Bike Lanes and Road Diets: A Ward 2 Challenge

Since becoming a city councillor for Ward 2 last fall, bike lanes and ‘road diets’ along Speedvale and Woodlawn have become the most talked-about and controversial issues facing our ward. There is no solution that will please everyone. It’s very complex, and I’m still learning about the merits of all the different options myself. As your representative at city hall, I feel that I must base my decisions around what gives the most effective long-term benefits for our entire city, not just those affected directly along the contested routes. I’ve already disappointed some who will feel that their own needs will not be met with this, and for those few, I am truly sorry.

MOST of the letters and calls have been in favour of what staff has been calling “option 3” for reconstruction- 3 lanes plus bike lanes. This has not yet been decided for Speedvale from Woolwich to Stevenson, but will come back to council committee for more direction soon. This is in line with the long term policy for our city. It would not require any property expropriation as it fits within our current curb alignment. Hydro would not need to be replaced or relocated. A few have been opposed to the bike lanes, and some have objected to the current ‘road diet’ being given to Woodlawn north of Woolwich. These are the citizens I’d like to mostly address with this letter.

First off, here is the city staff explanation for the changes being made on Woodlawn now from 4 lanes to 3.

“The City is re-striping Woodlawn Rd from the bridge to Victoria Rd converting a 4 lane road to a two lane roadway with a left turn lane and bike lanes. This roadway reconfiguration is in accordance with the Bicycle Policy (2009) and the Cycling Master Plan (2012) which stipulates that when arterials are resurfaced, bike lanes are added to improve connectivity and safety for roadway users (vehicles, transit, cyclists and pedestrians). Unless on-street parking is affected as a result of implementing the bike lanes, the City typically does not conduct public consultations for this type of road project.

The Speedvale Avenue project is a full road reconstruction with widening, as recommended in the Official Plan. As a result of potential property impacts, the City conducted public consultations.

During reconfiguration delays can be expected until work is complete and regular road users adapt their habits. Based on our observations and traffic studies, the volumes of traffic on Woodlawn can be supported by a 3 lane cross section. Reduced speeds and an additional buffer between intersections and the roadway will provide more opportunities to enter traffic with increased safety.”

I commend staff for their thoroughness and expertise in looking at all these possibilities. In listening to all the recent delegations at city council, and in doing extensive research, I have personally concluded that the 3-lane option is most appropriate for the following reasons:

1. 3 lanes is the safest configuration

2. It is the cheapest

3. It keeps property values up and keeps our taxes lower.

4. It is mandated by council now that whenever a road infrastructure construction project is undertaken, bicycle lanes must be included, and applying for an excemtption to this mandate would be a dangerous precedent.

5. A 3-lane plan makes it more possible to add public transit in the future.

6. 3 lanes actually make it EASIER to back out of your driveway, which has been a major concern for many residents.

7. Many studies world-wide have shown that after an adjustment period, this system can have a good flow of traffic without too many delays. We have sections of Woolwich Street and Gordon street that already demonstrate this.

There is a really helpful YouTube video that comes courtesy of Ward 2 resident and Transporation specialist Martin Collier, explaining Road Diets and their efficacy. I urge you to watch. It’s short, and it’s at

http://youtu.be/XbRGGFsosMk

One of the things I have been advocating for is to accompany any ‘road diets’ with more robust, enforced truck traffic control. Speedvale Avenue is NOT a truck route. There are signs that clearly state this, but they are small, infrequent, and the bylaw is not enforced. It is a residential street. If we can divert truck traffic, we will eliminate the need for 4 lanes. If we ALLOW four lanes, we will be inviting MORE truck traffic, and MORE car users to use this residential street as a highway. In Toronto there are many current examples that show the benefits to a neighbourhood of reduced traffic that still allow for ‘through’ traffic to move smoothly. The 4-lane options are often FASTER but that’s not often desirable in residential neighbourhoods. Going small gets big returns, and as mentioned in the above report, residents take a while to adjust to the lane reductions, but are generally satisfied in the long run.

In this particular part of the ward, the view that narrowed lanes on these main roads would lead to more ‘shortcut’ traffic on the sidestreets is, I believe, unwarranted. Those streets are circuitous and are hard to navigate. It’s not going to be a time saver to look for these alternate routes between Woodlawn and Speedvale.

The argument that “I don’t see much bike traffic on the road now. Why do we need them?” is understandable, yet it points out a ‘chicken and egg’ problem in our transportation design. The bicyclists are not using the 4 lane roads now BECAUSE there are no safe bike lanes for them.

All over the world, we’ve learned that when continuous, safe bike lanes are added, cyclists start to leave their cars at home more and start commuting to work and to play. This eases the pressure on the 3-lane roads, and we’re often discovering that traffic congestion is LESS frequent rather than MORE as many fear. I hear from some residents the question “why should we institute a policy that only benefits the ‘few’ ( being cyclists ) in a way that seemingly is a detriment to the ‘many’”? Well, that ‘few’ will eventually become the ‘many’… it’s happening everywhere and it’s of long term benefit to us all. As we’re learning in other realms of social justice issues, policies that ‘exclude’ the few are discriminatory. We have designated handicapped parking spots, and requirements for accessibility for businesses with elevators and wheelchair friendly entrances. Should we abandon these initiatives because there aren’t too many users? We must be inclusive, fair, and equitable as we plan for the future with our laws and our city design. We aren’t suggesting that cycling and walking is an option for everyone. Some of us still need our cars, and we can accommodate them too with any of our planning. For some the reduced lanes will feel like a sacrifice. For the city as a whole, it is an opportunity to make sure that no one is left behind.

The part of Ward 2 in Question also has many seniors who use motorized scooters and wheelchairs. We want to accommodate them and welcome them onto our roads too. Sidewalks are not suitable for these purposes.

Part of the new reality of our changing commuter patterns is that there are a growing number of residents in the rapidly expanding North-East residential areas of Guelph who work in the North-West in the industrial and commercial areas. Many are choosing to use bicycles when possible,  which lowers their transportation costs, eases traffic on the roads, and is a healthier choice for them personally and for our community well-being. ( Critics are correct.. these lanes are used less in the winter, but we can’t realign the lane striping seasonally)

Personally I feel that we need to take a step back and look at one other solution to address our traffic issues. Other communities are encouraging a zoning and planning vision that includes walkable neighbourhoods that offer a mixed use of residential, commercial, recreational AND employment activities like light manufacturing. It’s the way Guelph started. You could always walk or bike to work, so it’s only been in the last generation or so as we’ve encouraged sprawl that we have to get in our cars to go to work or to shop. Our roads were not designed for this, so we’re feeling the growing pains now. We could try to return to this way of life in our city which would reduce traffic and build neighbourhoods.

Along Speedvale, my preference, which I presented as a motion to council, was to have a one year ‘test pilot’ project, by simply repainting the lines, to see if the three lane option actually worked. Because this motion failed, we are back to the committee level to try to work out a new proposal.

Another important factor to remember: Many people are worried that our roadway bike lanes will be INSTEAD of our bike and recreational trails. This is not the case. These are two very different uses for cyclists- recreational and commuters. I’d love to see a bridge over Emma Street for walkers and cyclists to complement and expand our excellent trail network. This bridge is a little ‘down the road’ in terms of our capacity for budgeting without raising taxes too much, and without ‘jumping the line’ for other bridges and trails already slated. Our cyclists who want to make good time and travel safely to and from work want to share the main arterial roads, not zig zag through side roads. Cars don’t want that either. We need to accommodate both.

Also- we want more jobs in Guelph. Better jobs that support new growing families. When employers look to locate here, they want to see that we are offering the very best quality of life that will attract employees here. A comprehensive cycling policy, and a road policy that eases traffic flow while keeping neighbourhoods safe and inviting, is a good ‘job attractor’.

City council, in it’s decision to mandate bike lanes into new road construction, is accepting the reality of our current transportation needs, and planning for our future needs. It is no longer appropriate to make our roads ONLY for cars. We need to share the road, and that sharing benefits the environment, increases our overall health and well-being, reduces our costs, our taxes and supports a quality of life that has made Guelph a very desirable place to live.

Sometimes the ‘greater good’ of the community has to take precedent over the needs of some of our individual residents. Sometimes residents say “I don’t use the library, so why should I pay taxes for one?” OR, “ I don’t use the buses, why should we spend money for more of them?” “I’m not a cyclist, and I don’t see many of them in my area, so why should we have bike lanes” is the same kind of argument that does not really work in our growing city if we want to be fair and inclusive.

I don’t think anyone would deny that we want what’s fair and sustainable for our whole city. We have much to do to make our transportation infrastructure more efficient and affordable. Ward 2 actually needs a designated truck route to move vehicles that come from Cambridge and KW who are heading through our city to the North and North East. We need to balance between serving the individuals in the affected neighbourhoods and serving our cities larger vision. To work towards this balance, I am appreciating your input and feedback both positive and negative, and I look forward to hearing from you more about it. Let’s keep the dialogue going!

James

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Bike Lanes and Road Diets: A Ward 2 Challenge

  1. Ron

    Just wondering if perhaps the bicycle policy and cycling master plan could actually be the “shortsighted” vision for what transportation in Guelph should look like.

    It may not be PC to say it but the vast majority of people in Guelph drive cars and will continue to drive for many years to come – that’s reality.

    Mr. Gordon uses flawed arguments like welcoming those in wheelchairs and electric scooters onto the roadways because sidewalks are not suitable. Why are they not suitable? There are ramps at every corner and no traffic . He further contradicts his reasoning for advocating three lanes on Speedvale by stating it is not route (true) and reducing it to three lanes would divert the amount of truck traffic using Speedvale. Mr. Gordon: Woodlawn Road IS a truck route so WHY the reduction in lanes there?

    If you want the economy to grow you need to encourage the free floiw of goods and traffic through the city , not discourage it .

  2. Peter R

    Wheelchairs and personal mobility devices should NOT be on the road unless there is no sidewalk, just as any other pedestrian traffic.
    http://www.mto.gov.on.ca/english/vehicles/wheelchairs-and-medical-scooters.shtml

  3. Peter R

    I guess one man’s “residential street” is another man’s main east-west corridor for the city. One of only 2 for the city north of downtown. If you’ve tried navigating Woodlawn at peak traffic times, imagine more traffic diverted from a “slimmed” Speedvale.

  4. john

    If you put in bike lanes, then enforce their use and ticket the bikers who use the sidewalks. There bike lanes on Woolwich Street and people insist on using the sidewalks to ride their bikes. There are many Seniors in the area and the bikers do not slow down when they ride on the sidewalks.
    While you are at it, how about the bikes on the road that have the noisy polluting engines from China on them and the riders give no consideration to how fast they go and where they go.

  5. erika81

    SUZANNE
    Thanks for the above comprehensive well researched discourse. I know that I moved here 4 years ago on retirement because of the Bike lanes, trails and other nature aspects of Guelph. I have also noticed an increase in cyclers in many diff. forms and in all weather types over these 4 years. Your following statements ring especially “loud” for me.

    “As we’re learning in other realms of social justice issues, policies that ‘exclude’ the few are discriminatory. We have designated handicapped parking spots, and requirements for accessibility for businesses with elevators and wheelchair friendly entrances. Should we abandon these initiatives because there aren’t too many users? We must be inclusive, fair, and equitable as we plan for the future with our laws and our city design.”
    AND
    “Sometimes the ‘greater good’ of the community has to take precedent over the needs of some of our individual residents. Sometimes residents say “I don’t use the library, so why should I pay taxes for one?” OR, “ I don’t use the buses, why should we spend money for more of them?” “I’m not a cyclist, and I don’t see many of them in my area, so why should we have bike lanes” is the same kind of argument that does not really work in our growing city if we want to be fair and inclusive.”
    Thank You!
    Suzanne

  6. Jennifer

    Please explain how the 3-lane with bike lane option is “a road policy that eases traffic flow”. Where do you think all the cars that currently drive on Speedvale are going to go? Creating a situation in which cars will idle in heavy traffic is far from environmentally friendly.

    Going with the cheapest option, against the recommendations of city staff (who I can only assume must feel greatly disrespected by council when their findings are summarily dismissed) is going to cost the city in the long run.

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