Category Archives: Cycling


Transformative cycling projects in Waterloo need your support

The Region sits on the cusp of transformative change when it comes to cycling infrastructure. At Tuesday’s Planning and Works Committee meeting, regional councillors will be asked to approve two reports regarding all-ages-and-abilities cycling infrastructure around Uptown and the universities. Your voice is essential in ensuring councillors vote to deliver on these projects.

The Uptown King Street bike lanes, which TriTAG played a key role in promoting, have in their implementation received a fair amount of criticism. Justifiably so. The mountable roll-curbs have allowed easy access to illegally parked or stopped vehicles, and enforcement efforts by the City of Waterloo have been pitiful.

Proposed fixes to the Uptown bike lanes include flex bollards and better signage.

Proposed fixes to the Uptown bike lanes include flex bollards and better signage.

The good news is that staff have listened to public feedback and are now recommending flex bollards for subsequent phases of the streetscape project, as well as retrofitting the southbound bike lane and frequent encroachment points on the northbound lane with bollards as well. Better signage to encourage pedestrians to avoid meandering into the lanes is also proposed.

The long-awaited protected bike lane pilot project is also on Tuesday’s agenda. Modelled after cycling network pilots in Calgary and Edmonton, which saw huge surges in cycling trips after they were built, the pilot would focus on both protected infrastructure and rapidly forming a cohesive network of routes in a high-demand area. Existing road space on King Street, Erb Street, University Ave, and Columbia Street around Uptown and Northdale would be reallocated to provide bike lanes with buffers and flex bollards. Precast curbs would also be used on King, Erb, and University.

Protected bike network map in Uptown and Northdale.

Proposed network and potential extensions

What’s remarkable about the pilot is the degree to which Regional transportation staff are willing to consider narrowing or removing motorized vehicle lanes to facilitate the project. Until now, challenges to the Region’s road dimensions dogmatism (unless it’s to reduce the width of a bike lane) have been virtually non-existent. However, narrower travel lanes lead to safer speeds and shorter crossing distances for pedestrians, which reduces the number and severity of collisions with vulnerable road users. Staff are also willing to accept some impacts to car travel times at intersections where they plan to add two-stage bike boxes for making safe turns, acknowledging that motorist habits and routes will change in response. These changes in attitudes are most welcome!

It is disappointing that the proposed network is somewhat scaled back from an earlier vision staff were considering last year. These reductions are now listed on the map as “add-on extensions.” Dithering and delays (the pilot was supposed to have been built in 2018) have cost the Region support from a provincial government no longer interested in funding cycling infrastructure. The Albert Street extensions fall under City of Waterloo jurisdiction (staff hope to coordinate with the city to grow the pilot on their end). The King Street extension north of Columbia, which would provide vital connectivity to the multi-use paths between Weber and Conestoga Mall, is dismissed because staff value higher motorized traffic volumes over cycling along that corridor.

Still, the pilot represents an important shift in infrastructure development in the Region. Indeed, staff are hoping to repeat the pilot in Kitchener and Cambridge, so this project is a big first step towards a coherent minimum grid of protected cycling routes.

The more councillors hear residents celebrating the pilot and the Uptown improvements, the more they’ll be likely to vote for them. We’d encourage you to take a few minutes to write to your councillors urging them to support these two projects. The future of cycling in Waterloo Region depends on them.

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Blazing a trail or blasé signed routes?

You get what you pay for. It’s a pithy saying, but it holds a lot of truth – if you’re not willing to invest enough to make something work, it most likely won’t.

The phrase has significance to the proposed trail connection between the Iron Horse Trail and the future transit hub at King and Victoria. If costs become the sole focus in planning, this trail will not attract people to walk and bike along it to get to the hub. Unfortunately, that may be the road we’re going down, literally.


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Krug Street: how to make the most of limited space

Krug Street is an important piece of Kitchener’s Cycling Master Plan. It’s one of the precious few roads that crosses the Conestoga Parkway that doesn’t have dangerous on or off ramps, and doesn’t carry heavy traffic. Portions are currently being reconstructed, and with that work comes the opportunity to integrate cycling facilities on the street.

However, Krug can be quite narrow in places, as little as 8 m in some blocks, which doesn’t have room for full bike lanes and car lanes wide enough for buses to pass. Widening the roadway has been ruled out, as this would remove significant tree cover which improves the safety and walkability of the street.

Advisory bike lanes as proposed by the City of Kitchener
The solution city staff are recommending is to put “advisory bike lanes” on the narrower portions. Advisory lanes would have the full width of bike lanes, but would be dashed instead of solid lines. The middle section of the road would be narrower than two conventional traffic lanes, with no centre line. Motorists would be expected to use the middle section, except when approaching an oncoming vehicle, at which point they would be allowed to pull into the advisory lanes, yielding to people cycling in them. (more…)

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State of the bike 2017: new cycling infrastructure being built this year

Road construction season is around the corner. And with road construction comes bike lane and trail construction too.

We’ve pestered municipal staff, pored over capital budgets, and compiled together a list of all the cycling-related projects starting, continuing, or completing in 2017. In all, we’re counting at least 50 cycling related infrastructure projects underway this year in Waterloo Region. Check out the interactive map, and read the details of projects below.

Legend: bike lane, protected bike lane, off-road multi-use trail, boulevard multi-use trail, crossing/bridge, signed route, sharrows/”shared use”


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Big Changes for Bridgeport, Erb, Caroline, and Albert

There’s going to be another major road project coming to Uptown Waterloo.

Reconstruction of Bridgeport, Erb, Caroline, and Albert.

That’s right. After LRT construction wraps up in 2017, and after the King St improvements bring protected bike lanes to King St in 2018/2019, the city and region will be replacing aging services underneath Bridgeport, Erb, Caroline, and Albert, and are taking the opportunity to revisit the design of these streets as they cut through central Waterloo.

Here’s a look at what’s proposed, (page 46, 12MB PDF) and below we’ll talk about what works, what doesn’t, and what needs serious improvement.

Concept plan for the reconstruction of Erb/Bridgeport/Caroline/Albert

Concept plan for the reconstruction of Erb/Bridgeport/Caroline/Albert

Major changes include:

  • A multi-use trail along the north side of Bridgeport/Caroline linking the King St bike lanes to the Laurel Trail at Erb
  • Narrowing Caroline north of Erb St to two lanes, and adding a new sidewalk on the East side
  • Narrowing Albert from two lanes to one, with a northbound bike lane and parallel parking
  • Changing Albert/Erb to a T-intersection
  • Sharrows on Erb St from Caroline to King

What Works

Adding a multi-use trail along Caroline provides a great bicycle link between King St and multiple trail entrances for Waterloo Park, and finally allows northbound cycle traffic up Caroline.

Crossing Albert on the north side of Erb will be made much easier. The current multi-lane off-ramp nature of Albert St is dangerous, making walking around the old Police Station unpleasant. The new T-intersection design reduces crossing distance, turning speeds, and even introduces new green space.

Reducing Caroline to two lanes helps solve the problem of traffic backing up in the right hand lane of Bridgeport east of King. Now traffic intending to go beyond King will use the centre lane, while those turning onto King and Regina Streets will be on the left and right hand lanes, distributing traffic better across the three lanes.

Potential Improvements

Albert St still needs a legal way to cycle southbound. By moving the parking to the east side of the road, there could be a contra-flow southbound bikelane on the west side, with the northbound lane shared between cars and bicycles, with a more appropriate use of sharrows. This also puts the parking on the traditional right-hand side, which will be easier for drivers to use. Parallel parking is tricky enough, and even more so when it’s on the opposite side of the car.

If the bicycle route along Bridgeport/Caroline is a multi-use trail, then why is there a southbound on-street bike lane and bike box approaching Erb? There is no way for bicycles to access the on-road bike lane from the trail, and if they could, it would be unsafe to merge cross the constant stream of right turning traffic. The intersection design assumes that cyclists are on the road instead of the multi-use trail, when the reverse should be true. We can’t keep ending trails at crosswalks, asking cyclists to dismount to continue. With the first cross-ride in Waterloo now in service at Erb/Peppler, there is now precedent for a two-way crossing on the west side of Caroline, which will finally allow the connection of the Laurel and Iron Horse trails.

What Doesn’t Work

Erb St, unfortunately, has a long way to go.

Erb, as proposed, with many lanes and large excessive shoulders.

Erb, as proposed, with many lanes and large excessive shoulders.

The sharrows proposed for Erb St are inappropriate. Sharrows work on low speed roads, not major high-speed multi-lane arteries. Sharrows are not a replacement for dedicated cycling infrastructure, and 2016 should be the year we stop pretending they are.

The width of Erb St is drastically wider than the planned use. There is no need for 3 through lanes and a painted shoulder lane. Staff mention a potential possibility for on-road cycle tracks, “without the need for additional construction,” but it would require waiting for “a separate, broader study to consider implementation of a two-way cycle track on Erb Street from Caroline Street to Margaret Avenue [which] will be completed by the Region of Waterloo in the future.” In the meantime, Erb will remain gratuitously wide.
A pedestrian crossing at Erb/Albert is dismissed, because there are fewer than 250 people crossing day, a number that is unlikely to change if Erb remains wide and hostile. Bridges are not built by counting the number of people swimming across a river; crosswalks should not be dismissed because few are willing to unsafely cross a high-speed 4-lane arterial.

An alternate concept for a right-sized Erb St featuring a shared bike and turning lane.

An alternate concept for a right-sized Erb St featuring a pedestrian crossing, and a shared bike and turning lane.

Here is a potential way to correct some of these issues. The right hand lane of Erb is used as a turn lane for the WTS entrance, and for King St. To prevent the speeding, cars cannot use it to drive from Caroline to King, only allowing cyclists to continue through, in what will now be a much lower-speed lane. The painted shoulder on the north of Erb is now removed, with the sidewalk moved south where it was. A pedestrian crossover is installed at Albert, allowing direct access from Albert to The Shops at Waterloo Town Square.

Send Your Feedback

These are just some of the suggestions that we have, but we’re sure you have more. Please send your own feedback, and be sure to attend the upcoming public information centre.

Feedback should be sent to:
Mr. Jim Ellerman,
Project Manager, Capital Projects
Regional Municipality of Waterloo

Mark Christensen,
Project Manager

Public Consultation Centre #1
Wednesday, January 27th, 2016
5:00p.m. to 8:00 p.m.
The Canadian Clay and Glass Museum
25 Caroline Street North, Waterloo

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Shifting gears for climate in Waterloo Region

TriTAG sees itself as an organization focused on transportation issues. That’s not to say that we don’t have concern for environmental issues, but that we look at a wide range of benefits from improvements to how we get around, not just environmental – we’re also motivated by the impact transportation has on quality of life, public health, safety, social justice, economic growth, government spending, and even civic engagement.

All that said, we acknowledge the reality of global climate change, and our responsibility as a community to respond to it. World leaders have just adopted an agreement that will require sustained reductions in carbon emissions. Changes in transportation will play a role in how emissions are reduced, and walking, cycling, and transit can and should play a large role in that.

Transportation in Waterloo Region accounted for 1,467,858 tonnes of carbon emissions in 2010, or 40% of the Region’s total. The Regional Transportation Master Plan is anticipated to bring about 75,000 tonnes of emission reductions by the end of 2020, through the introduction of ION light rail and more iXpress bus routes. These changes are expected to increase transit ridership from about 5-6% today to 15-17% by 2031.

By comparison, the Region’s targets when it comes to active transportation are far more modest. (Even ‘wimpy’, according to the Easy Riders Cycling Club.) If the Region’s targets are met, it would only increase cycling mode share from 1% to 3% by 2031. From a climate perspective, this sort of change barely registers.

But cycling could play a much greater role in reducing emissions in Waterloo Region. A poll of Ontario residents last year showed that 67% would cycle more if their community had more and better cycling infrastructure. (more…)

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Photo (c) 2010 James Schwartz on Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-ND.

Signs, signs, everywhere a sign

Regional staff think they can reduce bike crashes with ‘cyclist dismount’ signs. Provincial guidelines say that’s a bad idea.

It’s no surprise that over half of all collisions between bikes and cars take place in crosswalks. It’s partly why our local municipalities have opted to prohibit sidewalk cycling in their bylaws.

Some might argue it’s the victim’s own fault if they’re struck while biking in a crosswalk, as they’re willfully breaking the rules of the road. But when it comes to other issues of public health, such as smoking, substance abuse, or even sedentary lifestyles and poor diets, we don’t allow a person’s choices to prevent us from trying to protect them from unnecessary illness, injury, or death.

Preventing traffic violence should be no different.  In fact, traffic engineers recognize that they can’t just expect drivers to perfectly follow speed limits or obey signs to protect themselves, but have to apply good design and analysis to protect drivers from their own mistakes, (not to mention their passengers or others on the road). This may involve changing the environment so that mistakes are less deadly, or changing the factors which influence people to make those mistakes in the first place.

Each year as part of the Region’s collision report, the top locations for crashes are determined for people driving, walking, and biking, and countermeasures are considered to try to reduce frequently encountered types of collisions. For top collision locations for cars, changes  including conversions to roundabouts, addition of left turn lanes, and dedicated turning phases are considered. For many of the top locations where people walking are struck, better lighting, countdown timers, more visible markings, and crosswalk relocation are all on the table. For King and Cedar, where several people biking with the sharrows have been struck by turning cars, staff are considering restricting certain turns.

Cyclist dismount sign

This sign is used to tell people biking to dismount and walk, which the Ontario Traffic Manual discourages. Photo (C) 2011 Richard Masoner on Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-SA.

But when it comes to people getting hit by cars while biking in crosswalks, it seems the best staff think they can do is put up a bunch of ‘cyclist dismount’ signs.

The province’s bicycle facility guidelines discourage installing ‘dismount’ signs because they aren’t frequently obeyed, and worse, can influence people to ignore other signs and signals:

“The option of asking cyclists to dismount and walk their bikes should not be relied upon in lieu of adequately accommodating cyclists through appropriate road design. Being propelled by muscular power, cyclists more than other vehicle operators will prefer to sustain their momentum and avoid stopping. Cyclists usually find it difficult to rationalize why “dismount and walk” restrictions are in place, and conclude that they were a poor, illogical or arbitrary decision. Thus, if facility designs cause cyclists to make what they consider to be unnecessary stops, this will increase the likelihood that they will ignore or disobey traffic controls, which breeds disrespect for these devices.”

Ontario Traffic Manual Book 18, 1.5 Cycling Myths, page 9

There are several other important reasons why putting up dismount signs aren’t a great idea:

  1. It ignores the real source of the problem. Many of these collision locations are terrible places to bike, leading many to conclude that it’s safer for them to use the sidewalk than the road. Protected bike lanes along these roads, coupled with good intersection design would go a long way towards improving safety.
  2. It implies cycling on the sidewalk is otherwise acceptable.  Putting up signs for cyclists who are on sidewalks would suggest they are expected to be there, which isn’t the case. Even if people biking obeyed the signs and walked their bikes, there would still be conflicts between people walking and biking on sidewalks.
  3. It’s not a viable solution for when sidewalks are changed to multi-use trails. The Region is increasingly looking to using wider multi-use trails in place of sidewalks and bike lanes on busy roads with no driveways. One of the top collision locations, Ottawa at the Laurentian Power Centre entrance, is expected to get multi-use paths sometime around 2020. If we are going to build pathways along roads, we need to design intersections to accommodate people who bike, not effectively ignore them.

Sometimes, paying attention to the actual factors that change behaviour and influence collisions is hard, and putting up signs can make us feel like we’re doing something. Preventing people from being struck by cars in crosswalks requires more than just tsk-tsking them for not dismounting from their bikes, but appropriate infrastructure with good design to accommodate them. We hope to find better solutions in future collision reports.

Headline photo (C) 2010 James Schwartz on Flickr, licensed under CC-BY-ND 2.0.

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Kitchener’s Cycling Master Plan at risk: who owns the street?

Could a vocal opposition  prevent Kitchener’s cycling network from being connected and useful?

Kitchener City Council will be voting on whether to put bike lanes on Union Street (Margaret to Lancaster) on Monday, October 5 at 7pm. While Union has been approved as part of the bicycle priority network in Kitchener’s Cycling Master Plan since 2010, and a tentative design was approved last month at the Community and Infrastructure Services Committee, opposition from some residents threatens to overturn these plans, putting the priority network as a whole at risk.

Last month, in the face of vocal opposition, Kitchener City Council opted to shelve a staff-recommended design for buffered bike lanes on Westheights Drive in favour of a compromise design that preserves parking on both sides of the street. While the compromise design affords some improvement to the experience of cycling on the street and could contribute to safer traffic speeds, the decision has made those who advocate for a useful and safe cycling network concerned about future decisions.

The compromise decision was not made on technical merits, but rather on political considerations. Based on data collected systematically by City staff for on-street parking use, reducing parking to one side of the street would have been more than sufficient for resident needs. But to the residents who protested to Council, this wasn’t enough, so Council sought a solution that would satisfy them.

It may be easy to assume that Westheights was a good example of democracy at work: the people spoke, and Council listened. But scratch the surface a little, and you will find this interpretation problematic.

First, it assumes that the opponents who appeared at Council represent the actual majority view of the residents of the street. This is betrayed by the City’s own survey of Westheights residents which found greater numbers in support to the recommended changes than were opposed. (Dissenters claim to have conducted their own survey that showed the opposite, however it’s important to take this resident-led survey with a grain of salt. Given how some supportive voices were intimidated into silence by belligerent opponents during initial neighbourhood consultations, one can easily imagine many residents nodding along to an angry neighbour on their doorsteps for fear of that hostility being directed towards them. Additionally, given the charged rhetoric used to discredit the buffered bike lane design – the ‘super cycle lanes’ and the exaggerated ‘dangers’ of having to cross the street to park – it’s not surprising this survey solicited a more negative response.)

Second, even if the delegates were truly representative of the residents of the street, giving them final say over a street’s design privatizes the public realm and excludes many other important stakeholders. To be sure, those adjacent to a street are important stakeholders, and should be consulted. But a street does not exist merely for the benefit of the property owners along it, but for the public at large. In the case of Westheights and Union, traffic counts reveal that thousands more residents and visitors from surrounding streets and neighbourhoods use the roadway than just those from properties lining these streets. Unfortunately, the City’s own consultation processes, by engaging predominantly with residents from the street itself, feeds this perception that these collector roads are for their private benefit. It may be challenging, but future consultation efforts should attempt to reach out more to the broader cross-section of a street’s current and potential users to get a more representative view of public desires and needs.

In the case of Union Street, there simply isn’t enough space for a compromise like Westheights to accommodate parking on both sides and still have usable bike lanes. And reducing the parking supply to one side still leaves nearly four times as much parking as there is demand. But like Westheights, we anticipate opposition to this change to be fierce.

Fortunately, you can help to bring safe cycling facilities to Union and ensure that the priority network is not compromised. Probably the two most effective things you can do is show up in the Council chamber Monday night and be visible, and if you’re really keen, register to delegate. If you can’t make it, you can also write to your councillors and remind them that you too are a stakeholder in the form that Union Street will take.

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An alternative design for University Avenue

In our last post, we raised some concerns with the Region’s recommended design for the reconstruction of University Avenue between Erb Street and Keats Way.  In particular we have issues with the inadequate separation from motor traffic, and the ability to maintain the lanes in winter.  Here is a quick overview of a design that we believe better addresses these issues.

Illustrated below is the Region’s recommended design.  It features 1.5m bicycle lanes separated from motor traffic by 0.6m buffers.  It also includes sidewalks on both sides of the street – there is currently only a sidewalk on the east side.

University Ave - Erb St to Keats Way, ROW proposal, looking northeast

Region of Waterloo staff recommended design alternative for University Ave

To address our concerns regarding bicycle-car separation and winter maintenance, we would prefer that the bicycle lanes be moved off the main roadway.  Illustrated below is a road layout that takes up the same space as the region’s proposal but provides bicycle paths separate from the main roadway.

Improved University Ave - Erb St to Keats Way, looking northeast

Improved design alternative for University Ave with separated bicycle paths

This arrangement replaces the two one-way bicycle lanes with two one-way bicycle paths.  This type of infrastructure is common in the Netherlands, where it is allows people of all ages and abilities to cycle to their destinations even along fast and busy roads.

In this arrangement, the boulevard forms the buffer between bicycles and cars, freeing up the space from the two 0.6m painted buffers to be used for other purposes, such as widening the bicycle path.  It is important to note that off-street bicycle paths need to be wider than painted lanes, since cyclists do not have the option to leave the lane to overtake a slower cyclist.

Unlike in the region’s plan, we do not propose to add a new sidewalk on the west side of the road.  There is no access to the properties on the west side, and there are few origin-destination pairs that would make for a competitive walking trip.  As a result, the potential volume of pedestrian traffic would be minimal.

With so few pedestrians, it’s hard to justify building and maintaining separate pathways for pedestrians and cyclists.  The handful pedestrians that would walk along the west side of the road would not be inconvenienced by walking on the bicycle path, nor would cyclists be inconvenienced by such a small number of pedestrians on the bicycle path as long as it is sufficiently wide.

To complement this shared arrangement, there needs to be thoughtful intersection design.  The current standard designs for multi-use paths where the path ends at intersections and cyclists are expected to dismount are not acceptable. Fortunately, there are good examples of how to integrate off-road bikeways with intersections.

Omitting the west sidewalk saves 1.8 metres in the first improved design alternative, which can be allocated instead to widening the boulevard and the bicycle paths.  But this is not a critical component of the design.  There could be sidewalks on both sides, or on neither side, and the effect would be generally the same.

The end result of this design would be to make cycling along this segment of University Avenue an attractive option for people of all ages and all levels of interest in cycling.  While the remainder of University Avenue will remain hostile for now, we urge the Region to use this project as a first instance of a new standard of cycling infrastructure for arterial roads that is safe and comfortable enough for everyone.

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