Last week I gave a quick overview of the new Queens Quay Boulevard bicycle path, which has been completed between Spadina Avenue and Bay Street in Toronto. It is a joy to ride, being laterally separated from motor traffic as well as from pedestrians. But there is one area which can be stressful: pedestrian-bicycle conflict points. Fortunately this issue is quite easy to fix.
Two issues typically occur at these conflict points. During the green light for east-west bicycles, many pedestrians inadvertently wander into the path of bicycle traffic, and during the red light for bicycles (green for north-south pedestrians), many cyclists stop too far forward, blocking the crosswalk.
It seems fairly obvious why pedestrians could easily wander into the bicycle path. At these conflict points, it is paved in the same tiling pattern as the sidewalk, delineated only by tiled elephant’s feet. While these may be the correct markings to put in such a location, the fact that they are made of tiles makes them easy to mistake for simply another aesthetic flourish like the tiled maple leaves.
The solution to this issue is to make the path obvious by extending the asphalt paving through the pedestrian crossing point. Ideally there would also be a slight elevation change – a ramp down to the cycle track and back up on the other side – but that would be unreasonably expensive to retrofit at this point.
The explanation for cyclists stopping in the wrong location also seems fairly obvious. At intersections, the bicycle path has a large blue square, followed by a white bar then the granite-tiled pedestrian crossing point.
I spend a great deal of time looking at road designs all over the world, yet it took me a while to figure out what all these markings were supposed to mean. The blue box seems to be some sort of stopping area, but it covers the entire width of the path, which does not make sense. If people were to wait all the way across the box, they would be blocking people going the other direction. Similarly the white bar is presumably a stop bar, but since it also covers the entire width of the path, it is unrecognizable as such.
This confusion can be easily eliminated by using the standard North American road markings that we’re all familiar with. Here’s what a typical intersection would look like with these changes. Technically the centre line should be a single dashed line to indicate that overtaking is permitted, but I’m not as concerned about that.
There are a couple intersections where this standard design might not work as well: York Street, and Spadina Avenue.
At York Street there is a very large distance between the pedestrian crossing point and the eastbound bicycle signals. It is not reasonable to expect cyclists to stop before the pedestrian crossing and remain there until the light turns green, since cyclists will be able to clearly see when it is safe to proceed to the edge of the roadway crossing.
In this case, I think the pedestrian crossing can be treated separately from the traffic signal, since there is a sufficient distance between them for cyclists to react to them independently. A simple priority arrangement would do the trick: either pedestrians would be given priority by adding a zebra crossing and a pedestrian crossing sign, or bicycles would be given priority by extending the asphalt through the crossing and adding bicycle markings for clarity. Here’s what it would look like with pedestrian priority:
At Spadina Avenue, there are no signals for the bicycle path at all. Since there is very little space for pedestrians to wait between the bicycle path and the signalized intersection, I think the only option is to formalize pedestrian priority using a zebra crossing and a sign. Here’s what that would look like:
I have very high standards when it comes to cycling infrastructure. So the fact that the issues I have with this path can be addressed with measures as simple as pavement markings is a testament to the quality of the design. Waterfront Toronto really nailed the basic design of the street, and with these conflicts clarified, the street would be on par with international best practice.