July 03, 2017

Biking Brampton's Etobicoke Creek

 
While I have biked both east and west of Toronto, my experiences north of Steeles Avenue have been limited to training rides for the Enbridge Ride to Conquer Cancer in 2014. Thanks to a suggestion from Helen, we took part in Bike Brampton’s “Bike the Creek” ride on Saturday, June 24. Not only did it give me exposure to cycling north of Steeles, but it is arguably one of the best organized rides in the Greater Toronto Area with hundreds taking part.
Map of 41 km End to End Ride
The ride is free and includes five ride options covering all ages and abilities from the 11 km Family Ride to the 60 km Canada 150 Ride. We did the 41 km End to End Ride, which combines the 17 km Nature and 26 km City Rides; covering the entire length of the Etobicoke Creek Trail within Brampton. Riders are given a passport before starting, which gets stamped at different pavilions in exchange for raffle tickets at the end. A free BBQ lunch is also provided after the ride.
Riders ready to start biking Etobicoke Creek
One of the TRCA pavilions seen along the ride
Most of the End to End Ride took place on off-road paths and aside from checking Strava a couple of times (thanks John Leeson), riders can easily navigate their route with coloured tape – yellow for ours – and wayfinding signs. The trail surfacing is inconsistent north of the Jim Archdekin Recreation Centre with some unpaved sections, though south of Jim Archdekin is paved. Despite this, my road bike could handle the trail no problem. The trail features decent lighting – something urgently needed on Toronto’s trails such as the Martin Goodman Trail by Coronation Park – and small asphalt ramps where the trail meets the road. Crew members were stationed at some major crossings to ensure the safety of riders.
Small asphalt ramps along Etobicoke Creek Trail
Trail lighting - something Toronto needs more of
With many organized rides, riders don’t stop except to grab snacks, water, or use the washroom. Bike the Creek ENCOURAGES riders to stop at each pavilion spaced 3 – 5 kilometres apart. Each pavilion provides a great opportunity to learn about local nature, history, and civic issues. The nature part discussed butterflies, river bugs, plastic waste, and a historic home with a blacksmith forging some iron. The city part had stations next to a historic jail, a community forest, a neighbourhood undergoing revitalization via the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority’s Sustainable Neighbourhood Action Plan (SNAP) initiative, and Brampton Memorial Arena.
Caterpillars at one of the pavilions
Iron making at one of the pavilions
One shortcoming I noticed was the lack of on-street facilities on the route. However, there were a few including an in-boulevard path on Bovaird Drive – Brampton’s main east-west bike route – and bike lanes on County Court Boulevard near the SNAP pavilion. When speaking with someone at that pavilion, she commented how Brampton lacks cycling facilities overall – their cycling map consists mostly off-road trails – and that many community centre users drive even if it is only one kilometre away. The County Court SNAP focused on improved storm water management, the installation of bio-filters on County Court Boulevard, habitat restoration within the creek valley, and green home retrofits.
Most of Brampton's trails are off-road including this bridge
Bike lanes on County Court Boulevard
While Brampton has some good off-road trails and Bovaird Drive for an east-west spine, they have work to do to catch up with other GTA suburbs such as Mississauga and Ajax. While we used a rental car, getting to Brampton car-free on weekends requires using the GO bus – the Kitchener line is closed on weekends – which runs every 30 to 60 minutes with the earliest arriving at Brampton at around 8:30 AM.
Brampton Cycling Map - last updated in 2013
Thanks Bike Brampton for organizing this fun ride and I encourage other Toronto cyclists to check it out in 2018.

Happy trails!
Rob Z (e-mail)

June 26, 2017

Capital Cycling Charms - Part 2

Part 1 of the Ottawa cycling series focused on urban bike routes. Getting a more complete picture also required some exposure to suburban infrastructure, which we experienced on Day 2.
Our route from Ottawa's Little Italy to Kanata
When planning our cycling trips, we set some criteria which limited our options. Avoiding steep hills ruled out Gatineau Park – a popular option for many road cyclists – while avoiding crossing the Queensway (Highway 417) ruled out places like Manotick, Stittsville, and Almonte. We then settled on Kanata (22 – 23 kilometres one way) and made a stop at Britannia Beach on the way back.
Britannia Beach
We headed towards the Ottawa River Pathway as with Day 1, but went beyond the Champlain Bridge. Normally, the adjacent pathway is closed to cars for Nokia Sunday Bikedays, but this was cancelled for Race Weekend. We saw thousands of runners making their way east, while a few cyclists still took advantage of the road closure. An inspiring sight for sure, but kind of silly to have an Open Streets event right next to an existing multi-use path.
Runners along the Sir John A Macdonald Parkway - and a cyclist for good measure
Beyond the Champlain bridge, cyclists could get to Teron Road in Kanata using exclusively off-road pathways; those being Ottawa River and Watts Creek. There are a few places where wayfinding is lacklustre. At Nanaimo Drive – shortly west of where the trail crosses Carling Avenue to become the Watts Creek Pathway – the signage doesn’t clearly identify the need to go straight to Aero Drive and then left to return to the trail. The trail’s terminus at Teron Road also doesn’t identify how close certain destinations are; meaning some advance research is needed.
Moodie Drive - Not exactly a safe crossing over the Queensway
Using the Watts Creek Pathway lead to two key crossings for suburban cyclists to cross the Queensway. The first is Moodie Drive; the main on-road cycling connection to Almonte, Stittsville, and Manotick which did not look safe given the high speed of traffic. For a traffic-free solution, cyclists could use the Trans Canada Trail, but the lack of pavement makes it impractical for road bike users.
Multi-use path and bike lanes on Teron Road
Once in Kanata, narrow off-road paths are provided on Teron – which also has painted bike lanes – and Campeau, though the dismount signs were a turnoff. What brought us to Kanata was to try some Indian food at Malabar House, which operated in the back of a convenience store in a strip mall. It wasn't that great in terms of food quality (still affordable), lack of seating, and limited bike parking. On a more positive note, the nearby library was beautifully done with lots of bike parking, turtle statues, modern and bright architecture, a hockey rink, and a small art gallery.
On the way back, we noticed some bridge artwork shortly after leaving Kanata and stopping at Britannia Beach was worthwhile. There was an "Antique Hoarders" store with lots of nifty artifacts, the Beachconers ice cream and espresso shop with unusual flavours – peach sriracha, anyone? - and a large park and beach to relax. Several volleyball courts and cherry blossom trees could also be found. We ended Sunday by walking around Little Italy – the Pasticceria Gelateria Italiana serves unique and delicious donuts for less than Toronto's Glory Hole – and Pho Bac for dinner.
Antique Hoarders and Beachconers Microcreamery in Britannia Beach (via Helen Qu)
Ottawa's Little Italy
With Monday being rained out, we did not bike any more for that trip. However, we got a first-hand look at the Mobycon-designed Churchill Avenue. It features cycle tracks raised to sidewalk level with green paint identifying conflict areas, zigzag markings at bus stops, and brick to improve aesthetics. We drove on Churchill when leaving Ottawa and found it to be effective in slowing down traffic. Last, but not least, I highly recommend Baker Street Café for breakfast! A half rack of ribs with an already generous offering of eggs, homefries, fruit, salad, and toast? Bring it on!
Pictures from Ottawa's Churchill Street
To backtrack things a bit, the Great Glebe Garage Sale kickstarted our trip on Saturday morning. If you have seen large flea markets before, you haven't seen anything until you visit the Glebe. Even by 7 – 8 AM, the entire neighbourhood is filled with people hunting for cheap bargains and vendors selling everything imaginable. Many kids were selling lemonade, while some vendors had goals of fundraising for travel, competitions, camps, or charities. Food options are plentiful and even a few bands were playing some music. For something unusual, a couple of "grim reaper" vehicles were rolling along. Unless you need to carry large items such as furniture, leave your car at home!
Pictures from Great Glebe Garage Sale
One last thing. When biking on Mackenzie Avenue, we noticed a yield sign was placed right on the cycle track. Ottawa should fix this ASAP!
Yield to a yield sign? I don't think so! (via Helen Qu)
The weekend in Ottawa left a positive impression with the city being not as intimidating as Toronto in terms of size, yet still offer great cycling facilities, events, and food options.

Happy Canada 150!
Rob Z (e-mail)

June 07, 2017

Capital Cycling Charms - Part 1

Ottawa River and O-Train Pathways
When I attended Spring Bike Ottawa in March 2015, I couldn’t properly evaluate their cycling facilities due to the weather and lack of bike share. After cycling in Montréal in February, it was only a matter of time Ottawa would be revisited; something Helen and I did in late May.
Approximate map of our route
The first day’s ride of approximately 35 kilometres (including detours) sampled the following routes:
  • Albert Street multi-use path
  • O-Train and Ottawa River Pathways
  • Champlain and Portage Bridges
  • Voyageurs Trail (Gatineau)
  • Cycle tracks on Laurier and Mackenzie Avenues
  • Rideau Canal
  • O’Connor Street
Traffic calming on Rochester Street
Accessing the Ottawa River Pathway from our Airbnb place was reasonably safe. Both Rochester and Booth Streets use traffic calming measures such as curb bumpouts and centre posts – something recurring throughout our ride – though speed limits could be reduced to 30 km/h.
Albert Street multi-use path at Preston Street
Albert Street has a multi-use path on the north side of the street, with the Preston Street crossing being unconventional including a temporary pedestrian island for those crossing south and useless “cyclists dismount” signs. Due to Confederation Line station construction, the short link from Albert Street to the O-Train Pathway was not paved, though the Ottawa River was only a couple of minutes away.
Canada Geese family by the Voyageurs Trail in Gatineau
Once on the Ottawa River Pathway, you could almost forget you were in a city of one million people with the abundance of nature including river rapids and animals from rabbits to baby Canada Geese. A similar experience was found on the Gatineau side with their Sentier des Voyageurs (Voyageurs Trail). The beaches on both sides had some flooding, while the Gatineau side has some wayfinding confusion with one sign pointing back to the waterfront and the Eddy-Laurier intersection not clearly marked for cyclists. Their trails also had signage right on the pavement.
Portage Bridge - Counters are good but safety needs work
The Ottawa River crossings need work. The Champlain Bridge used only painted lanes with 60 km/h posted speed limits, though the Québec side does provide some green bollards for protection. The Portage Bridge has a raised bi-directional cycle track, but a similar design on Toronto’s Martin Goodman Trail proved it is insufficient given the recent death of five-year-old Xavier Morgan. (link to Jun N's post on related memorial ride) Additional barriers are needed on that bridge to prevent such a tragedy from happening in Ottawa.
Left - Ring-and-post parking placed next to walls
Right - Laurier Avenue cycle tracks (before the race blockade)

Two more shortcomings were seen after leaving the Portage Bridge. One is the poor placement of ring posts against certain walls; meaning only one bike can be parked instead of two. The other is mediocre detour markings. The flood related Ottawa River Pathway closure lead to Laurier Avenue – itself an example of how pilot projects should use parking curbs instead of bollards – which then went through the Race Weekend route near the Rideau Canal.
Mackenzie Avenue next to the American embassy
One of the more recent cycle tracks – Mackenzie Avenue – was difficult to access from Laurier Street. We ended up going through Cumberland Street and walked our bikes along several streets before reaching Mackenzie. Along the American embassy, that cycle track featured large green bollards which are great for protection, but those placed in the middle could cause problems for cargo bike users. A lack of connectivity was noted at the northern terminus, though it was the first place we saw a VeloGo bike share station. Going south to the Rideau Canal was seamless.
VeloGo bike share - A similar system is used in Hamilton
The VeloGo bikes operate differently than those from Bike Share Toronto. While traditional docks are provided, the bikes can also be locked elsewhere should riders like to make a stop where no docks are nearby. Payments are done via online, mobile, or directly on the bike instead of a central kiosk. The bikes appear lighter and do not have any visible chains.
Rideau Canal pathway
Echo Drive is a dead end for vehicles at Clegg Avenue, but not for cyclists
The Rideau Canal trail could use separate pedestrian and cycling areas given the large number of trail users. The trail was closed at Clegg Avenue for the race, but Echo Drive is a good example of a bicycle boulevard with motorists blocked from going through. The view of the Canal is maintained all the way to Bank Street, where the detour lacked proper markings and Echo had a “do not enter” sign.
Speed and bicycle priority signs at the Bank Street bridge
The Bank Street bridge encouraged cyclists to take the lane with bicycle priority signs and speed control displays. Bike lanes are provided on Bank Street until the contraflow bike lanes on Holmwood Avenue and O’Connor Street.
Traffic diversion on O'Connor Street
O’Connor is a showcase for different kinds of bicycle infrastructure including traffic diverters – another bicycle boulevard characteristic – bumpouts like those on Toronto’s Roncesvalles Avenue, unidirectional bike lanes, and bidirectional cycle tracks with green paint identifying conflict areas.
Roncesvalles style bumpouts on O'Connor Street
O'Connor Street switches from unidirectional to
bidirectional with green paint across the intersection
One last observation I noticed is Ottawa’s use of bike racks with signs identifying the local business area or general advertising. Toronto’s Community Bicycle Network used to have them at their old do-it-yourself shop; something the Foodora delivery service should consider using instead of their wheel-only racks.
Bicycle parking on Laurier Avenue
While Ottawa needs to work on improving bridge crossing safety, providing clear cycling detours, and fixing bike parking placements, the city was surprisingly pleasant to bike with a reasonably well-connected grid. Perhaps Copenhagenize may want to revisit their index ranking Montréal as Canada’s most bike friendly city should Ottawa keep their momentum?

Part 2 of this series will discuss suburban cycling and other things done during the trip.

Carry on!
Rob Z (e-mail)

May 17, 2017

A Flooded Commute

Last week, Ontario and Québec were subject to heavy rain and flooding with tourist attractions such as the Toronto Islands closed to the public until at least July. During my bike commute to work this week, I got a close hand encounter of flood conditions by the mouth of the Rouge River.
Submerged access to Toronto-Pickering bridge
The Waterfront Trail was dry from Rouge Hill GO station to the Rouge River. At the Rouge River, the trail access to the bridge linking Toronto to Pickering was submerged with water. While the water was shallow enough for bicycles to get to the bridge for now, there are concerns about water levels still rising which could rule out bicycle access in the future. In case this bridge does get closed – I will revise upon confirmation from the Toronto and Region Conservation Authority – here are a couple of alternatives to continue getting around.
Graph showing rising Lake Ontario levels (via Fisheries & Oceans Canada)
From Rouge Hill GO station, cyclists would need to travel almost seven kilometres by going west on Lawrence Avenue East, north on Port Union Road, east on Kingston Road, south on Rougemount Drive, and south on Rosebank Road to get back on the trail on the other side of the railroad tracks. It is not a pleasant alternative with high speed traffic (often exceeding 90 km/h) and steep hills on Kingston Road by the Rouge River. With the detour adding 4.5 kilometres (or 15 minutes) to cyclists’ journey compared to the 2.5 kilometres via the bridge, no wonder why that bridge is a vital cycling and pedestrian connection!
When the bridge is accessible, the same trip takes only 2.5 kilometres!
Two public transit options are available for those wanting to avoid riding on Kingston Road. For those already on the GO train, it is recommended to go to the next stop – Rouge Hill if going west or Pickering if going east – to bypass the flooded area. The other option is to take the DRT Pulse bus along Kingston Road from Port Union Road to Rougemount Drive (or another Pickering street of your choice) at a cost of $3.75 cash or $3.10 with a PRESTO card. From Pickering GO, you can take Liverpool Road to get back on the Waterfront Trail.
Flooding covered entire parking lot at Rouge Beach!
This flooding situation by the Rouge River revealed the need for trails to be complemented with a robust on-street bike lane network to help provide cyclists safe alternatives in the event of trail closures. Alternate routes need to be clearly marked to help cyclists get back to the original trail. With climate change expected to cause more flooding in the years ahead, Toronto cannot afford to drag its heels any longer in order to build out the Minimum Grid!

Stay dry, folks!
Rob Z (e-mail)

May 02, 2017

REimagining Yonge Street

Last summer, I had the chance to bike the entire length of the Toronto portion of Yonge Street to make the case for bike lanes there. The resulting blog post lead to an article in Metro Toronto citing Yonge as the next cycling battleground. With an interim report for REimagining Yonge – which calls for the complete transformation of Yonge Street from Avondale to Bishop Avenues including bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and public realm improvements – coming to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee on Tuesday, May 9, a progress update is in order.
Yonge Street at Elmwood Avenue (North York Centre)
The report was originally expected to reach the committee in February and city council in March. Unfortunately, Ward 24 councillor David Shiner introduced a motion to defer the project for consideration during the 2018 budget process, which passed city council with a 24-20 vote. Not only did this motion go against the city’s so-called Vision Zero road safety plan to eliminate pedestrian and cycling deaths, but it also put $2 million in federal funding from their Public Transit Infrastructure Fund at risk. To keep the project alive, the councillor whose ward includes the project study area – John Filion of Ward 23 – organized a town hall on April 5, 2017 at the North York Civic Centre.
REimagining Yonge town hall on April 5, 2017
The REimagining Yonge town hall saw between 100 and 150 concerned residents attend that evening. A large piece of paper was put up in front of the former council chamber for participants to write what they want for Yonge Street, while a few Cycle Toronto volunteers collected signatures for their Yonge Loves Bikes pledge which has over 2100 signatures so far. Several other people joined Filion on the panel including the following:
  • Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati (Director, Transportation Infrastructure)
  • Jennifer Keesmaat (Chief Planner)
  • Barbara Gray (General Manager, Transportation Services)
  • Ken Greenberg (Principal, Greenberg Consultants)
  • Michael Koor (West Willowdale Neighbourhood Association)
Gulati provided some technical background of the project, including results from three previous public meetings in May, June, and September 2016. That section of Yonge was due for reconstruction given the street’s current layout is at least 50 years old. While cars reigned supreme at the time, driver mode share declined from 66% in 1990 to 45% in 2015. There have been calls to study bike lanes on Doris Avenue and Beecroft Road as alternates to Yonge Street, which were ruled out early due to the traffic impacts being too significant. Instead, staff now prefer reducing Yonge Street from six traffic lanes to four between Sheppard and Bishop Avenues to accommodate raised cycle tracks. (see diagrams below) From a road congestion standpoint, this would end up being no worse than under the status quo. A couple of surprise elements Gulati brought up include opportunities for new bike share stations and completing the gap in the Finch hydro corridor trail.
SOURCE (both images): City of Toronto
The remaining speakers’ remarks were relatively short. Keesmaat commented on the need to use centres to develop suburban areas with North York being the most developed, Scarborough being a mall, and Etobicoke in the process of transforming their spaghetti junction. Gray may have been a newcomer – having previously worked in Seattle – but she acknowledged how roadways divided cities and the need to be bold. Greenberg noted how North York was ahead of downtown regarding transforming Yonge Street and acknowledged how lucky Toronto was to have two women in charge of transportation and planning. Filion admitted he originally dismissed the idea of transforming Yonge Street. However, he realized his thinking was in the past and acknowledged the bleak nature of Yonge, which lead to difficulties in finding commercial tenants. He drove the point home by saying traffic will be congested regardless of whether you have eight, six, or four lanes! Koor – a long time resident of the area – acknowledged he never walked on Yonge; instead preferring Beecroft.

The initial remarks from the subsequent Q&A session were from opponents; citing congestion, lack of consultation, and preferring bike lanes on Doris and Beecroft instead of Yonge. Eventually, a speaker who supported the project pointed out opponents tend to be more vocal while correctly referring to the strong public support for the project. After that point, the mood shifted with more people speaking in support to help balance opinion.

Motion PW21.9 is an interim report authorizing staff to study additional options (e.g. bike lanes on Doris and Beecroft) and conduct more consultations with the final report due in the fourth quarter of 2017. Supporters are still encouraged to not only e-mail PWIC (pwic@toronto.ca), but also Mayor John Tory (mayor_tory@toronto.ca) and their respective city councillors to support bike lanes on Yonge. Yonge is a key part of building a city-wide Minimum Grid for cyclists and has the potential to link with proposed bike lanes in York Region.

Ride safe!
Rob Z (e-mail)

April 03, 2017

Prioritizing Cycling Projects

For cycling advocates, it can be tempting to push for bike lanes everywhere. However, there can be such a thing as pushing too far; especially when support is lacking or our pedestrian and transit user allies risk being alienated. Two recent projects – the King Street Pilot and pedestrianization on John Street – prompted this concern and lead to this question which needed to be asked.

In light of limited advocacy resources and political will, how should advocates prioritize their efforts?

KING STREET PILOT
The 504 King streetcar on Roncesvalles Avenue
Having used Toronto’s busiest streetcar route – the 504 King – on several occasions, I have seen first hand how crowded and slow it is. Especially during the morning rush hour. To improve service, the City of Toronto proposed a pilot project restricting motor vehicle traffic within the study area covering Dufferin to River Streets. Given cycle tracks and quiet routes exist on Richmond and Adelaide Streets east of Strachan Avenue, as well as the pilot project’s primary goal of improving transit, bike lanes on that stretch are unnecessary. However, special care is needed to ensure cycling conditions do not get any worse for those accessing local destinations. Certain proposals called for allowing street furniture on wider sidewalks, which could endanger cyclists and force them onto the streetcar tracks; leading to safety risks and possibly defeating the main goal of improving transit.
King Street Pilot options - Yellow denotes pedestrian areas (link to slides)
A connection through CAMH allows cyclists to access the planned West Toronto Railpath extension from Richmond-Adelaide. However, there are no safe east-west routes west of the rail corridor, which is a key challenge for residents of the Parkdale priority neighbourhood. The proposed Liberty New Street does not have a firm timeframe nor does it adequately address east-west connectivity.

The King Street Pilot could provide an opportunity to test protected bike lanes from Strachan Avenue to Dufferin Street. No parking is allowed from Sudbury Street to Fraser Avenue, while off-street parking facilities are available at both ends with wayfinding improvements needed at Shaw Street. If successful, it could become easier to justify extending the bike lanes through Parkdale to the Roncesvalles bridge; something easier to accomplish than on Queen Street due to the width.

JOHN STREET PEDESTRIANIZATION
John Street (via Torontoist)
During the summer months, John Street is reduced from four lanes to two with the extra space being used for increased pedestrian (and patio) space. A recent count done on John Street found bicycles made up of over 70% of rush hour traffic. Given this was completely different from the 2% found in the initial study in 2012 – thanks in part to the Richmond-Adelaide cycle tracks – local advocates called for the reopening of the environmental assessment.

While I respect the hard work done by local advocates there and it would be nice to have some car-free streets (especially in Kensington Market), I disagree with the idea of making reopening John Street a priority. Not because of local councillor Joe Cressy refusing to support the idea, but there are more important projects at stake such as making the Bloor bike lanes permanent and extended, as well as Reimagining Yonge which has a public meeting scheduled for this Wednesday. Not to mention, the cycle tracks between nearby Simcoe and Peter Streets are only 500 metres apart, which is already consistent with best practices in Delft (Netherlands) which spaces their bikeways 400 to 750 metres apart when crossing various barriers.[1] Having bike lanes only 200 to 300 metres apart – which would be the case if John Street were to get them – would not do justice for the other parts of Toronto with significant gaps in the bikeway network.
Only 500 metres separate Peter and Simcoe Streets
Given this pedestrianization initiative and proximity of nearby cycle tracks, it would make more sense to reduce the speed limit on the entire length of John Street – not just north of Queen Street – to 30 km/h with traffic calming measures to make the limit self reinforcing.

PLANNING AHEAD

The fact Harbord and Bloor Streets are 400 metres apart did not stop the City of Toronto from installing bike lanes on both streets. Bloor-Danforth is one of the city’s few continuous east-west corridors while Harbord primarily serves the University of Toronto and only goes from Queen’s Park to Ossington Avenue. The question of how close to space bike lanes is dependent on relative utility. In the case of Bloor, the 36% increase in cycle traffic per city statistics did not stop Harbord from getting high cycling volumes.
Toronto's Cycling Network Plan
Before we can make the cycling network in the downtown core even more dense, we need to keep in mind the need to provide all of Toronto a minimum grid of cycle tracks and bicycle boulevards. Ideally by placing all residents within one kilometre of cycling facilities.

Choose wisely!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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[1] John Pucher & Ralph Buehler. City Cycling. Page 133.