Archive for the ‘A Question of Urban Design’ Category

Mayor Ford’s alternative to Transit City: The “Mushroom Plan” (Keep them in the dark and feed them manure).

Saturday, December 4th, 2010

To the Readers of the Allderblob: we recently came across the following letter, sealed in a concrete cylinder and buried under a pile of horse manure behind the Toronto Police equestrian facility on Strachan Ave. Marked: “Danger: Radioactive,” it was with some trepidation that we seized it in our teeth and wrenched it open. Imagine our delight at finding an epistle contained within! And since it’s been such a long time since you’ve had a chance to read such deathless prose, we’ve decided to share it with our readers.

Dear Toronto Councillors and Toronto MPPs:

As you ponder the new mayor’s brazen attempt to derail the hard work of the past administration to bring rapid transit within reach of as large a number of people in Toronto as possible, remind yourself of what it’s like to squash into a crowded subway and travel, often for long spells of time, through the dark underground passages beneath our city. Like a rat or a mole, you have no idea where you are. Like a worm, you shove your way against your surroundings to emerge into the light. Which way do you go?

More to the point, as councillors and elected representatives, which way will you take this city?

Are you lost and disoriented, blinking in the light, trying to find your bearings? Or are you standing on solid ground, aware of what’s around you because you’ve seen it coming and going through the wide windows on either side of you?

I like the fact that when I get on or off the streetcar, this busy city pauses, if only for a moment, while I walk to the curb. I see that moment as a small “Thank-you” from the individuals in their cars, a “Thank-you” offered in recognition of my choice to share my ride with a million others that day. I see their moment’s pause as an acknowledgment of both my humanness, and my superiority over their dead and death-dealing motor.

The alternative of streetcars is not a paltry compromise to the dark and expensive subway. Streetcars offer the commuter the chance to experience the daylight, to see the city she or he lives in, to climb on or off at frequent intervals, to make decisions about where and when to embark like a human being, not like some darkness-loving rodent. Streetcars encourage even-spaced development, not the “point-oriented” development that comes from the widely-spread subway stops. Subways are agreeable to many motorists, it’s true: they get the “proletarian masses” off the streets and into holes in the ground, out of the way of the car. It’s no surprise that those who support subways are only occasionally the same people who must take them for lack of other choices. It’s no surprise that grand era of the subway coincided with the “glory days” of car culture. But those days are behind us now, and forever.

I live by the axiom of the former chief planner of Toronto, Paul Bedford: “It should be possible to live one’s entire life in Toronto without ever having to own a car.” I also have the good fortune to live within a few minutes’ walk of two Toronto streetcar lines. Along either line I have access to important amenities in the city of Toronto: Ryerson University and the University of Toronto fall along one line; Toronto City Hall and the Eaton Centre along the other. I can take one streetcar from Main Station in the east end all the way to High Park in the west. I can take the other from the Beaches to a stroll along the Humber river. But many folks in our city are not so lucky. For them, hours on a crowded bus, a crowded highway, or a crowded subway is a daily fact of life. The Transit City plan of our city’s previous administration was an attempt to right this wrong, and bring fast, accessible streetcars, whether on their own right-of-ways or not, within reach of the city’s priority neighbourhoods.

We need more streetcars, whether with or without their own right-of-ways. Please be sure to vote against the new mayor’s subway plan, and in favour of the Transit City plan as it was originally created.

Thank You

Toronto covers up after cyclist death on “Blood” Street

Friday, September 4th, 2009

There’s a mystery wrapped up in these pictures:

Cadmus photos

Chapter 1: An innocent fireplug on Bloor Street in Toronto gets a paint job. “Nothing to see here, sir. Move along.”

Darcy Allan Sheppard, RIP

Darcy Allan Sheppard, RIP

Chapter 2: A roadside memorial for a slain cyclist, Darcy Allan Sheppard. Photographed during the aftermath of a cyclist’s memorial this past Wednesday that saw a thousand observers take over the intersection of Bloor and University at the centre of Toronto, where Sheppard was killed in traffic on Monday night.

Fresh paint over fresh blood on Bloor Street

Fresh paint over fresh blood on Bloor Street

Chapter 3: Sheppard was killed after being scraped from the side of the speeding car he’d been holding on to, reportedly battered against a tree, a fireplug and a mailbox, and then run over by the back wheels of the car itself. Former Attorney General Michael Bryant was the driver. Navigator was the PR company that Bryant contacted from jail in the aftermath of being arrested and charged. Invest Toronto was the City of Toronto agency Bryant was hired to run (at $300k per year) by his fellow Harvard alumnus Mayor David Miller after quitting public office. The city sure acted fast to have the fireplug repainted. Wonder who ordered it?

More than words spilt on Bloor St

Wednesday, September 2nd, 2009

On Monday night we were at a party celebrating the launch of issue number three of Dandyhorse magazine. As our loyal readers will know, we share in the glory of our former Urban Design Expert (sorry about calling you a cascade of detritus in a previous post, Jake. You know we don’t mean it and we wish you every success), who has a short piece (cribbed from these pages) in the issue on the subject of bikelanes along Bloor Danforth. In a nutshell Allderdice claims bikelanes are in order on the street, but that whatever happens it’s imperative the city not destroy the part of the highway that already works well for all road users: the stretch of Danforth from Pape Ave to Broadview. In fact he advocates (and we at the ALLDERBLOB back him on this) an extension of the road-striping east of Pape all the way to Victoria Park Ave, a simple move that would turn all the Danforth into a safe and pleasant “mall” for all: cyclists, drivers and shoppers on foot.

Huzzah. Hooray for Jake. Hooray for the ALLDERBLOB. Hooray for Dandyhorse. Great party, Tammy and Arlene.

Meanwhile that same night, another cyclist was murdered in Toronto. On Bloor Street.

So much for words. Fuck words.

At around 9:45 pm, on Monday August 31, Darcy Allan Sheppard, age 33, father of four, a bike messenger, was killed in a most brutal way in front of many witnesses. The murder has claimed the attention of the nation. You can read stories about it in the Toronto Globe and Mail and Car Advertiser, in the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser, in the National Post and Car Advertiser, as well as in the New York Times and Car Advertiser, as well as most other papers in Canada. It’s front page stuff around the world in fact: try The Times and Car Advertiser of India, for example.

What makes the story shocking is the cold-blooded ruthlessness of the murder, as well as the fact that now under arrest and charged with “criminal negligence causing death and dangerous operation of a motor vehicle causing death” is Michael Bryant, the Harvard-educated former Attorney General of Ontario, former Member of Provincial Parliament, father of two and a stalwart foe of “stunt driving.” He is quoted in the New York Times article saying:

Among his targets were street-racing motorists. In 2007 he gave the police the power to seize and destroy cars modified for racing even if no charges were lodged against their owners.

After describing such cars as being as dangerous as explosives, he said, “We will crush your car, we will crush the parts.”

Later that year the province passed a bill to deem any vehicle traveling more than 50 kilometers an hour, or 31 miles an hour, faster than the speed limit to be racing. The legislation, under which more than 10,000 charges have been brought, allows the police to immediately seize vehicles and suspend licenses.

Note that the “explosive” in this case [our emphasis] was not a souped up street racing machine, but a normal old luxury vehicle, a Saab convertable.

A couple weeks ago we published an ARC press release on the murder of cyclist Tevane Sean Lennon, which said, in part:

We speak of “gunning the engine,” and the cowardice implicit in the gunning down of this man is a demonstration of a power relationship, just as much as if he had been driven into and run over.

How much more clear can this power relationship be than when the former attorney general of Ontario, in his Saab convertable, drives over an off-duty bike messenger?

Okay, it’s a sad day for Bryant too. It’s likely a career-killer. Regardless of the results of the impending trial and regardless of the valient efforts already underway to smear the dead cyclist (read here how Sheppard had outstanding warrants from Alberta for writing cheques to himself, and watch this to learn that according to one witness, Sheppard escalated the violence), Bryant will forever have this death on his hands, his own personal Chappaquiddick.

He’s trying. He’ll have the best legal council money can buy, and it does not take a cynic to imagine a future where he walks free, acquitted of all charges. If convicted, Bryant could receive a sentence of about two years. In the meantime he’s issued a self-serving statement, in a few terse words, expressing “sincere condolences” for the family of his victim.

There’s only one way this most powerful individual will ever be able truly redeem himself–that is if he abandons his car-worship and joins with ARC and others in the call for better bicycle infrastructure across all of Toronto. He could start by pushing his fellow Harvard crony at City Hall, Mayor David Miller, to demand a bikelane be built across the spine of Toronto, along the very street where Darcy Allan Sheppard was killed: Bloor-Danforth.

We will wait to hear if Michael Bryant ever utters the words “Take the Tooker” to judge the “sincerity” of his “condolences” to Darcy Allan Sheppard’s family.

UPDATE: ARC calls for police to be removed from the Bryant case: See TorontoCranks for more.

UPDATE 2: Dave Meslin, founder of Toronto Cyclist Union, agrees with Toronto Police Sheppard was not a cyclist but a pedestrian. See Mez dispenser for more.

Jack Lakey, smasher of dreams, takes on Toronto’s Dundas St. E. bikelanes

Sunday, November 25th, 2007

Jack Lakey, typist at the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser, has a reputation for “getting things fixed.”

We wish to clarify his activities.

What Lakey does is work toward the elimination of uneven or unusual situations in cities.

In Japan, they say, “the nail that sticks out gets pounded flat.”

Jack Lakey would like Japan.

It’s the things that “stick out,” the things that don’t fit the norm, the things that make one puzzled or put a smile on one’s face, that more often than not are attacked by Lakey. He takes complaints from the small-minded bureaucratic-types of the city, the ones who’ve never wondered or been charmed by anything in their lives, the ones who hate the thought of danger or of mischief, the ones who drive Volvos because it’s safer (at least for them), and he “fixes” them. He hammers them flat. The places Lakey touches turn dull, unnoticeable, and regular. Jack Lakey is the Ex-Lax(tm) of the newspaper world.

The things that Lakey’s lackeys notice tend to be the things of dreams: they are triggers for the unconscious mind: teasing us with potential, with maybe, with mysterious possibility and unknowable beauty.

For Lakey and his ilk, they are dreck.

What Lakey boasts about makes us cringe. He destroys dreams. He’s no fixer. He’s a wrecker.

What are some of the things Lakey has gotten “fixed?” Take a look at the list (link above, at Lakey’s name) and think about what he would eliminate: “There’s something in the air outside Gino’s Pizza Bar and Grill to take your breath away, and it has nothing to do with the fiery chicken wings.” Or: “Walking through a long tunnel at night is scary enough, without having to do it in virtual darkness.” Or: “Here’s an unlikely recipe for danger and neighbourhood discord: People playing baseball in a city park.

We’ll tell you about two of them that hit us personally.

Case one:

Once upon a time, there was a damaged safe, of the type a jewelry store might have on the premises to keep valuables overnight. It was large and heavy–perhaps two feet high, two feet wide and two feet deep. The damage done to it was specifically that the door had been removed. Perhaps it had been blown off in a robbery? Perhaps it had been removed by the new owner of a building who had discovered it and hoped to find valuables within, but lacked the secret of its lock? In any case, the door was gone and the safe, made of solid steel and weighing many hundreds of pounds, had been abandoned on the sidewalk at the corner of Pape and Danforth avenues. It sat there for years, sometimes with some scraps of litter inside, unmoving and unknowable. Out of the way, at the edge of the city’s conciousness: a wonderful, harmless mystery. Except someone wrote to Lakey about it, and Lakey wrote about it in the paper, and a week later it was gone forever, probably sold for scrap to be turned into a car part made in China.

Case 2:

Once upon a time, there was a fence beside a railway track at the edge of a laneway connecting the back of Gerrard Square shopping mall and the ugliest street in Toronto, Jones Avenue. The fence was of wood, and several staves had been knocked out allowing a view through into the track: its wild scruffyness, its burdock and thistle, its creosote-besotted gravel. The hole in the fence also allowed passage for teenagers to make a shortcut from the mall to the highschool over at Coxwell and back, and there was always something junked there–a piece of someone’s stereo equipment, a bag of old clothes, a pair of underwear. The hole was one of many places that provide access to the forbidden tracks. It’s impossible to keep people off train tracks, especially when they make for great shortcuts, or places to hide, or places to hang out. This particular fence, just six feet wide, would be repaired occasionally with a new fence stave, but it would never stay repaired for long. Until someone complained to Jack Lakey about it. Lakey wrote about it in his column, and a week later we saw a truck backed up to the piece of fence, engine running, arc-welder in place. The wood fence was replaced with a steel one. Perhaps it was made from the re-smelting of the Pape Ave. safe. It’s been there ever since–no more hole, no more illicit access to forbidden territory.

Lakey is a danger to dreamers everywhere.

So it was with some consternation that we heard he had turned his hooded eyes to the Dundas Street bridge: “For people who rely on Dundas St. E. to get into and out of the downtown core, the interminable work on the bridge cannot end soon enough.

What’s been going on at the Dundas bridge? In short, the entire Dundas streetcar line has been replaced over the past year or so. Much of the street, from east to west across Toronto, has been shut down sporadically. The bridge over the Don, which we hopefully wrote about in a lob called “DeBaeremaeker takes action: ALLDERBLOB takes credit”, was carved open and all its steel parts replaced. For months the only access over the Don at Dundas has been on the sidewalk, and a prominent sign at each side begs: “Cyclists, dismount” (as if). From the sidewalk it’s been interesting to see the crumbled bits of plate steel that once supported the loads of streetcar, car and truck traffic. Some of the infrastructure looks like it’s well past time it was replaced.

Some small-minded person wrote Lakey and complained about the time it’s taken to repair the bridge. Lakey looked into the matter and wrote about it in his column. And now, only a month later, the bridge is ready to re-open.

Was it Lakey’s attention that sped the plow on Dundas? We doubt it. But it was his words about the Dundas Bikelanes, a route that is dear to our hearts and to that of anyone who lives along the former speedway, that raised our dander. He wrote: “Dundas is a key route for east-end drivers and has become more congested during peak traffic periods since one lane in each direction was closed a few years ago to accommodate a bicycle lane and on-street parking.”

Lakey’s ignorance is outstanding. Dundas more congested? This simply is not borne out by the facts. All the bikelanes did to car traffic was to streamline it and prevent the dangerous weaving that characterized drivers there before the lanes were striped. There’s been no significant reduction in the carrying capacity of the road. The time required to traverse Dundas at rush hour was increased in one direction, but lowered in the other, effectively eliminating any real effect. In the meantime, Lakey in his bureaucratic way refers to the street as a key route for “drivers.”

The fact is, Dundas is a key route for cyclists, just as much, if not more so than for drivers. Dundas is a key route for Streetcars, which have literally only three places to cross the Don River. Dundas is a key route for pedestrians, for whom the sidewalk remaining open during the reconstruction has been a vital lifeline: children cross the bridge to get to school; old folks use it for shopping. It’s busy 24 hours a day. Lakey’s sucking on the exhaust pipe of his car has limited his ability to see these road users, which is typical of his view of the city.

And now the bridge is to be re-opened.

What Lakey had no clue about when he wrote his column was the plans the city’s transportation dept. had for the repaired bridge. Now the asphalt is down and the fence is to come down in a day or two, we can see the what of it: the missing link, between Broadview and River, in the bikelane that reaches from the Beaches in the East to the Eaton Centre at Yonge street, has been addressed.

“Sharrows” have been painted on Dundas.

Sharrows on Dundas East (not exactly as illustrated) click for larger image

If Lakey really wanted to fix something on Dundas, he would have fixed it so half-way measures would not have been all we got on Dundas. He would have fixed it so the stretch of road, which has been closed to cars since the spring, would remain closed to cars: streetcars would be welcomed back, bikes welcomed back, but cars left to deal with things just as they have done for months now. He would have fixed it so that the city’s transportation engineers would have made accurate traffic counts and we would know the truth: you can shut down a major roadway to cars and yet survive; and we would have actual numbers to tell us exactly how it happens. The pseudo-science of traffic engineering would have come a step closer to useful, real science.

But Lakey’s been too busy ripping up people’s dreams to do anything really useful like that.

Let’s call him what he is: not a fixer, but a smasher.

traffic psychology: pseudoscience or mere quackery?

Saturday, October 6th, 2007

Naked Streets are in the news, and ALLDERBLOB readers demand satisfaction. They demand comment: what is it, to be a “Naked Street?”

Evidence for the effect of the Naked Streets comes to us from the mouth of Dutch traffic engineer [traffic engineer? pseudoscience or mere quackery?–ed.] Hans Monderman, whom we met the other day at Toronto’s Walk 21 conference. We sent our ill-reputed correspondent, Jacob Allderdice, who had official capacity as presentor of a “Walkshop” called “Life at the speed of a Bicycle,” in which he took conference delegates to experience Toronto’s mysterious Danforth Peninsula. We have examined Allderdice’s theories on the Danforth elsewhere, and will return to his claims at a later point [no doubt; now, let’s get to the naked part already! –ed.].

Naked Streets are the talk of the town these days. In fact, we described the German town of Bohmte in a previous entry, and noted the existence of a couple “naked” intersections we know of here in Toronto. But coupled with the delight Toronto feels when the eyes of the world turn to it (“Toronto: The Bilbao of Canada,” as the PR flacks would have it) (rejected slogan: “You like me, you really like me!” was felt to be too obscure), the presence of Hans Monderman in Toronto these past few days has brought the notion of naked streets to front pages of the local papers.

Monderman was quoted today in “A radical road map: no signs, no lights, no rules,” a lengthy feature article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail and Car Advertiser.

Drachten, Netherlands, after getting naked with Hans Monderman
Drachten, Netherland, population 55,000: Stripped naked by Hans Monderman click image for higher resolution

Naked streets, a.k.a. “shared space,” are streets stripped of legalistic information like speed limits, stop signs and stoplights, and even delineation between sidewalk and roadway.
drachten_before_small.jpg
Same intersection before stripping click image for higher resolution

They leave cars, bikes and pedestrians to stew in ethical and moral choice at every turn of the wheel, and every footfall. The intent is that each street, each intersection, each vista, present to the participant a question, not an answer. The effect is a substantial reduction: in speed of traffic; number of collisions; severity of injuries from collisions; and, most surprisingly, a reduction in overall time spent in transit from A to B.

From the Globe story:

It used to take cars roughly half an hour to travel across the city. Now, although traffic moves more slowly, the trip takes about 10 minutes. This means cars don’t idle in traffic jams as often – steady engines are quieter and use less gas.

Yes, under conditions of Naked Streets, it appears the time spent crossing town is lowered, even while the average speed of a typical motor vehicle is also lowered. In other words, flow is improved; stoppages eliminated. Cars spend less time idling, as well as less time speeding.

But what got us in the story was not the concept of Naked Streets. We can deal with that. What got us was this paragraph:

Leon James, a University of Hawaii researcher and one of the world’s most prominent traffic psychologists, doubts that Mr. Monderman’s designs would work on most North American roads.

Traffic Psychology? We don’t need no stinkin’ traffic psychologists.

Here’s all you need to know about traffic psychology (see also the ALLDERBLOB of August 24, 2005): “Motorists are egotistical. Hence, the ego manifestation boxes (“cars”) in which they propel themselves about the planetary landscape. A car is always physically larger than the motorist’s own (human) body, as it is the physical manifestation of the ego that has inflated beyond the physical space the body occupies. Motorists will not always be aware of their ego problem, subconsciously inventing the “need” for a car, such as the placement of their habitat (“home”) far away from the place where they must forage (“work”).”

Also: “Motorists are antisocial” and “Motorists are subconsciously homicidal.” See the link above for the substantiation to these claims.

But what about pedestrians and bikes? Aren’t they “traffic” too? Yes, and we’ve got them pegged:

The pedestrian leads generally a more positive existence than that of the motorist. The pedestrian is, after all, out in society interacting with other human beings, without the distancing effect of metal armour. But pedestrians are seriously psychologically dysfunctional, and these dysfunctions stem from their self-loathing.

and;

Unlike the motorist, however, the pedestrian is not homicidal. Rather, the pedestrian prefers to enact beatings and maimings, and does not require the need for the certainty of killing power (unless, of course, the pedestrian goes on to become a motorist). The archetype of the pedestrian is the street thug. Pedestrians, if they are not already in a street gang, are sad, frustrated people itching to join one.

As for cyclists, here we have the pinnacle of human perfection: “cyclists represent the “norm” in terms of healthy human psychology, and they exist in a dysfunctional society, sandwiched in between two frighteningly dysfunctional groups, motorists and pedestrians.

Traffic lights? We don’t need no stinking traffic lights!

Tuesday, September 11th, 2007

It’s come to our attention that some cyclists and pedestrians regularly ignore traffic signals. In this, they are merely emulating their larger and more belligerent cousins, the cars and trucks that clog the nation’s intersections. Some cities have gone so far as to paint stripey patterns across the street intersections of their downtowns, and posted signs saying “only you can be the key to gridlock” and the like.

But there are other ways of intersecting. Our colleagues in the international bicycle conspiracy have put up the occasional example, in the form of video evidence, of how a street can work that has no signals: no signs, no warnings, no posts: “Well, we drew some lines because pedestrians complained so much” is the only exception at one location. Even here in Toronto, we know of intersections with no stop signs or other signals. Take the intersection of Queen Victoria and Condor Ave, just south of the infamous Phinn Parkette. What happens there? Well to our knowledge, no one has ever been hit or hurt by a car yet.

Today we heard tell of a whole town, a German hamlet of over 13,000 cars, that has eliminated all traffic signs and signals. From the story:

From September 12, all traffic controls will disappear from the center of the western town of Bohmte to try to reduce accidents and make life easier for pedestrians.

In an area used by 13,500 cars every day, drivers and pedestrians will enjoy equal right of way, Klaus Goedejohann, the town’s mayor, told Reuters.

“Traffic will no longer be dominant,” he said.

Good luck, Bohmte!

DeBaeremaeker takes action: ALLDERBLOB takes credit

Saturday, September 8th, 2007

It’s come to our attention (thanks, CrazyBikerChick!) that thanks to persistent lobbying by the esteemed councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, Ward 38, one of the long-held dreams for east end Toronto cyclists is to come true: the renovated Dundas Street bridge is to include bicycle lanes from Broadview to River (westbound only), completing a critical missing link. This stretch of Dundas was particularly dangerous, with cars rushing to turn onto the Don Valley Parkway northbound and cutting you off from behind and from the front. Together with the bikelane on River and Shuter streets, it will be possible to travel from Kingston Road in the Beaches all the way to Yonge Street and the Eaton Centre without leaving a bikelane.

[the fact that it’s westbound only doesn’t bother you? –ed.]

Thanks, Glenn, and thanks, Paula–and thanks too, to Martin Koob of BikeToronto for some serious work at exposing what would have been a sad oversight in the new bridge construction.

Only a few dozen more critical connections to be made, and Toronto will start to have some semblance of logic in its bicycle network.

Read on for the complete text of the article as it appeared in the Riverdale/Beaches Mirror and Car Advertiser:

City to complete missing link for cyclists
Single bike lane planned for Dundas Street bridge

BY DAVID NICKLE
September 6, 2007 10:58 AM

For years it’s been a missing link for bicycle commuters using the bike lanes on Dundas and Shuter Streets.

All that will change this fall when the city opens up a westbound dedicated bike lane on the Dundas Street bridge crossing the Don Valley Parkway.

The bridge has been closed all summer for a $8-million reconstruction, with just one sidewalk open for pedestrians. According to works and public infrastructure committee chair Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre), the city had originally intended to simply replace concrete and generally fix up the bridge.

But De Baeremaeker, who is also an avid cyclist who uses the bridge himself to get from his home in Scarborough to city hall, put pressure on staff to find some ways to enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety in the finished product.

“The plan is in a draft form, but now the westbound lanes will have a bike lane across the bridge, and not only across the bridge, but from Broadview Avenue to River Street, which is really the missing link in the east-end bicycle network,” he said.

Currently, there are dedicated bicycle lanes on Dundas Street from Kingston Road to Broadview Avenue. Bike lanes don’t pick up again until River Street on the west side of the Don Valley Parkway, and then continue across to Yonge Street along Shuter Street, a block south of Dundas.

The lanes weren’t in place over the bridge because of the streetcar tracks, which cross the bridge and go north on Broadview. But the re-configured bridge will allow just a single bike lane going westbound.

Dundas eastbound won’t be able to accommodate the bike lane, because the streetcars, combined with the left turn onto the Don Valley Parkway on-ramp, would create too much traffic congestion without a right passing lane, De Baeremaeker said.

However, De Baeremaeker has a solution. He’s asking staff to look at building a separate bridge across the parkway, just south of the existing bridge, for cyclists and pedestrians.

“The logical place to build that bridge would be on the south side, completely separate from the existing bridge,” he said. “The cost of fixing the bridge is $8 million – it might be another $2 to $3 million to build the bridge.”

The invisible cars of the Danforth

Tuesday, July 10th, 2007

Speak of the “Green Utopia” that might be Toronto, and car-free living comes to mind: Ward’s Island, the city’s ravines, the beaches. Danforth Avenue.

Danforth Avenue? “Highway 5?” A car-free zone?

Yes, for the educated pedestrian—a woman or man who’s used to the patterns and expected movements of car traffic in the city—the busiest stretch of Danforth Avenue might as well be void of cars entirely. Here, where traffic creeps and crawls, confined to its one lane in each direction, with a wide painted median strip at the centre and a lane of parked cars along each curb, the cars are rendered by circumstance invisible.

In fact, it’s cyclists the pedestrian must really take care over, for here, where the Danforth has been “thickened,” so it froths with activity night and day, bikes have been left with a virtual expressway: the piece of the parking lane between moving cars and parked cars is almost two meters wide, wider than a regulation bikelane, providing more than adequate clearance from the “door zone” of parked cars. Too narrow for a car, this de-facto bikelane lets cyclists really zip along. Never mind “Take the Tooker.” This part of the Danforth is a bicycle expressway already, without the fuss.

Go to the Danforth today and judge for yourself if it isn’t effectively a car-free zone.

Stand where Pape Avenue crosses Danforth and look both east and west. Look west and you’ll see the heart of “Greektown,” with its busy sidewalks and congested roads. West of Pape is the “car-free” district of the Danforth. Drivers that enter this stretch do so knowing they are going to crawl. Here, drivers drape their arms out the side window, chat with their passengers and inch along as traffic permits. They enjoy this street almost as much as pedestrians do. For pedestrians, the entire street is a shopping mall, where crossing north and south is done on a whim, with barely a pause to check the traffic is truly stopped.

East of Pape it’s different. It’s not the size of the shops or the height of the buildings. It’s not the width of the sidewalks, the width of the road, or the nature of the residential neighbourhoods to the north and south. These factors are unchanged, east and west of Pape. But no one would argue that the Danforth east of Pape is anything but dangerous for pedestrians. No one would refer to it as a “greenTOpia.” It’s still called “Greektown” across Pape, but everyone knows it’s not the same.

What’s the difference then?

Only one thing: paint.

Danforth Avenue, heal thyself. Paint the entire stretch, from Broadview to Kennedy Station, the way you’re painted west of Pape, and watch the Green Utopia Grow!

Collision: Toronto Transportation Services, Toronto Police: Cyclist Killed

Wednesday, June 20th, 2007

Plus ca change department:

pink bike on bloor–star and car advertiser photo

This comes along a bit late in the chain of events. However.

We have held back from making comment on the latest fatality of a Toronto cyclist until now. Not that we haven’t thought about it a lot. We’ve paid careful attention to the news on this one, from the moment we first heard of it. But we’ve been holding our tongue, waiting for act five of the tragedy.

We’re tired of waiting.

Bring on the Deus Ex Machina!

Here’s how the city of Toronto described the crash that killed the cyclist in their own press release:

Cyclist killed in collision with City vehicle

TORONTO, June 8 /CNW/ – A City of Toronto Transportation Services vehicle was involved in a fatal collision with a cyclist this morning on Bayview Ave. at approximately 8:15 a.m.

The Transportation vehicle, a small dump truck pulling a trailer, was traveling southbound on Bayview Ave., south of Highway 401, when a collision occurred between a cyclist and the vehicle at the intersection of Bayview Ave. and Fifeshire Rd./Truman Rd.

“We are cooperating fully with the police in their investigation of this very serious and tragic matter,” said Gary Welsh, General Manager, Transportation Services.

For further information: Media contact: Steve Johnston, Sr.
Communications Coordinator, (416) 392-4391

Here’s how the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser described it:

Cyclist killed by garbage truck
June 08, 2007
Rachel De Lazzer
Staff Reporter

A cyclist was killed this morning when his bicycle collided with a garbage truck in the city’s north end.

The City of Toronto truck and the cyclist were both travelling southbound on Bayview Ave. just south of Highway 401 when they collided where the road narrows at Fife Rd., said Toronto police Staff Sgt. Keith Haines.

The truck was towing a trailer with a Bobcat industrial machine on it, he said.

The southbound lanes of Bayview were closed for the morning, but reopened at midday.

The victim was believed to be about 35, but police could not immediately identify him.

He was taken to Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, where he died from his injuries.

Here’s the police press release:

Traffic fatality #21/2007
Broadcast time: 22:50
Saturday, June 9, 2007
Traffic Services
416−808−1900
On Friday June 8, 2007, at about 8:09 a.m., a 48−year−old man was cycling in the southbound curb lane of Bayview Avenue, south of Fifeshire Road.

It is alleged that:
− a City of Toronto work truck, with trailer, was also travelling in the southbound curb lane,
− for unknown reasons, the truck and cyclist came into contact, knocking the cyclist to the roadway,
− the truck came to a sudden stop and was rear−ended by a 1993 SUV.

The cyclist was taken to hospital where he succumbed to his injuries.

Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 416−808−1900, Crime Stoppers anonymously at 416−222−TIPS (8477), or online at www.222tips.com.

Constable George Schuurman, Public Information, for Sergeant Steve O’Donovan, Traffic Services.

You know the drill, by now: a dedicated and careful all-season cyclist, fit and trim (hey–at age 48 he was estimated by first responders to be only 35) on a busy road near Canada’s busiest highway is struck by a city of Toronto truck towing a trailer carrying a small excavator. It happens on a beautiful, warm spring day. He dies at the scene, or shortly thereafter. The incident happens on a street where the width shrinks by a lane, in broad daylight. Was he struck from the rear? Was he clipped by the trailer? Was it a case where truck sideguards would have protected the cyclist? All this is up for debate. Would it have helped if the city didn’t have those bus lay-bys, which effectively widen the road and then shrink it again in an unpredictable manner? It’s not clear.

What’s clear is the man is dead.

The family has requested his anonymity be protected, but what we know is he was a father of four, married to a Toronto Police Sargent.

Some friends of ours, and friends of the cyclist, held a memorial a week after the crash. About 22 people made the long haul up to Bayview and Fifeshire, just south of the 401, for the sad event.

When a cyclist is killed, sides are often drawn.
“The driver was inexperienced,” we hear. “The cyclist wasn’t wearing a helmet,” we hear. As if there could be an excuse.

Often, there’s a feeling that some “authority” or other has hegemony.

In this case, where the Toronto Police Service is involved as a victim, we hope the City of Toronto can be called to task for its intransigence on the (nearly) 10-year-old Toronto Coroner’s investigation into cyclist fatalities, which recommended (number fifteen) sideguards on large trucks and (number twelve) respect for cyclists: “law of the sea” brought to land: not “Steam gives way to sail,” but “motor gives way to muscle.”

Or, in the dry language of the coroner’s report:

The concept of motorized vehicles yielding to non-motorized vehicles, who in turn must yield to pedestrians seems to be a common sense rule which should be accepted by all road users.

Meanwhile, ICES BUG, a city of Toronto-recognized “Bicycle Users Group” based at Sunnybrook Hospital’s Institute for Clinical Evaluative Sciences, has been struggling to make cycling along Bayview Avenue (Sunnybrook iis on Bayview, just south of the collision site) safer for a while. They had a meeting with Ward 25 Councillor Cliff Jenkins scheduled for last week.

Their request? A bikelane on Bayview.

A bike lane on Bayview should be top on our priority list: Here is why:

1. Bayview represents the best available continuous north (up to the 401) to south (Eglinton) bike route in Ward 25. The alternatives are Yonge (more bike unfriendly) and Leslie (too far east)

2. Bayview is
a. a major artery to a University (York, Glendon Campus). Students travel by bicycle more often than non-students
b. a major artery to Sunnybrook Hospital, a major employer and destination point
c. a major artery to major park/recreation area – Sunnybrook and other connecting parks
d. a major artery to designated city bike routes/lanes (south east through park; south to downtown; west through cemeteries and beltline)

3. Bayview already has a bike lane present that connects the Granite Club to Lawrence (wow, like 1/2 KM!)
4. Cars travel dangerously fast between Sheppard and Lawrence because there are no businesses/parking
5. There is room for a bike lane (my perception) almost the entire way
6. Bayview and Sheppard is becoming a high density residential neighbourhood which may increase cycling volume
7. A cyclist died on it today

Now, a bikelane is a special thing. We at the ALLDERBLOB see bikelanes as a light-handed version of Baron Von Haussman‘s excavation and remodeling of Paris: an opportunity to create light where before was only shadow–but without destroying the fine-grained fabric, as Haussman did. Bikelanes make possible unexpected linkages, freedom of movement in places of car-clotted clutter, mysterious openings in the city.

The city of Toronto has a plan for bikelanes, and a department dedicated to installing them.
It’s financed by our taxes to the tune of several million dollars each year.

Does this mean bikelanes get built? Not necessarily. Does it mean they get built where cyclist need or want them? Only occasionally.

This year we’ve seen one councillor propose bikelanes on a street where no cyclist rides, and another councillor create one where a link is absolutely needed, and will benefit all cyclists in ways that are difficult to predict. That neither street is on the bikeway master plan has not escaped notice.

We’ve also seen the proposed gutting of the Toronto Cycling Committee by its new commissar, Ward 35 Councillor Adrian Heaps.

Again, folks have noticed.

Nature abhors a vacuum.

We’ve watched for some time as one group or another struggles with the Bloor/Danforth question. We’ve taken a side, ourselves. A bikelane on Bloor/Danforth, while not on the bike master plan (like Yonge, like Eastern), makes enormous sense. It links cyclists with destinations east and west across the entire city. It sits above a subway line capable of carrying hundreds of thousands of would-be car-drivers. It’s relatively flat for most of its distance. It’s a street that could stand to be “Thickened,” as we described it in a previous posting.

Most recently, the struggle for bikelanes on Bloor/Danforth took the form of guerrilla lane-painting. Apparently, as documented on the pages of the Toronto Star and Car Advertiser, there’s a bear-like group out there known as OURS, for the “Other Urban Repair Squad,” which with non-regulation pink spraypaint has decorated the curb lane of Bloor street with bike-like stencils and a continuous pink line: a hopeful gesture, but quickly obliterated by the city’s road-scraping machinery.

Now, in the past, the editors of the Star and Car Advertiser have been unfriendly to cyclists. We still recall our colleague Tim Gleason’s Opinion piece of about 10 years ago, proposing cyclist be treated differently than other road users: given the right to treat stop signs as “yields” (like they do in Idaho) and red lights as stop signs (if the way is clear, you can proceed–again, legal in Idaho). The letters page following Tim’s column was dedicated to folks trashing his position. One or two stopped just short of threatening physical violence upon his person.

On other occasions, we recall the Star fulminating in its editorial against bikelane projects that we saw as logical and necessary–such as the lane on Dundas. They claimed it would destroy the driver’s commute from the east end, if not his life [somehow the driver survives though. –ed.].

So it was with heavy heart that we opened the letters page today to see that the feature of the week was a collection of letters regarding the story about the pink lane painters.

Something is up at the Star and Car Advertiser however.
Maybe it has something to do with the online poll they ran last week, which saw overwhelming support (64.8% in favour) for the proposition that the city should “prioritize” the construction of bikelanes.

And, quel surprise!–five out of six letters selected by the Star applauded the OURS group. Is that 64.8%? More like 83.3%.

The collection included supportive letters from names familiar to us: Joe LaFortune and Michael Polanyi among them; the clincher was this one:

Does the Other Urban Repair Squad take requests? We sure could use a bike lane on Bayview Ave. No rush – any time this summer would be good. Many thanks.

Marjorie Nichol, Toronto

So here’s the question, and we come full circle: if a bikelane can be seen as a lighthanded version of Haussmann’s urban excavation, could a pretty painted pink bike be the lighthanded deus ex machina that’s needed on Bayview?

Tooker Gomberg at the ROM

Friday, June 15th, 2007

We found ourselves at Daniel Libeskind’s new addition to Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum the other day. We came prepared, of course, having followed the project from its birth as a napkin sketch, to its competition with two other finalists five years ago, to its reification and vilification (depending who you read) in the media, and its final aluminum-skinned overhang battles with the city of Toronto (if we encroach on our neighbour, it’s to be expected we pay for their loss of sky and sun, so why shouldn’t the city’s bean-counters treat “Respected business leader and editor” William Thorsell the same way?)

We’ll tell you why not.

Fact is, the ROM crystal’s a “gem” (albeit opaque, not transparent). It’s true, as some boastful drywall expert was explaining to his sons and anyone else in earshot as we passed, detailing issues with the gypsum wallboard abound. It’s true there are massive planes of wall that show streaks of dust (“WASH ME!” we saw written more than once) and it’s true that when you look where the sun don’t shine you may find some moments Libeskind (“By his works shall ye know him”) wouldn’t be proud of. If you go, peer into some of the voids hard by the existing building, for example. There you will see exposed drywall screws and lumps of unsanded, unpainted “mud.”

But the sequence of interior spaces, the remarkable surprises and mysteries, the nuances of refracted light, the sensitivity of the event-space where “new” meets “old” at the building’s edges: all are breathtaking.

This is a building that Toronto can be thankful for.

The ALLDERBLOB comes not to praise Libeskind, however. We come to bury the city of Toronto.

Get your act together, people.

Fact is, we have no use for Thorsell and his ilk. We do not bless the white-tie set. But with this museum, they have gotten something very right, and not just for them as can afford the $20 adult admission.

What this building really celebrates is the public realm. It celebrates it in the surprising vistas one glimpses from a distance or from between other buildings. It celebrates it most of all at street-level, where the new ROM entrance has been relocated, on Bloor Street. Here the ROM has given Toronto a great public space.

The city must reciprocate.

It’s on Bloor that the city has fallen down in its duties.

The day we visited the ROM, we arrived by subway and had to remind ourselves it’s not the “museum” stop we wanted but “St George,” where the new entrance is. We walked the short distance from the subway toward the gangly, jangling behemoth that is the new crystal, along Bloor Street.

Just as we arrived, a group of about two dozen cyclists, plus an escort of six bike cops, slowly pedaled past the museum and proceeded west.

None of them wore any clothing. Except for the cops that is. It was the World Naked Bike Ride, an event that this year saw a massive ride in London, England, and smaller rides in other cities around the globe.

You know, everyone loves a parade.

But this event reminded us, Bloor street is the spine of Toronto. it’s where everyone goes. It’s where the action is. It’s a crowded, shouder-to-shoulder parade of one thing after another, and it’s a place of celebration. It’s not, and should not be made into, a “traffic conduit” for motor vehicles.

Since the city of Toronto is conducting a “Bloor Street Visioning Study” as we speak, and since there are meetings scheduled for public input (see below) June 18 and 21st, we feel the need to remind people what the street could be like. It’s not rocket science.

And it sure isn’t Traffic Engineering.

Now, elsewhere we have written about how the lines painted on a street can affect the feeling of the street. Of course, the best example of this is on a street like Dundas East, or other streets in a city that have been made more bicycle friendly by the simple addition of a line of paint to indicate bikelanes.

But the road-striping affects much more than cyclists.

Danforth Avenue, in Toronto’s east end, is of uniform width for some 10 kilometers, from the Don Valley all the way to Warden Avenue and beyond. For most of its length, with the exception of the massive apartment buildings at Main Street far to the east, it has a uniform grain and appearance. By this we mean it has similar storefrontages, similar buiding heights, and similar traffic counts along its whole length.

What differs is the speed of motorized traffic, and the concordant dangers to cyclists and pedestrians.

Focus for a moment on the point where the Danforth crosses Pape Ave.

On both the east and west sides of Pape, Danforth allows curb parking during non-rush-hours. Bicyclists crossing the Don Valley make Danforth Avenue on of the busiest streets for cyclists in the city. Under the street runs the Bloor/Danforth subway line, carrying its portion of the more than one million passengers per day that Toronto’s subway serves.

But Danforth east of Pape may as well be twenty feet wider. And we don’t mean this as a good thing. East of Pape the traffic is thin and fast. It’s dangerous to be a pedestrian or a cyclist there. No one would want to go there to shop, to work, or to live if they had a choice. The stretch of Danforth east of Pape is known as the “miracle mile” by Toronto cabbies, so-named because it’s possible, at the right speed, to travel from Main to Greenwood without braking or hitting a single red light.

West of Pape, the Danforth is “thick” and slow. The fact is, Danforth Ave and Bloor Street could stand to be “thickened” like this along their entire length.

The concept of “thickened” streets, streets that have been deliberately “over-programmed” with activities more than those pseudo-scientist traffic engineers say they can support, derives from an observation of Danforth Avenue west of Pape, but there are examples of it all over the city.

What is a “thickened” street?

West of Pape the Danforth is painted with a central yellow median that periodically opens to allow for left turns. This wide median means there’s only room for one lane of through (motorized) traffic in each direction (except at rush hour, when parking on one side or the other is banned and allows two lanes of motorized traffic to move along the route at its maximum capacity), but leaves a wide channel for cyclists to travel past the parked cars, safely out of the “door zone. The median does more than allow for left turns. It Keeps Danforth Avenue “open” for emergency vehicle access. It provides a place of refuge for pedestrians to cross safely at midblock, and makes this stretch of the Danforth more like a “room” than a linear street–very much like a shopping mall. In addition, by reducing car traffic to just one lane, pedestrians don’t have to fear being struck by a second lane of moving cars when the lane they’re crossing is safe.

This means shops and businesses thrive, with a constant to-and-fro of walk-in visitors from one side of the street to another.

East of Pape, take a look at West of Pape and see for yourself what this restriping could do for you.

The effect on car traffic is to slow it to a steady uninterrupted crawl. No driver chooses this part of the Danforth if they’re in a hurry, but then is there any street in Toronto (except Eastern Avenue maybe) that is a sure bet for hurried motorists? Everyone knows if you want to get somewhere in a reliable, predictable amount of time, usually faster than by car, you better bicycle.

The effect on bicycle traffic is the creation of a virtual bikelane from Pape to the Don Valley. Is it as safe as a real bikelane? Possibly not. But it’s a damn fine compromise.

If the whole length of Bloor/Danforth were striped like the section between Pape and the Don Valley, if that were possible, the crowd calling for a “bicycle highway east to west across Toronto” might well be turning their sights elsewhere.

Because Bloor/Danforth, painted the way it is west of Pape, would work for cyclists just fine. It would work for merchants, giving them the parking spaces they crave. It would work for shoppers, allowing them a virtual car-free mall in which to saunter from store to store, back and forth across the public right-of-way as their consumerist whims beckon.

And most importantly, it would work for places like the ROM Crystal. It would allow the public realm a place to slow, to meander, to cruise, to gawk. It would encourage naked bicycle riding, bongo solos, flame juggling, and the unexpected.

Tooker Gomberg, who we remember as the kind of guy who understood the importance of this stuff, would be pleased to have this street dedicated as a memorial to him.

INFORMATION ON THE BLOOR STREET VISIONING PUBLIC MEETINGS FOLLOW:

Community Workshop Notice

Come help us shape a vision for Bloor Street!

Bloor Corridor Visioning Study
VISIONING FORUM

Monday, June 18, 2007
6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
George Ignatieff Theatre
15 Devonshire Place

-AND-

Thursday, June 21, 2007
6:30 p.m. – 9:30 p.m.
OISE Auditorium
252 Bloor Street West

The City of Toronto has launched an exciting study to develop a planning vision for the future development of Bloor Street West, between Avenue Road and Bathurst Street. We invite you to come to two evening sessions with City staff and its consultant team to listen to ideas and to provide input on design directions.

Day 1 (Monday, June 18)
Presentation: Great Streets, What We’ve Heard to Date
Draft Principles for a Vision of Bloor Street
Discussion

On this first evening, an overview will be provided of input received to date, and the project planning principles – as developed by the Local Advisory Committee (LAC) – will be presented for discussion. The objective of this evening will be to set the direction for the consultant
team by providing them with ideas that will lead to design options. Following this evening, the consultant team will be working collaboratively with the LAC to create a series of draft design ideas (including built form proposals and public realm recommendations).

As a tool to inform the discussion, the consultant team will also present “Great Streets” – a presentation intended to inspire creative thinking about the possibilities for the Bloor Corridor.

Day 2 (Thursday, June 21)
Presentation: Preliminary Design Ideas
Breakout workshop sessions
Discussion

On this second evening, the consultant team will present ideas generated in the previous days – and following the Monday night session – “hot off the press.” The objective will be to solicit input at a very early stage in the design process with respect to ideas that are liked, disliked, and those that can be improved! Workshops will be held to discuss the proposals in more detail, and to hear additional, specific ideas from the community.

This is one in a series of public forums and meetings scheduled over the next several months. For further background information, study progress and updates including future meeting notices, please check in often on our project website at: www.toronto.ca/planning/bloorcorridor.htm

If you would like further information about this study, please contact:

Barry Brooks, Senior Planner
Jennifer Keesmaat, Partner
City of Toronto
Office for Urbanism
416-392-1316
416-971-7521
bbrooks@toronto.ca
jk@officeforurbanism.com

Councillor Adam Vaughan’s office is also participating in the process and can be contacted at 416-392-4044.

Attendant Care Services can be made available with some advance notice.