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Hope for Royal York Road bike lanes as Council set to decide fate Posted: May-17-05
After two hours of debate at last Thursday's Council Meeting a motion was approved that will see a 1.25 metre wide bike lane painted on the 9.1 m road width that was being pushed by Councillor Peter Milczyn at the direction of a local ratepayer's group. It was sold as a compromise. Actually the only way the word compromise could be used to described the solution that the Councillors created on the floor of City Council last week would be in the sense that their road design compromises the safety of cyclists as they will have a sub-standard bike lane on a very busy road. Nation wide standards and a city wide policy came up against the unwritten rule at council that I think was best stated by John Sewell in his Feb 3, 2005 Eye Magazine article "that each (councillor) has a free hand to deal with their own ward as they see fit and will support what every other ward councillor wants to do on any given ward-specific issue." There was no way the Councillors would dare defy the local councillor on the 9.1 m directive so they had to creatively get around national road design standards and the principles of the Toronto Bike Plan.
The motion that was approved by the Works Committee on April 27th stated that the Road would be 9.1 m and asked for reports from the Acting General Manager, Transportation Services and the City Solicitor on on whether a 1.25 m edge line could be painted. Had that motion passed by Council as is, it was clear to those who were lobbying for the bike lanes that no line would be painted. The Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) publishes standards for road design that the City of Toronto follows. It states that a bike lane should be 2.0 m wide but could be a minimum of 1.5 m. The report that would have come back would have been the City could not paint a bike lane, or something that looked like a bike lane, narrower than the minimum national standard because the City would be liable for injuries to cyclists that occurred on that stretch of road.
It was obvious that Councillors knew the difficulties with the painting a line as by the time the debate on the Royal York Road started, because they had come up with an alternative. Councillor Michael Thompson - Ward 37 Scarborough Centre made the following motion.
“That the General Manager, Transportation Services, be directed to develop a “bike route” pavement marking design that will complement the bike route signs to be applied on each side of Royal York Road between mimico Creek and Usher Avenue, within the recommended 9.1 m pavement width, that encourages drivers to travel of the left side of their travel lane, and emphasizes the presence of the bike route on this section of Royal York Rd., thereby improving the margin of safety and comfort for cyclists.”
Speaking to this motion Councillors Giambrone and Glenn De Baeremaeker - Ward 38 Scarborough Centre, and Adam Giambrone Ward 18 Davenport spoke of having chevrons or some other designs painted on the road to indicate to the drivers that they had to keep to the left of the lane. This proposal had come out of nowhere. It was not a type of bike route marking that was in the Toronto Bike Plan, and this proposal had not been put before the Toronto Cycling Committee for comment nor had there been any consultations with other cyclists or residents on this new pavement marking scheme that was suddenly being proposed. Questions by councillors to the Transportation Services staff revealed that these chevrons or other types of markings were not a TAC standard and was not used anywhere else in Canada.
The idea of making the road 9.6 m as a way to make a bike lane of the minimum 1.5 m was never seriously considered. The issue was cast as being one of protecting trees along the road. In fact a question by Councillor Norm Kelly - Ward 40 Scarborough Agincourt to the City Forester about the difference of the effect on the Trees between 9.1 and 9.6 meters got the response that either width would have an impact on the trees and to get a definitive answer they would have to do a tree by tree analysis which had not been done. Later however, when cross examined by Councillor Joe Pantalone Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina, the Forester suddenly became more definitive with his answer saying he would not recommend the 9.6 metre width as there would be a negative impact.
Since the chevron idea was not finding ready acceptance with staff Councillor Olivia Chow - Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina stepped in with an amendment of her own, she moved that Councillor Thompson's motion be amended that after the word “travel lane,” add “by painting a solid white edge line 1.25 metres from the curb face.". They were now back to painting a sub-standard bike lane.
In order to portray this 1.25 m bicycle lane as a happy compromise, Councillors, who generally support the Bike Plan, started to sing the praises of the sub-standard bike lane width. In their enthusiasm they went overboard, or rather, they threw overboard the principles of the Bike Plan. The 1.5 metre minimum width was being portrayed as a luxury. (Actually bike lanes in Toronto average about 1.8 metres, closer to the 2.0 m standard in the TAC guidelines, 1.5 m is a minimum.) Councillor Chow said 1.25 m was just as safe as 1.5 m. When asked by Councillor Doug Holyday - Ward 3 Etobicoke Centre why not have all bike lanes at 1.25 m Councillor Chow said that she would support that as a made in Toronto solution. Councillor Pantanlone chimed in to support this 'Made in Toronto' asking why do bike lanes have to be perfect?
There were councillors that spoke against the sub-standard bike lane proposal and in support of those communnity members who wanted safe bike lanes. Giorgio Mammoliti - Ward 7 York West gave one of the best speeches in support of the Bike Plan that I have heard in a long time. Councillor Norm Kelly asked questions of staff on behalf of concerned community members that brought out some of the information that showed the problem with the proposals. Councillor Rob Ford - Ward 2 Etobicoke North moved that the issue be deferred for a month so that the unanswered questions could be looked at prior to a final decision. Councillor Holyday supported Councillor Ford's motion to defer and summed up the situation perfectly. "What we are doing is setting up a situation that I am calling a 'a trap' putting 12 and 11 year old kids on one end of Royal York Road and sending them into the middle where conditions change, kids don't adjust that fast." He continued saying. "What we are measuring this against is some trees. If this is what we are going to do that we should do it properly. Councillor Ford is right, get the information. Find out how many trees are involved and what perils are involved for these 12 year olds." The other councillors were unmoved. The motion to defer lost.
One final amendment to the proposal was make by councillor Sylvia Watson - Ward 14 Parkdale-High Park who asked that signs be posted at the start of these new lanes warning that bike lanes were narrow.
Mayor David Miller weighed in with a final comment "Paint the line"
In the end the 9.1 m road width, with the compromised 1.25 m bicycle lane design, passed with only Councillor Holyday opposed.
There were subsequent motions from Councillor Giambrone asking for a report from staff on:
- using this type of pavement marking on other City of Toronto Roads in the future; and
- retrofitting existing bike paths which are currently marked with signage only.
He also asked that this question be referred to the Toronto Cycling Committee for comment. It is a little late for Royal York Road but perhaps in time to prevent this kind of sub-standard design from spreading throughout Toronto's Bikeway Network.
The gymnastics that Councillors, who normally support cycling infrastructure such as Giambrone, De Baeremaeker, Chow, Fletcher, and others went through in order to make the the 9.1 m proposal appear bicycle friendly illustrate the power of the unwritten rule of ward sovereignty. This tacit pact tied their hands when it came to attempting to implement a city wide policy in a local ward. In their exertions they may have hurt themselves. They may have hurt the cause of making Toronto a bicycle friendly city. Martin Koob