Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Bike Lanes, Complete Streets, War on the Car and Transit City

BICYCLE LANES : City council is to vote on bicycle lanes for the very busy car speedway of University Avenue (and this after all the arguements over bicycle lanes on Jarvis Street)... http://www.nationalpost.com/news/canada/toronto/story.html?id=2926872 and it appears to be a hot issue in the mayoral race, with some lining up against bike lanes (Rossi), some dithering about it (Smitherman) and some in favour (Pantalone, Ford). All the media spin seems to repeatedly flog the phrase "War on the Car", as if this is an us versus them situation. Many of us have seen the nearly useless 'bike sharrows' on Lansdowne Avenue which are just painted reminders for drivers to watch for cyclists, while doing little to ensure traffic safety. *** Update: Council passed the proposal, calling it a "tipping point" because there was little public opposition: http://network.nationalpost.com/NP/blogs/toronto/archive/2010/04/20/proposal-for-bike-lanes-on-university-avenue-passes-first-hurdle.aspx

COMPLETE STREETS : This is yet another friendly buzz word being bandied about lately (like "Transit City"). What it means is that city planning should design our roadways in such a way that they are safe, attractive, comfortable and provide access to all types of users: bicycles, motorists, pedestrians and public transit users. The idea is that all people can move around the city, no matter what their age, ability or disability. (For more background on this, see: http://www.completestreets.org/ or http://www.tc.gc.ca/eng/programs/environment-utsp-casestudy-cs72e-completestreets-812.htm )

War on the Car?
No - I don't believe that it is that simple. Those claims, usually aimed at the very busy bicyclist (often equates 'leftist') lobby at city hall by people and politicians from the outskirts of the city (ie. not downtown, core Toronto) are made by people who want to preserve their status quo. That is, they want to keep driving single occupant vehicles through traffic gridlock into and out of the city and not be hindered by obstacles like cyclists. It is a very selfish view and completely ignores the fact that we are on a track to kill ourselves and the planet with pollution. However, I do concede that many are diverted to using their cars because of poor public transit and poor design of out city access roadways. Yet fuel is added to the fire by some cyclists who overtly antagonize drivers by their behaviours on the road. This is an unecessary conflict situation that is not helped by people polarizing the debate and hurling insults at each other.

: This is a proposal by the outgoing Mayor Miller administration to build 8 new LRT (Light Rail Transit) lines to areas not now being served by high volume transit (ie subways). The plan is to extend capacity and more frequent service to outlying areas to the east (Scarborough), north (Finch west), south (waterfront) and west (airport). Since subways are terrifically expensive, using electricly powered vehicles is the next best step to attaining service goals. The 8 lines are: Eglinton crosstown, Jane north, Finch west, Waterfront west, Don Mills north, Sheppard east, Scarborough Rapid Transit (a kind of north-east line), and Scarborough-Malvern. Full details can be found here: http://www3.ttc.ca/About_the_TTC/Projects_and_initiatives/Transit_city/index.jsp

Given the perfect storm of traffic gridlock, under-funded public transit, growing population, increasing density and diversity, climate change and a competitive global economy, Toronto needs to dream bigger. We need to collectively collaborate on planning for a unique city of the future where all the complex needs of a densely packed urban environment are met. This would include:
  1. PUBLIC TRANSIT : Robust, fully accessible and 'first choice'. Customer service driven, reliable, frequent and comfortable. This requires very low fares to start with an eventual intent on making public transit completely free to use for the rider. Interconnectivity with all modes of transport is a must: rail, subway, streetcar, bus, cycling, airport, etc. Public transit must reach out to the entire GTA and beyond. Since it is a massive undertaking, it should be administered by an independent regional authority and (eventually) 100% funded from property, business, sales, gas taxes and road tolls. This is ESSENTIAL! ***Update: Someone else thinking about this http://thestar.blogs.com/yourcitymycity/transit/
  2. Road Tolls. A sensibly defined defined inner city core needs to charge road tolls to discourage automobile use and reduce traffic gridlock and pollution.
  3. Downsize Transport. Prohibit large transport trailer trucks from entering a defined inner city core. Instead, they would have to use smaller sized trucks for goods transport within the core. This requires a radical rethink of how we move goods across country and into the city. I propose advocating significant rail and ship transport to move goods into satellite stations around the city. From there, the smaller truck vehicles would move goods within the city. Such vehicles would be exempt from road tolls.
  4. Parking : We must stop the practice of parking being allowed on every street. Streets are meant to be used in motion. People will still need a place to store their vehicles, so underground parking or, second choice of above ground parking structures needs to be favoured. There will be those with physical disabilities who need transport, but this should be the duty of a robust public transit system.
  5. Multiple Use Roads : As in the opening photo of this blog, we need a "Street of the Future" where there is separated access for pedestrians, cyclists, cars/trucks, public transit. Planting trees, bushes, hedges would contribute to beauty. reducing pollution and safety. More benches, rest stops and water fountains for the traveller and those with disabilities or the elderly would help make roadways truly livable.

Emphasis on COLLABORATIVE EFFORT. We cannot trust any one group to design our living space of the future. Lobby groups, politicians, urban planners, engineers, city bureaucracies, special interest groups all have their own agendas. We need to come together to plan a better city now, because...