Thursday, October 10, 2013

A tour of cycling infrastructure in Toronto

I've been in Toronto to see family and run in the Canadian orienteering championships in Hamilton this week.  Weather has been very nice, and so I decided to dig out my father in-law's bike which was abandoned in his basement and go for a ride (unfortunately, I didn't take my camera, so all of these pictures are shamelessly stolen from the internet).

I had a copy of the new Toronto cycling map and decided to take a route so I could check out the new "Cycle Track" on Sherbourne Street. I'll describe it a bit later on, but for those not familiar with it, a cycle track is a type of "bike lane"  that is somehow physically separated from the roadway.   It might be the premier type of bike infrastructure because it is fast and direct like a bike lane, but provides cyclists extra security and comfort by separating the bike lane from the car lane.  I noticed that when I was in Sweden this summer that this is the most common type of bike infrastructure there, even in the far north winter cities we visited.

Raised cycle track on Sherbourne Street, Toronto

Anyway, back to my route.  The first thing the struck me is the random, disconnected nature of the bike infrastructure - take a look at this map, do you see any logical routes or connectivity? 

Section of Toronto Cycling Map - random bits of bike infrastructure, not connected nor logical routes.  Blue lines are simply "recommended" streets to use and don't represent bike lanes or other infra.

Diminutive bike route signs
I started by following some of the blue routes, which are "shared roadways" that are supposed to be signed, on-street routes.  Well, there is signage, but it is tiny, and has route numbers on them that don't mean much to me.  Where does "18" lead me to?   Then the route was terrible, every intersection had stop signs, so no flow, stopping always - why could they have not just turned the signs?  And it was on rough, neglected streets!  I got lost a couple of times and had to check my map.  A one spot I even ended up on Bayview Extension (not a bike friendly place), looking up at a pedestrian overpass with on clue how to get up there.  A cyclists yelled down to me directions on how to get off the expressway and find the bridge!

Now, at this point I was pretty disappointed with how terrible cycling in Toronto is.  But then, I thought back to when I lived here in 2001, and back then there was NO bike maps, NO bike infrastructure, so I guess they actually have come a long way.  But, definitely the Car rules in Toronto.

Finally I made it to the Sherborne cycle track.  It runs north-south pretty much the length of downtown - so you can traverse downtown on separated bike route, which is quite nice (I've circled in in red on the map):

Sherbourne Street cycle track running the length of downtown north-south.

 It is pretty nice - fast and comfortable.   I found a little YouTube video of the track; it is of the upper part of the track which has a divider between the roadway and the cycle lane:

The upper section of the cycle track uses a low barrier to separate the roadway from the bike lane.

Cycle track with barrier type separation.

I don't know how well this would work in a winter city from a plowing perspective as it would have to be plowed separately, which is in fact what they do:
Plowing of Toronto cycle track

Raised cycle track with low roll-over curb.
Lower down on Sherbourne, the cycle track changes to a raised cycle track that is separated from the roadway with a low roll-over curb (shown below and as first picture above).  This type of track I think would work very well in Whitehorse because it could be plowed from the roadway with a wing-plow on the grader, but would keep all the road debris and snow-berm from the roadway out of the cycle lane.  If you look at the newly build Industrial Road, it has this type of low roll-over curb, so I know we can build them in Whitehorse!

Another thing I noticed was the abundant use of markings (paint/thermoplastic, etc), which  I'm always suspect of because in Whitehorse it always gets worn off in the winter.  But, then I remember that in low-traffic streets, the paint on our streets does last a long time.  I think we just lose the paint where there is a lot of motor vehicle traffic that tears the paint off when the streets are sanded.  So now that I think about it, I think the paint on a cycle track in Whitehorse would last pretty well.

Another neat thing was how the bus stops are integrated with the cycle track.  The track rises up so there is a good curb at the bus stop (there is also a good view of it at 0:35 in the video above):

After my fun ride down the cycle track, I then proceeded to get lost in the mayhem of downtown Toronto.  I think the car congestion in Toronto is worse than I ever remember it.  All the more reason this city needs to spend on getting people out of their cars.  

The rest of my ride was back to ratty old bike multi-use bike trails/paths up the Don Valley.  The trails are badly neglected, lots of pot holes, twisty and convoluted routes that go through parking lots, use road ways, etc.

I did get to ride along a new cycle path (two way) along Queen Quay which looks like is just getting finished and is obviously incomplete with a few gaps - it is a two-way shared pathway with laneway markings.  I didn't find any good pictures, but here is one earlier on in its construction:
This trail/bikeway was nice, but the curbs at each driveway were very rough, so it made riding it a bit unpleasant.  Too bad, it would have been an easy thing to build t the curb cuts smooth so you could have a better ride. 

Anyway, the weather was amazingly nice for first week of October and so it was great to get out for a sunny, warm bike ride.