Last week at the Transportation Association of Canada (TAC) Conference, I had a day to myself to explore some of the downtown. Luckily Toronto has bike share, and therefore for $7 (and a $1.70 surcharge for late return) I was able to explore a few different neighbourhoods quite easily. Read on for some pictures and words...
One thing that was apparent even whilst walking around Toronto was the number of bikes parked on the streets. While not quite Amsterdam levels, there certainly seemed to be more than I normally see in Vancouver. All the racks outside of office buildings were full, bike-to-work appears to be alive and well in Toronto. I wonder how many continue through the winter months though.
Toronto features a variety of different facilities for bikes from including sharrows, regular bike lanes, buffered bike lanes, buffered bike lanes with delineator posts, concrete curbs and planter protected lanes.
Some routes however do not offer the same type of facility along the entire route. As a bike route is only as good as its weakest link, Toronto may be missing a trick here and dampening demand due to this inconsistent infrastructure. Still bike use is very high, particularly for a North American city. Down by Lake Ontario, there is a two multi-use path that runs along or close to the waterfront. Again, its separated from pedestrians, trams/light rail and automobiles by a variety of means. Intersections are highlighted blue and white maple leafs highlight that you are approaching an area of conflict. .
Bike share is a great thing that I've used to explore more of several cities than is possible on foot. For those not aware, with most systems, you pay for a day ticket which allows unlimited 30 minute rides. it's intended as a mode of transportation for short trips rather than exploring, so my usage of it is not typical of the average resident. Only once, did I get dinged for returning a bike late (the extra $1.70 mentioned above). Painfully, I actually arrived at the station on time, but there were no spaces left, and I had to look for another. If i'd had time I could have checked the app but I was trying to get my moneys worth! oh well!
On the Sunday night before the conference, we had our annual ISL Engineering supper, some 20 minutes walk from the hotel, or 5 minute bike share ride, at least that's how I got there. Rather than the long walk back I managed, quite easily as it turned out, to convince a few of my non-cycling engineering colleagues to join me on the ride back. Many were not familiar with the concept of ride-share, once they realized what it was and how it worked, it was like getting a new bike at Christmas. The excitement to ride a bike was fun to watch and we safely made it back to the hotel via a mostly protected bike lane network.
In addition to to the bike network, I came across some other interesting public spaces that are worth sharing. But first, while perhaps not public, yes, that is a running track and mini-golf course on the roof of the buildings opposite my hotel, apparently downtown doesn't have too much park space. I'm still undecided if this is a sign of poor planning or good use of wasted space.
Here, the square in front of City Hall is getting in on the social media bandwagon. to the right, down by the water, urban beaches provide somewhere to enjoy the weather, and interesting boardwalks provide a place to climb and slide for the kids.
Down by the water there are a number of spaces away from traffic to enjoy. There was a book fair on while I was there, and places to rent kyaks and boats.
Yonge-Dundas Square was always busy when I passed. The day I stopped to take pictures it was being used for some weird Manulife advertising event, that I just didn't get. People in a boxing ring with an announcer shouting seemingly at random at confused members of the public. I just didn't get it! They did have free bike tune-ups which was a good thing and huge live social media on the screens around the square. Its also one of the few places I've seen with a scramble crosswalk. In my observations the volumes and surrounding uses provide the demand to support it.
This little tree area just off Bloor Street was a little unusual, provided some interest and places to sit. Bloor Street itself was a reasonably nice place to walk, but for biking, its let down by Sharrows in this section.
Up by the University, I did find this street repurposed as public space with paint, planters and tables and chairs.
I can only skip over transit as I did not use it while I was there, but streetcars/trams/light rail or whatever you will call them were prevalent, and there is an underground which I only saw entrances to.
So roads, the car is definitely not the easiest way to get around, but I guess in some cases its the only choice if you live out in the suburbs where transit is not provided. I frequently found myself easily passing vehicles on foot and bike in some stretches. Below is the lovely Gardiner Express Way which separates downtown from the waterfront, dark, noisy and congested would be good descriptions of this area. It was always busy with pedestrians so not completely unpleasant, but starting again, you probably wouldn't choose to put your busiest freeway there.
While this is primarily about downtown, I can't write about Toronto and not mention Highway 401, located approximately 10km north of downtown, with claims its the worlds busiest highway! Just 18 lanes wide in this example below left, and still congested... I wondered how many lanes it started with and if they kept widening to solve congestion. The image below right shows how it started. Did it induce demand? Is it just a fact of life living in such a populous and growing area? Could all those people sitting there in their cars have chosen another mode? Could they have chosen a different time? Or avoided making that trip? I'm not sure anyone chooses to sit in that traffic because they enjoy it. Are they being forced to by poor planning? By high housing costs close to work? by preference for a single family home over a condo? Are these the last generation that will prefer the suburbs and the 3 hour commute? Are younger people choosing not to waste their life stuck in traffic and choosing downtown over having a nice lawn? How do we solve it or even start to undo it? Better transit? Affordable housing? Mixed land uses? Changing mindsets? Removing lanes? Road Pricing? Its certainly not easy to change such established patterns. Will cities still growing learn from such mistakes and avoid such highways?
Some highlights from the conference itself... My colleague Zane Sloan getting a Panel of three City Planners to come and talk to a room of Engineers and discuss many of the questions I just asked. The solution is not an easy or straight forward one, that's for sure.
Of course, my presentation on this website, which I submitted for the TAC Educational Achievement Award. I did not win, but was a finalist and thus able to present on the how this website came into being, what type of content it contains , how it provides an opportunity to reach out to others in the industry, and the trends i'm seeing in the industry.