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Letters to the editor: bike activist and Adam Vaughan hash it out [LETTER]

July 22nd, 2010 · 1 Comment

Hamish Wilson sends more letters to the Gleaner than anyone else (except Rudolph Manook, but that’s another story). Wilson’s letters are invariably about cycling issues. This month, it seems he went on the offensive with Councillor Adam Vaughan, who hit right back:

Wilson:
Thank you for your coverage on Annex biking issues. It is assuredly one of the ways that we have been able to somewhat determine what Councillor Vaughan is up to—as some of us don’t have a lot of regard for his talking, as he tends to cater to a limited group within residents’ associations rather than a broader public.This broader public makes a great deal of use of the public streets through the Annex, as we are not a village, but a small area within a dense city core crammed with many attractions. The biggest travel demand is met by the subway—though motorists get the bulk of the public road. Many others travel by bike, and the City has clearly documented the high levels of bike travel in the east-west directions. But, the provision of basic bike safety has been quite lacking in the Annex/Harbord Village area with occasional challenges.

The way to bike safety is with giving us extra width either with wider curb lanes or bike lanes, though how we do bike lanes here is less ideal compared with European cities. On both Harbord and Bloor, that will mean squeezing car parking off of one side of the street, as I doubt that the province will narrow the car travel lanes to 2.5 metres, though most vehicles do fit in that space, and arguably most fit into the 1.5 metres space of a bike lane as some do daily.

While Councillor Vaughan has a very intense set of issues to deal with as a rep for the core, it’s pretty appalling that we haven’t seen any improvement for east-west cycling on either Harbord or Bloor in his term. Bloor Street has a ton of off-street parking available to replace the on-street parking, and Vaughan’s support for the pushed-through Bloor Visioning Study (that didn’t see bike lanes) is beyond reprehensible—given the high degree of bike traffic here, the proven rate of injuries that pedestrians don’t have, and the need to actually do something about climate change (instead of pass unanimous motions about the Toronto target).

There was also a significant issue with the Bloor/Danforth environmental assessment (EA) study in Mr. Vaughan’s turf. The City specifically instructed the consultants to avoid looking at bike lanes between Avenue Road and Christie Street, citing the outcome of the Bloor Visioning process, though it only went to Bathurst, and the changes proposed (and now within an OPA) were only in the narrower part of Bloor within the Annex, (and these will tend to make cycling more hazardous in winter months). While Ms. Duncan and Mr. Vaughan have indicated that the study will now be more inclusive, our lack of progress towards putting in bike lanes where we need them indicates there’s lots of reason to be suspicious of more words, and the plans that arise. And the again-huge Bells on Bloor ride showed again wide public support for Bloor bike lanes, perhaps the most logical place in Southern Ontario due to the subway.

While we don’t always need bike lanes for safety, merely adding sharrows with the bike boxes as is proposed for Harbord is inferior. The real needs are for greater width for bike travel in that missing four blocks of Harbord between Borden and Spadina, then smooth pavement, and why can’t we put down coloured paint on the road to mark our bike lanes?

Going through the back alleys near Harbord and Spadina indicates that we have ample off-street room for parking cars, and to avoid providing bike safety on Harbord Street to keep a small minority of merchants happier, while placing many hundreds of cyclists at greater risk, is more supportive of smog and climate change than clean air.

Yes, cyclists can be non-stop, quick and quiet passholes, but Mr. Vaughan’s not been good at providing support for bikes at City Wall in the right ways and places.

Hamish Wilson
Brunswick Ave.

Vaughan’s response:
Hamish, every time this issues comes up you insist on dredging up past half-truths and mis-represent my record. It’s tiresome and ultimately undermines your arguments. Specifically;

“we haven’t seen any improvement for east-west cycling on either Harbord or Bloor in his term.”

Not true. Where there are no lanes there will be sharrows.  Additionally I took steps to nominate Harbord as the street to pilot the first bike boxes in the city and to further improve cycling along Harbord this street will now have the first bike lanes in the city that will be painted through all intersections along the route improving safety in particular at Bathurst, Spadina and St. George. This proposal has now been approved by council.

“There was also a significant issue with the Bloor/Danforth EA study in Mr. Vaughan’s turf as the City specifically instructed the consultants to avoid looking at bike lanes between Avenue Road and Christie Street”

Not a problem—claiming that there was a problem, acknowledging that it was fixed by my office and then raising it again as sign that the city is not working towards bike lanes on Bloor is a little disingenuous. The reality is; the terms of reference were drafted using a preliminary version of the Bloor Visioning study. When the oversight was discovered the stretch of Bloor in question was rolled into the study area without any trouble.

“Vaughan’s support for the pushed-through Bloor Visioning Study that didn’t see bikes is beyond reprehensible”

Originally the planners who worked on the Bloor visioning study, and in fact several residents on the steering committee for the project opted to not include bike lanes on Bloor. As the study progressed and as alternatives were discussed the final report which I did help get passed called for bike lanes to be considered once a design was produced. We await the design.

” Mr. Vaughan’s not been good at providing support for bikes at City Wall”

Mr. Wilson cannot produce one vote that shows I don’t support bike lanes, bike infrastructure or bike safety. At council I have voted in favour of every bike route proposed. I have added bike lanes in my ward, improved bike lanes in my ward and taken steps to approve innovations that hopefully improve cycling safety. As a member of the Police Service Board I have worked with the cyclists union to enforce and hike fines for parking in bike lanes. At planning I moved the motions to increase bike parking standards in new developments. Later this month we will install the first on-street parking stands for bikes on Spadina. A move that eliminates a car parking space and uses the spots for two-wheelers. Short of imposing everyone of Mr. Wilson’s requests I don’t think there is a stronger councillor at City Hall.

The sentence in his letter I take most offence at however has nothing to do with me. It’s this line about people who walk in the neighbourhood not being worthy of consideration because cyclist are being hurt and are subject to “injuries that pedestrians don’t have”. Whether you are on two feet or two wheels a collision with a car is a devastating event. Suggesting that cyclists matter more is cruel.

My role as a Councillor is to make sure the city builds complete streets . I don’t care who is at risk, nor do I care who has been hit more, we must build streets that are as safe as they are beautiful. Bloor Street is no exception.

Adam Vaughan

Wilson’s rebuttal:
Dear Councillor Vaughan,
Thanks for taking the time to write back—I do have respect for your workload.

And at times, yes, you have voted for many biking things, just many of the bike lanes are of less merit, and some of the other initiatives tend to be feel-good measures where the real needs are for safer passage. You may feel very good about voting for bike lanes on the wider part of Bloor West of Dundas Street West, but the real needs for bike safety and bike lanes are far more acute in the narrower segments from Dundas Street West over to Ossington.

And there is one very salient vote that you did not support biking on—the Bloor Street Transformation project that has failed to provide adequate width for cyclists even though this was the best place for an east-west bike lane in 1992, though you diss the study.

Your vote for this project also removes the bike parking near Bloor/Yonge over to at least Bay, and worse, sets the tone for privatization of the street and planning processes as well as perhaps constrains the remnant portions of wide Bloor between Avenue Road and Spadina. This portion of Bloor is getting pretty ripped up and trashed and dangerous—and what are your plans for this street? Will you try to repeat the disaster of the Boor Street work and neglect bike safety? Or will there be bike lanes on this portion of Bloor in your ward over to Spadina?

No, we have not actually seen any on-street improvements. There are plans, yes. But I am fairly cynical about the gap between plans and the doing of them, and then there are the major issues of quality. With Harbord for instance, the real need is for dedicated and continuous bike lane space in that missing four blocks—and sharrows are a relatively feeble substitute.

I had thought that the plans for extending bike lanes to the corners would need to have Council approval, and Harbord bike lanes were not on the batched bike lane agenda item at PWIC, so it is news that these have been approved by Council. It’s too bad that the detailed plans have again not been available to the public for comment and criticism, and that is a major issue now with what gets done (I have been unable to open the two attachments which may be the relevant plans, and I will try again, but I am somewhat of a Luddite).

I have real reservations about the quality of the plans that the City can offer, given the Bloor Street mess, as Dan Egan’s name was on the front cover of that 1992 report, the Brown and Storey plans originally had bike lanes I believe, and even Councillor Rae promised us bike lanes on Bloor in the last election. The City has also proven itself unable to put down coloured paint on the road, and has also not been able to measure the road width on a portion of Wellesley correctly, 30 years after Wellesley was first studied for bike lanes. And then there was Buttongate.

With Harbord Street, bike boxes everywhere will not necessarily provide extra safety, and may well antagonize others towards bikes if they are not well thought out, and I suspect that will be the case, as bike boxes at every stoplight will delay all other vehicles along this route, especially if they are the thing du jour.

We do not need the bike boxes on Harbord if there is not going to be a bike lane leading up to the intersections, and I think more cyclists would like the safety of a continuous lane rather than feeble sharrows through those missing four blocks, especially when there are perhaps twice as many varied off-street parking spaces in the near-Spadina area as might be removed for bike safety.

The one spot I can really see a usefulness of a bike box is westbound Harbord from the Spadina corner towards the pinch point at the bank, and well out of your area at the end of Harbord westbound at Ossington, in turning left.

And the pavement quality of Harbord is getting rougher too, with quite rough pavement patching from drainwork at the top of Major, which is replicated up on Bloor too.

And there is often a significant delay between Council OK of a bike facility and its doing. We’re still awaiting some needed changes on the Viaduct, and fixing up the dangerous Wellesley curve, which has been very uphill to even get acknowledged by the City (with an FOI, and no fix yet, 1.5 years after installation).

With the EA study—it’d be really nice to have the faith in the system that bike lanes will be considered as an option—but the City was quite incompetent, perhaps deliberately, at lowballing the Bloor Transformation into a rubber stamp EA category even though I think you would figure out a disparity between $2.2 million and $25 million (though it’s now $30 million). That extension of the Bloor Visioning study over to Christie when it ended at Bathurst is still smelly though.

The Bloor Visioning Study fails bikes. It is status quo risk, and will likely make it worse if the indented parking design is ever implemented since the City is unable to plow out the snow of these parking bays and thus everyone parks further out into the roadway to squeeze the cyclists badly.

The falsehood of “widening” sidewalks is less realized – it is only at corners that there are bulb-outs, and cyclists will still have door prize risks. And given your weakness at even thinking of pushing car parking off of Harbord Street despite the high bike traffic, it is most unlikely that with a small reduction in parking through the indented bays occurring, that you would push to remove on-street parking altogether on the other side of the street for bike safety.

The streetscaping portion of the BVS is very bad for cyclists, even though the intensity of the bike traffic and parking is amongst the highest in the City, and the risks are very well known and documented, and of all the places to put in bike safety in the City, it should be the easiest with all the mobility of the subway, as well as the great amount of off-street parking.

If Harbord were made continuous, I personally would relax about bike lanes on Bloor in this portion, and settle for a wider curb lane with sharrows and perhaps a center median to aid in informal crossings as it is simply extra width to a travel lane that makes it much safer for cycling in my view.

And to your last point of supporting overall cycling, yes, I am somewhat wrong in that there are a lot of procedural and bylaw things that can help support cycling that are not obvious on-road things. But I am very focussed on the actual reality of biking on the roads, and how cyclists get to the bike parking, and travel through the ward, and reach the ward, and things are rough, and deteriorating, and dangerous and the realities do NOT match your rhetoric, nor anybody elses’ either.

The proof is in the painting and the paving, and there are scads of documents showing that the real needs for bike travel safety are east-west.

And given how tightly the CU Ward 20 group is with your office I am less sure of how well it really represents cyclists’ opinions, and in my view, we really need to have the Network subcommittee restored to the TCAC (Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee), as well as having it expanded.

So I am somewhat wrong in not acknowledging that you have supported many “off-street” bike initiatives and some on-street like the bike parking, but in terms of actually making a difference for many hundreds, if not thousands, of cyclists from the west end especially, nope, I don’t see it.

And cyclists do have a set of risks that pedestrians don’t have; pedestrians already have a fairly dedicated space called a sidewalk and yes, that is transgressed upon by cyclists who often fear for their lives on the road, or seek a smoother set of conditions off-road.

It would be interesting to actually chart/measure the numbers of pedestrians hurt by all forms of other mobility along Bloor between Bathurst and Spadina, and also measure the harms to cyclists, if the police can be bothered to actually respond, as I’ve heard some complaints about near-doorings etc. that no blood, no need for response.

Perhaps tomorrow I will find time to revisit that letter to the Gleaner, depending on their publishing schedule, but for the most part I feel it is fair comment and fairly accurate.

And thank you for your time again in response—and I’ve heard that the darned summit may well be removing a lot of the post and ring bike parking? Incredible!

Hamish Wilson

Tags: Editorial

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