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news

I Bike On (The TTC)

20090127IBikeTTC1.jpg

20090127IBikeTTC3.jpg
Top photo by Martin Reis. Bottom photo (and before-shot inset) by Lisa Logan.


At 7:46 Monday morning, Torontoist received a release from press@ttc.ca, headed “TTC launches the ‘WARM WELCOME’ campaign”:

The Toronto Transit Commission announces it’s new bike-friendly attitude for Toronto two-wheelers with the ‘Warm Welcome’ campaign.

Shame about the grammar mistake, but otherwise fuck yeah.

Starting today the TTC is changing the signage at all of it’s subway stations, replacing the NO BICYCLES during rush-hour signs, to a more positive sign (a bike symbol in a green circle) displaying the times when bicycles are allowed.

Same it’s/its problem, but when the news is this good, who cares?

“To all you brave cyclists who ride all winter long, this is just a little change to help you go a long way.” says TTC commissioner Adam Giambroni.

Aww… We love Giambron…i?

The TTC is currently studying the feasibility of other initiatives such as “bike priority” train cars, inviting cyclists aboard even at rush hour, as well as partnering with the new “Bike Share Program” to have bicycles available to borrow at every station.

Finally, the TTC is seeing itself in a greater context than the cars vs. transit binary! Fuckin’ A!
And then, at the very bottom of the message, well below the media contact info:

No, this email’s not real, it’s http://deadfake.com

Damn.
The Urban Repair Squad strikes again.

20090127SillyNow.jpg
Now Magazine fell for the Urban Repair Squad prank, as seen in this screen cap taken early Tuesday afternoon. Their article has since been updated.

Despite the spelling slip-ups, the “release”—full text at I Bike T.O.—was a solid piece of satire and nearly had us fooled. They certainly got Now (which later corrected their article). But some quick Googling led us to the blog of the Urban Repair Squad, ironically Now‘s Best activist group of 2007 and the folks best known for their DIY bike lanes and bike boxes. (URS’s blog had pics online before anyone else realized that there was even anything to take pictures of.) In the past, their brilliance has been to show up the municipal bureaucracy by demonstrating how easy it can and should be to install simple but meaningful cycling infrastructure. Frustrated by the City dragging its feet on matters of life and death, they’ve gone in and been the change they want to see in the world, up to and including issuing Yes Men-style releases ostensibly coming from official bodies. Later Monday afternoon, Martin Reis, aka Tino, emailed us with links to a few dozen photos he’d taken of the promised stickers scattered throughout the TTC.
URS came up with the idea for the intervention during Bike Month last year, but there were a lot of events going on at the time, and cycling issues had no problem staying in the news throughout the summer. When the group met again in the fall, they proposed actions they could undertake in the winter, and because plowing snow from a road in order to create an unofficial bike lane would have been excessive, they settled on this as the perfect mid-winter activity.
With the assistance of at least one like-minded organization and several like-minded individuals, URS managed to sticker the entire system on Sunday. “We broke down the stations into numbers that groups of people could sticker,” a member of URS tells Torontoist. “That’s how we organized it, to cover the full thing. There was no point otherwise.”
The original, offending warnings could be seen at the entrance to every station and on every collector booth. “Every time I came across that coming into the subway, I felt it was a negative message. Because bikes are allowed, except during these hours,” the URSer tells us. Some people might not read the fine print, and get the impression that bikes are always prohibited.
The group covered every exterior sign and many of the ones on collector booths. “It didn’t take that many people to do it, because we all did ten stations each.”

20090127IBikeTTC5.jpg
Photo by Martin Reis.


They were hesitant about doing the booths, due to “security issues,” but at least one (though likely all) of those they did hit are still up today. “Nobody’s paying attention. You can get away with anything,” we’re told and—given what we know about TTC signage—have no trouble believing.
“To me, the job’s not complete until all the interiors are done, too. The worst thing that could happen if someone was caught is just a fine.”
Could they see the TTC leaving the stickers up? URS just wanted “to draw attention to something, to send a positive message. [The stickers are] not wrong, they’re just saying it differently.”
Given the temporary nature of the signs, maybe the TTC could replace them with permanent fixtures? “If they were to change anything, they should make it possible for you to put your bike on the subway somewhere. To make the last car on each train for bikes.
“When I bring my bike on the subway, it’s a nightmare, and I don’t think it should be. The last car in the train [should be] where you can bring your bicycle with you. It would be so helpful. It would be so convenient. It’s nice that they put the bike racks on the buses. That’s what I would personally like to see, them allowing bikes at any time but only in a fixed spot.”
What’s URS’s ideal response from the TTC? “I think it’s just drawing attention. I wasn’t even thinking of a response from them. The bike racks on the buses show that people do care. A response from them, sure, change the signage, sure, change the hours to not have any exclusion.” People should be able to take their bikes on the subway when they actually use it, which is often when they go to or come home from work during rush hour.
“Of course when the escalators are broken, I have to carry my bike up the stairs. A lot of subway stations have a secondary exit, which can only be exited through a turnstile-type exit. If you want to say ‘no bicycles,’ say it at the entrance to that exit, put it at the bottom of the stairs so no one will take their bike all the way up.”
We let URS know we’d be speaking to TTC Chair Adam Giambrone, and asked what questions they’d like us to put to him. “Why aren’t they making bicycles more accessible on the subway?” they wonder. “It seems like a viable part of transportation on the subway. Why are they saying don’t take your bike on the TTC? That’s what that symbol says. What can they do to make it more accessible for people with bicycles? How can they make it easier for cyclists, which encourages both riding and using the TTC?”

20090127IBikeTTC7.jpg
Photo by Lisa Logan.

Giambrone, the chair of the Toronto Cycling Committee during Council’s 2003-2006 term, thinks the intervention is “interesting in how it changes the perspective on bikes.”
He quickly steers our conversation toward an upcoming TTC staff report on cycling/transit integration. “As you know, we’re working with the Toronto cycling infrastructure group to bring forward a report to the commission at the next commission meeting, and that will deal with cycling infrastructure across the board,” Giambrone tells us. “Right now, it’s scheduled for February 18th, but it might be bumped to the April 2nd meeting.”
“TTC staff have sat down with the cycling infrastructure staff,” including cycling head honcho Dan Egan, who’s “working with the TTC engineering crowd.” They’re planning “changes across the corporation that should deal with friendlier integration.” Councillor Adrian Heaps, current chair of the since-renamed and pared-down Toronto Cycling Advisory Committee, is also involved.
Two pieces of infrastructure being put forward will be “bike lanes” (“little bits of tracks”) on staircases [PDF] and improved bike parking. “Some times [the parking] will be about post-and-rings,” other times it will be “dedicated bike lockers,” and in some cases it will even be “actual facilities with an enclosed section,” depending on the security of the particular location.
They’re also “going to convert some of the parking spots [in TTC lots] to bike lockers. You could easily fit eight to ten bikes” in a single car parking space, into which you could squeeze four or five lockers, each holding two bikes.
All very good, yes, and certainly things that will improve the experience of cyclists on transit. But what about the ideas being advanced by URS? What about having the last car (or another car) on each train be the designated bike car during rush hour?
“That’s what Montreal does. [But] certainly not during rush hour. Our subways are strained to carry the people we have today. It seems unlikely that that will change.” As for “the question of whether we segregate them in one car [outside of rush hour], we are talking with Montreal to find out whether they consider that a success.”
Is there really no way the subway could accommodate bikes during rush hour? What about bike racks on the trains?
“No, we don’t have enough capacity. The new subway cars will have fold-up seats that will make it easier for bikes. The Yonge subway is at capacity, the Bloor subway is pretty busy during rush hour.” The flip-up seats in the new trains will always be “in the upright position until you pull them down.” They’re mainly for “mobility devices, but they will also work for bikes. This was determined to be the best way of accommodating bikes.”
What about putting no-bicycles stickers at the bottom of the stairs leading to turnstile-only exits? “That’s come up before, that was referred to staff with part of this report.” But “you have to be careful about the oversigning.”
We’re highly skeptical that this report will be any sort of panacea, though it sounds like it will hit (or is supposed to hit) many of the right notes. But as much as we heart Giambrone, we know more than a little about the TTC bureacracy; the report, presuming it’s good, will still only be the first step on the road to implementation. As the Community Bicycle Network’s Herb van den Dool asked us when we forwarded him the fake release, “Is it not the real deal? It’s just like the TTC to make a big deal of something and provide nothing substantive.”
And as for URS’s stickers, Giambrone says, “I suspect TTC maintenance will remove them. Ultimately, it will be TTC staff that put them up. We’ll make that decision with that actual cycling report.”
So they’d consider permanent replacements?
“We’re doing all of this as part of the cycling infrastructure.”

Comments

  • http://null Paul Kishimoto

    I made a trip out from downtown to Midland station once, and was dismayed to find myself at an exit with only two turnstiles.
    However, between the turnstiles was a door with no handle, and one of those square yellow “Push for assistance” buttons. I pressed it, glanced over my shoulder at the security camera, and was pleasantly surprised when the door was unlatched in just a few seconds.
    It’s a handy trick—most secondary exits have a camera and one of these doors. The people monitoring the CCTV system are probably bored to death and more than happy to help a cyclist out.

  • David Topping

    The TTC issued a press release about the hoax earlier today.
    Please be advised that a fake news release was distributed by email yesterday, advising the media of a TTC program regarding bicycles. This email was not issued by the TTC.
    All TTC news releases are distributed to the media by TTC Corporate Communications (media@ttc.ca) by way of an external distribution list. TTC news releases also include a contact name, telephone number and email address.
    And, ya know, presumably spell “Giambrone” right.

  • http://www.bikingtoronto.com bikingtoronto

    I wonder how effective it would be if the “Urban Repair” people actually put their energy into working with the TTC to officially change the bike signs into a more positive message rather than just vandalizing all the collector booths?
    Yeah, it may be fun to send out fake press releases and put stickers up, but didn’t most of us grow out of that sometime during high school?
    Asking for bike-only subway cars is really pushing it too. Yes, we’d all love a train car just for bikes, but it’s very unreasonable at present. You can take your bike on there anytime except rush hour, and during rush hour there isn’t even room.
    I’m also very disappointed in the I Bike T.O. website in posting this news release as if it was real. Either they are horrible at fact checking, or they knew it was fake and posted it anyways. Either way it’s irresponsible.
    Here’s how it should’ve been posted:
    TTC and Bikes Warm Welcome Hoax? (BikingToronto.com)

  • http://null Brad Ross

    David – I could have added, “Nor does the TTC use taglines declaring news releases to be fake.” But I figured that was a given.

  • http://null spacejack

    Heh, so little has changed. I used to do bike/TTC combo commuting for several years. You get pretty accustomed to portaging your bike over turnstyles and up and down stairs. I hardly noticed the obstacles after a while, they just became part of my route.
    Not during rush hours is the main barrier for most who would want to try this. I managed to convince the boss units to let me show up at work around 10am.

  • http://www.publicspace.ca Jonathan Goldsbie

    Martin has brought to my attention this very interesting report from 2002, in which TTC staff dismissed the following suggestions:

    1. A sign with hours allowing bicycles on the system to be a “permissible sign”, rather than “prohibited sign”.
    2. Racks on buses, particularly buses on HOV lanes.
    3. Making use of the last car on the train, for allowing bicycles during peak rush hour periods.

    It was Commissioner Giambrone who, two years later, made the motion calling for a pilot project for bike racks on buses. And it now looks like, thanks to him, the no-bikes signs may also be changed. It’s therefore probably only a matter of time now (3-5 years?) before either Giambrone or a new commissioner starts to take seriously the possibility of accommodating bikes during rush hour.

  • http://undefined Svend

    Maybe it’s too early but I’ve never seen a bike on the bus rack. I wouldn’t blame someone for thinking these were a waste of money.

  • http://www.bikingtoronto.com bikingtoronto

    That TTC Report is interesting, but it *is* from 2002… a lot can change in 7 years.
    In 2002 they totally dismissed bikeracks on buses, but now *every* new bus has a bikerack – meaning that eventually they’ll be across the entire bus fleet.

  • http://undefined friend68

    Thanks, since I have often thought these were a waste of money.

  • http://null stanman

    If you are going to complain about grammar, at least get it right. The press release uses “it’s” properly – it is called a possessive apostrophe. Look it up.

  • http://www.bitpicture.com Marc Lostracco

    Um…
    It’s = contraction of “it is” or “it has.”
    Its = belonging to it.

  • http://null tino

    Grammar aside, over two months after the stickers were first put up, guess what?
    They are still there. I have not seen a single one having been removed.
    I suppose the TTC staff likes them.
    And, well, why not?