Climate change is the impetus that is forcing more infrastructure to be built to accommodate cyclists. It is believed that more infrastructure will cause more cyclists to use that infrastructure. That simple conclusion may be debatable. But are we prepared for the change? Like many North American cities London, Ontario is facing these changes with limited data about cycling volumes and other essential information such as cyclist characteristics and behaviours. It also does not appear to have a good grasp of the quality of its current cycling infrastructure.
Like many cities, London created a Cycling Master Plan (CMP). The latest version, called “London On Bikes”, was released in 2016. This plan noted that current rates of cycling as a share of all modes of transportation was about 1%, whereas automobiles took up 76%, public transit represented 11% and walking represented an additional 8%. In the CMP the City of London proclaimed its goal to increase the cycling mode of travel from 1% to 5% by the year 2030. Yet this was not deemed sufficient in a 2019 report authored by members of its Cycling Advisory Committee (CAC). In order for the City of London to meet its obligations to reduce carbon emissions to a required level the CAC report indicated that the cycling mode of transportation would have to be increased to “25% or greater”. This is a huge increase.
A review of the 2016 CMP and the report of the CAC report leads to the concern that the City of London has not developed a sufficient process to understand the current status of cycling within the City. And, secondly, there appears to be no defined process to gather cycling data that will accurately follow the changes in cycling while infrastructure changes and improvements are made.
With respect to the selection of future cycling infrastructure the CMP the description below was to inform readers about what actions were taken to select future cycling needs.
It appears from the above description that no actions were taken to gather specific data about cyclists or to review the data that the City possessed. Not only is it important to gather data on cycling volume and speed but also important data such as the rider characteristics (age, sex), what actions cyclists were observed to perform (travelling through, turning), whether cyclists were carrying cargo, and the cyclist locations (riding on the road, riding on the sidewalk), and so on. Selection of the type of infrastructure that will be needed and where improvements or additions are needed must be based on a thorough understanding of the cycling population where those cycling infrastructure changes are to be made.
The CMP provided some pictorial views of the different types of cycling infrastructure being proposed for the City and these are shown in the figure below.
The CMP then provided some maps of the City showing the current infrastructure as well as what was proposed in the short term (0 to 5 years) and median term (6 to 15 years). The figure below shows the cycling infrastructure in a portion of the City map that takes us along Dundas Street (the “Main Street” of the City) in the downtown (on the right) and the central-east portion of the City (on the left). Just looking at the various colours and patterns of lines should indicate just how much disintegration exists in the City’s cycling network. The location of Dundas Street is essentially invisible because no cycling facilities exist on it nor are any new facilities being proposed.
Granted, much construction and installation has occurred but it is mostly piecemeal. A cyclist riding eastward from the downtown would encounter numerous types of cycling facilities and then encounter a sudden “endpoint” where facilities no longer exist. Yet if the cyclist must move on he/she may encounter dangerous conditions not suitable for cycling.
In another figure taken from the CMP (below) the area being shown is also along Dundas Street from Wellington Street in the downtown to the central-east location at Hale Street. Again the various lines also indicate existing and proposed cycling infrastructure. Once again we focus on the key area of the City along its “main street” which is Dundas. After some scrutiny one might find the label indicating “Dundas Street” but essentially no cycling infrastructure exists or is being proposed for it. However we must recall that this report was prepared in 2016 and, suddenly, plans can change.
When we fast-forward to November 12, 2020, the photos below show Dundas Street in downtown London looking east from Wellington Road. We see construction: It is the construction of a new cycling facility, a facility that was not planned for in the 2016 CMP. This construction occurred over a distance of about 1.2 kilometres between Wellington and Adelaide Street.
And once again, when we fast-forward to January 9, 2021 we see (two photos looking west below) that another section of cycling path has been constructed on Dundas Street in central-east London between English and Ontario Streets. This new path was also not proposed in the 2016 CMP.
The figure below summaries the two lengths of new cycling facilities along Dundas Street. The longer orange line represents the 1.2 kilometres of path between Wellington and Adelaide Streets. The shorter orange line is the 400-metre cycling path between English and Ontario Streets. However there are gaps in the cycling paths along Dundas Street. Cyclists cannot just magically jump over these gaps but they must ride through them.
In particular the blue line in the above figure shows a length of 2.4 kilometres on Dundas Street in east London between the two arterials roads of Highbury Ave and Clarke Road. There are no cycling facilities in this zone and this is where we want to conduct a further evaluation. Let us look at some examples of cyclists riding in this length of Dundas Street.
The photo below was taken in February, 2015. It shows a male cyclist that is riding westbound on Dundas Street approaching Ontario Street. Recall that Ontario Street is where the new cycling path was completed and a photo was shown above in January, 2021. In February 2015 this cyclist is travelling on a fairly well plowed surface but he is approaching a line of parked cars. He will have to veer to the left and possibly into conflict with any vehicles passing him from the rear.
In the next view taken in September, 2015, we see a westbound cyclist riding on Dundas Street west of Second Street. We see how westbound vehicles in the curb lane must move into the passing lane because they cannot pass the cyclist with less than the “1-metre-lateral-gap” required by Ontario’s Traffic Act. Given the typical lateral weaving of a cyclist the loss of this gap is not always the fault of the motor vehicle driver. And neither is it the fault of the cyclist. But it is the fault of the designed infrastructure. If a collision occurs, undoubtedly police will charge either the motor vehicle driver or the cyclist but not the designer of the road or the City of London.
In the next photo taken in September, 2015, we see a westbound cyclist on Dundas Street approaching Hale Street. A male cyclist is seen with an attached mini-trailer that is loaded with a variety of cargo. Ahead of this cyclist is another westbound cyclist. The cyclist with the trailer is attempting to pass the cyclist ahead and must use essentially all of the right lane in order to complete this action. The cyclist with the mini-trailer does not have a mirror so he cannot easily see what traffic may be behind him. Again, this will be deemed the fault of the cyclist if a collision should occur. But how much of the fault is related to the lack of proper infrastructure to protect such cyclists even if they are not fully compliant with the law or lack a full understanding of their danger?
When the City of London commences its campaigns to increase the cycling transportation mode it must understand that it will place itself in a position of higher risk if it fails to provide the proper cycling infrastructure along with that promotion. If the cycling mode is increased from 1% to 5% or 25% there will be an increased risk of cyclist collision that has to be taken into account in the cost-benefit analysis.
Another example (below) is also taken from September 2013 and it shows an eastbound cyclist riding on the south sidewalk of Dundas Street approaching Hale Street. An old building exists very close to the road causing a visibility obstruction as well as difficulties for drivers of large trucks and buses that sometimes make a right turn from Dundas to Hale. For cyclists this arrangement also poses a problem as seen by the presence of pedestrians that must use the sidewalk. If the cyclist choses to enter the right lane to bypass the pedestrians then he places himself in danger from being struck by the large volume of traffic on Dundas. Again, lack pf proper infrastructure along this very busy corridor causes these conflicts. Yet there was no proposition in London’s 2016 CMP to confront these conflicts. The City of London needs to conduct a detailed study of its current and past cyclist populations so that it can better understand what priorities it should chose for the future.
Overall observations have been made by Gorski Consulting of cyclists in this area of Dundas Street between Highbury and Clarke have been analysed for the years 2018, 2019 and 2020. Findings indicate that, of those cyclists who travel straight through the area 90% are males and only 10% were female. If the City of London is to increase its cycling population it cannot rely just on young and middle-aged male cyclists. It must understand how to engage a wider spectrum of the City’s population. It is unlikely to do so unless it provides safer infrastructure for cyclists.
Observations were also made of the location of these cyclists with respect to whether they rode within a travel lane or whether they rode on the sidewalk. It was found that 74.4% of these cyclists rode on the sidewalk even though City of London bi-laws prohibit cyclists from doing so. Again, this is an indication of the extent to which cyclists do not feel safe riding through this area. They are willing to face traffic fines by riding on the sidewalk rather than risk their lives and ride in a traffic lane next to the high volume of motor vehicle traffic.
Observations and testing conducted by Gorski Consulting at various sites across the City of London confirm that the percentage of cycling versus other modes of transportation is close to 1% as reported in the report of the City’s Cycling Advisory Committee. Five years have passed since the City introduced its Cycling Master Plan (CMP) in 2016. Only nine years remain before the termination date of that plan in 2030. Yet there must be a very sizeable increase in cycling if the minimum goal of 5% is to be reached in that time frame. While some noticeable cycling infrastructure has been built no results have been reported whether there has been an increase in the cycling mode and by how much.
Gorski Consulting has been conducting videotaped documentations of cycling and pedestrian traffic in London for more than 10 years. This has occurred inadvertently during our collision reconstruction assignments where we needed to analyse the motions of traffic with respect to specific collisions that we were reconstructing. Recently we have returned to analyse these videotapes to pull out the data on cyclist and pedestrian volumes and their characteristics. We have also carried out additional video testing recently with the specific intent of documenting cyclists and pedestrians. Presently analysis of 20, 1-hour, sessions have been completed and more will likely follow. We would have been happy to share some of this data with the City of London however past experience indicates how unreasonable its administration has been. While joining the City’s Transportation Advisory Committee in the fall of 2019 we attempted to bring forth some transportation data for discussion with Advisory Committee members only to be thwarted by City officials who informed us that presentation of such data could not be part of the Committee’s functions. After being treated in this manner several times we terminated our relationship. Subsequently City politicians have recently discussed closing down most of the Advisory Committees altogether.
Members of the City’s Cycling Advisory Committee (CAC) experienced similar treatment after they completed a very thorough review of the City’s CMP in the fall of 2019. Again, some politicians made the point that the CAC had stepped out of its bounds and wanted to stop the report from being filed or considered. Since then there has been a change of mind and the report became public. Incredibly the CAC report was a thorough document provided to the City free-of-charge, and obviously involved extensive work by committee members.
It is these kinds of dysfunctional failures of the City of London to consider outside input that causes inefficiencies, waste and misdirection of funds. Projects that are schizophrenically pieced together, then re-arranged and dismantled only to chase in another direction. This is evident in the piece-meal pattern of incomplete cycling paths that start suddenly, end suddenly and provide minimal continuity. It is evident in the incomplete patchwork of cycling facilities along the City’s main street, Dundas Street, that has been the focus of this article. This dictatorial approach to administration cannot be effective if the City is to achieve its very important objectives of increasing cycling and attacking this vitally important threat of climate change.