Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Active Transportation? Open House? Consultation? I laugh in your face!

Consultation? What does that mean?

It means there could be some preeeetty significant changes to you car-drivers in the somewhat near future and there ain't nothin' you can do about it.

The Active Transportation open house took place today at the Red River College downtown campus. The event had numerous boards depicting the plans for bike corridors, mostly attended by people who ride bikes and attended very sparsely by people who don't.

I thought this open house was a joke. It wasn't about consultation, it was about showing the plans they had. Upon questioning an on-hand consultant, they went into defense mode to defend their plans as were, or if you pressed for more information such as funding or budgets, they responded with "I don't knows." They had no idea, the details of otherwise completely OBVIOUS things such as snow removal, or how intersections work. It became very obvious very fast: these plans are made for cyclists without thinking about the motorist. Everything is about giving bicycles priority.

How do you do open house consultation? You do what David Asper did tonight at the University. More on that in a second post. But I digress....

Which doesn't say a lot about these so-called "consultants". Some of these active transportation things CLEARLY have things in them that HAVE NOT BEEN analyzed very well. Some things that should be obvious, completely overlooked. And why?

Well, because these plans are made for cyclists to accomodate vehicles. Whereas these plans should be made for vehicles to accomadate cyclists.

These plans are like, cyclist utopia.

Let's summarize the four proposed routes and then dive into some rather ludicrous details:

Assiniboine Avenue to Osborne
: I'll start with the biggest joke of them all. Simply put, this is a fucking nightmare. A few points....A cycling-only lane physically separated by a curb, 3 metres wide, from Main to Kennedy. This will result in "significant parking loss" and also completely re-route traffic on Assiniboine under the guise of "traffic calming," all to accomodate cyclists.

Bannatyne and McDermot, from Waterfront to HSC:
This plan involves, on McDermot, a cycling lane the whole way. Note that a cycling "lane" is just paint on the road and a "cycling track" is a lane physically separated by a special curb. That's all good and dandy. But on Bannatyne, because there is room, there will be a cycling track. This track will be 1.5 metres wide on the curb lane side of the street.

Alexander/Pacific/Elgin: This one is pretty good. This connects both Red River College campuses via Alexander and Pacific. Most of it is through somewhat residential streets, which makes things easier. What makes things stupid is how they handle high-traffic intersections, such as Alexander and Isabel. Clearly none of these consultants have driven a bike down this route. It also calls for changing some streets to a forced right turn, blocking off through traffic so bikes can go through, and funneling motor vehicle traffic elsewhere.

Eugene/Youville/Egerton: This one, like Alexander, makes some sense by using residential streets. Again, what doesn't make sense is the installation of forced-right turning in a couple of areas. Utterly stupid.

And now for some details...

As I said earlier the consultants could explain the diagrams and such very well, but were completely and totally inept at answering questions about any aspect of these plans that was NOT ABOUT BIKES.

And even if it was about bikes, they would simply defend their design. I personally watched one woman absolutely give it to two consultants, about the Alexander/Isabel intersection. She had incredibly valid criticisms. The consultants attempted to defend the design, but didn't get anywhere, because this woman clearly knew more than the consultants did on this issue. The consultants stood there and started nodding in agreement after some time. Did they take a few notes down? No. Ask for her information? Not that I could see. So what kind of consultation is this? Your complaints are duly noted, thanks for coming?

When I questioned the usefulness of a "cycling track," the answer was for cyclist safety and for "B-type cyclists." Remember, a cycling track is a lane for bikes physically separated from traffic by a special curb. A "B-type" cyclist is someone who does not ride their bike to wherever very frequently and are not experienced cyclist commuters. I asked this question because, really, is a dedicated bike lane and some paint not enough? How about snow clearing? But no, it's not the cyclist commuters they are bowing to here, it's everybody and anybody who owns a bike and may or may not be inclined to ride it.

And how DO you clear the snow, I asked? With a bike lane, it's simple. You can clear it just the same as you do with everything else. With a cycling track? That requires either a new machine or a sidewalk machine. I even had one consultant tell me that cycling tracks would get PRIORITY for snow clearing!

...WHAT? What kind of fucked up city do we live in where CYCLISTS safety in the winter comes BEFORE VEHICLE SAFETY?!

How much money would it cost to clear cycling tracks? No answer. Actually, anyt question about money was deflected. How much does any of this cost, ballpark figure? No answer. How much has the city budgeted for consulting? No answer. They couldn't answer anything about cost for ANY OF THIS! So how did they design these plans? Without regard for COST!

One of the things that makes the least sense, aside from cycling tracks on a street like Bannatyne, is the idea of creating a "forced right" situation in the residential neighborhoods. Say we have a four-way stop. With these plans, they would plunk down a barrier on one of the streets to prevent through-vehicular traffic. Of course, this adds to traffic volumes on other residential streets, and creates a thoroughfare for cyclists. It's a RESIDENTIAL STREET! We're talking about SAFETY right? Jeebus, it's not like these corridors are for cycling down Pembina where safety IS an issue, they're going down YOUVILLE!

I inquired about the installation of roundabouts instead of lack-of-foresightingly blocking off streets and creating forced-right turning. Makes sense to me, nobody has to stop and everybody wins. Bikes don't have to stop, motorists don't have to stop, it's "greener," it's win-win for everybody. But was...TOO EXPENSIVE to install roundabouts in residential neighborhoods! Not only is it too expensive, but it also allows vehicle traffic on ALL neighborhood streets. No WONDER roundabouts aren't on the table. They keep cars ON THE ROAD!

What bothers me most about this? That consultants were directly involved here. What SHOULD have happened, was the consultants set up their little boards, and leave. They had a vested interest in what they were presenting, they defended every aspect of it. Was there true data collection? Was there any value to this "consultation?" Will any of these plans change? I highly, highly doubt it.

So why can't they use some common sense here instead of pandering to cyclists?

Why can't they install roundabouts instead of blocking residential streets and creating forced-right turns?

Why can't they take a lesser travelled residential street instead of a precarious high volume one?

Why can't they just paint a bike lane on the road and call it a day instead of making a new curb and new infrastructure just for cyclists?

Why can't they put a bike lane on Assiniboine instead of turning it into an absurd clusterfuck of intertwined one-way streets and single-lane roads with parking on both sides all designed for "traffic calming?"

Why can't they scale back their plans in the interest of saving money? Unless City Hall is prepared to doll out at least 10 million dollars, there is absotively no bloody way all four of these plans will see the light of day in their entirety.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm SUPPORTIVE of getting cyclists some road space. But this is absurd. There's good ideas in some of these plans, I'll give them that. But it's the bad ideas that they cling to and defend. It's when they make the motorist the second-class citizen in the transportation department that things go sour. It's when you put consultants in charge of drafting plans that would see the priority on roads go from car owner, to casual bike rider, things go awry.

I'm ALL FOR improving cyclists' lives. But unlike the multitude of bike lobbies in this city, I ACCEPT that Winnipeg is a car-driven city. We aren't going to change that, and it's absurdity to try to do so.

What we can do is put some things in place to make it easier and more attractive for cyclists. We can make little bike lanes like there is on Princess now. We can use existing infrastructure and turn it into cyclist's paradise such as the Marconi Line. We can plan bike lanes and even cycling tracks when we build new roads, or widen existing ones. That's how you can do it intelligently.

Up tomorrow: How to consult the public properly, featuring David Asper and the new Stadium Plan.

Until then, look forward to road blockages, new one-ways, cycling tracks, bike priority queing at intersections, and potentially dangerous, not-very-well-thought-out cycling lanes.


jonathan said...

As a frequent cyclist, I know how well cycling lanes, and sharrows, both of which are merely paint on existing roads, are respected by motorists. Which is to say, not at all. Physical grade separation is pretty standard in most cities that have any kind of cycling infrastructure.

As for clearing, I doubt the same equipment would be used to clear a narrow cycling track as would be used for major streets, so the problem of priority hardly seems like much of a problem at all.

It is not safe for cyclists, even those who follow on the rules, on busy routes. Any changes that put cyclists first, for once, are welcome.

Anonymous said...

hopefully someone will have the balls to tell the cycling lobbyists enough is enough.

Use Transit or buy a car. If you want to cycle, there are miles of bike paths to pedal already available.

Biking isn't transportation, its an activity.

The Great Canadian Talk Show said...

I can vouch for Graham's assessment of that fiasco of an Open House. It will be a featured topic today on the show.

They were dead serious that cycling tracks would have priority in winter. It isn't about the equipment, it's about how they had no idea what the cost would be, and the cost would not matter. No sense of responsibility to explain to taxpayers how that is justified to spend money on 12 cold-weather diehard cyclists wanting to use Bannatyne when backlanes and sidewalks that serve ALL the community in the inner-city are neglected. Sheer idiocy.

steve said...

First, your comment about consultation is 100% true. I think there's actually a scale worked out correlating the type of participation to the level of legitimacy. Let's just say open houses don't rank very well on the list.

Also, as a cyclist, bicycles damn well are transportation. All we require is a safe space or clear and sensible guidelines for sharing existing infrastructure, with enforecement. Wasn't at the open house so I can't comment on specifics. However, before anyone starts denouncing the cycling lobby they should realize that it's still planners/consultants putting this together. If they can't figure out how to make routes friendly for peds, bikes, & cars how is that the cycling lobbies fault?

IMO, although car addicts will no doubt object, all that needs to be done is not allow on street parking on cycling routes. Don't like it? take the bus or buy a bike.

Graham said...

@ Jon

Physical grade separation is standard in other cities yes, but to suggest building them on a street such as Assiniboine is pure absurdity. Changing the way traffic works and making the whole area nearly un-driveable should not even ben an option. On the other hand, building one on Bannatyne might work because it doesn't really change much.

I can't say how well respected the cycling lanes are, but really, is it not better than before? Before you guys had nothing. I can agree full well with Steve, some enforcement and over time it would get better for sure.

The problem of snow clearing is a problem and maybe I didn't do a good job of explaining that. Of course the same equipment isn't used. But when asked about what would get plowed first, the consultants responded "cycling tracks would." When asked about the equipment, they responded that sidewalk clearing equipment would be on hand constantly to make sure the cycling track doesn't have snow on it.

Which would mean less sidewalk clearers for...sidewalks. And apparently, regular equipment CAN fit down a 3-metre cycling track.

I'm sure you would rather have drivers safe in the winter before cyclists. The last thing you would want is a driver careening out of control into the cycling track because city crews were too busy clearing the cycling tracks first.

I'm all for painting bike lanes on routes. There is clearly a dedicated space for cyclists. That doesn't make you more safe than nothing? If I drive down a street with a cycling lane, there is clearly, a solid white line and a little lane with bike symbols on it. I know where I'm not supposed to drive, it's VERY obvious.

@ Steve

Yes true it was the consultants putting this together but I don't believe for one second that the bike lobbies were not involved.

As for on street parking on cycling routes....I don't see why they can't remove on street parking on a few designated streets during rush hour. So you can't park between 7AM and 9AM, 3:30 to 530. Something similar to how a diamond lane works. Things like that were not shown at all. It was cycling tracks and grade separation all the way, baby.

Again I have nothing against making things safer and better for cyclists, but this was all about adding cycling tracks to already existing, busy roads. There was nothing on true Active Transportation corridors, nothing about turning old rail lines into bike paths or anything of that sort.

Spugsley said...

Cycling is a legit form of transport, and cars in their current numbers won't be around forever. In 100 years, I would predict that we'll have far fewer cars on the road. The fact is, we have finite resources and we need to tread more lightly on this ol' earth of ours.
Don't be afraid. Be truly progressive and choose to support the proven alternatives to the automobile!

Graham said...

@ Spugsley

If you think cars will diminish in popularity as resources get more scarce I think you are very, very mistaken.

People will cling to the motor vehicle as long as they can. When the era of cheap oil ends, people will buy electric vehicles. People will get angry and pissed off if you tell them they cant drive, and most people are dependent on it such that they will defiantly resist any change to this lifestyle.

Cars are here to stay. Cyclists really have to learn how to deal with this reality.

I agree we need to change some things so that we can tread lightly so to speak, and putting some bike lanes in place in Winnipeg is the first step towards that.

This is a city that is hell bent on never abandoning the vehicle. If I were a cyclist, I would be thrilled that things have even come as far as they have.

That is progress. We don't have take a leap of faith, put cycle tracks in and reduce the number of traffic lanes to call it progress.

Part of progress is learning to compromise, after all.

jonathan said...

Just because this city has a caveman attitude toward transportation options doesn't mean we should be happy with a D- effort regarding active transportation (and rapid transit) development. In your post you threw around the number 10 million as if that was a ridiculous number to be spent on active transportation.

In my best ING Guy accent, that's "peanuts".

And I've lived in a cyclist utopia (Amsterdam and rural Holland). Whatever plans the consultants may have unveiled, they are no utopia.

Perhaps consultants/designers aren't the ones to be driving change, but at this point I don't care where it comes from. And it does seem that they had the 'public consultation' idea all wrong.

Graham said...

I only used the 10 million figure as some kind of completely wild guess as to how much all 4 corridors would cost.

You know full well just as I do that city councillors and the Mayor will simply not allocate that much money for active transportation. They're willing to chip in, but not go full-bore.

I just think cyclist lobbies are going to have to choose their battles wisely, given how unlikely it is that more than a few million a year be allocated for active transportation development.

Spugsley said...

Our current political leadership may not be willing to go full-bore, but I and many others are. When Toronto started its subway, they were smaller than we are today. I'm tired of small-bore thinking. Let's get our you-know-what together and stop accepting bad (or non-existent) planning.

Dale said...

"Cars are here to stay. Cyclists really have to learn how to deal with this reality."

Ha! Let me assure you that anyone who rides a bike knows that the car will always be the apple of Winnipeg’s eye. In fact most people who desire a more progressive approach to transportation don’t waste their time trying to create that scenario in Winnipeg: they move to where it already exists.

This sounds like it was a poorly run consultation meeting. But let’s keep the suggestions being offered by the Transportation Plan in perspective.

Are they putting cyclists first and inconveniencing drivers? Probably. Sure. But really we’re talking about inconveniencing drivers on just four distinct routes. (Out of HOW many in the city?) This will not devastate vehicular traffic in Winnipeg and by drawing bicycles to dedicated commuter lanes might actually be a boon to drivers elsewhere by cutting down the number of bicycles competing directly with traffic.

Now as for winter: Cars careening out of control due to snow covered roads while the cyclists are basking in bare-pavement glory? Please. There is more than one snow plow in Winnipeg and the city actually does an amazing job of keeping streets and sidewalks clear of snow. I think they can handle this.

Finally, the simple solution of painting a line on the road to create a bike lane? I could not agree more. Obviously, the on street bike lane isn’t the ideal situation. Some vehicles will ignore it and the casual cyclist will be terrified of travelling on it. But it represents a positive step in educating drivers and cyclists in how to function with one another. Assuming it’s down right. The city created a bike lane on Dunkirk last year, but rather than running a line three or four feet from the curb for the length of the bike lane the crews painted pictures of bikes every fifty yards or so. Didn’t work. The icons quickly wore off because people were driving over them. What’s needed is a white line, something drivers are already trained to recognize. Paint it and repaint it when it wears off and drivers will slowly get the message that their lane starts three or four feet from the curb. Other cities do this. It’s not rocket science.

Nobody expects Winnipeg to become a utopia for people who want to use their bikes as a means of transportation. But functional seems within our grasp.