Saturday, April 14, 2007

Safe Riding, Safe Routes

The city can provide for safe, comfortable, and effective cycling in three ways: by ensuring safe conditions along common cycling routes, installing bicycle lanes, and building bicycle paths.

  1. By bicycle routes, I mean the routes through the city which cyclists actually take, because overall they offer easier or more pleasant cycling, and because they take us where we want to go. It makes sense for planners to focus on these routes when they work to remove or mitigate hazards to street bicycling. Bicycle routes may or may not have bicycle lanes.

  2. By bicycle lanes, I mean half lanes reserved and marked as reserved for cyclists.

  3. By bicycle paths, I mean paths separated from roads, through parks or dedicated bicycle rights of way.

I intend to write a series of posts in the next few weeks on all these provisions for cycling, and especially for bicycle commuting. In this post, I intend to focus on bicycle routes, and some of the things which make a bicycle route easy and safe, or difficult and dangerous, to negotiate.

Living in the West End, I frequently cycle downtown by way of Annette Street and either Dundas Street or Dupont Street. This route has several major advantages: Annette has on-street parking, which usually leaves a half-lane for cycling; it has a 40 km/h speed limit; it has no hills. Annette provides an ideal route, until I reach Dundas. Whether I go East on Dupont or South on Dundas, I have to get past the intersection which joins Dundas, Annette, and Dupont. That intersection has three features which make it hazardous for cyclists:

  1. High speed; Dundas between Bloor and Annette has few residential or commercial buildings to calm traffic, which consequently approaches the intersection moving quickly.

  2. An open ramp, which allows cars traveling North on Dundas quick access to Dupont, and which allows traffic moving West on Dupont access to Dundas southbound. This ramp creates a large open space in which cars move both rapidly and unpredictably, which creates a dangerous situation for cyclists.

  3. A railway underpass on Dupont, with bad sightlines.

Four measures which might improve the situation for cyclists include:

  1. Bike lanes in the railway underpass on Dupont.

  2. A traffic island at the ramp between Dundas and Dupont.

  3. More economic development on Dundas South of Annette would calm traffic.

  4. Either extend the traffic signals at Dundas and Annette to control the ramp between Dundas and Dupont, in effect creating a “long intersection”, or else install a separate signal to control access to the ramp.

When aiming for safety on bicycle routes, I believe it makes the most sense to focus on intersections. According to the Pedestrian and Bicycle Information Center, accidents at intersections account for about 50% of all bicycle crashes. In some cases, such as the Bloor, Kipling, and Dundas intersection, it probably makes sense to provide cyclists with an effective bypass, since the designers of that intersection clearly intended it for high-speed car traffic. In all cases, traffic planners ought to ensure that bicycle routes offer: safe conditions, well-maintained pavement, and good sight lines, and safe intersections, either through signals, traffic calming, the provision of bicycle lanes, or (where these prove impossible) effective bypasses for cyclists.

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