T.O.’s Bloor bike lanes praised

How­ever, city lags be­hind other Cana­dian cen­tres

Northern News (Kirkland Lake) - - NATIONAL NEWS - PETER GOF­FIN

TORONTO — When a stretch of sep­a­rated bi­cy­cle lanes along a ma­jor thor­ough­fare in Toronto was re­cently made per­ma­nent, cy­clists re­joiced and lo­cal politi­cians her­alded the move as a ma­jor step for­ward for Canada’s most pop­u­lous city.

But for all the at­ten­tion gar­nered by the lanes on a 2.4 kilo­me­tre stretch of buzzing Bloor Street West, ur­ban plan­ners and ad­vo­cates say Toronto still has a piece­meal ap­proach to bike in­fra­struc­ture that has left it lag­ging be­hind ur­ban cen­tres like Mon­treal, Van­cou­ver, Cal­gary and Ed­mon­ton.

Bike lanes, they note, while pit­ting mo­torists against cy­clists in some quar­ters, are ex­pand­ing as the cities they’re built in cater to what ap­pears to be a ris­ing num­ber of res­i­dents who want to travel on two wheels.

“What we’re see­ing is a rev­o­lu­tion, a trans­for­ma­tion, in think­ing around ur­ban bik­ing,” said Brent Tode­rian, a for­mer chief plan­ner for Van­cou­ver and the pres­i­dent of the Coun­cil of Cana­dian Ur­ban­ism.

“This is about cities be­ing bet­ter for ev­ery­one: Health­ier, more sus­tain­able, much more cost ef­fec­tive, and just able to move more peo­ple in less space ... Ur­ban bik­ing, like tran­sit, is crit­i­cally im­por­tant for cities to work bet­ter for ev­ery­one, in­clud­ing driv­ers.”

In Toronto, af­ter the ad­van­tages and dis­ad­van­tages of the Bloor project were stud­ied at length, city coun­cil voted 36-6 to keep the sep­a­rated lanes that had been in­stalled un­der a pi­lot project last sum­mer.

The city now has approximately 590 km of on-road bike lanes, about 37 km of which are pro­tected from car traf­fic.

But, de­spite a decade-long plan ap­proved last year to cre­ate a bike­lane net­work, the ma­jor­ity of lanes are cur­rently dis­con­nected from other stretches, leav­ing cy­clists and mo­torists con­tend­ing for space on busy roads.

“Toronto has strug­gled to put in place, and then keep, in­di­vid­ual bike lanes,” Tode­rian said, de­scrib­ing the city’s pat­tern on bike lanes as tak­ing two steps for­ward and one step back. “It can be drain­ing when the bat­tle to get in­di­vid­ual bike lanes in is so huge, and we know what we need is a com­plete net­work.”

Mean­while, Mon­treal — in­ter­na­tion­ally rec­og­nized as one of the most cy­cle-friendly cities in North Amer­ica — has about 570 km of on-road or road­side bike lanes, of which nearly 90 km are pro­tected or sep­a­rated from car lanes.

And newly elected Mon­treal Mayor Va­lerie Plante has pledged to build a new 140 km “Bi­cy­cle Ex­press Net­work” of pro­tected lanes along seven ma­jor streets in the next four years.

Toronto needs to work harder on its pro­tected lanes, said Jared Kolb, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of Cy­cle T.O., which ad­vo­cated for the Bloor bike lanes. But po­lit­i­cal di­vi­sions in a city that has a dense ur­ban core as well as car-heavy out­ly­ing ar­eas have ham­pered progress on the mat­ter, he con­tended.

“There’s no ques­tion that our po­lit­i­cal sys­tem has held us back from be­ing able to build the kind of net­work of pro­tected bike lanes that I think peo­ple who live down­town rec­og­nize as a pri­or­ity,” he said.

One city coun­cil­lor who op­posed the Bloor bike lanes said he did so be­cause they took up space on the road, caused de­lays of two to four min­utes per car jour­ney and did not re­sult in as many new cy­clists hit­ting the road as he would have hoped.

“Cy­cling is a great way to get around the city ... It’s just not for ev­ery­one all the time,” said Coun. Stephen Holy­day, who rep­re­sents the ward of Eto­bi­coke Cen­tre, just west of the city core. “We have to think about the needs of ev­ery­body and how we di­vide up the road in a fair man­ner.”

Ad­ding bike lanes to a ma­jor street de­creases driv­ers’ op­tions for get­ting in and out of the city, he said.

“If there are ever in­ci­dents on roads, like a clo­sure or an ac­ci­dent, it be­comes crit­i­cal that there are (route) choices, and as we take those away it makes the city less liv­able for the peo­ple I rep­re­sent.”

Hav­ing long stretches of pro­tected bike lanes, how­ever, is im­por­tant to en­cour­age more cy­clists to get on the road and bike more fre­quently, one ad­vo­cate said.

“If you can only get half­way there on what you con­sider to be ad­e­quate, con­ve­nient, safe in­fra­struc­ture, you’re not go­ing to take your bike,” said Judi Varga-Toth, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the cy­clist ad­vo­cacy group Canada Bikes, who said it’s es­sen­tial bike lanes be pro­tected from traf­fic.

“Paint­ing a line on the road is not equiv­a­lent to in­fra­struc­ture,” she said.

“Peo­ple can drive over that line, they can weave into that (lane), they can park on it ... If there is no phys­i­cal sep­a­ra­tion you’re still not en­sur­ing a safe ride for peo­ple.”

A num­ber of cities do ap­pear to be tak­ing note — Cal­gary and Ed­mon­ton have in the past two years built grids of mostly pro­tected bike lanes in their down­towns.

Cal­gary built a 6.5 km net­work of bike lanes along down­town roads as part of a 2015 pi­lot project and made them per­ma­nent last De­cem­ber.

In­spired by Cal­gary’s pi­lot, Ed­mon­ton be­gan in­stalling its own 7.8 km net­work of pro­tected bike lanes this sum­mer.

NATHAN DENETTE/THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

Cy­clists ride on the des­ig­nated Bloor Street bike lanes in Toronto on Oct. 12. When a stretch of sep­a­rated bi­cy­cle lanes along a ma­jor thor­ough­fare in Toronto was re­cently made per­ma­nent, cy­clists re­joiced and lo­cal politi­cians her­alded the move as a ma­jor step for­ward for Canada’s most pop­u­lous city.

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