politicians Beyond Bike Platitudes

Bike advocates are putting these questions to Toronto mayoral candidates. Image: #MinimumGrid

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Michael Andersen blogs for The Green Lane Project, a PeopleForBikes program that helps U.S. cities build better bike lanes to create low-stress streets.

Almost all urban politicians will tell you they think bikes are great. But only some actually do anything to make biking more popular.

In Toronto’s current mayoral and city council election, a new political campaign is focusing candidates on a transportation policy issue that actually matters: a proposed 200-kilometer (124-mile) citywide network of all-ages bikeways.

The campaign, led by advocacy group Cycle Toronto, was given its name by international walking-bicycling advocate Gil Peñalosa. It’s called “#MinimumGrid.” And it seems to be working: Last week, 80 percent of responding city council candidates, including more than half of the council’s incumbents, said they supported building such a system by 2018.

Speaking this month at the Pro-Walk Pro-Bike Pro-Place conference in Pittsburgh, Peñalosa (a Toronto resident) explained the concept: to move cities from symbolic investments in bike transportation to truly transformative ones.

“We focus on the nice-to-have,” Peñalosa said in his keynote address at the conference. “Signage, maps, parking, bike racks, shelters. Does anyone not bike because they don’t have maps?”

Those amenities “might make it nicer for the 1 or 2 percent” who currently bike regularly, he said. But “nice-to-haves” won’t deliver the broader public benefits that can come from actually making biking mainstream.

“What are the must-haves?” Peñalosa went on. “Two things. One is we have to lower the speed in the neighborhoods. And two, we need to create a network. A minimum grid.”

Read more…


Eyes on the Street: When Bicyclists Get Derailed by Streetcar Tracks

IMG_1720_1.jpgA bicyclist recuperates post-crash. Photo: Michael Rhodes

Bicycle wipe-outs at intersections with streetcar tracks, like Duboce and Church or 17th Street and Church, are so common that I could hardly compose a post about the phenomenon without overhearing the familiar thud and "Are you okay?" of a bicyclist taking a spill. In fact, that's exactly what happened outside my window just now as I sat down to write.

Most of the time, cyclists are a bit shaken up, but okay. In the worst cases, I've seen people tumble head-first into parked cars and bounce off. Still, the worst damage is usually to their bikes, not to their person.

It's not hard to imagine someone getting seriously injured in such a spill, however. Even the damage done in the routine wipeouts that happen nearly every day is rattling enough to merit greater attention.

Experienced bicyclists tend to figure out the best way to navigate the tracks, but what can be done to prevent less-experienced bicyclists from getting stuck in the rail depressions so regularly?

In Toronto, where bicyclists also have to contend with a maze of tracks, several at-grade railroad crossings are equipped with a rubber flange filler that is jammed down into the cracks of trolley tracks. The rubber is firm enough that it doesn't compress when a bike passes over it, but when a streetcar comes it squishes down and doesn't cause the train to derail.

The material is not used for Toronto's extensive network of streetcar tracks in the city's core, however, and bikes routinely get caught in the tracks. "The at-grade railroad crossings do have some of that incorporated, but certainly not the main hazards to cyclists, which are the arterial road streetcar tracks," said Yvonne Bambrick, Executive Director of the Toronto Cyclists Union.

"There’s a lot of places where several tracks meet and turn. They’re trickier to navigate, but folks that have been at it for a while have figured out how to do it. It’s not that hard: you pay attention and learn how to do it, it’s all good. It does catch people fairly regularly."


When Old Parking Meter Poles Go, So Often Does Bike Parking

Picture_5.pngToronto's Post and Ring solution for bicycle parking on old parking meter poles. Photo: David Baker
When Oakland installed its first pay-and-display parking kiosks in early 2007, parking managers ordered employees to remove the heads of the approximately 5,000 single-space meters they were replacing. Just like other cities transitioning from using single-space parking meters to newer multi-space pay stations, the parking managers failed to realize the utility of those old meter poles for cyclists, who used them for locking up their bicycles. 

"This was the last breath of turning your back on cyclists. It was obscene," said East Bay Bicycle Coalition (EBBC) Executive Director Robert Raburn, who admitted that they weren't prepared for the change and the effect it would have on cyclists, so their advocacy was "reactionary." 

The EBBC lobbied the Oakland City Council to retain what meters they could after the process had started. "What we were asking for was to make sure there was some integration between the installation of parking kiosks and bike parking," said Raburn

Jason Patton, Oakland's Bicycle and Pedestrian Program Manager, said that the initial problem stemmed from the fact that two divisions of two separate agencies within the city weren't on the same page about bicycle parking and so the provisional solution was the best they could do.

"The plan for the new parking stations didn't address bicycle parking. Really the only option we had in working on their timeline was to leave meter heads," said Patton.

Over the complaints of the parking division, the EBBC worked with Oakland's bicycle program to develop an interim policy of preserving a minimum of two meter heads per block space in the areas where kiosks were installed. The bicycle division then spent a good deal of time and money surveying bicycle use on every street where the meters were being replaced to maximize the benefit to cyclists. Parking managers removed the "guts" of the meter heads so that drivers were less confused and affixed small yellow stickers that remind cyclists to park their bicycles parallel to the curb.



The Myth of the Urban Driving Shoppers

Rest_North_Beach.jpgA valuable sidewalk, but parking should be removed and the sidewalk widened to accommodate pedestrians and meet ADA requirements.
As we wrote a couple days ago about Jefferson Street, merchants on the commercial street there and throughout the city often assume parking spaces in front of their stores are vital to business, that their customers drive to buy, and that driving customers spend more because they can carry more goods home in their vehicles. 

Because the health of small businesses is a political holy grail locally and nationally, those merchants who believe they will lose parking because of sidewalk widening, BRT, bicycle lanes, or greening, will stand up at meetings and lobby local elected officials to kill the projects, and they are usually successful.  Though it often goes counter to their personal interests, the assumptions associated with automobility and commerce are so deeply enmeshed that dense urban communities don't thrive as much as they could if more space were given to improving the quality of the pedestrian public realm.

But time and again, shopper intercept studies show this is not the case, that transit riders and pedestrians spend more in commercial districts than drivers.

In New York City, a study of pedestrian space on Prince Street in Soho found that 89 percent of the people who use Prince Street are arriving by subway, bus, walking or bicycle (PDF). Only 9 percent arrive by car.  By a ratio of 5:1 shoppers said they would come to Prince Street more often if they had more space to walk, even if it meant eliminating parking spaces. The study also found shoppers who value wider sidewalks over parking spent about five times as much money, in aggregate, compared to those who value parking over sidewalks.

But that's New York City, not San Francisco, so it couldn't be the same here, could it?  In 2008, the TA found that motorists only accounted for 14 percent of all users accessing the Columbus Avenue shopping district (PDF).  Those motorists spent one fifth of the the total of all other modes and visited half as often or less than the other mode users.  Those drivers were typically not from San Francisco and were driving as part of groups or because they didn't have convenient transit options.