The disconnect between drivers and cyclists

Toronto is in need of a major culture upgrade for the sake of cyclists and commuters

The disconnect between drivers and cyclists

The common portrayal of cyclists in downtown Toronto is that of a careless and reckless lot: dipping in and out of traffic, passing stop lights and stop signs, and wreaking havoc on our roads. Living in the city does not instill a fear of cars, but of bicycles. Even so, to force the brunt of the burden for accidents and fatalities on the road onto cyclists is unfair.

Toronto drags behind other cities in road safety because it lacks a vibrant cyclist culture that can coexist with motor transportation. Recently, Dalia Chako, 58, was fatally struck by a truck driver while making a turn on Bloor and St. George.

According to CBC News, her son, Skylor Brummans, “believes the truck driver involved… just wasn’t looking for cyclists during [the] turn, which led to the collision.” Although cyclists are present in the downtown area, their presence is often not thought of as part of our urban space.

This incident shows the large disconnect between cyclists and drivers in Toronto. This mental block is what deters both sides from taking caution on the roads, and adds to the lack of progress in funding and infrastructure necessary to create a safer space for everyone.

In 2016, John Tory announced a new “comprehensive” safety plan called Vision Zero, which aims to reduce “traffic-related fatalities and serious injuries on the streets of Toronto” from 2017 to 2021. Just over two years since this plan was announced, the administration has failed to make vital improvements to not only the infrastructure of the city, but also relationships on the road.

The failure to make any noticeable improvements on the state of traffic-related fatalities in the city of Toronto has caused an uproar, and despite promises to improve road safety for Toronto cyclists, this year has been one of the deadliest for both cyclists and pedestrians.

Toronto falls behind cities such as New York, which has made drastic investments in infrastructure to reduce the number of collisions and drivers on the road. In the past four years, New York has significantly reduced its number of pedestrian deaths. An investigation conducted by the Toronto Star revealed that the measures outlined in Toronto’s unrealized plans for road safety parallel the successful actions taken by New York to safeguard its cyclists: “redesigned roads and narrowed lanes to slow down traffic; increased use of bicycle lanes; reduced speed limits and increased pedestrian crossings and markings.”

How has New York, a city much larger, more populous, and more chaotic than Toronto, surpassed us in safety and reconstruction?

Toronto needs to follow New York’s example with a major upgrade to meet the demands of its growth. Physical and mental coexistence between pedestrians, cyclists, and cars on our roads is vital to the transformation of the Toronto city space. We therefore need to change our mental attitude and demand space for a safe and effective cycling culture, especially given its benefits.

As an aerobic activity, cycling is a full-body workout that benefits those who spend much of their working and leisure time sedentary. By pushing cycling as a vital activity integral to the urban lifestyle, people are encouraged to be more active rather than exercising as an afterthought or hobby. Exercise is also linked to improvements in mood through the release of endorphins, providing some relief from the mental health crisis present in society.

While some may argue that cycling gear and upkeep is costly, Toronto’s ubiquitous bike sharing stations help alleviate that cost. Otherwise, cycling also cuts the financial and environmental costs of gas. which the city can further reduce by making public transportation more accessible and cheaper.

It is true that many cyclists are not cautious on the road, and reminding drivers of a presence that is given little voice or attention on the streets of Toronto is hard. The solution requires an investment in infrastructure and funding that asserts cyclists’ presence and equal rights to the road. We need better infrastructure, not just for the sake of cyclists and pedestrians, but for all commuters.

Rehana Mushtaq is a third-year English and Religion student at University College.

City Council votes in favour of keeping Bloor Bike lanes

Plans for bike lane expansion in the works

City Council votes in favour of keeping Bloor Bike lanes

On November 7, the Toronto City Council voted to maintain the bike lanes on Bloor Street, with 36 in favour and six against. This follows a year long Bloor Street Bike Lane project to make the lanes permanent.

Last month, the city staff released a report that the bike lanes had reached their goal of improving the safety of cyclists, increasing the amount of people who cycle, and reduced the inconvenience of cyclists to other road users. There was no major increase in travel time for motor vehicles along the streets where the bike lanes were implemented.

The bike lanes themselves stretch 2.4 kilometres along Bloor, from Shaw Street to Avenue Road. Toronto Transportation Services General Manager Barbara Grey said the pilot came out of a 10 year cycling plan.

“We worked very closely with the BIA’s, the business community, the adjacent communities through a series of public consultations, to come up with the design that we ultimately implemented through the term of the one year pilot,” said Grey.

In the first year of the project, there was a 56 per cent increase of cyclists on Bloor Street, 25 per cent of which were new cyclists. Bloor Street now has the second-highest volume of cyclists in the city as a result of the pilot project.

The project also saw a 71 per cent decrease in motorized vehicle conflicts, a 61  per cent decrease in conflicts between cyclists and motorized vehicles, and a 55 per cent decrease in conflicts between pedestrians and motorized vehicles.

There was, however, a 61 per cent increase in cyclist and pedestrian conflicts. Overall, the project increased the overall safety of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians with a 44 per cent decrease in total road conflicts.

During the City Council meeting, there was also discussion of an expansion plan in the works, in 2019 or beyond. This would expand the bike lanes westbound, following the pilot project. There is also an expansion project underway to move the bike lanes eastward.

“One of the things we’re most excited about with Bloor Street is that when you have people who can safely choose to cycle then they’re not driving in [congested traffic],” said Grey.

Bloor bike lanes now open

Follow-up evaluation to be held in 2017

Bloor bike lanes now open

Bloor Street West now boasts demarcated bike lanes from Shaw Street to Avenue Road, spanning approximately 2.4 kilometres.

The newly-installed lanes are part of a pilot project that was approved by City Council in May. The $500,000 plan was given the go-ahead with a majority vote of 38–3.

Construction on the lanes began in late July; signage and barrier installation is almost complete. The marked lanes have been painted and are currently in use.

The targeted strip of road between Shaw Street and Avenue Road sees an average of 3,350 cyclists a day. In regards to UTSG accessibility, the bike lanes run past Bedford Road, Devonshire Place, St. George Street, Huron Street, and Spadina Avenue.

The lanes are temporary until a follow-up evaluation takes place in late 2017. According to the City of Toronto, Transportation Services will conduct “extensive monitoring and evaluation, as well as public feedback collection” over the next year, before making a final decision.

Biking in a winter wonderland

Eugene Chao, president of UTSG bike repair shop, offers advice for biking in the cold

Biking in a winter wonderland

Winter is here, and it’s not leaving anytime soon. According to Bikechain’s president, Eugene Chao, that doesn’t mean you should stop riding your bike. If you haven’t tried winter cycling before but are looking to save money on TTC expenses, The Varsity’s got you covered. We checked in with the president of U of T’s not-for-profit bicycle repair shop to get tips on braving the cold on two wheels. 

The Varsity: Why cycling?

Eugene Chao: “Even with the onset of winter, cycling remain[s] a superior mode of transportation in terms of speed and convenience. Traffic is already terrible in the city, and only gets rapidly worse with the appearance of snow, so I find that I continue to make better time on my commute than in a car. As for transit in the city, which, on the best of sunny summer days, is prone to overcrowding and failures, the appearance of snow adds so many uncertain factors that you’re as likely to get to your destination as to be stuck in a tunnel for half an hour with no explanation or apology. And even when it does work properly, do you really want to bookend your day by paying to shuffle onto a slushy, overcrowded bus where most of the passengers look like extras out of a Dayquil commercial?”

TV: What gear should you use?

EC: “Get some good lights. The days are so short in the winter that I am often racing the sun to get home in the evening. I would also like to take a moment to dispel the popular, but mistaken, notion that mountain bike tires are ideal for winter cycling. I think the idea stems from the associations of ruggedness and tough terrain conjured up by the phrase ‘mountain bike’, but the truth is that that tread design is intended to accommodate travel over loose rocks, dirt, and gravel. When used on snow instead, the snow tends to pack into the grooves. As the tires roll and the friction causes the snow to melt slightly, you get an effect similar to that of ice skates, and suddenly you are careening wildly along Bloor on your well-intentioned ice disks. You’re much better off with a wider tire with less pronounced tread intended for road use. Finally, for the bicycle itself, I would recommend ensuring you have access to a lower gear ratio on your bike. This will allow you to push each pedal stroke with less effort. Because you’ll then be exerting less force per stroke, it allows you to stay balanced and centered on your bicycle, making smaller, more easily controlled movements.”

TV: What’s the greatest struggle of winter biking?

EC: “The greatest challenge to cycling in the winter is probably the packed down icy-snow mixture that cars leave in their wake. The heavier the vehicle, the worse the packed snow. Short of black ice, which is a challenge to everyone, I find it to be the winter terrain most challenging and unpredictable to cycle on. Unpacked snow, unless it is very deep, is actually quite easy to move through. That, and the visions of what my commute might be like if I had gone to school in California.”

TV: Any final advice?

EC: “Ride within your ability, and take it slow. There’s a lot of bravado and machismo associated with the perceived “toughness” of a winter cyclist, and a lot of misplaced zealotry in the idea that to be a real cyclist you have to ride all through the year in all weather. I didn’t start winter cycling till I had built up the comfort and confidence in my own abilities, and you shouldn’t either; ride when and where you feel up to it.”

Correction (Wednesday, January 27, 2016): An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Eugene Chao is the owner of Bikechain.