Europe and many US cities cycle ahead of Toronto

Post by Eric Mang in ,

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Freiburg bikes
Freiburg gets the bike thing

On this historic day, one which sees GM file for bankruptcy protection, I hope this forces us to think about the role of the car in our cities (especially since we Canadians now own 12 per cent of GM).

This is not a post on GM and its various failings (but I’ll bet they regret designing cars with planned obsolescence…) but one I’ve touched on a number of times these past few weeks: active transportation.

On Sunday, my wife, daughter (who was in a bike seat with me) and I cycled from the Danforth to Queen and University (for non-Toronto readers, this trek involved biking downtown). It was a quiet morning, but closer to noon, the traffic volume picked up and the bicycling became a little more hairy.

I assumed that on a Sunday the chances of getting side-swiped by some harried and hurried pinstripe-suit-wearing-Porsche-Cayenne-driving-Bay-Street-lawyer were slim. But no. As we peddled down Queen, past the Eaton Centre, I was inches from the gutter, a streetcar was a car lane away from me (which is fine – we both had plenty of room), but behind me, worried that she couldn’t squeeze her GMC Tank between the jerk on a bike and those plebs that take public transit, well-coifed, pancake make-up woman, started blaring the horn, demanding I get over. Of course I did what any Papa Bear would do when riding with his toddler, fearful of landing in the gutter and going head-over-handlebars: I told the driver to “f--- off”.

Last week was the second annual Toronto Bike Summit. Toronto is starting to make some good first steps toward improving cycling safety, but we’re leagues behind European cities and trailing US megalopolises like New York.

I thought it worth excerpting from the Toronto Star these two initiatives:

Traffic Calming
Imagine a city where 400 kilometres of roads have a speed limit of 30 km/h or less.

In Freiburg, Germany, there are 177 Home Zones, residential streets where the limit is a stately 7 km/h. On some, cars must yield to bikes and on most, they're restricted to one-way travel.

The city has 220,000 residents of whom 28 per cent move about on bikes, up from 11 per cent in 1982. More than 30 per cent of commuters use two wheels, and the number of bikes traveling into the downtown each day – about 36,000 – is up by 60 per cent since 1990.
The train station has a secure garage for 1,000 bicycles and bike parking has tripled in 20 years.
Could it work here?
Freiberg, rebuilt after World War II, was on the road to a North American-style car culture in the 1960s. Then the oil crisis hit, and locals mobilized to block a nuclear power plant. Green activists never looked back, said Virginia Tech assistant professor Ralph Buehler, who hails from a town near Freiburg.
"One of the lessons of Freiburg is: it takes time. It's a process of trial and error."
EACH TO HIS OWN LANE

New York has been going fast to implement bike and pedestrian policies that "are innovative in the North American context" but old news in Europe, said Josh Benson of the N.Y.C. Department of Transportation. On 8th and 9th Avenues, protected bike lanes were built next to the sidewalks. Street parking is placed about 20 feet (6 metres) into the road. Painted stripes and bollards separate vehicles from bikes so effectively that parents feel safe to cycle with their young children.

Cyclists even have their own traffic signals, with cars required to wait while they make turns. That's aimed at changing a disturbing statistic: nine of 10 cycling fatalities occur at intersections.

"Unfamiliar road configurations freaked people out at first," Benson said, but that's lessened over time.

New York has added 200 miles (322 kms) of bike lanes to its existing 400-mile network in three years. Commuter cycling has increased by 35 per cent just in the past year.

Also worth reading is this piece by John Bonnar in rabble.ca

As I’ve written before, we’ll improve design and infrastructure for active transportation in Toronto. We just need to keep the pressure on Mayor Miller and our Councillors to make the right decisions.
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