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.”
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?”
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.”