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What ever happened to velo-city?

Posted by Derek Flack / October 28, 2010

velo-city TorontoAnyone remember velo-city, the elevated bikeway network proposed by Toronto architect Chris Hardwicke back in 2006? The project got quite a bit of attention when it was first proposed, most likely because it was just so outlandish. While it made sense to think of ways to create cycling infrastructure that was independent of existing roadways and solved the problem of our unfriendly winter weather, the question was where would the money come from to build such a project?

Well, as it happens, nowhere. Not surprisingly, Hardwicke's idea never got off the ground (sorry, I couldn't resist) in any pragmatic sense. But does that mean it was foolish and naive? Some would say so, but I'm not so sure.

Doing research for another post last night, I happened to run into to some archived information about the velo-city project, which got me thinking about it again. Wouldn't it be great, I thought, to somehow send this idea back into the spotlight on the heels of Toronto's election of a less than cycling-friendly mayor? Isn't this just a more effective (albeit expensive) alternative to Rob Ford's idea to build bike lanes in ravines, where they won't interfere with vehicular traffic?

velo-city TorontoNow, I know that the realistic answer to the first of these questions is probably "no," but to indulge in a little lighthearted nostalgia, perhaps the very memory of the fact that a plan like Hardwicke's even existed -- unrealistic as it may be from a funding standpoint -- can sustain cycling infrastructure advocates as they battle for even the most modest of projects in the years to come. Think of it as the Elysian fields on the other side of the river Styx.

In fact, what's somewhat humorous is that if velo-city somehow did manage to get built when it was first proposed, it's not necessarily the type of project that Ford would hate. While the maintenance of the structures might be deemed an unnecessary expense, the key to Hardwicke's velo-city plans was the idea that the elevated cycling network would be placed alongside or on top of existing hydro, highway or railway corridors, which would thus diminish the degree to which the covered tubes would interfere with existing infrastructure and eliminate to add bike lanes to surface routes.

The reality is, of course, that given the current political and financial climate, it'd be bit silly to resume talking about velo-city in any serious way. Acquiring funding for such a project is an even more remote possibility today than it was four or five years ago. Yet, when I stumbled upon the project once again, I couldn't help writing about it. And, to be honest, it's not as if the idea of having specialized roadways for cyclists hasn't finally made its way to North America. In fact, if anything, it's gaining steam.

So for all the jokes, velo-city still stands as an example of a revolutionary way of thinking about cycling infrastructure and culture -- and that's worth remembering, at the very least.

Discussion

30 Comments

OVERLORD / October 28, 2010 at 09:59 am
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You know what? Forget about bikes for a bit because all they do is serve the self-absorvbed cyclists's need to get from point A to B without a V12 HEMI.

GOD. The nerve of some people.
Mesonto / October 28, 2010 at 09:59 am
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What the picture fails to show are all the cyclists going the wrong way causing accidents.
Zippy / October 28, 2010 at 10:03 am
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Have to agree with Mesonto. What kills me in the city is how every cyclist is at one time a road vehcile then they manage to change into a pedestrian when it suits them. From the road to the sidewalk, from the road lane to a pedesrian crossing, etc. As an avid cycler I am always telling other fellow cyclists to learn the rules of the road. It peves me off so much because bad cyclists just prolong the war between the cars and bikes.
Rob / October 28, 2010 at 10:17 am
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Speaking of which, what happened to converting that unused CP railway from the Junction to Union station to bike lanes? Seems like a very low-cost solution which also takes bikes off the roads and gives them a dedicated and safe path to the centre of the city.
qwerty replying to a comment from Zippy / October 28, 2010 at 10:19 am
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Then perhaps cyclists should need a licence to ride on the roads (like that will ever happen). It's kind of unfair that drivers need to pay for licences and education on all the street rules and bikes just hope on the road and do whatever they want.
cultureshot replying to a comment from Zippy / October 28, 2010 at 10:21 am
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I agree to a point - it pisses me off when I see fellow cyclists running red lights, riding on the sidewalk, etc. - but you have to realize everybody is cheating a bit.

Cars glide through stop signs and park where they aren't supposed to, pedestrians jaywalk all the time and cyclists are no different. Everybody cheats to shave a little bit of time off their commute.
Seshan replying to a comment from qwerty / October 28, 2010 at 10:31 am
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Because you know, crashing a bike into some one will kill them, and a 2 ton car won't.
Jamie / October 28, 2010 at 10:37 am
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First, I should say I think having separate bikes lanes on major arteries is moronic. There's just no room for them. That being said, this looks like a great idea, conceptually. So was Rossi's Spadina express plan. Unfortunately, neither are realistic, which is too bad. Maybe a way to get something like this going would be to have it attached to a subway/monorail plan so that it's multi-funtional and great for everyone.

One thing that nobody seems to bring up about bikes lanes on roads is funding. Our road maintenance is funded by taxes on our gas purchases. Cyclists obviously don't purchase gas for their bikes, yet they want tax dollars to pay for their bike lanes. Essentially, you gripe about not getting fair treatment, but you don't pay your fair share to provide those bike lanes.

Before you start in that you have a car and a bike therefore you pay your road taxes, those taxes are for road maintenance for when you drive your car. A pretty good system since the more you drive on the roads, the more tax you will pay to fund the upkeep. Cyclists should come up with a way to help fund bike trails/lanes, cars already have it.
phnom / October 28, 2010 at 10:45 am
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I wonder if there is some way to build dedicated bike networks on a private basis - like the 407. I would pay definitely pay a reasonable fee to use them. I have no idea what a reasonable fee would be though.
qwerty replying to a comment from Seshan / October 28, 2010 at 10:51 am
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Perhaps I hit him because he didn't know what flashing red lights mean at an intersection. I think cyclist should have at least a G1 licence to ride on roads. Also if he was wearing a helmet, I wouldn't of killed him.
Shaving Grooming Wholesale / October 28, 2010 at 11:23 am
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Joe promised Emily that if anything ever happened to her, he would visit her patients in the oncology ward. <a href="http://www.dropshippers.co.za/Grooming.html";>Shaving Grooming Wholesale</a>
westsidedweller replying to a comment from qwerty / October 28, 2010 at 11:24 am
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"Also if he was wearing a helmet, I wouldn't of killed him."

You are doing a good job of supporting the opposite of what you trying to say here - you are illustrating that bicycle helmets create the illusion of safety in both drivers and cyclists (a cornerstone of the argument that mandatory helmet laws actually cause more harm).

A quick look at stats show that people still die when they are wearing helmets - just go to Transport Canada site and you can see that helmets have not had a measurable impact on cycling fatalities since in the past decade. Other locations show the same (e.g. in New South Wales, Australia in the three years following the introduction of its helmet law, 80% of cyclists killed and 80% of those seriously injured wore helmets at the time).

Parker / October 28, 2010 at 11:46 am
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If cyclists started riding in the middle of the lane instead of the margins, drivers would be a lot angrier and more receptive to bike lanes.
Bradley Wentworth replying to a comment from qwerty / October 28, 2010 at 11:47 am
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Unfair for drivers to pay for licenses? Licensing fees make up a tiny proportion of the expense of operating a vehicle. Motorists get roads and most of their parking funded through City property taxes, which we ALL pay. Cyclists (and transit users?) have far, far less dedicated infrastructure.

Cycling subsidizes driving, since a cycling trip vs. an auto trip brings down the average cost of everything from parking spaces to the extra cost of delivering goods (less traffic that delays trucks) to public health (no emissions contributing to smog, cycling keeps people in better shape and reduces use of medicare.)

For an economist's perspective on parking, The High Cost of Free Parking, by Donald Shoup comes highly recommended. I can't wait to read it
http://www.amazon.com/High-Cost-Free-Parking/dp/1884829988

Next time a bike gets in your way, imagine her instead driving an SUV blocking your path, or snagging that last sweet parking spot ;)
Regina / October 28, 2010 at 11:53 am
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qwerty = car drivin' Rob Ford supporter detected
Dawn Mills / October 28, 2010 at 11:59 am
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Bicycle riders will get more respect when they stop wearing Spandex shorts.
JB replying to a comment from Rob / October 28, 2010 at 12:05 pm
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Rob,

Google the West Toronto Railpath.

Phase one is complete from the Junction to Dundas, it's great to ride on - good surface, trees, quiet, and the scenery is actually pretty nice (lots of old warehouses with pretty good graffiti pieces on them, and even some random art).

The only problem is that until they finish phase two from Dundas to the Wellington bike path, it's a stump that is only useful if you're heading from the Junction and then taking Dundas going west.

That said, tons of people use it, especially on weekends, and if they completed it, it would probably be the most used bike path in the city.
Soren replying to a comment from Zippy / October 28, 2010 at 12:09 pm
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Avid cyclists know avid cyclers speak gibberish.
grammarcycle replying to a comment from qwerty / October 28, 2010 at 12:23 pm
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"Also if he was wearing a helmet, I wouldn't [have] killed him."

I'm not sure licensing would solve anything. What are you going to do, ticket someone for riding a bike on the sidewalk?

phnom, I would also pay for a bike ETR, but I'm sure the economic incentive is not there for some private company to do this.
Other Jamie replying to a comment from Jamie / October 28, 2010 at 12:43 pm
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Government doesn't differentiate in its spending between gas tax money or income tax money or sales tax money, its just money that they spend on maintenance. I mean, cyclists don't insist that none of their tax dollars should be spent on highway maintenance. Plus cars are the reason for the majority of road repairs anyways, when was the last time you saw a bike making a pothole larger?

Based on the taxes torontonians pay, cyclists almost certainly do fund the (minor) upkeep that is necessitated by the wear they put on infrastructure. The Jarvis lanes cost $60,000 and I couldn't tell you the last time they re-paved the path in the don valley but it doesn't require the maintenance that any major street in this city does because cars are big and heavy and wear out roads unlike bicycles.
qwerty replying to a comment from Regina / October 28, 2010 at 01:06 pm
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That's amazing! Ok, what number am I thinking of right now?
j-rock replying to a comment from Jamie / October 28, 2010 at 02:50 pm
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@Jamie: The last paragraph of your post makes absolutely no sense. Even though many cyclists also pay gas taxes, because they also own cars, that's not important because "those taxes are for road maintenance for when you drive your car"? Huh? Cyclists do pay their fair share and deserve to be respected by both motorists and policy makers. Cities are for people. Gas powered vehicles are an important method of transporting people and goods, but they're not the only one. If you want to go someplace where everyone drives everywhere, might I suggest Markham, or one of our other fine outer suburbs. I bet you're pretty happy about our new mayor aren't you?
Rob Ford / October 28, 2010 at 04:44 pm
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My heart bleeds when I hear about a cyclist getting killed. Mind you, I have the same response to hearing about a puppy getting hit by a car. Just bury what's left and move on, eh?

Look. Roads are for cars, taxis, buses and taxis. Not for bicycles. Now get out of my way, kid. I've got developers to fellate.

Rob "I Won, You Didn't" Ford
Your Mayor, Like It Or Not
Rob Ford / October 28, 2010 at 04:45 pm
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Did I say taxis? Twice? I meant trucks. Or maybe I didn't. Waiter! Another round, and don't drown it this time.

Rob "Leave it to me and my friends" Ford
Your Mayor, Like It Or Not
Miriam replying to a comment from Mesonto / October 29, 2010 at 12:59 am
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I think they are in the left tunnel..tube? I didn't notice it at first too and then stared at the arrows showing the way the bikers are supposed to travel.
skube / October 29, 2010 at 10:59 am
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@Mesonto There are two tunnels, one for each direction.

@Rob The issue with extending the Railpath is getting Metrolinx to sell the property.

@Seshan http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ghs3Cr2gWTQ

Yu / October 29, 2010 at 11:43 am
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To whoever says that cyclist gets a free ride, consider this: I am a cyclist commuter who also own a car (and I believe for many many cyclists it is the same situation). So I already paid the tax on my car, but I causes much less damage to the road because I rarely use my car. Now you are saying I need to pay another bike tax, to cover what? To cover the less damage I did to the road system?
gadfly / October 30, 2010 at 01:38 pm
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.. roll out the same, tired old debate.
Trucks and buses cause the most damage. I'd throw streetcars in their, just for the sheer disruption the 'maintenance' on the tracks causes.
Cars, of course, would be next. Although I suspect 3,500 lbs divided by the footprint of 4 radial tires does not exert that much more weight per sq inch than a 250 lb, 2-wheeled cyclist and the 'footprint' that tiny patch of tires exerts. This is the tired old 'my waterbed will break the floor argument' all over again.
Myeh, bicycles probably don't, as a whole, cause that much damage or wear to the roads, but then they DON'T contribute as much to their maintenance either.
Facts are facts: the city's own budget spends $300 million on roads, $1.2B on the TTC, plus it makes a net PROFIT of over $70M from parking tags and fees. The Province (Toronto Star's figures) rakes in $2.6B in gasoline taxes, pumps back $2B in roads.
The psycho-lobby's arguments are tired and bone-headed. No amount of spin can make it otherwise. However, never mind: with the weather getting crappier, I notice fewer and fewer of these locusts on the roads every day. Six months of peace - at least.
Bradley Wentworth replying to a comment from gadfly / October 31, 2010 at 10:55 pm
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Ah, it's always amusing pointing out the erroneous figures of Gadfly. Go to the City Budget for 2009 ( http://www.toronto.ca/budget2009/analystnotes_operating.htm ) and scroll down to TTC. The TTC spends about $1.2 bn but takes in about $900 million in fare revenue; the net city subsidy is $300 million. Because we don't toll any roads in Toronto, motorists provide no "fare" revenue, but they do significantly add to congestion, and traffic congestion is a cost we all bear that is not properly reflected in the price of driving on congested roads.

The Toronto Board of Trade explores implementing road tolling worth $1.0 billion per year as a potential solution. See http://www.bot.com/AM/Template.cfm?Section=Policy_News and scroll down to May 19; then page 14 of that report. This is from an agency whose board has plenty of banking and Management Consultant executives. This is not a kumbaya environmentalist outfit.
enrique rodríguez ramírez / February 15, 2011 at 09:57 pm
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Felicidades por su proyecto, yo soy ciclista y tuve una idea muy similar em 1970 para la ciudad de México, sólo que con un concepto diferente para elevar las bicicletas en forma sencilla.Hagamos un equipo y propongámoslo a una de las ciudades más grandes del mundo: México. telefono en la ciudad de México: 55440112 y celular: 04455 91851647

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