Thursday, March 20, 2008

Ontario Bike Plan

Cycle Ontario Alliance's Ontario Bike Plan is available to view on Toronto Bicycling Network's web site (one of the study's sponsors):
The Ontario Bike Plan presents a series of strategies for both recreational and utilitarian cycling to encourage cycling participation in Ontario, specifically focusing on the implementation of the Ontario Bicycling Route. The strategies take into account existing cycling conditions in Ontario, derived from data and research in various Ontario communities and elsewhere, as well as consultation with various stakeholders including provincial ministries, Cycle Ontario Alliance (COA) members and the general public through the COA’s web site.
The vision for cycling in Ontario is to create a bicycle-friendly Ontario that encourages people of all ages to cycle for recreation, fitness and transportation enhancing the overall health and quality of life of Ontarians.
This study was completed for Cycle Ontario Alliance/Ontario en vélo, a member-supported, non-profit corporation dedicated to non-competitive, on-road cycling activities and was funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health Promotion, Mountain Equipment Co-op, Toronto Bicycling Network, North York Cycling Committee, Niagara Freewheelers and Sault Ste. Marie Velorution.
For further information about the Ontario Bike Plan or Cycle Ontario Alliance, please contact:

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

This is really about making more room for cars

Subject: Let's all agree to the obvious: This is really about making more room for cars.
Road plan isn't about carpools or buses, it's just making room for more cars

JEFF GRAY Globe and Mail Mar. 10/08

Sixteenth Avenue, as I remember it, was in the late 1980s a charming two-lane county road, with mostly farmland - and real live cows - on one side, and on the other, the rapidly expanding world of two-car garages and front lawns, where my family lived.

While at least one of those farms is still there, 16th is now a wide-feeling four lanes - an ample buffer zone graces its middle in stretches - and a busy commuter artery, funnelling traffic to Highway 404.

It is lined mostly with the backyards of houses that are hidden away in twisty-street subdivisions, and passes parking lots, plazas and gas stations. It is sprawl in a nutshell:

Great for cars, if you aren't expecting too many of them and don't mind mild ugliness, and lousy for pedestrians, cyclists and public transit.

Now, 16th Avenue is on a list of a staggering number of York Region's main roads that regional chairman Bill Fisch wants to widen, in this case, making my onetime sleepy country road six or seven lanes across.

Mr. Fisch says the plan is about creating high-occupancy vehicle lanes for carpoolers and buses. But let's not kid ourselves. Public transit up here is still a fringe affair, despite recent advances thanks to the region's shiny, new Viva bus system. And any HOV lanes along these roads are either going to be unenforceable or only meant to be enforced in rush hours.

Let's all agree to the obvious: This is really about making more room for cars.

Armed with his HOV-Iane fig leaf, Mr. Fisch even recently scolded Toronto Mayor David Miller for refusing to match York Region's road-widenings on Toronto's roads south of Steeles Avenue.

Mr. Miller and Toronto's traffic planners, however, have concluded that widening roads is a short-term fix, and so is no fix at all. In just a few years sometimes mere months - the new lanes simply clog with more cars.

Even York Regionites, mostly a car-loving people, are rising up against the widening plans. The resistance has admittedly been driven by people who live along 16th Avenue and are not keen to have what will amount to a highway right next to their back-yards. A petition has been circulating, crowds have been packing political meetings, and Markham town council voted recently to ask York Region to consider other options.

"It seems like it's time to draw a line in the sand with regard to urban sprawl," said local resident Peter Miasek, a semi-retired environmental adviser to Imperial Oil, who has been spearheading efforts to stop the widening.

He acknowledges that for an hour in the morning, traffic on 16th Avenue is quite busy, and that it maybe takes five more minutes than it once did to zip across. But four-lane main arteries, with better public transit in the mix, seem to serve big, busy Toronto well, he observes: "We know that four-lane roads plus transit works, because south of Steeles, that's pretty much all you've got down there."

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti said the town has asked York Region to look at whether the various planned future improvements to public transit the Yonge subway extension, improved GO service - will take the pressure off the need to widen roads as the area continues its massive population growth. But in an interview, he seemed unwilling to go to the barricades to fight a wider 16th Avenue: "At the end of the day, though, we do need to solve the traffic problem."

York Region has referred Markham's request to its transportation department for further study.

Stephen Collins, who manages the roads branch of York Region's engineering transportation services department, provided a chart that shows that if current trends continue, much of 16th would be at or above capacity by 2021.

He said the region's strategy, which used to call for nothing ,but road widenings, has matured into a plan to create a "transit priority network," with wider roads of HOV transit lanes to feed local bus passengers to its Viva bus rapid transit system.

Still, this is York Region. Many long-standing residents moved there years ago for the "open spaces," Mr. Collins says, and they are not going to give up their car keys.

"They are car users and they will always be car users, and despite our best efforts to encourage them to use transit, they never will. So we need to recognize that we have those people in our community, and we need to provide services for them."

Maybe there is no alternative.

Maybe there are so many cars, and so many malls. and so many low-rise office complexes dotting Markham and Richmond Hill that there is no use even bothering to fight against a wider 16th Avenue. Or maybe this considerable handicap means York Region needs to adopt a much more radical approach to transportation, well outside of its comfortable four-wheeled box.

Dr. Gridlock appears Mondays.

They are car users and they will always be car users, and despite our best efforts to encourage them to use transit, they never will.

Stephen Collins