Bike plan implementation in Toronto is too slow

dandyhorse magazine, January 18, 2018

Tracking Toronto’s Bike Plan Implementation (be prepared to be disappointed)

Only six percent of new bike plan implemented by end of year two

by Albert Koehl and Robert Zaichkowski

Spadina Rd at Bloor St. in Sept. 2017.

Spadina Rd at Bloor St. in Sept. 2017.

As 2018 begins, the cycling community can celebrate a number of new bike lanes installed last year – and celebrate we should, while continuing to push City Hall to bring a little more energy and ambition to the sluggish pace of implementation.

In 2017, a total of 10 km of new bike lanes (including cycle tracks, contra flow lanes, and boulevard trails) were added to the city’s 5,600-km road network, including the 4-km Woodbine bike lane, which provides a much-needed north-south connection in the east end of the city. After a very long fight, the 2.4-km Bloor bike lane pilot became a permanent installation — a huge symbolic and practical victory, despite its modest length — thanks to a 36-6 council vote in November. The Denison-Bellevue contra-flow lane — completed in November — provides access from College to Queen St., while the substantially complete (though not yet open) 1.4 km Lakeshore Blvd W. bi-directional bike lane will soon close a significant gap in the Waterfront Trail where cyclists have previously been left exposed to fast-moving motor traffic.

When added to last year’s additions, the 10 km of new on-road bike facilities (excluding off-road trails) brings to 17 km the total length of bike facilities implemented since the city’s ten-year bike plan was adopted in 2016. (See our updated tracking table.) There is no denying that cyclists are better off at the start of this year than in 2016, although measured against the 280-km of new bike lanes set out in the ten-year plan — and the fact that many popular cycling routes still have no bike lanes — our celebrations will understandably be short before we get back to work.

The on-road cycling picture isn’t likely to get much better in 2018, even if all bike lanes listed in staff proposals to council — amounting to 9.8 km — are actually approved and installed. (The staff list is also subject to change pending design feasibility and public consultation.) What’s clear is that at the current pace, we won’t hit the bike plan’s 2025 target until mid-century.

Among the staff proposals for 2018 is a 2.8-km lane along Port Union Rd. in Scarborough, stretching from Sheppard Ave. E to the Waterfront Trail. The other planned lanes are largely internal to the Flemington/Thorncliffe neighbourhoods and York University. Unfortunately, neither appears to have outlets along busy streets such as Don Mills Rd. in the case of Flemington/Thorncliffe or along Jane or Keele Streets in the case of the York University lanes. (The York U. lanes do, however, connect to the Finch Hydro Corridor bike trail.)

Yonge St. is also in the news again for bike lanes. There is a discussion about bike lanes both between College and Queen Streets (a discussion that started in the 1970s) and as part of the Reimagining Yonge initiative, in North York. In fact, on January 19, 2018 the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee will debate a recommendation by staff to install cycle tracks on Yonge between Avondale and Bishop Avenues, as part of a Complete Streets initiative and in line with the city’s Vision Zero Road Safety Plan. The debate provides a new opportunity for cyclists to (finally) make bike lanes on (a part of) Yonge St. a reality, though, if approved, we will have to wait a few years for implementation.

The slow pace of infrastructure improvements is not a matter of passing interest to cyclists. There are measurable consequences for the continuing failure to put in place a cycling network. Cyclists who participated in the four memorial rides this year for fallen comrades understand the consequences all too well. All these deaths, along with hundreds of other injuries, some serious, occurred on roads where the lack of safe infrastructure was a plausible cause for the burden of grief and suffering some people will take into 2018 and beyond. And yet, we find ourselves again not only fighting for new infrastructure but defending the minimal infrastructure now in place, including the recently added Woodbine bike lanes.

It’s worth recalling that although adopting the 2016 ten-year bike plan, city council decided to delay various studies about new bike lanes. These delays were premised on the need to wait for the study results of the Bloor pilot — a pilot which showed that business was up, cycling numbers were up, and that public support had grown significantly. So shouldn’t this mean that the delayed studies will now proceed quickly and focus on ‘how’ to install the new lanes, particularly on the Danforth and additional parts of Bloor?

The continuing reluctant implementation of bike lanes by City Hall makes it clear that the city hasn’t yet ‘turned the corner’ in accepting cyclists’ right to be safe on public roads. The city doesn’t yet plan for cyclists — if it did, bike lanes would be in place before — instead of decades after — thousands of cyclists are routinely being documented travelling along a particular route. This explains why the celebration of bike lane installation in Toronto is typically tinted by a certain disbelief – as if we can’t believe our good luck.

When bike lanes become part of our expectation as residents, the routine result of good planning, and part of an ongoing transition of our public roads to safe, shared spaces we will know that we’ve actually turned a corner in Toronto. In the meantime, we must remain vigilant, organized, and assertive.

Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer and founder of Bells on Bloor. Robert Zaichkowski is an accountant and a member of Cycle Toronto’s Advocacy Committee.