Friday, September 10, 2010

Thoughts on transit platforms

With the Toronto mayoral election campaign in full swing, here are my thoughts on the transportation related issues that are at play.

Subways vs LRT

Light rail transit is, as I've said before, a new concept for the citizens of Toronto. This has made it very difficult to prove that it is a viable solution to the traffic woes on certain corridors. Even in the face of overwhelming evidence in other cities, until we have actually built a line that disconnect will continue to exist. But, fear of the unknown is not a good reason to abandon a plan that is approved, funded and practically under construction.

We should be building subway lines like the Downtown Core Line in addition to light rail lines, but not instead of. In essence, to abandon the Transit City plan now only leaves us with another decade of dithering. Whereas the Province of Ontario and Metrolinx are truly in control the fate of these lines, they must resist any attempt to defer the approved plan.

Streetcars vs Buses

Some mayoral candidates wish to remove streetcars from the roads. This is a generally bad idea for several reasons. Firstly, a single streetcar can carry more passengers than a single bus. This means that replacing streetcars with buses on a seat-for-seat basis means more vehicles and more operators. Since the stated goal of the streetcar opponents is to unclog the roads, the opposite effect will occur almost immediately. Secondly, since streetcars run on rails, they don't have to weave in and out of traffic to pickup and discharge passengers. Since I often feel like I'm the only one who yields to buses, the replacement vehicles will be delayed more often and still clog up both lanes. Finally, rail vehicles have a certain X factor that builds ridership faster and encourages more development. Anecdotally, the company is called Streetcar Development, not Bus Developments.

Whereas streetcars get stuck in traffic and frustrate motorists, officials should give transit planners the tools to give streetcars the boost they need.

Bike Lanes vs The Universe

When it comes to bicycle infrastructure, our objectives should not be to build a specific quantity of bike lanes in the city. Our objectives should be to build a network that allows people to cycle safely from any one point in the city to any other point in the city and to let all road users use the space we have in the most efficient way possible.

Downtown, this means extending existing bike lanes (especially to the waterfront) and building new connections between existing lanes and routes. On arteries which cannot accommodate bike lanes due to space and traffic capacity needs, sharrows should be used because studies done in San Francisco and the Pacific Northwest show that they improve safety. Let's be frank - we cannot put bike lanes on every downtown artery. Jarvis worked because the centre lane didn't really add much to the overall capacity. Whatever your ideology, that is an objective planner's truth. On an artery like Queen, however, the lanes are all spoken for and we cannot narrow the sidewalks. For situations like this, innovative solutions like a series of east-west cycle super-highways on parallel roads and laneways can be potential solutions. But, using parallel roads will require signal protection to cross the main arteries safely to continue the journey. The key should be to give downtown cyclists a traffic free route to get reasonably close to their destination, then create an "expect a bicycle at any time in any place and give them room" mentality with motorists.

Uptown, giving cyclists a safe route probably means off-road paths in ravines and hydro corridors, but more importantly, in the wide boulevard of arteries. This achieves the goal of providing a safe route close to the destinations people are traveling to, but they must be carefully designed to reduce the chance of collisions with vehicles at the cross streets. Lake Shore Blvd has a parallel path similar to what I'm referring to, but I've nearly collided with traffic turning in and out of Ontario Place ("right turn creepers") on several occasions because these motorists are only looking for cross traffic and not for trail users. Pavement treatment, signage and adequate setbacks from the roadway are needed. When it comes to ravines, connections between disconnected parts need to be joined.

Whereas cycling is an effective mode of travel and should be planned for, we need to find a way to include cycling in the mix citywide. Sustainable transportation should take priority over non-sustainable modes, and that priority should come in the form of safer, separate routes that make car drivers jealous of the fact that cyclists are getting to their destinations faster and stress free.

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