March 21, 2014

Getting the Tools to Improve Cycling Infrastructure

Getting around has consistently been one Toronto’s most hotly debated topics. However, there is one component of transportation where Toronto has been falling behind other world class cities, and that involves cycling infrastructure.

In 2001, the City of Toronto approved a bike plan which called for 495 kilometres of bike lanes to be installed by 2011. In spite of innovative projects such as renovating the Martin Goodman Trail and introducing separated cycle tracks on Sherbourne, very little progress has been made with cycling infrastructure under the current administration. Toronto even had the dubious honour of being one of the few cities to remove bike lanes such as those on Birchmount, Pharmacy, and Jarvis. Thanks to this lack of progress, Toronto currently has only 114 kilometres of bike lanes and there are no credible plans in sight to complete the plan.

To prove my case, I will refer to the 2014-2023 Capital Budget, which serves as a blueprint for which long term projects will be funded by the city, including cycling infrastructure. $88.1 million (plus a $2.5 million carryover from 2013) is to be invested during that period. On Page 16 of the Transportation Services report, this funding is expected to lead to 100 km of multi-use trails and 80 km of on-street bike lane connections.[1] Assuming this gets followed through; Toronto would not even be halfway done the 2001 Bike Plan by 2023!
2001 Bike Plan (link to PDF original)
Even if the capital budget were to be increased to accelerate completion of the 2001 Bike Plan, city staff need to be equipped with the necessary operating resources and improved qualifications (where needed) to carry out the plan. This has not been the case, which was confirmed by the presence of carryover funding and by city staff. This underutilization will cause Toronto to fall further behind and only 2.5 km of new bike lanes were installed last year, most of which was for the Shaw contraflow lanes.

Before one can peg an accurate funding amount, there needs to be transparency and accountability as to how much bike projects cost. In 2008 – the final year significant progress was made with Toronto’s cycling infrastructure – 34.9 km of bike lanes were installed[2] with a capital budget of $5.5 million.[3] While the budgeted amount was lower, Toronto did not have cycle tracks nor a public bike share service back then. The issue of environmental assessments for certain projects should also be reviewed.

The approach to improved budgeting Better Budget TO advocated (link to blog post) – a long term vision backed by a council approved four year plan and annual budgets – could apply in this case. The vision could be the 2001 Bike Plan or a successor plan, but backing it up with the appropriate capital and operating budget funding is critical for success. Consider this a call to action for Cycle Toronto and other cycling advocates.

Ride safe!
Rob Z (e-mail)

[1] City of Toronto. 2014-2023 Capital Budget and Plan Overview – Transportation Services.
[2] 2008-2012 Bikeway Projects Tracking.
[3] 2008-2017 Capital Budget and Plan Overview – Transportation Services.

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