Thermoplastic paint test strip on Wychwood Avenue. Photo by Ben Spurr.
At the corner of Wychwood and St. Clair, a ghost bike still marks the spot where Joe Mavec died two years ago. Just south of his memorial, the city has been working on a project that could prevent other riders from suffering a similar fate.
Mavec was killed near Wychwood Barns in August 2012 when he caught his bike wheel in the streetcar tracks and struck his head on the pavement.
The type of crash that killed him isn't uncommon. According to a 2012 study, up to a third of serious cycling injuries in Toronto involve streetcar tracks. What was particularly galling about Mavec's case however was that unlike the 300 kilometres of tracks actively used by the TTC, the rail on Wychwood is among the 3.2 kilometres that have been decommissioned and serve no purpose.
In the wake of Mavec's death, council asked Transportation Services to look for ways to make decommissioned tracks safer. Removing unused tracks is prohibitively expensive unless it's done in conjunction with planned road resurfacing, so instead staff looked at filling in the grooves.
In November, they applied four different materials to the tracks on Wychwood and over the course of six months evaluated them for four criteria: durability, ease of application, cost, and riding surface. In a report presented to the Public Works Committee this week staff determined that thermoplastic paint (which is commonly used for road markings) and asphalt were the best options. The other two materials tested, epoxy resin and concrete, were deemed unsuitable.
Councillor Mike Layton, a cycling advocate and member of the Public Works Committee, was impressed that Transportation Services did such a thorough job tackling the issue.
"They've taken very seriously the concerns of cyclists, and so I hope that this will help address the problem with some of these tracks," he said. Only a fraction of the streetcar tracks across the city will be treated, but "considering the health or the safety implications it's certainly money well spent."
Naz Capano, the city engineer in charge of the project, expects to patch up around 370 metres of unused tracks at three locations - on Strathmore, Wychwood and Kipling north of Lakeshore - by August, at a cost of $40,000. The new technique might also be used on decommissioned tracks on Adelaide, where a pilot project of separated bike lanes is planned for later this year. The rest of the decommissioned track is scheduled for removal in conjunction with roadwork or TTC maintenance.
Unfortunately cyclists will still have to negotiate the hazards posed by active streetcar tracks. In the same November 2012 council vote that led to the Wychwood project, councillors also requested staff develop a safety strategy that would include an education campaign, data collection on cyclist-streetcar track crashes, and a pilot project of pavement markings to guide riders safely over active rail lines. That work still hasn't been completed.
Daniel Egan, manager of cycling infrastructure, says that his department has been focused on implementing a network separated and contraflow bike lanes instead.
"Getting in more bike infrastructure is our first priority," he said, citing new or planned lanes on Shaw, Harbord-Hoskin-Wellesley, Sherbourne, and Richmond-Adelaide.
His staff are developing a new cycling plan that he hopes will be released by mid-2015. The plan will provide a citywide blueprint for new bike infrastructure, and Egan says it could include design guidelines that address streetcar tracks.
"We haven't forgotten about it. It's still on our work program," he said. "We put our energy where our priorities are."