(via I Bike TO) This evening, the civil servants charged with planning bicycle transportation will hold an open house at Northern District Library. They plan to present a proposal to fill the gaps in the city's bicycle network with trails. In many respects, I welcome this proposal. I have just a few questions: the civil servants and politicians charged with designing these facilities describe them with the word "multi-use". Does the city plan to provide genuine multi-use trails with a clearly delineated bicycle component, or will they simply go with a "shared" facility, which throws the burden of keeping traffic separated on the users, and which often creates conflict and even endangers users. When I go to the open house this evening, I have no doubt I will find out.
A trail defined as multi-use mixes pedestrians and cyclists. The West Toronto rail path, one of the best examples of such a trail, actually functions as more of a linear park than a simple trail; it offers benches and grassy areas, and the cyclists passing by mingle with the dog walkers, joggers, and children playing. The civility that distinguishes Toronto at its best often makes this mix work, but does not eliminate the inherent problem with the design. Bicycles travel too fast to mix safely with pedestrians. An cyclist can easily move about three times as fast as the average pedestrian; the average urban motorist only moves about twice as fast as a cyclist. As events last summer tragically proved, collisions between cyclists and pedestrians can have tragic results.
The designers of the Martin Goodman Trail on the waterfront tried to solve this problem by dividing parts of the trail into pedestrian and bicycle pathways. This works quite well on some parts of the trail, less well on others. How well this separation works depends on both the effectiveness of trail marks and signs, and on the willingness of trail users to cooperate. Ideally, a trail divided for bicycle and pedestrian use would separate the paths in much the same way as road designs separate pedestrian and vehicular traffic. Such a design would reflect sound engineering principles, by making the safe choices the easiest and most obvious, but would also affirm the status of bicycle paths, routes and lanes as transportation corridors, like roads and subway lines, rather than recreational facilities. Cyclists ride to get to destinations. We have places to get to, and like other users of the city transportation networks, we have time pressures and deadlines to meet. If the bicycle facilities the city provides do not permit us to ride fast enough in safety. we can always use the roads, but that eliminates the safety advantages the city has attempted to provide by building the trails.