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What's Happening On Roncesvalles
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  • How to balance accessibility with bike safety

    One of the more appealing features of the proposed reconstruction plan for Roncesvalles is the promise of being able to board the streetcar directly from the curb. However, this is more complicated than one might think.

    For one thing, there is the question of how traffic will move if snow is not completely cleared away from the curb. This was a big problem recently on the St. Clair line, after December’s huge snowfall.

    A second issue is cycling safety. If there are no gaps between the streetcar and the curb, this will leave only a tiny 60 cm space between the curb and the rail. This is unsafe for cyclists, who could very easily get caught in the rail, as Seattle cyclists are now discovering.

    On Sunday we displayed a picture, as a way of illustrating how the new widened sidewalks might be used. As some readers pointed out, there do not appear to be any provisions for cyclists in the picture. This picture, however, was from an earlier conception for the sidewalk, first presented last July. Since then, City and TTC planners have been thinking hard on how best to maximize both transit accessibility and bicycle safety.

    One option is to leave a space between the curb and the railThe planners are considering three options. The first has no cycling provisions, such as shown in the picture mentioned above. No one appears to be in favor of this option, and the BIA would strongly oppose any option that made no provision for cyclists. The second (see image, right) would simply continue the “sharrow” zone, leaving a 1.6 metre space between the curb and the rail. This would mean that transit riders would not be able to step directly onto the streetcar, but at least would not have to cross a traffic lane. The third option calls for a 1.5 metre “bike trough” (click here for an illustration) that would cut through the curb extension itself, mixing the pedestrian and cycling zones and allowing transit riders to board directly from the curb.

    At a recent meeting with businesses and residents, the community expressed its preference for the second option out of what has been proposed. They thought the mixed zones would be too confusing, and wondered how it would allow for snow clearance in the winter.

    There may be other options. Anthony Humphreys, who writes for the cycling blog IBikeTO, suggests that planners consider flangeway fillers. These work by filling the rail line with a type of synthetic rubber. A cyclist will experience the rail line as being flat, while the heavier streetcar will press down on the material, allowing it to be guided along the rail as usual. The snow issue would still remain, however.

    Do you have any ideas on how best to balance the needs of cyclists with those of other users of the road? Please share your opinion by or your local residents’ association, or leaving a comment.

    UPDATE (Jan 17, 2007): Biking Toronto has posted a nice article about the developing plans for Roncesvalles, from a cyclist’s perspective.

    6 Responses to “How to balance accessibility with bike safety”

    1. Fin says:

      Based on the considerations you describe, I agree that option 2 seems best.

      It helps a lot to know what issues the BIA, the city, and the TTC considered. And that they worked hard to find a balanced solution.

    2. Matt says:

      Re option 3 — why not raise the “trough” to the same level as the sidewalk but give it a different surface treatment (via paving material or paint) to mark it as a sort of sidewalk-level bike lane, just for the length of the bumpout?

      It seems like all you’d need would be curb cuts at each end of the bumpout to ramp bikes up and down to sidewalk level. In this zone, bikes would need to keep an eye out for pedestrians, but that’s going to be a problem at streetcar stops under any design. I’d say the location shown for the depression (a few feet back from the streetcar loading area) is probably safest. Avoiding the trough means it’s no barrier to wheelchairs, and might help it get cleared of snow along with the rest of the sidewalk.

    3. John Bowker RVBIA says:

      Re: option 3 - While I would love to see people boarding directly from the curb, I suspect that pedestrians would feel uncomfortable with a bike path cutting through their space. I don’t know if cyclists would even use the trough/path. On the other hand, trees and street furniture could be moved to the streetcar-side area, opening up the main pedestrian throughway. Lacking a crystal ball, we need to predict whether this third proposed configuration would lead to some interesting Amsterdam-style road sharing, or whether it would create discomfort and confusion on the sidewalk. For now, the community apparently predicts the latter.

    4. geoffrey says:

      option #2 makes the most sense BUT the curb - rail zone must be increased to 2 m not including the concrete rail bed or the curb gutter. 1.6 m will make it impossible for cyclists to pass one another without crossing onto the track bed. Furthermore the Federal minimum specification for bike lanes is 2 m and it is overdue that this specification be respected. There is a 1.5 m specification that is fallen back on far to frequently but for new projects such as this it is not applicable. Cyclists do not all travel at the same speed. Making some allowance for safe passing not to mention navigation space for road hazards that WILL occur is imperative. It is only a matter of time before a utility company reduces the bike lane to unnavigable rubble and all parties turn a blind eye to correcting the mess left behind. A modicum of consideration for entitled road users as cyclists are is obligatory.
      As for the flangeway fillers if these can be installed they should be deployed everywhere regardless of what allowance for bicycles is employed. Cyclists still need to cross rails to make left hand turns. However steel rails have a lower coefficient of friction than asphalt and tend to be a hazard even with the flangeways filled. This is especially pronounced when the rails are wet.
      Before anyone gets the wrong idea I agree cyclists must stop behind the doors of streetcars with embarking/disembarking passengers. Unlike motorists, cyclists are not ensconced in steel “safety” cages immune from the trauma of the impact of their vehicle against riders. What I’m trying to say is it is in a cyclist’s best interest to stop lest they be hurt themselves. This is quite different from the experience of motorists in like circumstances. Fortunately training cyclists to stop is probably more likely accomplished than training motorists to do likewise as they are not functioning within an isolation cage surrounded by unending distractions and continually tempted to engage in aggressive behaviour by out of control marketing and an isolating and simplified control interface.

    5. Anthony Keane says:

      Could anyone make contact with the occupants of #120 Roncesvalles Road re family history. It is a long shot but I hope they could email me re the Ricker family who lived there in 1929.

      Email to

    6. zb says:

      It’s probably too late now, but…

      As a cyclist #2 would be the best option. There could even be speed bumps to slow down the cyclists heading onto the sidewalk-zone, for the comfort of pedestrians.

      Option #3 does work, and I have biked through such a set-up in other city without problem, but it pretty much ruins the concept of barrier-free loading on a low-floor streetcar, doesn’t it?

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