May 13, 2016

Reflecting from Jarvis to Bloor

What a difference four years makes! On Wednesday, May 4, Toronto city council voted overwhelmingly in favour of a bike lane pilot project on Bloor Street by a 38-3 margin. Given this is the most significant achievement yet for Toronto’s cycling community, it is time to reflect on this journey from when I joined Cycle Toronto in fall 2012, the lessons learned along the way, and what work remains to be done.
My first Cycle Toronto button from 2012

Starting with Jarvis

When I first got involved with cycling advocacy, Toronto was in a transportation dark age. Not just for public transit with Rob Ford’s scrapping of Transit City and indecision by city council, but the city was in the process of removing bike lanes. Those on Birchmount Road and Pharmacy Avenue were already removed and Cycle Toronto was in the midst of the failed “Save Jarvis” campaign. The cost to install the Jarvis bike lanes was approximately $50 000 and another $300 000 to remove them; a move counter to Ford’s pledge to stop the gravy train at city hall.

In spite of this setback, Ford’s stance against cyclists (and many other groups) required Toronto’s community members to organize and fight for a better city. A case of every hero needs a villain. There were also some positive developments during Ford’s term as mayor which include investment in recreational trails (and the 2012 Trails Plan) and the installation of the city’s first cycle tracks on Sherbourne, Wellesley, Richmond, and Adelaide Streets. The revitalization of Toronto’s waterfront street – Queens Quay – was already under way and the city’s Cycling Unit was starting work on a new Cycling Network Plan to replace the failed 2001 Bike Plan.
Lessons Learned

During the four years of advocacy, I could identify six key lessons learned, some of which were discussed in previous posts.
  1. Money talks – One of the main reasons why the 2001 Bike Plan failed – only a quarter of the proposed 495 kilometres of bike lanes were built to date – was because it was not backed up by the required funding. During the 2014 municipal election, Cycle Toronto called on candidates to support building a Minimum Grid of 100 kilometres of cycle tracks and 100 kilometres of bicycle boulevards by 2018. This was followed up in June 2015 with a budget ask of $20 million per year, which recently increased to $25 million per year thanks to new information from city staff.
  2. Proper design is essential – Funding alone is not enough to deliver the Minimum Grid. While painted bike lanes may be cheap, drivers end up blocking the bike lanes and some bike lanes get placed in the door zone. Separated bike lanes are a must for arterial roads with in boulevard paths (e.g. Eglinton West) recommented on faster roads. Properly designed streets will lead to an increase in cyclists, in which cycling volumes tripled on Richmond and Adelaide streets during the first year of that pilot project.
  3. Go big or go home – If a cycling or bike share network is too small and/or disconnected, not as many cyclists will take advantage of it. While Toronto has been known for having the cyclists but not the infrastructure, their bike share needs to expand from the current 1000 bikes and 80 stations to truly flourish.
  4. Collaborate with others – One thing Councillor Mile Layton stressed at Cycle Toronto’s Skill Swaps is the need to build a big tent of supporters including residents (and resident associations), businesses (and business improvement areas), students, academia, and other community groups. If you can get some drivers on board, even better. It is very difficult to argue against such a broad coalition, which is one of the reasons why the Bloor pilot project succeeded.
  5. Travel and learn from other cities – Visiting Amsterdam and other European cities can provide unique inspiration (e.g. protected intersections, bicycle parking garages, raised cycle tracks). However, it is also possible to learn from cities closer to home such as Vancouver, Ottawa, and New York City.
  6. Develop future leaders - In order to enable the sharing of ideas across ward groups and train newer advocates with the required skills, Cycle Toronto started hosting their annual Skill Swaps in fall 2013. These workshops covered topics such as running meetings, making deputations, and managing social media. It is also an opportunity for advocates to get the latest planning updates from and provide feedback to the city’s Cycling Unit.
Downtown portion of new bike plan (link to PDF)
Beyond Bloor

While last week’s victory on Bloor Street helps change the tone in how serious Toronto city council takes cycling in the city, there is one significant step left in ensuring this change in tone is permanent. This is ensuring Toronto city council supports the tripling of the cycling infrastructure budget from $8-9 million in 2015 to $25 million per year, which would complete the 525 kilometre bike plan in six to seven years. (link to motion and appendices) Cycling advocates also have the obligation to hold their elected officials accountable every step of the way in ensuring the new Ten Year Cycling Network Plan succeeds in making a Toronto that is truly safe for cyclists and other road users.

The deadline to e-mail PWIC ( is today (Friday, May 13) at 4:30 PM as per Cycle Toronto's action alert.

Let’s do this!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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