Ontario Biking Regression

Are we heading for a new era of regression in Ontario with respect to cycle friendly communities. If we follow Toronto’s lead, then we certainly are.

Does this mean that it will become ‘politically feasible’ to remove lanes that are installed? Kill bike infrastructure proposals?

I think of T.O. as a bit of a lighthouse in Ontario’s cycling seascape. Are we heading for the rocks?

33 thoughts on “Ontario Biking Regression

  1. @Rob: I don’t think that’s the case at all. The city of Toronto looked at the bike lane and decided that facilitating car traffic is more important. They built more bike lanes elsewhere. I don’t believe that city governments should build bike lanes just for the sake of being ‘green’ or ‘progressive’. If an experimental bike lane is put in place, its existence is subject to its utility. If the bike lane creates more road congestion, it’s time to take it out.
    Our own region places a lot of emphasis on bike infrastructure. Even so, there are very few commute routes. However, every year there is a new bike lane on a road somewhere in this town. The new subdivisions especially are fairly bike friendly, with wide boulevards and bike-lanes.

    @Ryan, do you really think that Tim Hudak, or Dalton McGuinty for that matter, care that much about your locality’s bike lanes?

    1. It has nothing to do with being ‘green’ or ‘progressive’. Safe places for cyclists are needed, just as sidewalks are needed for pedestrians. We would never think of taking sidewalks out simply because car traffic out numbered pedestrians, would we?
      If car traffic is backed up, it is not the bike lanes fault but too many vehicles on the road in the first place.

      Something we need to learn from Europeans quickly on is what biking is truly about. It’s not about being ‘green’ but getting from point A to B as quickly and safely as possible.
      Environmental benefits are simply an added bonus, as are personal health and the pure enjoyment of cycling.

      I never suggested Hudak should care about St. Catharines’ bike lanes. I was suggesting he has little interest in furthering anything positive with cycling. During the Toronto mayoral election he said:
      “And who, quite frankly, will spend a bit less time plotting how many car lanes to take out of Jarvis, University or any other major thoroughfare.”

    2. I see where you’re coming from. But I think it’s pretty well understood that more lanes will mean more cars and probably more congestion. Not less congestion. Although the short term might seem better.

      Ultimately, it takes leadership to put a stop to this kind of runaway problem and try to get people out of their cars. I think the current administration is more apt to pander than lead.

      That said, Mayor Ford has a strong mandate and this is not a surprise move. Meaning, this is what the people of that city wanted.

  2. The problem is, Octavian, that the Jarvis bike lane DID demonstrate its utility. There was a huge increase in cycling on the street, and basically no change to drivers – the affect on car traffic was less than expected when the bike lane was put forward originally.

    It’s not a matter of bike lanes being put in so that politicians can appear “green” or “progressive,” it’s just the opposite. The decision to remove the bikes was not based on the advice of the staff, but on the ideology of the mayor and his lackeys. It was purely pro-car optics rather than improved transportation management. That’s the real concern.

  3. I don’t know the specifics of Toronto’s situation but I know some of the new lanes will be protected bike lanes, which is nice to finally see happen somewhere in this province so it’s not all doom and gloom. I do think taking out a popular and well-used bike lane is something stupid to do though, especially in a dense urban environment, cars are the worst way to get around and any sane city should discourage their use in many ways.

    1. From the Torontoist:
      “Yesterday, we asked Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, whether he rejected the findings of numerous studies that have shown that increasing road capacity does not, in fact, reduce traffic gridlock. His reply? ‘I think that if you have more roads you will have traffic run better.'”

      In other words, “I cannot handle the basic logic of your question. Roads are good.”

      Denzil Minnan-Wong was against putting the bike lane in originally, but since then he has a) literally learned to ride a bike and b) joined the Toronto Cyclists Union. But he still can’t handle the mental shift that more roads just means more space for traffic jams. Unfortunate.

    2. Actually, I believe Ottawa has a segregated lane they have put in as a pilot project. It’s even in the downtown! (1)

      Also, there’s a redesign underway for Columbia Street between Erbsville and Fischer-Hallman. One of the possibilities is to add a segregated bike lane. See pages 9 and 10 at (2).

      (1) http://www.ottawa.ca/residents/public_consult/bikelane/index_en.html
      (2) http://www.city.waterloo.on.ca/Portals/57ad7180-c5e7-49f5-b282-c6475cdb7ee7/PWS_ROADS_documents/TTZ_Columbia_Street_EA_211_05_091_Display_Panels_PIC_2.pdf/TTZ_Columbia_Street_EA_211_05_091_Display_Panels_PIC_2.pdf

  4. I don’t understand the rabid anti-car attitudes of seasoned bike-commuters. Cars have their place; I use mine all the time. I can certainly tell you that it takes less time to get to work and back home in a car. About 50% less time.
    Regarding an increase in cars as lanes are added, all that happens is that the cars stop using other routes. It’s not like there’s an exponential increase in the number of cars just because there’s an extra lane on the Conestoga Parkway. The same number of cars will try to get through, except they might do so faster.
    I’m going to pull a classic line and change it a bit: we all need to get along. We live together in communities but act as if we hate each other almost to the point of murder. We especially hate politicians and those that align themselves to their ideologies. So I’m a conservative, you’re a liberal, therefore we must fight to the death over something as redundant as city planning.

    1. I’m not sure I’d classify myself as anti-car. Sometimes maybe. Anti-asshole and anti-incompetent driver for sure.
      What I think is that city populations should be trending toward reduced car dependence. For the population to get on a bike, even only for short trips, investment needs to be made in safe infrastructure.

      I don’t want to argue the merits of vehicular cycling here. I’m saying for more people to decide to leave the car at home and bike 5k to work, there needs to be some more work done to meet their needs and this moves in the wrong direction.

      I disagree that more roads does not lead to more cars. As long as there is investment in improving roads for cars, more cars will use them. But that’s a longer term situation. I’m not saying that overnight trips increase. Well, I think you know the economics of supply and demand.

      One more thing you’re wrong about. I don’t hate you. We’re on the same side bro.

      1. I know you don’t hate me…it’s hard to hate someone you know. We do disagree on some things, and that may imply animosity, which doesn’t exist on my end and I’m sure it doesn’t on yours.

        I just think this kind of argument is moot. Cyclists complain there is no separate infrastructure. Drivers complain about existing bike lanes taking up valuable road space. It the end, drivers have the loudest voice. Percentage-wise, cyclists make up less than 5% of commuters in North America, at best. I’m not saying that means cyclists don’t have the right to separate infrastructure. What I’m saying is that there’s too few people calling city hall, giving them an earful. So the mayor and councillors listen to whoever does call, which is irate drivers. Their ‘ideology’, as Ryan calls it, is shaped by the majority of voters who make their feelings known. The politicians want to get re-elected after all.

        So if you want to affect the direction your city is taking, start calling the people in charge. If 10 people call, they’ll assume there’s 1000 who feel the same way. You can even start disguising your voice and call multiple times.

    2. I own a car and drive it when I work out of town… working construction and 100+km round trips don’t really work for me. But for a lot of people that work downtown and live in Forest Heights, they can all ride to work, there are already trails that go from there to downtown. I used to work up past Conestoga Mall and biking took me 30-40 minutes usually… driving took me 20 in the morning but congestion in the afternoons on the highway made it a 30 minute trip most of the time. There are heaps of good ways to commute in this city, it’s just not all mapped out very neatly.

      When they add lanes to highways, more people take the highway and the cycle repeats, ad nauseum. The wikipedia on traffic congestion has some good reading and there are some other studies out there is you want to look.

    3. I’m a bike commuter because I’m anti-car, not the reverse. And I do mean anti-car, not anti-driver. Cars are incredibly bad for the environment (particularly as they are usually occupied by just one person) when we’re facing climate change, not to mention being responsible for a massive number of deaths.

      Yes, Cars do have their place and often they are a necessity. I drive when I have to. But the point is to make their “place” smaller, to make them less necessary and less advantageous. Increasing cycling and transit infrastructure does just that.

      I’m sorry, but you’re simply wrong about the effects of adding more roads and planning. Just think about it. If 100 people need to get from A to B, 80% of them will drive because it’s faster. If 100% of them tried to drive, it would be slower, because traffic would be worse. So what happens if you make the road bigger, 100% of them can now drive in the time it took the 80% before. If you make it harder to drive, and relatively easier to commute by bicycle or transit, less than 80% of them will drive because driving will be slower than it had been and cycling/transit will look better. Combine that with the fact that Waterloo region is growing quickly, and yes, adding more lanes to Conestoga Parkway *definitely* means more drivers. It may sound counter-intuitive, but it’s backed up by a number of studies. Check out the recent University of Toronto study and some articles below:

      1. The Fundamental Law of Road Congestion: Evidence from US cities, By GILLES DURANTON AND MATTHEW A. TURNER

      2. Why Building Roads Creates Traffic, Posted on Monday June 6, 2011, by Eric Jaffe for The Infrastructurist – Ameica Under Construction

      3. Across Europe, Irking Drivers Is Urban Policy, By ELISABETH ROSENTHAL, Published: June 26, 2011, New York Times

      1. Jonathan, first of all, I believe in the free market. Driving has been getting more and more expensive in the past 10 years. People have dumped the trucks and SUVs and moved to smaller cars. Eventually, buying gas will be so expensive that only the well-off can drive their cars. This will be achieved through market forces such as supply and demand, not by enacting legislation.
        Regarding making it harder to drive and easier to bike, I would agree, except that’s not being done. Road infrastructure is not expanding, but the population is increasing, so it’s getting harder to drive. However, there have been few instances around these parts where cycling has been put first. I’d personally like to see that as my wife doesn’t like vehicular cycling, but the progress is too slow. Eventually, the free market will win here as well as more and more of us will demand more separated infrastructure that actually goes to places we want to go.

    4. I’ll admit the only time I get the “anti-car bug” in me is when someone passes me dangerously close.

      I quickly get back to earth mind you when it kicks back in that most people are respectful, and I shouldn’t judge all motorists based on a few ignorant-jackass motorists…Same thing IMO should apply the other way around.
      Don’t judge me as a cyclist based on experiences from ignorant-jackass cyclists.

      Update site looks nice Rob!

  5. Octavian, I’m not sure what are you talking about. Because I was talking about government transportation infrastructure. Are you suggesting the city should stop building roads and bike lanes and public transport? Because otherwise, talking about the “free market” in a discussion about municipal government decisions about transportation doesn’t make any sense.

    Besides, this is a perfect example of when the “free market” doesn’t work, because people instinctively think that more roads = less traffic, when the truth is that doesn’t work. Furthermore, gas prices increasing have nothing to do with climate change. If we weren’t running out of oil (or if it wasn’t being taxed at super high rates) there’s no reason to think people would be ditching their SUVs for smaller cars, so carbon emissions would continue to skyrocket. The only solution is government intervention or the privatization of the world’s air and water in order put a price on them as part of the free market. I know which solution I prefer.

  6. Octavian, can you really claim that “Road infrastructure is not expanding”? I mean, seriously? I’ve lived here over a decade now and the expressway was only 4 lanes when I moved here, and it’s since expanded enormously… Ira Needles Blvd didn’t exist, there weren’t roundabouts anywhere. Fairway road is being extended over the river right now and will join up to Kossuth Road out in the country (for now) but I expect that whole area to be subdivision in another decade’s time. Weber Street is slated for widening from Victoria to Guelph Streets. River Road is going to be extended over the expressway and down to Wilson Street as well. To the region’s credit they are slapping bike lanes on the fairview bridge and apparently on river road as well. Ira needles has nice bike lanes its entire stretch too, so bike lane lovers should be happy about that.

    And that’s just off the top of my head, I’m sure I missed a bunch of smaller projects. I don’t know if you meant something else by “road infrastructure is not expanding”, but it certainly is, and is likely one of the biggest expenses in the budget as well the biggest use of land. If you want to argue that it’s not expanding proportionally to population growth that’s fine but I think you’ll need to crunch a lot of numbers to come up with a meaningful comparison. Also worth noting is that in the last 20 years there has been a 60% increase in passenger vehicle ownership in Canada while population has only increased 16% so more people are buying way more cars than they used to, is that what you are talking about? (cite)

    There are a lot of separate trails in Kitchener and Waterloo already, and many routes you can take sides streets to avoid the busy ones. I made a map a while ago to demonstrate this point, and the fine folks here even linked to it, but here is the waterloo cycling routes map that outlines some of the trails we’ve ridden and how we get around this area. I’d love to see more infrastructure too but it’s a bit daft to claim that progress is slow or that we can’t actually get where we want. I know there are many places around town that aren’t bike friendly but I think most people in most parts of town can avoid a lot of the worst spots by spending a bit of time with a map.

    As well, the free market won’t stop people from driving, rather it will start providing electric cars and hybrids so people won’t have to change their lifestyles too much. People are still buying large numbers of trucks are SUVs anyway, and I just read chrysler has their best truck sales since june 2005 this year.

    The reality is that relying on the free market and “economics” has created this mess and is very unlikely to fix it.

    1. Regarding your last point there.
      The free market will work to provide alternative modes of transportation. At the moment, there is no free market as the alternative energy sector (including hybrids, electrics, solar, wind, etc) is massively subsidized by tax-payers (you and me). The true price of this technology is almost double. There can be no free market when some tech is shown favouritism like this. At the moment, there is no cheaper way to get around than to drive (time counts as well, not just money). For short distances you can’t beat the bike or a small displacement motorcycle.

      Regarding your point that the free market and economics created this mess, I’m not really sure what you mean. The system as it exists now is nowhere close to being “free” and economics is merely an application of some theories made by some dead people.
      The way the free market works for me is this: when I can’t afford to buy something, I don’t. When I can, I do. I make money to buy stuff by selling my services to the highest bidder, who offers me just enough money to still turn a profit. There is no simpler explanation of the free market than that. If you see a problem with it, please elaborate.

      1. I think it’s rather misleading to say that alternative energy is at an unfair advantage due to subsidies. The oil and gas industry have taken advantage of subsidies for years in order to make improvements to the efficiency of their technology, therefore reducing the cost of production. Why should alternative energy production technology not have the same opportunities?

  7. In response to Jonathan’s comment:
    “Besides, this is a perfect example of when the “free market” doesn’t work, because people instinctively think that more roads = less traffic, when the truth is that doesn’t work. Furthermore, gas prices increasing have nothing to do with climate change. If we weren’t running out of oil (or if it wasn’t being taxed at super high rates) there’s no reason to think people would be ditching their SUVs for smaller cars, so carbon emissions would continue to skyrocket.”

    I think you missed the point. The free-market comment was directed at the supply of gasoline, its price, and the subsequent demand. In 2008, gas prices neared $1.50/L. Many people sold their SUVs and trucks that they did not need and bought smaller cars, scooters, motorcycles, and/or bicycles. I know because I was one of those people and I have plenty of friends who did that. It was a very reactionary move on all our parts.
    Your second point about carbon emissions is somewhat misguided. I do not subscribed to the view that breathing and passing gas is going to destroy the world. I do not apologize for my views. However, the decrease in the amount of pump-able oil portrays the laws of supply and demand once again.

    In response to Charles:
    I’m going to keep this short. What I meant to say is that road infrastructure is not expanding as it corresponds to population. My theory is that the ratio of population to roads, or cars to roads (area or lanes), is either staying the same or decreasing. The KW region has seen a surge in population and will continue to do so. Our road infrastructure is expanding, but not at the same pace as population increase. Traffic on the parkway used to be a breeze, now not so much. This is not a point against me when I said that people are driving less or that there are less cars on the road. I’m looking at it as a ratio to keep things fair. Yes, there are more cars, because there are more people. The road infrastructure should keep up to reduce the amount of time drivers spend behind the wheel, not to mention those nasty tailpipe emissions (excepting CO2 of course, plants love the stuff).

  8. I don’t even know what kind of point you’re trying to make any more but your post doesn’t make much sense to me. Driving isn’t the cheapest way to get around, especially if one only commutes in town. Time counts for sure, and owning a car is gonna run anywhere from $8,000 a year upwards, so one has to work 10 weeks a year just to get a basic car (assuming 20$ an hour, no taxes) on the road and running.

    I posted a link to the CBC that shows car ownership is increasing faster than population does. Why should society spend even more money than we already do building all these roads everywhere? The link also stated that commute times are increasing, Why do you keep asserting that more roads are going to solve this problem when there have been studies showing this to be false? Just ‘cos you think more roads will make everything hunky-dory again doesn’t make it so.

    Regarding the “free market” you’re the one that started talking about it, but to claim that we are only subsidizing alternative fuels is malarkey. Gasoline taxes are pretty low in this country compared to many places, the fuel economy standards are pretty weak compared to European standards as well. Gov’t encourages car ownership by building more roads, encouraging suburban development with ridiculously low taxes and building fees, by ignoring cycling infrastructure and under-funding transit systems across the country. Passenger railways are a joke here too.

    But as you said, there isn’t actually a “free” market here since the gov’t regulates many aspects of it and corporations have been exerting more and more control of policy and tweaking it in their favour. About the only left for us from the “invisible hand of the market” is a reach-around.

    – cars are actually the most expensive way to get around
    – more roads make more traffic, not less
    – gov’t policies favour the automobile and our society is built around it

    I don’t think either of us is going to make any more sense out of each other’s posts so I’m going to bow out of this now.

    1. Sorry buddy, you’re all kinds of wrong.

      First of all, my point is, like you said, that using a car is more time-efficient and cheap than just about any other method of transportation over long distances (anything over 20km). That’s assuming you own the car. I’m not advocating buying a new car just ‘cos it’s easier than taking the bus or riding a bike. That means you’re only paying the insurance and gas, which shouldn’t cost more than $2000 altogether. Maybe add some maintenance for $500 tops. I know people who drop more than that on their bikes in any given year.

      Second of all, taxing and subsidies are pretty much polar opposites. Gasoline taxes are ‘low’, or so you say, but they are still taxes: money I pay into a government coffer. Subsidies are money that leave those coffers to fund whatever politician’s wet dream of driving around in a Nissan Leaf. So no, low taxes are not the same thing as subsidies.

      Third of all, stop comparing Canada/US to Europe. We are not Europe, our population densities are completely different, our culture is completely different, and our government is actually running a decent debt-GDP ratio, unlike most of the countries in Europe that somehow have the money to fund these public transportation schemes you’re so fond of.

      Fourth of all, I never equated the free market with corporations. Corporatism can work in the free market, but as you assert, they don’t usually play nice. The problem with the current system is that it gets associated with capitalism or the free market when it is anything but.

      Fifth of all, and back on point, I agree that building more roads will not solve the problem of traffic congestion fully or satisfactorily. It is a vicious circle and at some point the line is crossed where the city grows so much that alternative transportation modes are introduced. But you can’t have an underground train with only a half-million population. The other thing is that it is easier to expand the road infrastructure than to superimpose another mode on top of the current one. One great example is the LRT project in KW: it will be a pain in the butt to finish the construction of on-street rail in the downtown core. They just finished the King St. project and now there will be another 2 or 3 years of construction. It’s even more mind boggling to add anything besides buses in subdivisions. Sadly, buses require roads too.

      So, to recap: roads are bad, but necessary, free market is not the same as corporatism, we aren’t Europe so stop wishing we wore (it’s easier if you moved there), taxes are not the same as subsidies, and cars are fairly cheap to operate and own.

  9. Octavian, if you had just said from the start that you didn’t believe in man-made climate change, we could have avoided this whole conversation. If 99% of scientists can’t convince you, I’m not going to waste my time.

    If you’re into a totally free market, you might want to check out Somalia. I hear it’s nice this time of year.

      1. I’m pretty sure I did (see fifth point in my reply to charles). I was having fun bickering with him. Was waiting for the next line…

      2. I am referring to yours and Charles burgeoning relationship and the invitation to sight see sunny Somalia.

      1. Rob, I disagree – this discussion belongs in this blog. Maybe doesn’t directly relate to your post but Climate Change is a big reason I started cycling to work and left the car in the driveway. More to come. Octavian’s views are not based on the scientific method but are based on political views that have hijacked this issue (and hijacked many scientists as well).

      2. I don’t think my views are political at all. I came to my conclusions about AGW/ACC when I was still voting for the NDP. Politically, I vote for those that promote freedom. Scientifically, I look for the answers that make more sense logically. If my logic seems wrong to you, maybe we need to spend some time together so I can explain myself. That’s an open invitation to anyone who wants to take this conversation to a shady spot and a cup of coffee.

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