Random notes for other cyclists

A straight fender over your rear wheel may keep your back clean in the rain, but anyone riding behind you will get a hard line of spray right in the face. Do other cyclists a favour and eliminate the rooster tail; get yourself a set of full fenders.

If you’re riding at night, you really need lights. You may be able to see without them, but you also need to be seen.

You’d find riding a lot easier if you just pumped up your tires a bit.

Please, can I put some oil on your chain? If I have to listen to that squeaking for one more block, I’m  going to have to take another route.

I realize that those damned ear buds have been surgically attached to your head since 2006, but at least pretend to pay attention to the world around you when you ride.

If yammering away on your cell phone is preventing you from riding in a straight line, either pull over or call back later.

No, I will not call out “passing on the left” whenever I overtake you, for the same reason that I don’t honk at every car that I pass on the highway. If you’re on the road, I expect you to be alert enough to know what’s happening around you.

I understand why you’d choose to wear a helmet, and I understand why you’d choose not to wear a helmet. What I don’t understand is why you bother bringing a helmet if it’s just going to swing from your handlebar like that while you ride. It’s the worst of both worlds.

If you think that crossing against a red light at the top of a T intersection is so harmless, maybe you can explain why you nearly rode straight into me.

I realize that you’re too super-cool to bother with courtesy, the rules of the road, and all that, but stop your bike for 20 seconds and let people get off the streetcar in peace.

If you’re going to make a U-turn on the bike path, look over your left shoulder first.

When you’re teaching your kids to ride, don’t tell them that cyclists “don’t really have to stop at stop signs.” They’ll figure that out when they’re teenagers, but in the meantime, you’re setting them up to expect something that just isn’t true.

When you’re teaching your kids how to ride, don’t tell them to ride on the left side of the road in order to avoid getting doored. Instead, teach them to keep a safe distance from parked cars and to be alert for people exiting vehicles.

I understand why you might want to ride on the sidewalk in certain places, but beside a perfectly good bike lane really isn’t one of them.

If you must ride on the sidewalk, please don’t careen around pedestrians like they’re part of an obstacle course; ride at a walking pace or learn how to schluff.

If the car driver ahead is signalling a right turn, don’t try to squeeze past on the right; wait behind or go around to the left.

If you’re moving out to get past a parked car, check over your shoulder to make sure that you aren’t about to ride in front of another cyclist. Or a car.

I’ve been using this post and ring all winter long. You’ve seen me using this post and ring all winter long. And now that the nice weather is here, I really don’t appreciate you taking my post and ring just because you get to work a few minutes before I do.

I really don’t mind stopping to help you patch up your tire, but seriously, how can you ride this far out of the city without carrying even a basic repair kit?

And finally, you may be all decked out with your team jersey, clipless shoes, energy bars, and carbon-fibre road bike, but this 40-year-old fat guy on a 20-year-old  mountain bike heading home for dinner can ride through Leaside faster than you. Bring it!

Not-so-random note for drivers

Cyclists pay for all Toronto roads (including the DVP and Gardiner). We get bike lanes on only 2%.

I’ve always wanted to put a message for drivers on the back of my t-shirt or bike, but have never been able to come up with anything suitably brief. This one, seen in Nathan Phillips Square after Monday’s group commute, gets high marks for visibility and clarity. But I think it’s a bit long for drivers to read at speed, and probably invites much disagreement. So far, my own leading candidates are, “Pretend I’m in a car,” and “No, you get off my road.” The search continues.

Random notes for drivers

If you see me, don’t turn into my path. If you don’t see me and turn anyway, you’re breaking the law because you’re not doing shoulder and mirror checks before changing lanes.

Flashing your turn signal doesn’t mean, “Get out of my way because I’m turning,” it means “I’m letting you know that I’m planning to turn, but I won’t begin my manoeuvre until I’ve verified that it’s safe to do so.” Please learn the difference.

If you think that I “came out of nowhere,” it’s because you weren’t paying attention; I’ve been riding in a straight line in the middle of this lane for almost 2 km.

Don’t think that honking your horn absolves you of your responsibility to drive safely.

I hope that leaning on your horn is making you feel better, because it’s just steeling my resolve to ride in the middle of the lane and make you change lanes to pass me. The last thing I need is some infuriated driver buzzing me if I move over to the curb.

The fact that your vehicle outwieghs mine by 100 to 1 doesn’t mean that either one of us is less human than the other.

I realize that it’s frustrating for you to sit in bumper-to-bumper traffic, but steering over to the curb to prevent me from passing isn’t really going to make you feel better.

I’m probably moving faster than you think, especially if you’re trying to judge whether you can floor it and make that turn in front of me.

When I’m on the road, my safety is my responsibility. That means that if I decide it’s unsafe for you to pass me in this lane, you don’t get to override my decision.

It won’t kill you to change lanes or wait behind me for 10 seconds until it’s safe to pass. It could kill me if you try to squeeze past now, so don’t try.

I’m riding in the middle of the road because the asphalt is in such poor condition closer to the curb that it’s unridable, even on my mountain bike. Please wait to pass me.

If you have to speed up to pass me before you turn right in front of me, you should just wait behind me until I’m through the intersection.

You don’t pay any “road taxes” either, because there isn’t such a thing.

As a matter of fact, I do have insurance. And a driver’s licence. And a car.

Do you really think I’d take up less room on the road if I was in a car instead of on a bike?

Yes, sitting in a padded chair and pressing your right foot down on a little lever that makes liquid flow through a thin tube toward your car’s engine makes you a real man. I tremble in the presence of your enormous penis.

When you say that cycling is dangerous, what you really mean is that you’re causing the danger and then subjecting me to it.

If you think I’m in your way, there’s a pretty good chance that you’re also in my way. So, uh, get outta my way!

Besides, why am I, riding the smallest vehicle on the street, the only one who’s in your way, while all of those cars aren’t in your way, they’re “traffic”? Aren’t all of them blocking traffic too?

This may come as a surprise, but I really can’t understand a word you’re saying when you gun your engine past me and shout out your window. So I’ll just imagine that you’re saying, “My crappy life really depresses me and I’m unfairly taking my frustrations out on you, random anonymous person on a bike!”

What part of that “no stopping” sign—not 10 feet in front of your car stopped in the bike lane—don’t you understand?

No, I won’t get out of the middle of the lane. Wait behind me until you can pass me safely.

I realize that what I do for my safety doesn’t always mesh with what you’d like me to do for your convenience, but frankly, I don’t care.

I don’t have an airbag or a seatbelt. My crumple zone is the space I create around my bike and I really don’t like you in it.

If I can touch your car when you pass, you’re way too close.

I realize that parking in the bike lane is very convenient for you, but it’s pretty dangerous to me.

Just imagine that your mother or sister is out riding her bike, and that some asshole like you is threatening to run her off the road; what would you think of yourself?

Just because you’re in a car and I’m not doesn’t mean that you’re in more of a rush to get to wherever you’re going than I am.

There’s a whole other lane over there for you to use; there’s really no need to crowd me in this one.

I’m sorry that your life is so miserable that you need to vent your frustration on me. Maybe you need some happiness in your life.

Yes, I’m turning left from the left-turn lane. Deal with it.

I’m signalling a left turn at an intersection; please don’t try to pass me on the left.

Yes, I’m waiting at this red light. If you’re going straight, you can wait in line behind me. If you’re turning right, there’s plenty of room to my right to make the turn without waiting.

Yes, I know I’m in the middle of the lane. It’s my way of telling you that you’re not supposed to pass me along this stretch of road. I do that because I’ve had too many right hooks at this intersection coming up and riding in the middle of the lane is the best way to prevent them.

If I’m riding at the speed limit, you have absolutely no need to pass me.

When I go to the effort of stopping at a four-way stop because you have the right of way, please proceed. Waving me on first may seem polite, but it makes you wait longer and it frustrates me because I stopped for nothing.

If you really want me to get out of “your” lane, call your councillor and tell her that you want a bike lane here.

It’s a good thing you blew past me back there; it must be really important to you to wait at this red light for 10 seconds longer than me.

I know that commuting in a car every day makes you angry and depressed, and that’s precisely why I don’t do it. Commuting by bike every day puts a smile on my face. Don’ t you wish you could say the same thing about your trip?

And finally, no, I will not get off the road.

Where's a cop when you need one?

Yesterday afternoon, I was riding west along Summerhill Avenue, which forms part of bike route 41 through Rosedale and Moore Park. Traffic there is usually pretty calm and slow-paced, but shoppers and delivery trucks always seem to be jockeying for space in front of the Summerhill Market; so much so that a paid-duty police officer is frequently directing traffic in front of the store.

So I was riding along and could see two car drivers getting ready to pull out of their street parking spaces and directly into my path. One driver had the good sense to wait, but the other didn’t and just pulled into the traffic lane directly in front of me. I’d been anticipating the boneheaded move, so I was already in position to avoid the car if necessary, but it’s still pretty annoying to be either unseen or ignored in broad daylight. To cap the annoyance, after the driver cut me off and then slowed down in front of me, he held his hand up to thank me for letting him in. I started swearing at him under my breath. “Don’t wave at me, jerk. I didn’t let you in, I just avoided being hit. There’s a difference you know.”

And then for the first time ever in my many years of riding in the city, something almost perfect happened: the paid-duty officer at the Summerhill Market flagged the driver down and gave him a lecture. I couldn’t hear the driver’s protestations from my spot behind the car, but the officer’s half of the conversation went something like this:

You know you almost hit that cyclist, right?


It’s not his fault. He’s just riding along the street.


It’s on you to look for traffic before you pull out of your parking spot. It’s dangerous.


You have to be more careful. You could kill someone if you don’t look.

The officer eventually waved the driver on and I thanked him as I rode past, feeling quite a bit better than I had 30 seconds earlier. Overall, not a bad start to my ride.

What would have made the moment perfect instead of merely almost perfect? If the officer had pulled out a ticket book and given the driver a summons under the Highway Traffic Act, I would have had time to pull out my camera and take pictures. Oh well. It still made my day to have someone other than me lecture a driver for cutting me off.


I had my first-ever winter cycling wipe-out on the way to the office this morning. There wasn’t much snow on the road when I tried to set up for a left turn by crossing from one side of the lane to the other. Unfortunately, there was just enough slippery slush (perhaps concealing an ice patch) between the the car tracks to make my front tire slide sideways when I tried to cross. Although I can’t be positive, I’m pretty sure that I had a light touch on the front brake, which is probably what did me in. Turning + brake + slippery road = nothing good.

By the time I knew what was happening, I was already lying on my side marvelling at how soft the landing was. Beyond wounded pride, there was no damage to me or the bike. The best thing about wiping out in the winter is the lack of road rash. I consider myself extremely lucky by the most important measure: I don’t think anyone saw me.

I try to learn a lesson from everything, and I got two today: first, even if you don’t think that conditions are very bad, lower your tire pressure a bit to get a better grip. Second, always ride appropriately for the conditions. I’m the first to admit that I wasn’t taking this morning’s flurries very seriously. Serves me right.

Ironically enough, I spent this morning’s (pre-wipeout)  ride thinking about writing a winter riding post in which I would dismiss the supposed danger by noting that I’d fallen off my bike four times as an adult, none of which were during the winter or caused by road conditions or bad weather. Make that five times, and once.

Operation Safe Journey

The Toronto Police issued a press release (thanks to Martino for the link) on Sunday announcing the start of Operation Safe Journey, a week-long blitz against drivers and cyclists who endanger pedestrians. Bravo! But tellingly, the press release also promises to target “pedestrians who fail to obey traffic signals or who fail to yield to traffic.”

If you believe the CityNews take on the crackdown, it’s aimed almost entirely at pedestrians. City’s story typifies the blame-the-victim mentality of the media and the police, stating, “Many of those killed last year were guilty of crossing the street in the worst possible place and at the worst possible time.” Mmm, smells like Rob Ford. Yes, it’s your own damn fault if you venture into the city without a car. You’ve got some nerve, not waiting (and waiting, and waiting…) your turn to cross the street. Don’t you know that streets are for cars?

So as a public service to the Toronto Police, I’m rewriting their press release. This is how it should read:

In 2006, there were 57 traffic fatalities in the City of Toronto. Thirty were pedestrians, with one?third of them over 65. In contrast, 38 people were killed by guns in the City of Toronto in the same period.

These were tragedies that need not have occurred.

As members of our society and as road users, whether as pedestrians, cyclists, or motorists, we share a responsibility for preventing these tragedies.

Motorists must exercise more caution when manoeuvring their 2-tonne vehicles around the city, and remember that pedestrians don’t have crumple zones, air bags, or seat belts to keep them safe in collisions. In fact, in your haste to be the last car turning through the advanced green a full 5 seconds after it stopped flashing, or make that right turn without looking where you’re going, or zip past the bus stopped in front of the crosswalk, you’re putting pedestrians’ lives at risk. Oh, and your premiums may go up a little after your insurance company pays a few thousand dollars to scrape a dead pedestrian out of your grill.

Being in a car does not automatically give you the right of way. Shaving a few seconds off your mad cross-town dash isn’t a good enough reason to endanger someone’s life. Just because a pedestrian isn’t in a car doesn’t mean that she isn’t in as much of a rush as you are to get to where she’s going.

Pedestrians should remember that many motorists don’t see you unless you’re inside a shiny metal box on four wheels. Many of those that do see you consider you to be a nuisance, serving no purpose but to delay them on their appointed rounds. The motorists who do treat you with the respect you deserve risk being rear-ended by all of the other motorists. Please look both ways before you cross the street.

On Monday, March 19, 2007, the Toronto Police Service will embark on a one?week education and enforcement campaign entitled “Operation Safe Journey”. This campaign will target motorists whose aggressive driving habits endanger the safety of pedestrians.

And next week, we’ll be running Operation Safe Shootings, a blitz targetting people who get shot. It’s their own fault, you know.

Of course, what they really wanted to write probably looks something more like this:

Hey Pedestrians! Get outta the way!

Note for the argumentative: I am a motorist, cyclist, and pedestrian, though not necessarily in that order. Of the three groups, motorists have the largest burden to act responsibly because of the amount of damage they can inflict on the other two groups when something goes wrong. Yes, there are irresponsible cyclists, and irresponsible pedestrians, but let’s be honest about where the responsibility lies.

Toronto: Transit City?

The TTC released its Transit City plan yesterday, to a predictable mix of hope and FUD (video) from the usual suspects. I freely admit that I’m no TTC expert, nor am I artistically inclined enough to offer alternative fantasy maps. Even most of my comments on the specifics of this plan would simply echo what’s available elsewhere, so I won’t add my voice to the cacophony. But I do have some preliminary thoughts on Transit City.

First, despite the upcoming hysterics of the naysayers — which will no doubt include my own city councillor and notable small-thinker Case Ootes — this plan is easily achievable if accompanied by some political will. Keen transit advocates are right that subways are just not practical or affordable for blanketing the city with transit and that LRT is the way to go. Will this network be expensive? Yes. But unlike the expense of, say, the Sheppard subway or the Spadina subway extension to Vaughan Corporate Centre, it will also be extensive.

Money and political issues aside, the two biggest threats to the success of this plan are internal: the city’s transportation department and the TTC itself. The TTC has become notorious in recent years for managing service quite poorly. In particular, they seem to focus too much on easily-graphed and ineffective internal performance targets rather than real-world performance from the customer’s perspective. This singlemindedness absolutely must change.

As for the transportation department, they have to be forced to give the TTC true signal priority along all of these routes. No ifs, ands, or buts. No half-baked priority like they’ve implemented down Spadina. Cars should always stop for an LRT; an LRT should never stop for cars.

Simply put, the city’s directive to the traffic managers should be that a TTC vehicle on a dedicated ROW should only need to stop when picking up or dropping off passengers. If an LRT vehicle is approaching an intersection, the lights should change in its favour, even if that means cutting short the cycle for intersecting traffic. Even if it means preventing cars from turning left until the LRT has passed. Even if it means stranding pedestrians at a traffic island. To be a true transit city, we have to stop treating the TTC in general, and surface routes in particular, like some kind of transportation backwater.

Although a lot of reports are labelling Transit City as more dream or fantasy than realistic plan, I hope that the Transit City network is only the beginning. The details aren’t set in stone and will be quibbled over for years to come, even as construction proceeds. But we finally have a real and achievable vision for a city-wide rapid transit system. We shouldn’t let this one slip away.

The second-class pedestrian

In a story last week, The Fixer touched on one of my pet peeves: pedestrian signals at intersections that don’t change with the traffic signal unless you press the button. Now I understand that many signals in the city won’t change unless a vehicle is waiting or a pedestrian presses the button. That’s not what’s at issue. The problem here is that when a vehicle is present and causes the light to change, the pedestrian signal doesn’t change to “walk” unless a pedestrian also presses the button. The reverse is not true: if the signal changes in response to a pedestrian pressing the button, both the traffic and pedestrian lights change.

So why not always switch the pedestrian signal with the main traffic signal? Toronto Transportation Services calls these “Semi-Actuated Type 2” (SA2) signals and gives this explanation in their pedestrian FAQ:

Why do some signals, which have pedestrian displays, show a “Don’t Walk” indication even when the signal is green for the side-street (minor road)?
This situation occurs when a vehicle has been detected on the side-street and no pedestrian has pushed the button. This only can occur at locations where the City’s Transportation Staff has installed a Semi-Actuated “Type 2” (SA2) intersection. With this type of operation, a pedestrian must push one of the pedestrian push buttons to receive a “Walk” signal. When a button is pushed, a pedestrian will receive a “Walk” signal with sufficient time to cross the major road. If a button is not pressed and the traffic control signals respond to a vehicle only, a green signal will be displayed along with a “Don’t Walk” indication for pedestrians. The length of this green signal could be considerably shorter than the required walk time for a pedestrian because the length of the green signal is variable, based on the vehicle demand only (as the pedestrian push button was not pressed).

We use this type of operation to maximize the efficiency of the intersection. It serves to minimize delay for the relatively heavier volume of traffic on the major road.

It is the City’s practice to always install pedestrian information signs, which describe this operation at these types of intersections.

“So what’s the big deal?” you ask? Just press the button, right? Well, it’s not always that simple. First, pedestrians don’t always arrive at an intersection in time to press the button. If you’re walking up to an intersection and don’t reach the button before the light changes, you’re stuck waiting for the next cycle. Well, most people aren’t willing to wait and will simply walk across with the green light, even though they’re facing the “don’t walk” hand.

This behaviour raises at least two safety problems. First and foremost, the immediate safety of the pedestrian is at stake. Many drivers, seeing the “don’t walk” pedestrian signal, will simply power ahead with a left or right turn, completely ignoring any pedestrians that may be crossing at the time. I’ve seen this happen many times at my local SA2-signalled intersection.

The second, more insidious, effect of these signals is that they train pedestrians to ignore pedestrian signals. Most pedestrians in Toronto know by now that if they’re looking at a “don’t walk” signal but road traffic travelling in the same direction has a green light, it’s okay to walk across and ignore the big red hand. Unfortunately, this isn’t always true: pedestrian walk signals at many three phase intersections are active for only one phase, and crossing at any other time is a genuine hazard. It can be difficult for a pedestrian to tell whether a “don’t walk” signal is “legitimate” or not.

It’s one thing to bellyache about a problem, and quite another to propose reasonable alternatives. So here are two easy solutions:

  1. Allow a pedestrian to light up the walk signal by pressing the button after the traffic light has changed to green. Yes, this will extend the cycle by a few seconds, but it will greatly enhance safety. And it will only slow the cycle if a pedestrian is actually present. I noticed on a trip there last summer that many signals in San Francisco behaved like this.
  2. Failing that, just program the SA2 signals to always flip the pedestrian signal along with the main signal and forget about the few seconds potentially saved by shortening the cycle for vehicles only. The efficiency lost will be more than offset by the elimination of confusion for both motorists and pedestrians.

Above all, Transportation Services must remember than pedestrians are traffic too. Just because we’re walking doesn’t mean that we aren’t in just as big a rush to get from A to B as someone in a car.

A congestion charge in Toronto?

I just finished watching the worst kind of call-in show, CityOnLine on Citytv. Call-in shows in general provide somewhat questionable entertainment, and often present such a skewed perception of reality that they are even more questionable as sources of information. Today’s show about imposing a downtown congestion charge on vehicles like London‘s was no exception.

The impetus for the show seemed to be a story in today’s Star that Councillor Brian Ashton is going to London to get more information about the effects (both good and bad) the charge has had on that city. There was no indication in the story that Toronto would (or could) implement a similar toll any time in the near future, nor how high a potential Toronto toll would be — Ashton is just gathering information on the subject, not drafting a by-law.

Of course, the show’s host, Ann Rohmer, directed the discussion throughout the half-hour as though council was already pressing ahead with this, and that the toll would be $20/day. She and her guest, Faye Lyons of the CAA never really suggested any possibility that a Toronto charge could be lower than that (or higher!) or even work entirely differently from London’s flat rate once-a-day charge. Naturally, our congestion charge would have to be at least as high as London’s if we’re going to be considered a World Class City.

The callers, predictably, were dead-set against the idea. Most (though not all) callers were from outside Toronto and generally echoed two themes: 1) $20/day was way too expensive, and 2) they hated coming into the city because it was so expensive, too difficult to find parking, and too frustrating to get anywhere because traffic was so bad. None of the callers seemed to make the mental connection between their complaints about traffic and the very problem that the city needs to address.

Also predictably, Lyons was against the toll too. Imagine that, the Canadian Automobile Association against something that may affect their free-wheeling ways. Shocking! While I don’t fault Lyons for presenting her organization’s point of view, I do fault Citytv for not having someone with an opposing view on the panel. And that’s the real prolem with call-in shows: too often they have someone advocating one half of a contentious debate with no one there to rebut them. And let’s face it, the call-in demographic isn’t exactly known for its non-knee-jerkability.

It’s precisely this kind of simple-minded, lopsided presentation that poisons debates and stifles political will to do anything. It becomes so fixed in people’s minds that “wacko proposal X” == “end of civilization as we know it” that politicians aren’t even willing to discuss anything that could even be remotely interpreted as addressing the problem in a useful way. Instead, we end up with half-measures and platitudes that end up solving nothing.

I’m willing to bet that tomorrow’s Toronto Sun front page and/or main editorial will rail against this “cash grab” by Toronto’s “car-hating” council, further eroding the debate among people who don’t take the time to think that their actions may have consequences. It’s entirely possible for intelligent people to disagree, and I respect alternative viewpoints on virtually any issue, but I object to debate by shouting and fear-mongering, which is what proponents of business as usual frequently resort to. To be fair, proponents of change also frequently resort to FUD and name-calling, invoking the end of the world and referring to opponents as “dinosaurs” or worse.

Back to the show. One caller from Oshawa said that he was last in the city to see the Lion King (which closed over three years ago) and another $20 on top of his $350 theatre excursion would keep him from visiting the city as often. I’m not sure how much more infrequent his visits could get. Another complained it was already so expensive to drive in from Mississauga, find parking on King Street, take a cab to the Hummingbird Centre, watch a show, cab back to the parking lot, and drive back to Mississauga. Could I suggest to both of these callers that it would be better, for both their wallets and the city, if they parked their cars at a suburban GO lot and took the train into the city?

I can live with the obvious bias toward a particular viewpoint built into today’s show, but it was made almost laughable when Rohmer asked Lyons to expound the intricacies of such topics as tax impacts on businesses, quality of life for condo owners, the London economy, Toronto’s international reputation, and doctors’ incomes. Naturally, as a PR person for an automobile association, she was fully qualified to answer these questions as the expert witness of the half hour.

In discussing the potential impact of a London-like toll, both Rohmer and Lyons either didn’t say or didn’t know that London’s toll is 90% reduced for people who live within the congestion zone. This would have been an important point to discuss during the hand-wringing about the impact of a charge on people who live within the zone. But hey, why place information and reason in the way of the spitting-mad fury of callers? It’s about good TV. Entertainment. And a reasoned debate is not good TV.

Anyway, when they totalled up the calls at the end of the show, about 1300 of 1400 poll respondents said they wouldn’t pay $20/day to drive into downtown. Which is kind of the point behind a congestion charge, isn’t it?

Citytv’s mangling of the debate aside, a congestion charge does present an interesting problem for Toronto. Unlike London, we don’t currently have the transit infrastructure to handle an increased load of commuters. GO and the subway are pretty much at capacity during peak hours and we don’t have enough streetcars and buses to significantly increase capacity there either.

A congestion charge could help fund new transit expenditures, but we’d need to have the increased service in place before we impose a toll so that people will have a real choice about how to get into the city. Unfortunately, I don’t think that our esteemed council would be willing to make a real investment in transit without the revenue to pay for it up front. Toronto council doesn’t seem to subscribe to the belief that you have to spend money to make money. A more appropriate tagline for our council would be, “you have to spend money to spend money, and spending money is not allowed.” In short, there’s probably no political will within Toronto to allow a congestion charge to work properly. Hell, there isn’t even enough political will to paint a few bike lanes on the road.

But what if somehow, the political will emerges? How should the toll be implemented? I think it’s clear that a flat rate of $20/day is way too high for Toronto. World-class aspirations aside, Toronto is not London. It’s also unfair to charge someone who pops downtown for ten minutes to pick up a radio the same amount as a courier who drives around the core all day long. The Sunday Star had a good article about a local company that has developed an alternative to a flat rate system like London’s. It can work more like the hated but well used and very profitable 407 electronic toll highway, with charges based on distance driven and time spent in the congestion zone. It would provide a fairer distribution of the cost than a simple flat rate does.

There’s also the question of what exactly constitutes “downtown” or “the core” of the city, where the charge would apply. At a block away from Broadview & Danforth, I consider myself to live outside the core, in the East End. But virtually everyone I know who lives north of Lawrence or east of Victoria Park says that I live downtown, and I’ve stopped correcting them. People clearly have different ideas of where “downtown” stops in this city. Most people in my neighbourhood would bristle at the suggestions that we live downtown and that we should be within the congestion zone. But Danforth Ave and its commuting alternatives are at least as gridlocked as any streets further downtown and would benefit immensely from better traffic management. I, for one, think that my area should be included in the zone.

So if all the pieces fall into place and Toronto implements a congestion charge, how should it happen? Off the top of my head, I think it should be a multi-phase process over the course of two or three years:

  1. Decide clearly whether you expect this measure to be a revenue-generating or quality-of-life issue. It should be the latter. In fact, the goal should be to collect as little money from as few drivers as possible while tolls direct the majority of people onto transit, foot, or bike.
  2. Spend real money to quickly build up surface transit, GO, and the subway (in that order) to handle increased passenger loads. In particular, the province should start running GO in both directions on all lines all day long. It may be inefficient at first, but it’s really the only way to build sustainable demand on these lines.
  3. Implement and enforce transit priority all day long on all downtown surface routes. If this means delaying left-turning cars on Spadina or hiring more police officers to hand out tickets to drivers flouting the Bay or King transit lanes, so be it.
  4. Implement tolls in the city centre first. Give drivers a choice of buying a transponder to get a more fine-grained charge based on their actual time/distance in the zone or paying a higher daily flat rate whenever they cross into the zone. This would accommodate both daily and infrequent visitors.
  5. Expand the toll zone section by section, with fees set appropriately for each area.
  6. Look into demand pricing — set a higher toll during peak hours and lower it when demand for road space isn’t as high.
  7. Re-evaluate the program and adjust it as necessary.

I think that would give us a good start down the road to a sustainable city. With any luck, increased reliance of more people on the TTC and GO will create the political will to spend more money on those services. And that’s got to be a good thing.