Thursday, September 3, 2009

Bike Routes in Milton: Bronte and Beyond

Thanks to the efforts of Regional Councillor Colin Best, Bronte Street will have real, on-road bike lanes by the end of the year, all the way from Main to Derry.

Anyone who has ever tried to ride a bike on Bronte knows how terrifying it can be. The speed limit may be 50 for most of that stretch, but the road is so wide that people (and trucks) frequently drive much faster. So these bike lanes are going to be a welcome change - especially since they are going to connect up with future bike lanes on Derry Road going west.

Also welcome is the (re)installation of a pedestrian crossing over Bronte at Barton St, even though it's not quite what it was. The original crosswalk at that location - leading from two large apartment buildings and a townhouse complex on the west side of Bronte - was idiotically removed during the Great Crosswalk Purge of '07. Now it's been replaced with a "school crossing", complete with a crossing guard and zebra markings, but not the more expensive (and far safer) type of pedestrian-actuated crossing with the real traffic lights that they installed on Ontario St. But since that little enclave is really the only residential area on that side of Bronte, the numbers apparently didn't warrant the expense. I guess rental units don't generate enough property taxes.

I took a ride out there to check it out and... wow. I sure as hell wouldn't want to cross there - not even with a crossing guard. I wouldn't even want to BE a crossing guard there. They said the regular crosswalks were too dangerous, but at least they had overhead lights. And if you're just a regular pedestrian, it seems you're out of luck.

I won't even start on the idiot in zoning who decided to allow someone to build apartment buildings on the west side of Bronte in the first place.

But back to the bike lanes. A subsequent editorial points out that Bronte is just about the easiest and cheapest place in town to put bike lanes because it is so excessively wide. Extending the network to other existing roads, on the other hand, is going to take a bit more money and political will, but is necessary if we are going to have a truly usable network of bike routes.

For example, Ontario St. could really use some bike lanes, and is plenty wide enough to do it with some re-jigging. Although apparently the south end of Ontario St. already has what they call "multi-use trails" for bicyclists. Too bad I've never once seen anyone ride a bike on them. Can't imagine why.

Actually, I'm not sure if this sad, narrow strip of bumpy paving is supposed to be the 'multi-use trail', or if they are actually referring to the sidewalk. Which looks exactly like... a sidewalk.

(UPDATE: Confirmation from Colin - yes, those are what they are calling 'multi-use trails'. Sigh.)

Even more useful would be bicycle access to the GO station and the Supercentre at Main and Thompson. This particular corner of Milton is completely cut of from side street access to the south and west due to the train tracks, leaving only the major arteries. And Main in particular is considerably more terrifying that Bronte - so much so that I don't remember ever seeing a cyclist between Ontario and Thompson who wasn't riding on the sidewalk. Myself included. And yet, that section of Main is designated as a "suggested on-road cycling route" in the town's 'Trails and Bikeways Guide'.

Go ahead. Try it. I dare you.

Now that the town is getting serious about developing and 'intensifying' that area, it shouldn't be too hard to get the road widened enough to put bike lanes in. Why they didn't do that when they were reconstructing Thompson is beyond me.

Life isn't all dismal for Milton cyclists, however. One recent project extended a beautiful wide paved trail down the whole length of my favourite secret park-with-no-name (ok, apparently it's David Thompson Park). This park runs parallel to Commercial St. and will take you from Parkway in behind Milton District High School all the way down to Tonelli Arena on Laurier. It runs along a swale with two pretty little bridges over it, and is my favourite shortcut to La Rose and long-cut to work.

View David Thompson Park in a larger map

And now it appears there is another trail going in right across he street from me, along the west side of Sixteen Mile Creek from Sydney maybe right down to the footbridge. This particular stretch of woods has always been one of the favoured 'party spots' for local teenagers (I know, I have one), so they may just end up having to find somewhere else to go.

So there you have it. A quick tour of Milton's bike trails - the good, the bad, and the unfinished.


Zeeshan Hamid said...

Not picking on Milton specifically, but the planning in most North American cities and towns (or lack thereof) baffles me.

First, we build thousands of home. Then, in most cases, (new) residents are left without transit. "Infrastructure" typically implies roads - trails, bike lanes, walking paths are all nice-to-have afterthoughts that typically go in the Parks department anyway. We basically force people to drive. Finally, when everyone starts driving we start complaining about pollusion, traffic, noise etc. etc. etc.

But we repeat the same thing for the next subdivision, then the next one over and so on.

Portland, OR did a wonderful job with bicycling (and public transit in general). Truly remarkable. Took a while and lots of planning (which is why I keep asking for an urban plan), but it's a highly walkable and bikable city.

vistaway said...

Cycling along Main isn't THAT bad, but it takes a fair amount of confidence to do so. The tracks and bad pavement around that area are the most-dangerous parts.

The GO station bike racks are nearly full most summer days, and have bikes in them virtually every day of the year - including winter. So there are plenty of cyclists out there. We just need to build on that to get more people out and using bikes instead of cars for daily chores, commuting, etc.

I wonder if one day we will get a real bike plan, or just keep building out with no real idea of how to move people around...