Bicycles on the TTC

In honour of Car Free Day, a post about bicycles.

Let me state my outlook right up front:  I am a pedestrian, and I do not own, let alone ride, a bicycle.  My relationship with these two-wheeled vehicles often consists of nearly being run down by them.

Having said this, I accept the premise that bicycles should be viewed as an important part of our transportation repertoire.  The question is this:  how can we meaningfully integrate them with the transit system?

Efforts to date have attracted a lot of discussion — bike racks on buses, off-peak carriage on surface and subway vehicles — but frankly I don’t think these contribute much to creating a workable culture for bikes on the TTC.

Bike racks have a limited capacity, and the number of travellers, especially in peak periods, whose trips could be carried partly via bike rack is a very small proportion of system ridership.  Moreover, since most trips involve at least some subway travel, and bikes cannot enter the subway during peak periods, many trips simply cannot be made with a bike/TTC combination.

Recently, the City has begun to install bicycle lockers around town.  Indeed, there are three down on the mall in front of Scarborough Civic Centre where I work (not for the City).  Three lockers compared with the acres of parking around here are nothing in anyone’s grand scheme.  They may give a few politicians a photo op, but they make no real contribution to regional transportation capacity.

Regular readers here will know there has been some debate about TTC parking lots.  Why, one might ask, doesn’t the TTC and its pro-bike Chair concentrate on providing capacity for bicycle storage at parking lots beside subway stations?  This would allow cyclists to ride to the subway, stash their bike and continue on via transit.  (Yes, if they wanted to bike at the other end of the trip, this is not much help, but their bike isn’t going on the subway anyhow.)

Maybe we could even let Metropass holders use the bicycle storage facilities free of charge just like motorists.  (You have to imagine a Machiavellian grin here which no collection of punctuation can duplicate.)

If the TTC and its pro-bicycle Commissioners want to do something useful for cyclists, why don’t they look at the big picture?  Make it easy for people to have a cycle/TTC trip and put them on the same footing (yes, I couldn’t resist that one) as motorists.  If cycling is going to be an alternative for cars, it needs to have comparable facilities to be integrated with transit travel.

20 thoughts on “Bicycles on the TTC

  1. I cycle every day, commuting during the week, and touring on the weekends. I think it is important to realize that bike racks on buses are not just a practical way to extend trips in uncertain weather and cut travelling time, but they send a clear message that cycling is encouraged. It was a very welcoming sight on a visit to Ottawa a few years ago, to see so many buses with bike racks. Even more exciting was to see a door on the O-train with a bicycle label – revealing a convenient storage area. Visiting Portland in 1996, I noticed large plastic bike boxes at their LRT stations. They’re an effective deterrent because thieves cannot see what’s inside – old bike, expensive bike, or no bike. In my opinion, the TTC has never been enthusiastic about supporting cyclists (e.g., we are one of the last major cities in North America to equip buses routinely with bike racks), arguing that it’s not worth the cost because it results in little increase in ridership. If Giambrone was not championing cycling, I doubt that the TTC would install racks on new buses nor provide bike boxes.

    An optimist at heart, I am hopeful that the neighbouring transit organizations will also begin to install bike racks and lockers. York Region, Mississauga Transit, are you listening?


  2. Before reading the above comment I was going to just post off the top of my head the biggest thing to encourage cycling.

    — Bike Lanes everywhere. (Pink or city sanctioned ones.)

    — Bike Entrance and Bike Car where those with bikes stand with their bike on the train? Last Car or something, don’t know.

    I do see the value of taking the bike to get to transit.

    Some bikes are practically foldable like an umbrella and those ones should be allowed to make use of Train and ride off at the other end.

    Out here in Durham bike parking in an issue, I challeged our planning department to add to site plan approval process the requirement to have bike storage on commercial properties, we encourage people to cycle— (hides the fact you can barely get a bus) however if they cycle to an errand there is nowhere to park the bike!

    I would ride my bike to the GO in Ajax but I am too vain about my hair! 🙂


  3. After being away for a year from University life in Hamilton (at McMaster) I came back pleasantly surprised to see new buses, new routes and bike racks on the front of almost every bus with the Hamilton Street Railway (HSR… a misnomer as there is no street railway now). Compared to a year ago it’s great. And we get an 8 month pass included in our student fee for less than $70.

    And then I walked by the north end of campus and saw they had paved over the tennis courts to make more parking spots. Significant only symbolically perhaps, but it shows the attitude of the university pretty well. There are I think 2 or 3 bike lockers on campus but the waiting list is full. It’s a shame Universities – supposedly sites of innovation and conscientious thinking – don’t do more to encourage public transport and cycling as an alternative to driving.


  4. I agree that the bike-racks on buses, while an interesting concept and I’d say a positive initiative, is not practical in the grand scheme of things at all. Isn’t there a downtown network of “public bicycles” that are usable by anybody that signs up? I think that concept of a system is the most compatible with the TTC. If these “public bicycle” network nodes are at or near subway stations (or future LRT ROW stations), it can provide an interesting effect that should be convenient. You’d need to be able to reserve a bike before you leave for the transit vehicle though, as you don’t want to get off only to find that node is currently without bikes at that instant. With this network within the TTC network, those living outside the TTC network can bike to a terminus station where the bike lockers would actually be useful with the presence of the “public bicycle” network. Personal bike accessories and gear are usually small enough to fit into one’s bag with the possible exception of the helmet.


  5. What about bike rental? Several European cities such as Paris have very successful public bike rental schemes. One simply picks up a bike at an automated bike rack and returns it to another when done; typically it is free or very cheap. Unfortunately the most popular scheme is tied to a particular advertising company (JCDecaux) but it would surely be possible to copy it…


  6. “Maybe we could even let Metropass holders use the bicycle storage facilities free of charge just like motorists.”

    If there is enough demand, go ahead. I’m a biker and I’m all for such an idea. Most VIVA stops have bike racks now and the Downsview subway station has bike lockers (and probably many more, I’m not sure however).

    However if it doesn’t meet economies of scale then well I don’t know. But I can say I’m not against it at all. Just because I drive does not mean I’m against all modes of transport.

    I’m for segregation of modes of transports. Freeways for cars only. LRT lanes for LRT only. Bike lanes for bikes only. Sidewalks for pedestrians only. Segregation for high traffic of these modes however. Freeways *might* contribute to sprawl but it gets heavy traffic off streets which is where people live. A local question I’ve always wanted to ask you Steve is. If the DVP did not exist, wouldn’t there be a lot more traffic on Broadview avenue?

    The more they go for bikes, the better, because unlike transit, bikes don’t go on strike cuz it’s also a private form of transportation 😀

    Steve: If the DVP didn’t exist, Toronto would have developed in a much different way along with its traffic flows. A good example is the Spadina Expressway. Certainly, it is not easy to drive in a flash from Downsview to downtown through the city, but streets in that part of town are not in constant gridlock because no high-volume link has ever existed there. By contrast, if the Gardiner is closed, Parkdale is a mess because all of the traffic moves to local streets.

    If there were no expressways, Toronto would have needed a much more extensive transit network (both local and regional) than it has today, and development would likely have been more compact in what are now the old suburbs. Don Mills was built in the form it took because it could be a car-oriented community, and because nothing was provided as a transit alternative. This happened on a massive scale in the 905.


  7. I think the greatest need near subway stations is for more plain old bike racks. At a lot of stations the standard ring-and-post stands are always full and need to be replaced with larger racks that hold five to ten bikes. This is a good problem to have, but full racks don’t do anything to encourage more people to cycle.

    Why spend our money on enclosed bike lockers and bike-sharing programs when it could be spent more productively on adding regular bike racks? We have a simple system in place that already works: ride your own bike, lock it up. While I never want to discourage creative suggestions, I’m of the mind that we should augment our existing bike parking before we start working on elaborate new systems.


  8. I’m an avid cyclist and (given where I’m posting) transit nerd. I often have to blend the two.

    The absence of hard data on this topic is frustrating. Most of the words I see come across as hot air. For instance, what is the profile of your typical bike-involved TTC trip? Is there any research on that?

    For me, I bicycle to a subway station, ditch my bike, and continue my trip on subway. If it was my regular commute, and I needed a considerable trip at at the other end, I would probably leave a beater bike there.

    Lockers are beside the point. They are expensive, take up vast amounts of space, and help, to a first approximation, nobody.

    It really is a shame that the bikeshare program got canned earlier this year. I don’t recall seeing many bikeshare lockers — as in, in front of — subway stations. I probably would have joined if there were.

    A bike garage would be a nice start. Consider the sight in Europe, Amsterdam specifically. Now there’s a bike culture. — on the right, a multi-storey ramp full of bikes.


  9. It’s interesting observing he use of the bike racks on LA buses. I infer that many people posting assume the bicyclists using transit would engage in long trips with the bikes on the racks, but in LA it seems the majority of people putting their bikes in the front are riding for only a relatively short distance.

    Bikes are allowed on rail except during peak hours in the peak direction but even then it’s relatively rare to see one.

    Steve: I cannot help coming back to my basic point. Bike racks on buses may be politically soothing to the cyclists lobby, but how much of a difference does it really make if we are going to divert large numbers of commuters to cycling+transit? I cannot believe that the gigantic collections of parked bicycles shown in “pro bike” cities all got there on the front of a bus or streetcar.


  10. I think the bike racks on buses aren’t going to make much of a difference because it is often faster and cheaper to ride your bike on the same route. That being said, bike parking facilities at transit stations makes a lot of sense.

    GO stations are probably a good place for bike racks, commuters would bike from home to the nearest GO station, take local transit to work.

    In terms of the TTC, if there is enough room for large lots at Downsview, Kipling, and Finch among others, there should be room for just as many bike spots.


  11. An interesting topic here thanks to all.

    While bikes are great, the term “passhole” was inspired by one of them.

    In theory, bike and transit should be complementary, but in Caronto they’re not. One almost thinks that the bike is too good a competitor to the TTC to ensure that we do provide cycling safety because there are more captive riders on the routes that tend to make money to subsidize the suburbs.

    We could use with bike parking at the suburban bus stops and not just better parking at the transit stations. We also could use a video surveillance at these bulk parking spots too – one amie had her bike ripped off at the Bathurst parking, and there’s no Bikeshare program because the City and many other possible supporters couldn’t find c. $80,000 for making this a bit more of a voluntary effort.

    Some of us biketypes are trying to leverage the Bloor/Danforth subway taking away the streetcars from Bloor for a very long bikeway parallel to the subway: we need east-west bike safety, there are very few options in the west end especially, and the streetcar tracks on other streets prevent bike lanes it seems, unless we take one curb lane and put in two-way bike lanes on, say, Queen. But if over-crowding is an issue, repainting the roads to have bike safety may be the best and cheapest way of shedding 4% of the loading – if that’s a priority of course. 7 of 9 commissioners have voted for the Front St. Extension that harms two transit systems.

    As for the taketheTooker/Bloor bikeway, there’s a ride this Sunday at noon at High Park coming into the City, and repainting 8kms of Bloor would only be $200,000 or so.

    Steve: The idea that the TTC deliberately plays down amenities for bicycles in order to increase its revenue is utter nonsense. I have been attending meetings of the TTC since 1972 and there has never been a hint of this in any discussions. Believe me, there have been some hare-brained schemes around that table over the years, and this isn’t one of them.

    In my dealings with the TTC (and other large bureaucracies including the one I work for), I have found that sheer stupidity and incompetence are far better explanations for organizational behaviour than any Machiavellian plotting. Such plots take intelligence and foresight, attributes which are usually in short supply.


  12. You see people using the racks on the B-Line express bus in Vancouver. The cycling infrastructure is much more developed, but it’s just to hard for some people to bike all the way out to UBC. There’s also that long hill to climb at the end. But once you’re there it’s a sprawling campus, so a bike is useful.

    I think almost all buses have racks now except the oldest trolleys. Unfortunately the ones on the newest buses were never tested, so no one noticed that when filled they block the headlights. So you can only use them during the day.

    Steve: It will be interesting to see as and when a Broadway LRT/Skytrain/Whatever is built, what happens to the B-line. If the inner part of the route becomes a rapid transit line, will bikes be permitted on the trains? The B-Line doesn’t have this problem today because it is a continuous surface route, not a feeder to a rapid transit network.

    A very rough analogy in Toronto would be the York U express that runs from the end of the subway line where bikes are not allowed during rush hours.


  13. Why not bike racks inside stations? These days I’m familiar with Greenwood Station where the space immediately on the left as you enter the station is empty. Being in full view of the ticket booth and TTC patrons any locked bikes would be safe and out of the weather. Donlands station would work in a similar manner as would most others.


  14. The notion that the bike rack program does not work is a flawed one from the outset. The program hasn’t been given a fair chance to work. The pilot set out to put bike racks on 98 buses, at least 20 of which were removed from service during the program, and 48 of them being Orion VIs, only half of the original fleet was left after the first pilot year, leaving most routes without stable rack service. The network of routes was discontinuous, running only on accessible buses out of Wilson meaning that very few trips could really make use of them.

    Currently, the 7900 and 8000 series were supposed to have bike racks installed “this summer”. Efforts on the 7900s are pitiful, and nonexistent on the 8000s. The 8100 are supposed to come factory-equipped, but that’s another story.

    The real problem is availability. The TTC has not updated its original press materials to include the accessible route roster at Wilson. Rather than 7/29/47/98/161/310, the posters should read 7/14/29/32/33/58/63/78/104/105/120/126/141/142/160/161/310, but they don’t. The problem is that there is not one single route anymore where you can be guaranteed a bike rack within the first hour of waiting except for Dufferin.

    Another problem is policy. You can’t take your bike on routes 105, 107 and 160 even when there is a bike rack, because bikes aren’t allowed north of Steeles, but nobody was informed. The problem is exacerbated when you take into account the shoddy (read: shitty) service reliability on Bathurst, the only other major connection, and the only link to Steeles not to mention one of the only relatively frequent routes [according to those ‘schedules’], which can make what shouldn’t even have been a half hour wait into an hour and a half for a bike rack. Yes, I’ve seen days where only one bus in service has a rack. So, don’t discredit this program until it has been given half a chance.


  15. Cycling, Walking, Transit, Car-sharing are all part of the same continuum; that is, less reliance on private car ownership, and a more active and eco-friendly lifestyle. Each mode of transport is or should be useful to almost every commuter at one time or another; some serve longer journeys, others shorter trips, some are year round, others more seasonal. All are essential to good transporation system that weans people off taking their car everywhere.

    For most people, walking from Pickering to Downtown T.O., or biking Etobicoke to North York City Centre are non-starters, at least for the daily commute. Therein lies the clearest need for transit, along with serving students, seniors, those who don’t own a bike or are carrying heavy parcels etc etc.
    But at the same time, we want people who live at Broadview & Queen to consider biking to the beaches or walking to Yonge as part of their routine transport decisions as well.

    The streetcar/subway etc. should be fast, frequent and comfortable, but if the weather is nice, distance short, or the system delayed, an alternate choice should be readily available, pleasant and safe.

    We could all go on at length about the best places for bike lanes, or new LRT routes, streetscape enhancements or more car-sharing locations. All are likely valid points, there is no shortage of improvements needed in all these areas and more.

    The key to pushing this agenda of greener, more human-scaled transporation choices is for each community of green commuters to support one another to the greatest extent possible; to realize that the gain of one of the ‘green modes’ of transporation is a gain for them all. If the active cycling community helps get behind better King car operation it is more likely to succeed, in turn can transit’s supporters not lend help in backing bike lanes on Bloor or some other beneficial project for cyclists.

    Can we (cyclists and transit riders) who are both, by definition more likely to be pedestrians not also back major initiatives for the public realm like the Bloor Street Transformation or the proposed enhancements in Roncesvalles? I’m sure all can, should and must work together, particularly since we all collectively remain far out number by everyday drivers in this City.

    In that vein, a few links and suggestions.

    First, where to find out what different communities of activists are thinking and working on:


    Right here, of course, and over at Transit Toronto.

    What other cities are doing can be found at Mass Transit Magazine.

    Pedestrians: spacing and Streets are for People.

    On the international scene: Project for Public Spaces

    Cyclists: I Bike TO, Bike Toronto, Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation.

    If we take an interest in each other’s causes, and then help support them by lobbying the TTC, the Roads department, the various city councillors, mayors and others, we can make a difference. It shouldn’t matter how you get to where you’re going as long as it involves as little use of a personal automobile as possible!


  16. What I find annoying about the bike racks is that some routes that use them, are not on the “list” of routes with bike racks. The 196 York Rocket has the racks too…I can go in two directions: 1) why do those buses have them (not all of them though) and is not listed on the “list” of routes with bike racks. 2) I find it useless to take a bike on the bus that only goes to downsview then all of a sudden you can’t take it during rush hour (which is when most students finish classes).


  17. That is because route 196 is an accessible route out of Wilson. Every single one of them should have bike racks all the time, but the many, many installations planned for “this summer” were indefinitely put off it seems. I believe, however, that due to the constricting amount of time it takes to load bikes on and off, there should be a policy against bikes on express and downtown express buses. I am in support of bikes, transit and a mix of the two, but express routes should do what they’re designed to do- run quickly. This is where we run into the problem of a total lack of policy detailing what you can and can’t do with your bike outside of rush hour.


  18. Bicycles can be useful at either ends of a line-haul route. Instead of waiting at either (or both) ends for a connecting route, or walking, just ride to the stop, take your bike, and ride at the other end. This works quite well on the GO trains on weekends (schlepping a bicycle through Union Station isn’t much fun, though).

    I can see this working very well for the Transit City LRT routes. They can’t go everywhere, nor can they stop every other block. Taking a bicycle with you makes this much less of a problem.

    Taking my bicycle with me is much more preferable than leaving/borrowing a bike at each end. For one thing, I have useful panniers on my utility bike. For another, I have a patch kit, tools, and lighting, all of which I can rely on.


  19. Speaking of GO, there is a renewed effort there to examine bike facilities at stations and aboard vehicles. I wouldn’t expect much progress in the latter area, due to crowding, but at least GO is talking to MTO about the feasibility of bike racks on highway coaches.
    There is a report on the topic, but GO has no system set up to make reports easily available.

    -Ed D.

    PS — I read someplace that bike riders may be refused entry to stations like Bathurst during rush hours, even if their intent is to take a bus. I suppose they can just ride one stop north, but that’s less ideal than racking your bike while the bus is in the station.


  20. I took a bad fall on (off?) my bike this week. I broke 3 ribs and got scraped up. My helmet saved my noggin, you should wear one!

    I’m a skilled rider & this is my first track fall in 30 yrs of riding. I think if we’re going to keep streetcars (I don’t think we should), they should be seperated as much as possible from all other modes of transport. I like this example from Portland (the lower diagram).

    Click to access moody_cross_section.pdf

    The TTC planned to dismantle the streetcar network by the 1980’s as the subway picked up large volumes of riders. It was public outcry that kept them in service. Why, I don’t understand. Our mayor says nostalgia.

    Of course the ultimate solution is a more extensive subway system. Too costly at this point.

    Why not electric buses though?? Tear up the tracks, the power network is there, no more expensive track maintenance, the units are cheaper to purchase & maintain.

    Now, we’re runnning hybrid-electric buses & could do away with the overhead power lines altogether. Seems way more practical & cost-effective to me. Could save us cyclists from serious injury.

    Steve: At the risk of sounding like a curmudgeon, I am always amazed at how the entire world has to get out of the way of the cycling community.

    We kept the streetcars because, in 1972, the level of demand on the downtown routes was much higher than it was today, and the network could have been the nucleus of an expanded rapid transit system into the suburbs. The TTC did a good job of driving ridership away with service cuts that reinforced demographic shifts in the city’s population, and we are still fighting for them to run proper levels of reliable service on the system.

    As for hybrid buses, the jury is still out, although they are certainly appropriate for use on routes with lower service requirements where it is cheaper to generate power onboard than to install an overhead distribution system.

    The city is growing downtown again, and ridership on the streetcar lines is growing even though it is constrained by the level of service.


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