Category Archives: Cycling

A Tale of Two Road Diets

In the past few years, the cities of Waterloo and Kitchener have implemented what was then called road diets. (Road ‘right-sizing’ is a better term used today.) Waterloo converted Davenport Road from 4 lanes to 2 with bike lanes and a median a few years back to great fanfare. Last fall, Kitchener narrowed the expansive 2 lanes on Margaret to provide marked parking areas and bike lanes, as part of one the City’s 5 cycling priorities planned for 2012.

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Square pegs in round holes: A better design of roundabout entrances for cyclists

Roundabouts raise a great deal of controversy in Waterloo Region. Some love the way they make traffic flow smoothly. Others fear the unknown, or at least the other drivers who don’t know what they’re doing. Pedestrians and schoolchildren don’t feel safe crossing them. Traffic engineers are very much sold on roundabouts. Like them or loathe them, they’re here to stay.

Roundabouts can be a challenge for cyclists. As putting a bike lane on the outside of a roundabout invites dangerous sideswiping, it’s best to take the lane like any other vehicle when approaching a roundabout. Consequently, North American standards require that designated bicycle lanes end before the entrance to a roundabout. Unfortunately, when implemented in Waterloo Region, this presents two unpalatable options for cyclists. A curb cut onto the sidewalk and ring of crosswalks is provided for the timid. (If the expectation here is to dismount, it’s clear that it’s been far too many years since our traffic engineers have climbed onto a bike.) The other option is to merge with traffic when the bicycle lane ends.

This poses a safety problem. Cyclists are forced to merge in front of faster moving vehicles. While drivers are supposed to slow down for roundabouts, they don’t always do so. The implementation with the second roundabout lane, shown above on the right, is simply infuriating – it allows a car to enter the rightmost lane before the bike lane ends, which could cut cyclists off at the last minute.

It should be obvious that faster moving traffic behind should be watching out for slower moving traffic ahead, rather than having to turn your head to see if someone’s coming up faster from behind. (Not that shoulder checks are a bad idea, just that due diligence is easier from a car looking ahead rather than a bike looking behind.) It’s like how I was taught to ski down a hill: those downhill from you can’t see you, so yield if you’re skiing faster than them.

I’ve proposed a different way to ‘end’ bicycle lanes when approaching a roundabout, in a way that encourages this kind of behaviour, shown below. In the image on the left, the road markings imply that it is cars that must yield to bicycles ahead of them before merging into the roundabout entry lane. I’ve chosen ‘shark teeth’, which aren’t yet very common or well understood around here yet, but hopefully will become more so as time progresses. Shark teeth point in the direction of vehicles that are supposed to yield and show where they are expected to stop if necessary. Even if a driver is unfamiliar with this style of markings, it should be clear that they are leaving their lane for another and must merge carefully. This is made more obvious by the use of bike ‘sharrows’ in the middle of the lane.

The configuration on the right should be obvious: when a new lane is created for entering the roundabout, it should be a continuation of the bicycle lane so that drivers are required to think and can see cyclists better before merging occurs.

These aren’t big changes to the design of our roundabouts, but they could make a huge difference in terms of cycling safety.

Get excited about the new multi-modal transit hub

This coming Thursday, the Region of Waterloo is holding an open house to present and receive feedback on plans for the new transit hub coming to King and Victoria. The open house will take place from 4-8, with a presentation at 7pm, in the UW School of Pharmacy. Skimming through the planning documents is enough to get any fan of good urbanism, transit, or active transportation excited.

Conceptual transit hub layout

The site, (shown above) will occupy the space between King and Duke Streets, and between the railroad tracks and Victoria Street, serving as a connection between GRT light rail and buses, coach buses, GO service, and VIA Rail. It is also proposed as a mixed-use development, with retail, office, residential, institutional, and civic spaces. Further, the Region desires to optimize the entire area for pedestrians and cyclists first. Continue reading

Thoughts on last night’s Uptown Transportation Summit

Last night, Councillor Melissa Durrell hosted an Uptown Transportation Summit. Some big changes are coming to Uptown, including both intensification and LRT. Over 100 people showed up to have their say. Staff from the city, the region, and consultant Overlap Associates were present, as were student volunteers brought in to help facilitate.

The Good:

The majority of people there seemed enthusiastic about providing transportation choice and making alternatives to the car more viable, which was a pleasant surprise to me. I was half expecting strong NIMBY sentiments to oppose all change, but I didn’t see much of that at all. The framing questions seemed to hint that things like traffic calming and reduced parking are being seriously considered. The fact that the city is going to come away with positive receptivity to many of these things will help provide the political ammunition to implement them. Some attempt was also made to get participants to think about the ‘why’s of some of the end goals, which in theory could create better focus on the problem to be solved.

The Bad:

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Safe crossing for bikes desperately needed

Re: Focus on need, July 6, 2012

The ‘road diet’ for Lexington is absolutely necessary, and the decision to delay by Waterloo city council is intolerable. At present, there is no way for cyclists to cross the Conestoga Parkway in the City of Waterloo and still feel safe on the road.

The four lanes of car traffic is excessive, inducing motorists to travel at unsafe speeds. Sidewalks are no alternative for cyclists, as riding on them endangers pedestrians and can create greater risk at intersections. The proposed road diet is a relatively inexpensive and quick repair to the road that will still meet traffic needs for two decades and bypasses institutional inertia at the Ministry of Transportation. Approving it immediately should have been a no-brainer for council.

All citizens are asking for right now is just one safe way to cross the highway by bike. Is that really too much to ask?

Focus on making streets safe, not on helmets

This column appeared in last week’s Kitchener Post.

It was inevitable. The expert panel even predicted it. The media’s response to the provincial coroner’s Cycling Death Review released on Monday has been to focus on just one of the fourteen recommendations – namely, that Ontario investigate implementing a mandatory helmet law for cyclists of all ages. This review studied the deaths of 129 people on bicycles in Ontario from 2006-2010, to determine the leading causes of cycling-related fatalities and how they might be prevented. Continue reading

Safer streets are the answer

I’m disappointed by The Record’s coverage of the provincial coroner’s Cycling Death Review for its narrow focus on the mandatory helmet law at the expense of the thirteen credible recommendations, especially Luisa D’Amato’s scaremongering column. (Update: Friday’s editorial is a step in the right direction.) The example she provides of the recent injury is hardly relevant to the helmet discussion. The incident, which resulted from the cyclist violating several traffic laws, could have been prevented entirely without the aid of a helmet.

The coroner’s better recommendations will guide us here. Consider if the intersection had been designed with a ‘complete streets’ approach, with dedicated cycling infrastructure. What if the cyclist also had received and was tested in public school on bicycle safety and the rules of the road? What if he was confident enough to take his lawful place on the road, not on the sidewalk, with the knowledge that other traffic would respect him? This young man would have made his way home safely, regardless of what he did or didn’t have strapped to his head.

No one is taking their life into their own hands when they get on a bicycle. Instead, we all share responsibility for each others’ welfare on the road. That requires that we do everything possible to prevent collisions, not accept them as inevitable. As it says on the front page of the coroner’s report, “road safety is everyone’s responsibility.”

Iron Horse Trail at risk

Proposed relocation of the Iron Horse Trail to accomodate new condos and parking

A development is being proposed at the north end of the Iron Horse Trail. The proposal includes changing the alignment of the trail connecting Park and Caroline Streets around the buildings such that the trail lies between two parking garages. Others have attempted to share their concerns (see A sanctity of trails, Building a place to go, not go around, and Designing to improve the Iron Horse Trail). I have recently described my reservations about this development in an email to Uptown Waterloo councillor Melissa Durrell. I have included these concerns here. To voice your own, please use the Council contact form provided by TriTAG.

I am deeply concerned about the impacts to the Iron Horse Trail. Speaking from experience, the present connection between the Iron Horse and the Laurel Trails make it far too easy for new residents to lose their way. Relocating the trail further back and behind a tower will only further exacerbate this problem. If any relocation of the trail needs to be done, it should be to restore its natural alignment to connecting directly to the corner of Caroline and Allen. This would make it more visible, direct, and would make a natural connection between the trail and the future Allen LRT station. I believe there is open space around the future 144 Park development to facilitate this connection.  Continue reading

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Enhancing the place-making potential of Waterloo’s LRT through bike sharing

Photo credit: The Guardian http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/us-news-blog/2012/may/07/new-york-bike-share-scheme-sponsor

This week, the Region of Waterloo Central Transit Corridor Community Building Strategy (say that three times fast) hosts its second “Exploring the Opportunity Forum” focused on creating great places. I encourage you to visit one of their open houses, the walking tour, and the speaker series.

I’m certain we will have some wonderful discussions in the stakeholder workshops. The recent “Power of Ten” Jane’s Walk through downtown Kitchener has no doubt seeded some great ideas and thoughts throughout our community.

One of the things I’d love to see our region explore is enhancing place-making through bike sharing. The Project for Public Spaces identifies bike sharing stations as ideal triangulators. A triangulator is something that links people together in a public space and causes strangers to talk to each other who otherwise wouldn’t. Here’s why they think bike sharing stations accomplish this:

  1. They’re natural conversation starters.
  2. They attract a stream of diverse users at all times of day & night.
  3. They act as casual landmarks that concentrate activity.
In the first speaker series talk in the Community Building Strategy, we learned that cities should aim to maximize exchange space and minimize transportation space. Bike stations appear on the surface to be transportation spaces, but they transform into exchange spaces when people interact with them. Bike sharing can be so much more than a station range extender for light rail. Bike sharing can help us build community here in Waterloo.