Friday, October 23, 2009

DOTT plans affect west side residents (xi): BikeWest

The city cycling plan includes conceptual improvements for cyclists heading west from the core towards Westboro. Councilor Leadman is fighting for improvements to the ill-designed Scott Street mixed-use path and a connection to the downtown. Cycling advocacy groups want better cycling facilities. The BikeWest plan proposes a segregated bi-directional cycling path on the north side of Albert and Scott from the downtown (Bronson Ave) to Westboro.

One of the original purposes of the BikeWest plan was to tie into all the construction projects planned along the Albert-Scott corridor. It is important not to construct anything that permanently blocks cycling improvements, even if the cycling improvements are not yet being built. It is also economic and thrifty to tie in cycling path improvements to new major road and LRT works planned along the corridor.

Working from the downtown west, the currently proposed DOTT plan does not adversely affect BikeWest between Bronson and Booth. It remains to be seen if city planners can be convinced to include BikeWest either along the north side of Albert or along the new grade-separated LRT alignment. The intersection of Booth at Albert remains a horror for local residents and the new intersection plans make it worse. It remains to be seen if the intersection can be scaled down, single-occupancy car motorists tamed instead of catered to.

In the latest DOTT plans the Preston extension will be built very early in the LRT construction process. This opens a few opportunities to facilitate the cycling experience in the E/W and N/S direction. It all depends on the willingness of council to direct that cyclists be treated seriously. However they design this road feature it is unlikely to create insurmountable cycling problems.

The Bayview Station design calls for a huge widening of the current transitway bridge over the OTrain cut. It would be economic to widen the bridge a bit more to include a segregated bike path beside the new station platforms. This would overcome the biggest hurdle for westbound cyclists: getting over the OTrain tracks. The current Albert St alignment has narrow sidewalks and very fast moving traffic that creates a cyclist-unfriendly environment. It is especially inconvenient for downtown-bound cyclists to get from the Scott path over the tracks to Albert Street.

At Tunney's, cyclists today are supposed to cycle on the north side of the Scott Street sidewalk/bus platforms. For much of the station length this is not a major problem with the current bus passenger volumes. However, when Tunney's becomes much busier it will be a major difficulty. Unfortunately, the current DOTT plan continues the unsatisfactory cycling-unfriendly  arrangement.

It is possible to do much better, and cheaply too. Recall that the new platform shelters for the LRT deep in the cut, will have roofs level with the ground at the Scott Street side. The City proposes a "green roof" here. They also propose widening the pedestrian overpass by 3x, while keeping the current elevator shafts, stairs, and exit buildings. It would not be difficult nor expensive to use the LRT platform roof as additional pedestrian areas, with entrance doors directly onto the new widened pedestrian bridges. This would reduce or eliminate the current exit that opens directly onto the bike path. While not ideal, since pedestrians would all have to cross the bike path at grade to get to the bus stops, it would be an improvement over the current plans.

Even better would be for the planners to sit down with cycling advocates for a few hours to hash out some ideas for reducing conflict. Note that the conflict with the sidewalk and station exists whether a bi-directional segregated bike path is built per the BikeWest model, or a uni-directional path is built along the edge of Scott Street itself. Opportunity knocks, will cycling be given a boost or a permanent block?

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