A Sober (Almost) Second Thought

It may not be immediately apparent to the naked eye but I am not an expert on all things. In fact, it could be argued, there are times I might not know what I’m talking about. thoughtfulYet, that doesn’t always stop me from talking about them.

Somewhere in between those two points on a curve, I wrote about the newly designed, rebuilt and unveiled Queens Quay. In the post, I suggested Edward Keenan of the Toronto Star was, how did I put it again? “Wildly off the mark” in his early assessment of the roadway. In hindsight, it would probably have been better stated: I disagree rather emphatically with Mr. Keenan, suggesting more that our opinions on the subject differed rather than I was right and he was wrong.

Last Wednesday, I travelled back down to Queens Quay for a couple hours to supplement my original take on it registered by a quick bike through there and back on the previous weekend. I talked for a few minutes with a TTC worker, queensquay4standing at the Lower Spadina intersection, manually realigning streetcar tracks as the newly installed on-board switch mechanism wasn’t functioning properly. I chatted for a few more minutes with a couple motorcycle traffic enforcement police officers, taking a quick snack break.

Their general take on the new Queens Quay, a couple weeks into the new era, was a general bemused bewilderment. There were spots along the way people, whether on foot, on bike or behind the wheel of a car, were genuinely confused. Hell, one of the cops told me on his first run along it, he’d made an improper turn. The layout was confusing at times. Right of ways weren’t always clearly marked and obvious. Tweaks and rejigs would be necessary to avoid a serious accident at some point of time. Up to now it had been fender-benders and heated exchange of words.

Which was Ed Keenan’s point in his articles. Queens Quay was good but it could be better, it needed to be better. One of the motorcycle cops suggested for advanced turn signals, use arrows instead of solid colours so that drivers would realize that signal was directed at them and not simply some helpful suggestion to take or leave. queensquay7At points of possible conflict, make it obvious not merely intuitive.

In my defense, however, after parking myself with a coffee at one of the street’s flashpoints, Queens Quay and Lower Simcoe, to take in the proceedings, there was a lot more going on than simply confusion especially on many drivers’ parts. Despite a sort of new quirky layout especially with the streetcar right of way positioned along the side of the street (counter to the established in Toronto right down the middle alignment), some pretty straight-forward things were either willfully ignored or absent-mindedly overlooked, let’s say. Clearly marked – with accompanying bright new neon coloured NEW signs — No Right Turns went regularly unnoticed, resulting in cars either scattering pedestrians or stopping street cars. The aforementioned advance turn signals were oftentimes run while red, resulting in [see previous sentence].

As for the frequently assailed streetcar right of way, let me just say this. With its ever so slight but still unmistakable ramp up onto it, drivers have to be either completely unaware of their surroundings or entirely determined to miss the fact that they’re not supposed to be driving there. queensquay5Neither option is particularly assuring. I saw a driver wind up on the streetcar tracks as she looked up from a phone in her hand. Another one deliberately used the right of way to jump out ahead of pedestrians crossing to make the left turn.

Painting the right of way a different colour or installing more obvious signage wasn’t going to alter that kind of behaviour. Simple enforcement of basic traffic laws would. A changing of the mindset that the power balance of road usage here was different than elsewhere in the city. That’s what was ultimately going to be needed for the new Queens Quay to work.

I guess my real beef with Ed Keenan’s view was my resentment that drivers needed more help understanding the concept. Fuck them, am I right? queensquay6If more assistance was necessary, maybe you shouldn’t be driving a car in the first place or, at least, maybe you should be driving better.

In retrospect though, maybe I’m the one needing an attitude adjustment. Change doesn’t happen just because you want it to and not everyone welcomes the same kind of change you do. The new Queens Quay represents a definite change of approach to moving people through and along a very small but important part of the city. Why not do whatever you can to help people get comfortable with the change? Even the ones, both literally and figuratively, in the driver’s seat.

(almost) humbly submitted by Cityslikr

Drivers Not Wanted

Perhaps some of the signage and cues had been updated along the new Queens Quay before I finally made it down there on Saturday, queensquayafter Ed Keenan wrote his first article on the street last week. As I rode and strode along the strip east from Bathurst to Sherbourne and back, there was little of the ‘potentially lethal’ chaos Keenan had witnessed there. One wide left turn and some willful pushiness on the part of three cars intent on making that light were pretty much it for me. Outside of that, perhaps not serenity now, but a pretty pleasant run, all in all.

That said, I still think Ed Keenan is wildly off-the-mark on his assessment of the street, and the need to mollify and coddle car drivers. “This is a new kind of street,” Keenan writes. “It takes intuitive signals about how streets work, patterns people have spent a lifetime learning, and up-ends them. That can be a good thing, but there have to be some instructions.”queensquay3

If Queens Quay is a ‘new kind of street’ here in Toronto, don’t you simply undercut that attempted innovation by catering to old ways of going about our business? The old way being about putting cars atop our transportation hierarchy. The whole point of the new Queens Quay is not to put drivers at ease with their traditional ways of driving.

This is the problem the city faces currently. Designing and building roads with the emphasis on car drivers not driving like they should. The result is wider than necessary streets and avenues, to safely accommodate drivers not obeying speed limits. Streets unfriendly to most other non-vehicular traffic.

I think the new Queens Quay should be disorienting to drivers, unwelcoming even. Aside from living down along that run of the waterfront, why on earth would you want to drive there? It’s the lake, folks, with the kind of public access we’ve been clamoring decades for. Now we should be concerned for those who want to cruise the strip in their cars?queensquay1

If you’re going to insist on doing that, you do it by the new rules. Slow the fuck down. Figure out what the fuck you’re doing. Fall the fuck in line behind the other modes of transport operating there. Streetcars, bicycles and pedestrians. Consider yourself an unwelcome but obligatory guest, like an obnoxious uncle, invited to a wedding purely out of family protocol.

Keenan’s not wrong in pointing out that a distracted, disoriented (and frustrated) driver is a dangerous one. Rather than hold their hands, though, and calm them with soothing, familiar signs, arrows and blinking lights, I’d prefer more of a New York Mayor de Blasio approach. Fall in line. Drive carefully. Suffer real consequences for not doing so. Vision Zero.

Driving along Queens Quay should be a nightmare. It shouldn’t be easy. It shouldn’t be intuitive in the traditional way of, as a matter of fact, I do own the road.

Frankly, in this writer’s opinion, there’s still too much of the space given over to car traffic especially as you head east past Yonge Street. Bikes and pedestrians vie for increasingly smaller amounts of the road while 4 lanes remain for cars, much of it underused on this particular Saturday at least. queensquay2Hopefully with more development in the area, that ratio will be readjusted in favour of non-car traffic.

If the new Queens Quay is truly about upending “lifelong habits and assumptions about Toronto streets”, let’s start with the biggest assumption and habit of all. Car drivers gonna car drive, and everyone else needs to adjust their behaviour and attitude accordingly because, well, car drivers couldn’t possibly change theirs.

stridently submitted by Cityslikr