Biking The Rossi Way

July 12, 2010

Last night I was thinking of Rocco Rossi.

Biking enthusiast, bike lane antagonist, earlier this year on the campaign hustings the mayoral candidate vowed to put an end to any further intrusions onto arterial roads by bike lanes. In fact, he suggested he might even tear up existing ones while he was at.

Now, don’t get Mr. Rossi wrong. It’s not that he hates bicycles or cyclists. He is an avid one himself, he assures us. They just shouldn’t be taking up space on our busy roads, making it difficult for the suburban drivers that Rossi’s desperately courting to zip into work in the morning and back home again at night. What he would take away with one hand, however, Rossi would give back with the other, vowing “to expedite building more bike lanes, but on quieter streets.”

Which is why he was on my mind in the early hours of this morning.

Hours after World Cup 2010 came to a merciful conclusion with a predictably dreary final game, I found myself zipping down an off road bike lane in a south south-east direction along the Bloor Go line, heading to Little Italy from Silverthorne. I’d only previously got a glimpse of the path a couple times when crossing over the tracks on Dundas Street West as it takes a northerly turn. Now I was on it, and loving it and thinking that, hey, if Rocco Rossi can build us a bunch of these, I will happily forgo street travel with all its inherent dangers and annoyances.

The bike lane is a particular slice of urban heaven. A smooth ride along an unpotholed path, it takes you past quiet little neighbourhood streets, converted factories, a couple derelict – or rather, transitional – sites, all wrapped up in wild, city appropriate landscaping (I know nothing of flora) and metal artwork placed throughout. It is well lit and as I rode, taking in the surroundings, I could just imagine doing this as the new electrified trains shoot past me on their way to destinations throughout the GTA. Oh wait, right. They’re not doing that.

That bummer thought aside, there’s little question that from a biking standpoint, this would be the way to get around town. I’m told the city’s ultimately going to take the lane along the tracks all the way down to Strachan Ave. not far from the lakefront trail. Again, you go, girl. I am right there with you. The more you can keep my interaction with cars to an absolute minimum, the more I’m on board.

This is exactly what I’m thinking as I pull up and off the trail and back onto the road for a left turn onto College Street. So how’s this all going to work under Rocco Rossi’s War on Arterial Bike Lanes®™© scheme? Clearly we can’t have off road bike lanes everywhere in the city. That would necessitate questions of expropriation and people apparently get a little touchy over that kind of talk. Does that mean if, for example, my quickest route home was along College Street, Mr. Rossi would have me detour off onto side streets and in all likelihood adding to the time it would take me to get home? If so, why me on a bicycle and not those in their cars? Because this is his biggest argument against bike lanes on arterial roads, isn’t it? The inconvenience it causes to those driving cars.

It certainly can’t be a safety issue as there would be no evidence to back such an argument up. In fact, while Rossi competes with Rob Ford, George Smitherman and Sarah Thomson to see who can be the biggest urban planning Luddite, much of the rest of the civilized world is going in the completely opposite direction. Many places are experimenting with seriously mixed use roadways, de-curbed level surfaces devoid of much signage where motorized vehicles, bikes and pedestrians share streets equally. The onus is on the biggest, fastest, most lethal mode of transport to adjust its behaviour accordingly, operating under the premise of expecting the unexpected. From this, emerge more livable streetscapes.

Instead, candidate Rossi wants to relegate bikes to the periphery, making any necessary foray onto the main roads that much more dangerous. Drivers get used to not having to deal with bikes. Drivers become inattentive. Cyclists are in greater danger.

But the lack of Big Idea, forward thinking is simply a matter of fact during this election race. And the candidates wonder why they can’t light a fire under the electorate. Rather than attempt to bridge the car-bike (suburban-urban) divide, they endeavour to exploit it for political gain. So that we are offered only a fleeting look at how things could be (riding the briefest of stretches down a well designed bike lane) while having to make due with a steady diet of the grimmest, dullest, perfunctory realities.

submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Cars Versus People

April 8, 2010

A couple recent posts over at Kris Scheuer’s blog caught my eye as they related to a major pet peeve of mine that anyone who has read anything I’ve ever written here will attest to. Cars, parking, bicycles, bike lanes, pedestrians. The whole kit and caboodle.

The first entry reveals some surprising information emerging from a survey done by Clean Air Partnership. It seems of the 500+ folks interviewed who were going about their business along the Dundas Street West strip between Kennedy and Jane streets, more than ¾ of them arrived there through non-car means. In fact, more than twice as many walked to their destination rather than drove.

More surprisingly, a majority of business owners in the area favoured reducing parking along the street to make way for bike lanes and wider pedestrian friendly sidewalks. This has long been my argument about persistent retail woes along some of our major downtown arterial roads including much of Dundas Street West. Pedestrian unfriendliness. Even the Bloor-Danforth corridor, our main east-west drag, is largely devoid of strolling appeal. Nevermind it being unfriendly terrain to bike except for the portion between the Bloor Street viaduct and roughly Sherbourne Street. There’s the Danforth’s Greektown from Broadview to about Pape that makes for a pleasant few hour wander but that’s about it. Even trendy Yorkville draws its pedestrian crowds to the side streets one, two and three block north of Bloor.

Despite sitting atop a subway line, Bloor Street is not ultimately an attractive and desirable stop to hang out, browse, shop and generally revel in city life. It is little more than a (semi) functional traffic conduit whose fortune lies almost exclusively with the ups-and-downs of the nearby residential areas that border it. Anything that can be done to make Bloor-Danforth (or Dundas Street West) more people friendly will inevitably increase retail health as well, despite what your local B.I.A. might tell you.

Which segues nicely – something a writer always likes – to Kris Scheuer’s second post of note. After a decade+ back-and-forth on the issue, Forest Hill Village is finally getting 11 new parking spots and it’s only going to cost slightly more than a million dollars! Does that seem entirely out of whack to anyone else? There’s no reason to disbelieve that the price tag will be quickly recouped through parking fees as the Toronto Parking Authority claims, so it’s not the money that grates. But are 11 additional spaces for cars really going to alleviate the congestion and traffic problems that plague Forest Hill Village? Won’t having more parking simply bring more cars with the promise of less driving hassle? As anyone who’s ever tried to drive there (or bike) will tell you, it ain’t pretty. How more cars on the scene will alleviate the problem is a mystery to me.

Cars, cars, cars. They are the past, people, not the future. Making the city more amenable to drivers and their deathmobiles lessens the livability index rather than increases it. Pedestrians know it. Cyclists know it. Transit users know it. Even enlightened business owners know it. So let’s stop catering to the increasing minority of those who refuse to acknowledge the reality of it.

doggedly submitted by Urban Sophisticat