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What's Happening On Roncesvalles
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  • Public spaces or parking spaces?

    The City and the TTC appear to have reached a general consensus on the basic design theme of the street, proposed for the 2008 or 2009 reconstruction of Roncesvalles.

    Back in July, the TTC presented a preliminary plan for curb extensions (bumpouts) onto Roncesvalles. The TTC’s plan widened the sidewalk at TTC stops along the entire length of a streetcar. This bumpout would be placed back from the intersection, allowing for a right-turn or go-around lane for car traffic. The widened sidewalks would create new public space for benches and greenery, and would allow for new sidewalk patios and merchandise displays. Boarding the streetcar without having to cross a traffic lane would be a significant safety and accessibility feature. However, the plan also would require the loss of a significant number of existing parking spaces along Roncesvalles.

    The BIA and community members asked the planners to consider the loss of parking, the traffic restrictions and the effect of diverted traffic on neighbourhoods. We also stressed that the bumpouts should enhance public space, and not simply serve as transit platforms.

    Since then, the TTC and the City have been going back and forth, discussing every intersection in detail. On December 6, they presented a more complete proposal for the street.

    Southbound at Howard Park

    Photo: TTC

    Widening the Sidewalk: A proposal by the TTC and the City suggests widening the sidewalk in order to allow riders to board the streetcar without crossing a traffic lane. This would allow for greater use of the sidewalk, including patios and merchandise displays. The proposal would significantly reduce on-street parking, however.

    The newest proposed plan, still preliminary, widens the existing sidewalk space by 0.3 - 1.5 metres, not including the bumpouts, and it allows for a widened, “sharrow” lane that can accommodate cyclists. This would be achieved by narrowing the parking lanes. The west side parking lane, which currently has peak-hour restrictions, would be made permanent. The plan also calls for upgrades to the crosswalks to make them more visible and obvious. The TTC withdrew its earlier proposal for a left-turn prohibition at northbound Howard Park, but now proposes peak-hour prohibitions at southbound Howard Park and northbound High Park. As for parking, the City estimates that about 40-50 on-street spaces will be lost in order to make room for the widened sidewalk.

    At a meeting on January 12, members of Roncesvalles Renewed (representing the BIA, the three neighboring residents’ associations and other community groups) expressed strong support for the new public spaces proposed by the City and TTC. This support echoes comments the BIA has received from businesses and the community since August, when we posted the TTC’s first preliminary proposal. So far it appears the community strongly desires new and enhanced public spaces along Roncesvalles, even if this means a loss of on-street parking.

    While Green P has recently added some parking capacity to Roncesvalles, it is clear that this plan would change Roncesvalles into a street that prioritizes transit, cycling and pedestrian uses over car traffic and parking. This is in line with new city policy, as well as the BIA’s streetscape strategy of 2003. While the BIA would like to preserve parking where possible, the plain fact is that Roncesvalles will never be able to compete with other shopping areas on parking availability. To compare, Roncesvalles currently has perhaps 200 on-street parking spaces, while Yorkdale Mall has 7,200. But Roncesvalles can offer something that a mall never can: a pleasant and distinct experience for shoppers who walk, cycle or ride the streetcar.

    The BIA strongly insists, however, that the new sidewalk space must enhance the public realm and be well-used. It must do more than simply open up some room and give transit riders a place to wait for the streetcar. It must bring new people out onto the street, give them a place to meet, chat and shop. Will this plan achieve those objectives? Please share your opinion by emailing the BIA at , or your local residents’ association, or leaving a comment.

    * * *

    UPDATE (Jan 15): Steve Munro has launched a discussion of the proposal on his well-read transit blog.

    13 Responses to “Public spaces or parking spaces?”

    1. Fin says:

      This looks like a well-thought-out plan, nice work.

      My one concern is with the provisions for cyclists. My understanding is that wider lanes mean cars drive at a higher average speed, and the speed of cars is a major safety issue for cyclists. Even though wider lanes on Ronce would nominally give more space to bicycles, they might actually make the street more inhospitable.

      To help mitigate this, you should consider painting “sharrows” (the name is a contraction of “shared” and “arrows”). They’re arrows on the road surface that remind drivers to share the road with cyclists and show cyclists a safe path to avoid being hit by the opening doors of parked cars.

      There are some photos of sharrows and more information here:
      http://spacing.ca/wire/?p=2239

      Best of luck!

    2. luke says:

      In my own experience as a cyclist, wide lanes are the best thing short of a bike lane. When there is enough room for the car to safely pass, we don’t have to play the common game of hesitation.

    3. Sam says:

      If wide enough a cycling lane should be created. The higher speed should not be an issue since it’s a one lane road. People drive faster on bigger roads, not an issue on a one lane road where people and cars may come directly into your space at any time.

    4. John Bowker RVBIA says:

      Fin said: you should consider painting “sharrows” (the name is a contraction of “shared” and “arrows”). They’re arrows on the road surface that remind drivers to share the road with cyclists and show cyclists a safe path to avoid being hit by the opening doors of parked cars.

      The plan indeed is for a “sharrow” lane, similar to what has just been done on Lansdowne. I have updated the posting to make this clearer.

    5. W. K. Lis says:

      Why are there turn lanes southbound on Roncesvalles at Garden Avenue? Garden is a one-way street going east. There are also similar intersections in the drawing where there are wrong-way turn lanes at one-way streets. However others, like Constance Street which is one-way west from Roncesvalles, don’t even have turn lanes.
      I hope this drawing is a draft and it will be corrected.

    6. Kristen says:

      Maybe I don’t understand the description:

      “The newest proposed plan, still preliminary, widens the existing sidewalk space by 0.3 - 1.5 metres, not including the bumpouts, and it allows for a widened, sharrow lane that can accommodate cyclists. This would be achieved by narrowing the parking lanes.”

      The sidewalks are being widened (which is totally necessary, as it is currently very frustrating to walk along Roncy if you’re actually trying to get anywhere as opposed to just out for a stroll), which means that the total pavement area is being narrowed, right? So, does a “widened sharrow lane” simply mean that the centre lanes will be wider and the parking lanes correspondingly narrower? If so, I’m not sure what that achieves for cycling safety. The current problem is the narrow space between the side of the moving streetcar or vehicle to the left of the cyclist, and the open door of the parked vehicle to the right of the cyclist. A re-allocation of lane space from the curb/parking lane to the left lane simply changes where the white line is, but doesn’t seem to address the critical issue of whether or not there is enough space for a cyclist between the open car door to the right and the moving traffic on the left.

      One other thing that needs to be considered in the design is the different speeds that bicycles are traveling on the different sides of Roncesvalles. It is gradually uphill from Queen to Bloor, which means that bicycles traveling North on Roncy are typically going between 10-20km/h, whereas bicycles traveling South on Roncy are typically traveling at 25-40km/h. The faster bicycles are traveling, the more we need to ensure that they can’t be struck by an opening car door.

    7. John Bowker RVBIA says:

      Kristen wrote: The current problem is the narrow space between the side of the moving streetcar or vehicle to the left of the cyclist, and the open door of the parked vehicle to the right of the cyclist. A re-allocation of lane space from the curb/parking lane to the left lane simply changes where the white line is, but doesn’t seem to address the critical issue of whether or not there is enough space for a cyclist between the open car door to the right and the moving traffic on the left.

      A widened sharrow lane would definitely be an improvement for cyclists over the current conditions. The ideal situation Kristen describes, where a cyclist can comfortably ride with an open car door on the right and a passing streetcar on the left, would require much more real estate than exists on Roncesvalles. Road-sharing etiquette, with different users showing consideration and caution when passing or opening doors, will continue to be necessary.

      And while the plan does mainly change where the line is drawn, these lines are important! Currently, Roncesvalles is set up as a two-lane road (in each direction), with a line drawn right down the middle. Car drivers currently see the left lane as “theirs,” and expect cyclists to make do with the tiny space between the parked cars and the centre line (just try cycling over the line and listen to the honking horns). By making the parking lanes permanent and narrowed, the traffic lane can be widened and the line removed, replaced with a sharrow symbol. This configuration makes it clear to all that the lane is to be shared, and the cyclist will not feel pressured into riding so close to the parked cars.

    8. Rob Italiano says:

      This is a VERY commendable idea! I am glad the T.T.C. finally is doing something to take traffic off the road around the darn congested downtown core of Toronto. We really need to start making Toronto a more transit friendly city. This is a great start. Motorists won’t like it much, but I say that’s too bad for them. We transit riders have suffered enough! It’s THEIR turn to suffer for a while now! LOL!

    9. Kristen says:

      Okay, I just wanted us all to be realistic about how much this is actually going to increase bike safety. If the sharrow markings are positioned far enough out from the parked cars that cyclists won’t get doored, and that indicates to passing motorists that they can’t pass without moving over to the left, (which is, in effect, what sharrows were “invented” for (see the photos of sharrows far enough out from parked cars at: http://www.csmonitor.com/2005/0831/p14s02-ussc.html and http://bikeportland.org/2005/09/28/new-sharrow-markings-in-nw/), then this can increase cycling safety for less experienced cyclists who would otherwise ride too close to the parked cars, and reduce motorist aggression towards the more experienced cyclists who already ride far enough to the left.

      We have to consider how this will play out in practice, however… While the sharrows (if properly designed) can marginally increase cycling safety for less experienced cyclists (as described above) when traffic is light and moving freely in both directions, that is rarely the case on Roncesvalles. Traffic is most often either very heavy or pretty much at a standstill in at least one direction on Roncesvalles. If the cyclist is riding in the same direction as the heavy/stopped traffic, the cars will be positioned over the sharrows, so cyclists attempting to get through (and I’m sure we don’t honestly expect cyclists to stand stationary in stopped automobile traffic), will simply be riding in that tiny space (now, even tinier space) between the parked cars and the stopped traffic. So, cyclists are put at an even higher risk of getting doored. If, on the other hand, the cyclist is traveling in the direction opposite the heavy traffic, motorists trying to pass that cyclist will not be able/willing to move over to the left (because the heavy/stopped traffic prevents them from moving across the centre line) to safely pass the cyclist (who is riding on top of the sharrow markings), and will simply try to “squeeze by.” Sometimes they will be able to squeeze by with an inch or two to spare (scaring the daylights out of the cyclist), sometimes the cyclist will get cranked by the bumper or the mirror, and sometimes the motorist will just honk or ride the cyclist’s tail until the cyclist gets scared and moves over to the right anyways (and then gets doored).

      So, aside from the few hours a day when traffic is light in both directions, in practice, this design will only worsen cyclist safety on Roncy. When there are so many children and elderly people riding their bikes on Roncy, I don’t think that’s an outcome we should accept. I’m not sure what the solution is, but getting rid of parking altogether on one side would certainly help.

    10. Matt says:

      Hi all,

      I’m not a Ronc local, but should say I love this idea and it will do wonders for an already-great neighbourhood. I really hope, though, that Hydro can be convinced to really clean up some of its mess on the street (and on so many others!) I understand that full wire burial has been ruled out, but there’s still a lot more that can be done to aesthetically improve the street short of that. The FAQs on Roncesvalles Renewed suggest that the intervention on wires/poles is going to be VERY minimal, which is too bad; would rather see something along the lines of Queen E between Broadview and the rail corridor, which has had the vast majority–but not all–of its overhead wires removed and looks quite sharp as a result. Just getting rid of the rotting wooden poles, and of redundant wires/transformers etc., does a huge amount.

      Anyway, I hope that as this moves through EA and detailed design the BIA will push harder on this front.

    11. Verika says:

      I have lived in the area (Wright Avenue and now Harvard Avenue) for 12 years and I walk, drive and ride my bicycle on Roncesvalles daily.
      I don’t think this plan will help the traffic problems.

      As a pedestrian I find the massive cement planters a huge impediment, the sidewalk usage by the fruit stores is ridiculous, the TTC booths are ancient, massive, ugly and allow no vantage of the street ahead.
      There is NO crossing light from Fermanaugh all the way to Queen street!!, which is crazy. How many more Senior Citizens have to be killed while trying to cross at poorly marked crosswalks. There need to be more crossing lights on Roncesvalles.

      As a cyclist, the northbound road is so bumpy and uneven that navigating around these grooves and lumps forces the cyclist to steer into the path of cars and streetcars.

      As a driver, Roncesvalles is always slow, but perhaps with a few more lights pedestrians will have a designated time to cross instead of a never ending string of opportunistic crosswalk scuttlers not to mention the Jay-walkers! Also, they should lengthen the amount of parking time before being given a ticket. Perhaps 1 hour free parking.

      The new sidewalk areas will just become new permanent havens for the street beggars and sidewalk junk sellers. Also, the fanning and narrowing of the sidewalk will still cause bottlenecking at each junction!
      As with most of the older downtown area, the city planners 50 years ago did not know what a busy and thriving neighborhood Roncesvalles would become and planned the streets far too narrow.
      My suggestions are smoother roads, longer parking for quick pick-ups, modern TTC shelters and more lights for pedestrians.

      Something has to be done and I hope the plan will work.
      Good Luck with the venture.

    12. Peter M. says:

      I would like to know how bikes are supposed to navigate Roncesvalles if there are bump-outs for the streetcars. Will bikes have to cross the tracks to the left in front of cars to get by the bump-outs?

    13. John Bowker, RVBIA says:

      Bikes navigating bumpouts: see http://www.roncesvallesvillage.ca/?p=434 and http://www.roncesvallesvillage.ca//?p=61

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