University Avenue Reconstruction update

Last week, I criticized regional staff’s recommendation of painted on-street bike lanes in the planned reconstruction of Universty Avenue between Erb Street and Keats Way.  The matter was about to go before the Planning and Works committee for approval.

Here is the road cross-section the report recommended:

UniversityWestROW

I attended the P&W Committee meeting to delegate on behalf of TriTAG, a transportation advocacy organization for more balanced and efficient transport in our region.  My main points were:
– The notion that off-street bicycle paths would disrupt the continuity of cycling along the corridor is factually incorrect.
– A fully off-street (i.e. in-boulevard) bicycle path would have neither of the disadvantages staff used to dismiss cycle tracks: it would not be any more expensive than on-street lanes, and it would actually be easier to effectively maintain in winter.

The full text of my delegation is included at the bottom of this post.

Here’s what I had in mind:

UniversityWestTriTAG2

Continue reading

Posted in Waterloo | 3 Comments

Region of Waterloo recommends ingraining sub-par bikeway designs

University Avenue is planned to be completely reconstructed between Keats Way and Erb Street.  This is great news, because the street is currently in poor condition, and is of a rather unpleasant design as well.  But rather than improving the cycling infrastructure on this rather unpleasant roadway, the Region has decided that the status-quo is good enough. The current layout is of one mixed traffic lane in each direction, with a narrow paved shoulder signed and marked as a bicycle lane, and a wide gravel shoulder beyond it.  If not for the standard concrete sidewalk on the south/east side, you could be forgiven for mistaking it for an 80 km/h rural highway.

University Avenue looking south-west (from Google Streetview)

University Avenue looking south-west (from Google Streetview)

A major contributor to this rural feel is the fact that there are no driveways or building faces along the street.  All the adjacent properties are accessed by and oriented toward the local streets on their other side. Cycling along the road in its current state is not a great experience.  Traffic moves very quickly (as you’d expect with such highway-like design), and passes very close by.  But when I’ve ridden the segment, the high-speed traffic has been the least of my concern.  There is often a sprinkling of loose gravel in the bicycle lane that requires my full concentration, since there’s a risk that the tires could lose grip at any moment. And that’s just the warm months.  In winter, the shoulder is basically unusable due to the accumulation of slush and snow.  Even when the bicycle lane gets cleared by the snow plow, it quickly becomes covered again as passing cars spray salt, gravel, sand and slush to the side. You don’t need to be a traffic engineer to see how all these issues can be easily solved during this road reconstruction.  And by a single change too: moving the bicycle path off the main roadway and onto the boulevard along with the sidewalk.

Separate bicycle path on Lakeshore Blvd E in Toronto.

Separate bicycle path on Lakeshore Blvd E in Toronto.

Riding along a pathway well away from the speeding cars would be completely stress-free. Since there are no driveways, there would be no interaction with car traffic whatsoever. The curb and gutter that will be built along the edge of the roadway would catch the road grime kicked up by traffic before it gets to the bicycle path.  And the space between the bicycle path and the roadway would provide plenty of space to store the snow cleared off the road. And here’s what the Region is recommending for cycling infrastructure in the upcoming August 11th Planning and Public Works Committee meeting (This item starts at page 146):

3.3 Bike Lanes On-road bike lanes would provide an important connection to the existing onroad bike lanes on University Avenue both north of Keats Way and south of Erb Street. Bike lanes are also present on Erb Street east and west of University Avenue. The alternative being recommended by the Project Team is a buffered bike lane. The buffered bike lane would be built as an extension of the asphalt roadway surface but would be separated from vehicles by a buffer (double painted line) and possible “rumble strips” ground into the asphalt surface between the double painted lines.

This is a buffered bicycle lane:

Buffered bike lanes under construction on Highway 7 in Markham

Buffered bike lanes under construction on Highway 7 in Markham

(Don’t mind the pylons, the road was still under construction at the time.) Unlike a separate bicycle path, it does not move cyclists far enough away from motor traffic to have a pleasant ride, perhaps having a conversation with someone they are travelling with. Nor does it provide any kind of barrier that keeps road grime from accumulating along the bicycle path.  And as a result, it is pretty much impossible to keep clear in winter. To add insult to injury, buffered bicycle lanes require a large amount of roadway space (the lane width plus the painted buffer), which is very expensive to provide, unlike a simple asphalt path separate from the roadway. The justification the Region provides for insisting that cyclists be on the same roadway as cars is the most absurd I have ever seen in a Canadian traffic engineering report:

A cycle track was also considered is not recommended for this location because University Ave. both north and south of the project currently has on road bike lanes and it makes the most sense for this portion of University Ave to maintain an on-road bike lane for continuity with the adjoining sections.

This comment suggests that the Regional staff are unaware of the fact that an on-street bicycle lane can be seamlessly connected to an off-street bicycle path.  To learn how to connect an on-street bicycle lane to an off-street path, I’d recommend that they take a look at this excellent post by Mark Wagenbuur in the Netherlands. Transitioning onto and off of the street is not complicated, we have proven we can build smooth transitions here in Ontario too. The picture below is of a perfectly smooth transition from an off-street bicycle path to an on-street buffered bicycle lane on Queens Quay Blvd East in Toronto.

Perfectly smooth transition from bicycle path to bicycle lane - Queens Quay Blvd, Toronto

Perfectly smooth transition from bicycle path to bicycle lane – Queens Quay Blvd E, Toronto

Funnily enough, this particular example actually doesn’t exist anymore because the buffered bike lanes have since been replaced by an off-street bicycle path. Maybe the Region is aware of the fact that on-street infrastructure can be seamlessly connected to off-street infrastructure, and their argument is merely about consistency. But that argument comes down to “the bike lanes along the rest of the street are scary, so this part should be too!”.  Which is also too absurd for me to say much more about. According to the project overview, here’s where we stand.

6. Next Steps Staff is now presenting the Recommended Design Concept for Council approval. Subject to approval of the Recommended Design Concept by Council, a Notice of Completion will be prepared. This Notice will be circulated to potentially impacted property owners and agencies. The project file including all information made available to the public and the assessment of the alternatives considered will be made available for public review. If no unresolved concerns are brought forward within the 30 day review period, preparation of the detailed design for the proposed works will be initiated. Construction is currently scheduled to be undertaken in 2018.

Funny how repainting an existing street to allocate space for bike lanes takes countless community engagement sessions and long council debates, while multi-million dollar road construction projects get rubber-stamped with little thought.

Posted in Waterloo | 5 Comments

Next Steps for the Uptown Streetscape Project

On Monday May 25, Waterloo city council unanimously approved the preferred option for the Uptown Streetscape between Central Street and the LRT tracks – which includes separated bicycle lanes.

Over 70 people showed up to ride King Street to city hall prior to the meeting, showing their support for the project.  It was a great event with a great variety of participants, from young to old, riding everything from racing bikes to omafietsen.  Check out Mark Jackson-Brown’s video the ride passing by, it’s an impressive sight.

Uptown streetscape ride participants gathered in front of city hall

Uptown Streetscape ride participants gathered in front of city hall

The Meeting

The council meeting was truly a demonstration of effective local government.  All participants – councilors, guest speakers and the public – were united in the goal to make the city centre a vibrant and successful urban area.  Of course not all agreed on the way to achieve this goal, but the tone was very much collaborative rather than oppositional.  It was a refreshing contrast to the state of affairs I have experienced in some other local councils in Ontario.

The primary areas of discussion were the construction phasing and the availability of parking.

The planned construction period for the project is the 2017/2018 season, which was a cause for concern.  LRT construction is occurring along King Street between Erb Street and Victoria Street  from now until 2017, and the Region is reconstructing the street between Central Street and University Avenue in 2018/2019.  That means that at least some portion of King Street would be under construction for five years straight.

My thought was that if we delayed the City’s project by a year to coincide with the Region’s project, to total amount of disruption might be reduced.  One councillor also suggested this to the to the business owners in attendance, but to my surprise, their general consensus was that construction should start and finish as soon as possible.  Well if that’s what works best for the core’s businesses, then it certainly works for me.

The issue of parking was raised by Graham Whiting, a BIA member and chair of the project’s EA taskforce.  He noted that limiting car parking to one side of the street would make for an imbalance between the businesses, and was concerned about the impact of removing some of the most convenient car parking to customers.  There was a brief discussion of repurposing the bike lanes as parking or snow storage spaces in winter, but this was strongly opposed by city staff, the traffic consultant and many councillors.

Next Steps

Now that the general design principles have been approved by city council, the project moves into the detailed design stage, where city staff and consultants can look into the details of the streetscape.  It is during this stage that we will decide whether the parking should only be on the east side of the street as in the functional plan, or perhaps alternating sides, or possibly on both sides of the street.

Several councillors identified intersection design as a key area of focus, and I entirely agree, given the potential for reduced visibility associated with protected bike lanes.  This issue is quite broad, so I’ll examine it in more detail in a future post.

A couple other issues I’d raise for the detailed design include the type of curb used to separate motorized from non-motorized traffic (vertical or angled), and the width of the bicycle paths (is it possible to overtake?).

Thanks to the support of countless engaged citizens, the City of Waterloo will be getting a main street that is safe to get to and and enjoyable to be, for everyone.  Now we just need to help the city to work out the details to make King Street the best it can be.

Posted in Waterloo

Preparations for tonight’s Uptown Streetscape Vote

To be honest, I’m so excited. I never thought in my wildest dreams we’d have any chance of protected bicycle lanes on King Street in Waterloo. It’s been an amazing journey (that started with this post and also this petition)!

In addition to the amazing 1000 folks who took the time to sign the petition for protected bike lanes: three people come to mind who helped spark the change to get protected bike lanes in the recommended design, because when this was first tabled, protected bike lanes weren’t part of the conversation.

The first is Marie Snyder who blogs over at a ‘Puff of Absurdity‘, who after reading a post where we were complaining about the lack of protected bike lanes commented ‘if you made a petition, I’d sign it’. 1000 signatures later and City Planners had a new option. That’s a lot of passion for a little slice of <protected> pavement.

KingErb_4NEThe second is Narayan Donaldson, now a 4th year planning student at UW. Narayan has blogged quite a bit at WaterlooBikes.ca and also writes on his traffic blog on issues broader than Waterloo Region. Narayan designed protected bike lanes for King Street at a time when city designers were saying there wasn’t enough room. He helped frame our critique in a language understood by professional planners.

I really can’t end without acknowledging the tireless work of Mike Boos from TriTAG who has written award winning protected bike lane content (at least I’d give him an award). Mike’s also contacted city councilors and mayors with crazy professionalism, organized events and scoured the interwebs for bike lane data. He’s really the professional advocate!

So for tonight’s council meeting, I’ve registered as a delegate and this is what I’m planning to say:

*****************

Mayor Jaworsky, and members of Council,

Thank you for the opportunity to speak tonight. I am Graham Roe, presenting on behalf of WaterlooBikes.ca and the 1000 strong citizen led petition requesting protected bike lanes be included in the streetscape design.

I’ve lived in Waterloo since 1993, moving here to attend the University of Waterloo, since that time an important mode of transportation has been the bicycle. It’s not my only way of getting around, I walk lots, run some and have shared a car for a number of those years. I haven’t always been an engaged cyclist, nor an engaged citizen, however the last five years with WaterlooBikes have been fun and full of learning.

Waterloo quickly became home, I love it here. The quality of life is incredible, I’ve been fortunate enough that the furthest I’ve ever lived from school or work has been 10km and the vast majority under 3 km. I’ve experienced Waterloo’s growth over the last twenty years. I remember Waterloo Town Square during my University days, the change of swapping out parking spots for people space is amazing. The core, wasn’t as vibrant, wasn’t teeming with people, the change of designing for people has made an astounding impact.

The changes reflected in the recommended King Street Streetscape Improvement Project continue to enhance the human experience of Uptown Waterloo. The design includes wider sidewalks with more space for seating, trees, and other amenities, improvements to the road design to make driving better, and protected bike lanes separated from traffic by raised curbs and parked cars.

Before moving to Waterloo I lived in Holland for a couple of years and experienced this type of infrastructure first hand, every day. I was surprised to learn that those protected bike lanes didn’t always exist. After the destruction of the second world war, the nation was rebuilt around the car, the piazzas, pleins, city centres were all rebuilt around the car. It culminated in the 1970, a year in which over 400 children were killed by cars. That year citizens demanded change and city officials and planners listened and began their journey building out separated infrastructure for pedestrians and cyclists and now experience a modal share that most think is possible only through gene splicing.

Here in Waterloo it’s not the story of Holland’s 1970s we’ve been embarking on making our city more friendly for a while, it’s been baby steps, a bike lane here, wider sidewalks there, a regional first complete street, a master plan that embraces active transportation. The redesign of King Street is another baby step along a path we started long ago but it’s also symbolic of who we want to be and what we want to become. These few hundred meters of streetscape improvements generated over a 1000 signatures from citizens wanting a friendlier city.

I live a stone’s throw from here, my children aged 7 and 5 go walk or bike to school every day at Elizabeth Ziegler. In a few years when my daughter starts grade 7, she’ll need to navigate across Uptown to MacGregor on Central Street, I hope after today’s vote she’ll be able to take her bicycle. I’m asking for council to vote in favour of the recommended streetscape design.

The improvements proposed for King Street in Uptown are better for every road user, the business owner, the landlord, the pedestrian, the motorist, the public transit user, and yes also the cyclist. Better for people regardless of mode.

*****************

If you’ve read this far, any comments?

See you tonight for the 5.45pm pre-vote ride up King Street.

Posted in Waterloo | 2 Comments

COMMUNITY MEMBERS APPLAUD UPTOWN PROTECTED BIKE LANE PROPOSAL

Joint release by WaterlooBikes.ca and TriTag.ca:

COMMUNITY MEMBERS APPLAUD UPTOWN

PROTECTED BIKE LANE PROPOSAL

Recommended Uptown streetscape design includes wider sidewalks and protected bike lanes on King Street from Erb to Central.

WATERLOO, ON – May 7, 2015. Residents are celebrating a staff recommendation for protected bike lanes on King Street in Uptown Waterloo. The recommended design, if approved by Waterloo City Council, would see the installation of wider sidewalks and raised bicycle lanes, some protected from traffic by parked cars, along King Street from Erb to Central.

“These are the types of lanes you find in places like the Netherlands, where riding a bike is safe and natural for anyone,” said Graham Roe of Waterloo Bikes. “For me it is personal, I want my daughter to be able to ride and walk safely to MacGregor Public School from our home in the Mary-Allen neighbourhood. The current situation is dangerous and chaotic, for every road user. The proposed changes make King Street accessible for lots more people whether you’re 8 years of age or 80.”

Uptown Protected Bike Lanes

The City of Waterloo has been considering updates to its streetscape design on King Street since 2004. In 2013, Waterloo Bikes organized a petition, calling for protected bike lanes to be installed, collecting over 1000 signatures. Since then, staff have worked to incorporate better cycling infrastructure into the recommended design, bolstered by a study by University of Waterloo researchers showing that cycling makes an important contribution to business in Uptown. It is likely that the Region of Waterloo will adopt infrastructure consistent with the City’s choice when rebuilding King Street from Central to University in 2018.

“We’re very pleased to see the progress being made towards better cycling infrastructure in our municipalities,” said Mike Boos of TriTAG. “When lanes like these are built in North American cities, there have been dramatic increases in cycling rates, often accompanied by increases in business activity when placed along downtown routes. We look forward to seeing the active transportation network continue to grow and evolve, as our cities reap the benefits of investing in transportation choices.”

TriTAG and Waterloo Bikes will be organizing a community bike ride through the proposed route on May 25, ending at the Waterloo City Council meeting where the design of the future Uptown streetscape will be decided. The groups hope members of the public and councillors will join them to help celebrate this significant milestone.

The Tri-Cities Transport Action Group (TriTAG) is a local grassroots organization advocating for better infrastructure and policy to enable people to walk, bike, or take transit in Waterloo Region.

WaterlooBikes.ca is a local cycling advocacy group striving to make life by bicycle easier in Waterloo Region.

For information:

Mike Boos, Executive Committee Member, Tri-Cities Transport Action Group 226-476-1313 ext. 804 or media@tritag.ca

Graham Roe, husband, father, cycling advocate, entrepreneur who happens to ride a bicycle to get around Waterloo Region, Co-founder WaterlooBikes.ca  (waterloobicycles@gmail.com).

Visit http://tritag.ca/bikeuptown for more resources on the Uptown Streetscape project and protected bike lanes.

Posted in Bicycles, Community, Safety, Waterloo | Tagged ,

Uptown Streetscape Update – Vote going to Council May 25 2015

Just got word that on May 25th Waterloo City Council will be presented with the Environmental Study Report (ESR), recommending that Council approve the preferred option for segregated bicycle lanes, wider sidewalks etc!!

The report will be available on the City’s website the week of May 11th.

This has been a long time coming since our first post and start of our petition back in November of 2013!

If you can, mark May 25th in your calendar to show support for the proposal, a better option for all people who use King Street!

IMG_20140529_182241

 

Posted in Bicycles, Community, Safety, Waterloo | Tagged , | 3 Comments

Why we need protected bicycle lanes

Can’t do this in a painted bicycle laneScreenshot 2015-04-24 at 14.46.36

Posted in Waterloo