Two bucks to fiscal responsibility

Via Torontoist, Councillor John Parker was quoted by the National Post advocating for user fees on using swimming pools, visiting Riverdale Farm, and a variety of other things that his family never does:

Quite honestly, just off the cuff, I can’t see that a two dollar fee for anything is anything that should get anyone too riled up.

I’d like to agree with John Parker: two bucks is nothing to anyone. And in that spirit, I think that the councillor should advocate for the following non-riling fees to help fix this mythical budget crunch:

This may all seem radical, but hey, it’s just two bucks, right? And a two dollar fee for anything is nothing to get riled up about, right? Hell, I’ll even register and license my bike for a toonie. Whaddaya say, councillor?

Advertising good, bikes bad

Info Post in front of Carrot Common

Enough has been written about these stupid info pillars elsewhere that I won’t bore you with another diatribe against their design or the questionable process that resulted in the city being saddled with them in the first place. This one is in front of Carrot Common on Danforth and in addition to looking ugly, replaced a perfectly good post and ring bike rack, as seen by Google Street View: Google Street View showing removed post and ring

I’ve written to my councillor to ask why parking for two bikes was removed so that Astral could place two giant ads on the sidewalk. It’s almost impossible to find bike parking in this area during the summer and only marginally easier during the spring and fall. We need many more racks here, not fewer. I don’t think that drivers or merchants would quietly stand by if they lost two car parking spots to a billboard, and I don’t see why cyclists should be expected to do so either.

Pharmacy bike lanes gone but not forgotten

The bike lane was removed from Pharmacy Ave last month. As someone who rides regularly along Pharmacy as an alternative to Warden and Victoria Park, I think the city, driven by the misguided local councillor Michelle Berardinetti, made a big mistake taking it out. But what’s even worse than taking out the lane is the way that they did it. Before the bike lane was originally put in, Pharmacy was four lanes wide. When the bike lanes were painted, Pharmacy went from four lanes to…four lanes: two bike lanes and two vehicular lanes. The reconfiguration also allowed painting of a centre median and the creation of left-turn lanes at every intersection. So in places, there were actually five lanes.

When the city took out the bike lanes, it would have made sense to configure the street as it had been originally, with four traffic lanes and no turn lanes. Instead, they simply erased the bike markings, retained the centre striping, and reduced Pharmacy to a single lane in each direction. The current configuration has absolutely zero benefit to anyone over the configuration with bike lanes.

Confused, I emailed Councillor Berardinetti earlier this week to ask whether the road would be restored to four lanes or left as-is, and this was her reply:

Operation crews promised that the full restorative work would be complete by the end of this month. However, given the colder November nights and shortage of equipment, city staff are indicating that the work will now only be complete at the onset of spring.

Having said all that, we are all glad [Ed. note: actually, “we all” are not glad] that the lanes are going back to their original state but if the work could not be done at a single time, then they would have been better off leaving everything as was until the spring.

So the lanes were removed this fall for, really, no reason whatsoever.

In a followup email, I asked the councillor if she could recommend an alternative north-south cycling route to access the businesses on and around Eglinton. No answer yet. If she (or a staffer) took the time to look at a map to try to answer my question, she’d have seen that there is no such beast.

Chester Hill bike lane construction continues apace

A sign has finally been erected allowing bikes to turn into the bike lane.

Some six months after the last bit of work done on the still-not-quite-finished bike lane on Chester Hill Road, a little more progress was made in January. And not just once, but work was done on at least two different occasions. Now that’s progress.

For those not familiar, Chester Hill has a 70 metre long contra-flow lane from Broadview Avenue to Cambridge Avenue. Yes, that’s 70 metres, not 700 metres or 7 km; not even as long as an Olympic sprint. The lane has been worked on in fits and starts since construction began in November 2007. I realize how terribly complex and difficult it can be to put up a few signs and paint a 70 metre long stripe down a quiet residential street, but surely 15 months (and counting) is a little long for the completion of such a short lane.

The temporary stop sign that was erected at the end of the lane last spring blew over in late December and was quickly buried under the snow banks that the city ploughs have been storing in the bike lane this winter. It seemed like a perfect metaphor for the bike lane (and the Bike Plan in general). But early January brought an unexpected sign of action on Chester Hill. Not only was the sign pulled out of the snow and re-erected, but it also got two fresh sandbags to hold it upright for another few months. Although the metaphor has changed a bit, it still seems appropriate.

A couple of weeks later in mid-January, another small item was knocked off the to-do list: there are now “bicycles excepted” signs hanging from the “no right turns” signs on Broadview at Chester Hill. Yes, well over a year after construction began, there’s finally some indication that cyclists are allowed to turn onto the road and actually ride the bike lane for the five seconds it takes to traverse the entire length.

As far as I can tell, some kind of work has been performed on the lane on exactly six days over the past 15 months: two in November 2007, one each in April and July last year, and now two in January 2009. At least they’re picking up the pace again.

I figure that all of the work required to complete this entire bike lane project from beginning to end would take one person no longer than five hours (including a lunch break). In fact, I’m quite confident that if the city dropped off paint, signs, and a ladder at my house, I could have done the entire thing on a Saturday afternoon. At this point, about 4 hours of the work is done. Another few weeks of hard work this coming spring, summer, and fall should be all that’s required to finish the job.

The sad thing is that as short as this lane is, it’s actually part of an important and already very popular connector to the Bloor Viaduct. A formal bike lane here is simply an acknowledgement of its long-time use as such. Too bad that it’s been so terribly neglected.

At this rate (70m in 18 months, assuming that Chester Hill is finished in May), it would take the city 345 years to finish the bike lane on Lawrence and 8,570 years to finish all of the lanes in the Bikeway Network. Here’s hoping that the Bike Plan is Y10K compliant.

What snow?

Workhorse bike on a snowy day

Yes, I went for a quick ride on Friday afternoon. It was after the worst of the storm had passed, but before it had stopped snowing and before most of the roads were cleared. Now that I’m working from home again, I haven’t had nearly as much opportunity to ride as I did earlier in the winter.

Despite the media spin, which always leans towards panic and gross exaggeration (with the occasional level-headed commentary masquerading as satire) when it comes to the weather, it was just not that bad a day. I went downtown for some shopping in the morning, ran a quick errand by bike in the afternoon, and then went up to North York for dinner. All in all, it was a pretty normal Friday for me. Oh, and I had to shovel a couple of times. Whoop-de-do.

Although the blowing snow wasn’t all that pleasant, it was certainly not the worst I’ve ever seen, nor was it anything that a warm coat and scarf or balaclava couldn’t deal with. It definitely wasn’t anything to get anxious and paranoid about. The sidewalks seemed well-used, the parks I passed through had obviously seen a day full of playful dogs, and I even encountered a couple of other cyclists while I was out. People generally seemed to be in good humour, taking it all in stride. Yet to read the paper or watch the news, you’d think that the sky had just fallen, that Toronto lay in ruin after the worst natural disaster in all of recorded history struck down the entire city.

Why the overreaction? It was hardly an isolated incident, either; the media regularly predicts mayhem and destruction any time a weather event is on the way, ready to menace the city. Yet from my hours tootling around the city by foot, bike, and subway on Friday, it seemed to me that the people most affected by the weather were those in cars. And most of those were people who simply didn’t use common sense. You know, like if the snow on the street is a foot deep and your car only has six inches of clearance, you’re probably not going to make it all the way down the block. If the roads are covered in snow, you’re probably going to need to give more room when you pass and slow down a bit when you turn. If you’re driving on summer tires and Pottery Road hasn’t been ploughed yet, find another, flatter, route. If you’re trying to zip through that left turn as the light is turning red, you’re probably going to slide into the curb.

Personally, I think that our winter traffic woes would be lessened considerably if winter tires were mandatory on all cars in Ontario being driven within two (three? five?) days of a snowfall. If you don’t want the expense, bother, or safety of winter tires, that’s fine; just leave your car at home a few days a year. If common sense doesn’t tell you to do it, maybe the law should.

Closed for the winter

Closed for the winter

I’d been planning to do a mini photo essay about all of the “closed for the winter” signs that the City slaps up on virtually everything that doesn’t cater to cars, but recently discovered that Now did a pretty good job of it three years ago. Sadly, Toronto officialdom’s aversion to winter has probably gotten worse since then.

Three weeks

End of the lane

Three weeks. That’s how long it’s been since crews started work on the short (about 70 metres) contra-flow bike lane on Chester Hill Road between Cambridge and Broadview Avenues. I’ve been sitting on this post since they started work on the lane around November 20. Instead of celebrating its completion a day or two later, I’m still waiting.

Still waiting for the bike laneTo date, the 70 metres of asphalt is only half painted: the solid yellow line separating the lane from oncoming traffic is done, but the diamond markings are still missing. In their place for about a third of the lane are diagonal stripes that prohibit traffic (including bikes) from using that portion of the road. Those were put in earlier this year when the City repainted the road to make left- and right-turn lanes.

Only one bike lane sign is up (ironically, the one that proclaims the end of the lane) so far. Another is still covered in plastic wrap, and at least two more signs are still missing: one “bicycles excepted” sign allowing bikes to turn onto the street from Broadview despite the right-turn prohibition, and a stop sign for bikes at Cambridge (which, I’m quite sure, all cyclists will obey).

The signs and paint merely formalize what has long been an informal and well-used route to the Bloor Viaduct for cyclists wishing to avoid the traffic on Broadview. Chester Hill is one-way for only a single very short block, presumably for the express purpose of preventing cars from taking this very same shortcut.

I’m not faulting Transportation Services for the snow and rain we’ve seen since the day after they started work on the lane, and I realize they can’t do much until the snow is gone. But it’s unacceptable that virtually all of the bike lane work in the city was left to the last three months of the year.

When Adrian Heaps made his ill-advised promise of 30 km of lanes this year, many cyclists were skeptical. Even so, the year’s piddly effort of 5 km or so is, in a word, pathetic. I don’t think anyone expected that the city could do any worse than the glacial pace of installations during the last couple of years, yet they managed handily. So now Heaps is promising 50 km for next year? Pardon my skepticism, but once bitten…

The astounding thing is that Council still talks about finishing the Bikeway Network by 2012. They do realize that that’s only 5 more working years, right? They do realize that since the inception of the Bike Plan, bike lanes are being created at a quarter of the necessary pace, and that even that pace has been slowing down in recent years, right? They do realize that they have no credibility on this matter any more, right? They do realize that their lip service is the reason that groups like OURS are thriving this year, right?

Council’s plan to kickstart the creation of 50 km of lanes next year by picking all the low-hanging fruit sounds good, but it means that they’re leaving the more difficult 400 km or so for the final four years. If they can only do 50 km of “easily-approved” lanes in a single year, what are the odds that they’d be able to do 100 km of “difficult” lanes each year for the four years after that? I believe the correct answer would be “Nil.”

I suppose that the Chester Hill bike lane is a perfect metaphor for the bike plan: a small but important piece of a larger puzzle that seems hopelessly stalled after a promising start. Well, there’s always next year.

Victory in the bike lane

A sight for sore eyes: a bin-free bike lane

It took five weeks and a whole lot more effort and patience than I thought it would, but the recycling bins at 55 Cosburn Ave. were finally in their rightful place—and out of everyone else’s rightful place—this morning. It’s a small victory, but I’ll take it. Maybe next week I’ll start taking on the cars that are always parked and idling along this stretch.

With a garbage-free Cosburn greeting me this morning and the Works Committee making some noise about a major report to be delivered at next Wednesday’s meeting, it’s looking like it could be a great autumn for cyclists.

It's for cycling, not recycling

55 Cosburn Ave. uses the bike lane for garbage

It’s now week four of my quest for justice in the Cosburn bike lane. In previous weeks, I’d been bounced around in email and on the phone to various departments and units in my effort to deal with the recycling bins in the bike lane in front of 55 Cosburn Ave.

This week, I escalated my issue to the Waste Enforcement Investigations supervisor for the area, having received no responses to two emails and one voice mail the previous week. I spoke to her on Wednesday morning as I stood on the front lawn of 55 Cosburn Ave. Surprisingly, she said that an enforcement officer had spoken to the superintendent about the issue on Monday, two days earlier. She vowed to get another officer out there this week and said that the issue should be resolved for next week. So either the bins will be out of the bike lane next Wednesday or I’ll be making some more early-morning phone calls. The most annoying thing about this entire situation is that I have to wait a week each time to see if anything has happened.

A couple of weeks ago, Shawn Micallef suggested that I call in the Fixer. I’ve thought about it, but I object to the idea that the only way to take care of this is to shine a big media spotlight on it. That said, I may yet do so if the situation drags on much longer. A part of me suspects that the city and the police would have been all over it after the first complaint if the bins were anywhere on the roadway but in the bike lane, and that bugs me even more. It shouldn’t take four weeks to address an issue like this, but I’m semi-confident that I’ll see some results next week.

I hope this meets your expectations for this week, poika.

Still trashing the bike lane

55 Cosburn Ave.

Sure enough, last week’s request to the superindendent and call to by-law enforcement had no effect: the bike lane in front of 55 Cosburn Ave. was once again turned over to the big plastic bins for garbage day. I called by-law enforcement again this morning and once again got voice mail. I asked for callbacks both times but have yet to get any response. It may be time to ratchet up the pressure.