Thursday, March 25, 2010

Segregating Simcoe Street Bike Lanes

story on March 11th in the Toronto Star reported taxis are lining up at the Toronto Convention Centre and subsequently blocking the new bike lanes on Simcoe Street between Front and Queen's Quay. Biking Toronto quickly picked up this story for discussion, though it was brought up earlier on Biking Toronto, with great photos, by Tory Law and Duncan
Another story in the Toronto Star (also March 11th) reported that that police are "powerless" to stop these taxis from lining up to pick up people coming out of the Convention Centre. While funny to see police described as "powerless," it really means that there aren't appropriate bylaws and fines for stopping/parking in a bike lane (at least that's how it's explained in the Star's article). The Toronto Cycling Union believes increased fines are required. I, however, believe that creating new bylaws and fines will have little effect on discouraging people (in taxis, couriers, trucks, cars, etc.) from blocking bike lanes. I propose a physical, material barrier that makes it literally impossible for any vehicle to enter and block the bike lane. This would make bylaws and enforcement unnecessary. 







Why do taxi drivers line up on Simcoe?
At first, it seems odd that taxis would line up on Simcoe Street. There isn't much around there but entrances to underground parking, blank walls and a few shrubs. But around the corner to the west on north side of Bremner Blvd is the pedestrian entrance/exit for the Toronto Convention Centre. People and life are what taxis are looking for and this is what they're after and why they're lining up. Street View shows buses where there is now a taxi stand - the Street View photos were taken during construction of the Simcoe Street Underpass. There is now a couple signs indicating a section of the road for 6 taxis as a stand. But taxis will begin to line up behind the alloted 6, around the corner on Simcoe (blocking the bike lane) and sometimes lined all the way up to Front Street, as seen in Tory Law and Duncan's photos. I'm guessing it would take about 40 taxis to form such a long line. This practice, I believe, happens when major events at the Convention Centre are finishing and perhaps when Sky Dome "lets out." How often taxis form such lines should be researched. This line-forming could likely be predicted.


What are these new bike lanes?
The bike lanes on Simcoe Street, part of the rail underpass just south of Front were completed in Oct 2009. Here is the road plan provided by the City of Toronto (click 'download' on the Scribd page for all the detail). If you're wondering what you're supposed to do on a bike lane, the city provides a Bike Lane Brochure.


As mentioned above, Google took their Street View photos of Toronto when this underpass was under construction.
Starting at Front and Simcoe heading south it now looks like this:


A little further south:


To the right is this parking garage entrance:


Further along is this strange yellow box:




Halfway through the underpass (on both sides) are these sewer grates that every cyclist would avoid:


The concrete barrier separating the sidewalk is quite large:
This large barrier is somewhat interesting. You'd think those large round pillars would be enough to keep pedestrian protected from cyclists and cars! Perhaps it's a safeguard to protect the bridge against a truck smashing into it.


Once crossed Bremner Blvd., the bike lane continues south, here with a van blocking it. The van was there to deliver buns to a hot-dog vendor:
There were two other cars parked in front of the van:
Seeing as these 3 vehicles are also blocking a fire hydrant, I don't see how fines would discourage this practice. The above photo also shows how wide these bike lanes are: 2 meters. They're wide enough to fit a vehicle.


As we approach the Gardiner we encounter this intersection:
The no-right-on-red sign is strictly followed. No one disobeys this sign. You can even see the cars giving room for the bike lane as they turn, even though there's no cyclist. Waiting at this intersection at a red light is quite comfortable for cyclists - there's room to pull up to the stop line and no fear of being squeezed by a car turning right. I think a no-right-on-red should be implemented for south-bound traffic on Simcoe turning onto Bremner.


On the other side of this intersection is a bit strange:
Following the bike lane south is easy enough, but there are paths on either side. To the left:
To the right:
The curb here is very tall making it very difficult for cyclists to get on or off this path. Of course, this might be on purpose so that cyclist don't cross Simcoe Street here, just south of the crosswalk. 
We arrive at the end of the bike lane at Queen's Quay:
But directly across Queen's Quay is a path alongside Harbourfront Centre that leads directly to the lake:
I think it's good that this bike lane has well-defined destination, while at the same time providing some options for cyclists as they travel.


Turning around and heading back (north) up Simcoe:
Past the Gardiner:
Coming up to Bremner:
Here he is from the front. The truck was turned off with the driver just sitting there:
At Bremner:
Here's another truck I spotted across the street (the driver rushed back to move the truck when he realized he was blocking a car!):
Riding this underpass on a bicycle is quite fun:
Back at Front street (looking north). Notice the Do Not Enter sign:


Conclusions
While my tour of the area didn't find taxis blocking the bike lanes, I did see quite a few other vehicles in the bike lane. While a few were cars, they were mostly delivery trucks. What struck me was the lack of concern these drivers had. They weren't in any rush, made no gestures that they would 'only be a minute.' The only driver I saw run to get back in his truck and move it was when he realized he was blocking a driveway that a car was trying to use. They don't seem to realize that what they're doing is illegal, annoying, rude, etc. and is often dangerous. It's not just they feel entitled to take up this space, they likely believe what they're doing is the 'right' thing - not blocking a vehicle lane. I've yet to see a vehicle stop "just for a minute" and block the vehicle lane and leave the bike lane clear! 


Though some might believe working toward changing drivers' behaviours will keep these bike lanes clear, I believe a physical barrier is required for this bike lane (and some -but not all-others). That said, I do support anyone trying to change attitudes of drivers to respect bike lanes, as not all bike lanes can be physically separated. 


As shown above, the bike lanes on Simcoe are very wide - 2 meters. While I imagine that a physical protective barrier could not be placed in the vehicle lane, I think cyclists would be willing to give up a portion of their 2 meter lane to whatever objects are placed as a barrier. We often see temporary concrete barriers around construction sites, just like here. They're usually called Jersey Barriers, a similar one called the F-Shape Barrier. Jersey Barriers are 820mm wide while the F-Shape is narrower at 580mm. Placing a row of F-Shape barriers just inside the bike lane would reduce the width of the bike lane to 1420mm, almost a meter and a half which I believe is roughly the width of most bike lanes.


The massive security measures for the G20 meeting at the Convention Centre on June 26&27 will see a large area of the city zoned off with a 3 meter fence, and this area includes Simcoe Street. I imagine the security barricade would include a number of different objects, including something like Jersey Barriers. I wonder if a temporary barrier along the bike lanes could be set up as G20 security dismantles. After the street being 'off-limits' and the huge security presence, people (as drivers, cyclists, pedestrians) would, I imagine, be more aware of their surroundings when they're 'let back in.' I don't think some temporary infrastructure protecting the bike lane poses any danger of distracting or 'surprising' drivers, and one would think drivers would appreciate the segregation.  


North of Front Street
Another issue is Simcoe Street north of Front Street. It is a one-way street heading south, so it's not too bad to cycle to the new bike lanes, but heading north from Front Street is a bit of a challenge. Simcoe Street from Front up to Queen is amazingly wide. As the photo above shows, so wide space is literally painted over as waste! 









A contra-flow physically separated bike lane should be put on Simcoe between Front and Queen. North of Queen, Simcoe is a lovely section of the street and fantastic to cycle on.

The street is closed to traffic at Pullen where it nears the American Embassy but cyclists and pedestrians can still go through.


Bonus section!
While out taking these photos I witnessed an army helicopter land on the little patch of lawn in front of the Convention Centre and right beside the CN Tower! I assume the police were doing a 'practice' run for the upcoming G20 Summit. Bremner was suddenly blocked off to traffic by police cruisers and after a few minutes, this showed up:
I tried taking a number of photos of it on the ground but it eludes the camera (it's right in the centre):
And then taking off:



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