August 22, 2016

Victory Lap on Bloor Street

One of Toronto’s largest group rides is Bells on Bloor; one group among many calling for bike lanes on Bloor Street. Their ride started in 2007 and was held annually until 2014, which became part of Bikestock at Toronto city hall. After skipping 2015 to focus on building support for the bike lane pilot project, Bells on Bloor returns on Sunday, September 25 to celebrate its installation. I asked co-founder Albert Koehl about past advocacy efforts on Bloor, pilot project first impressions, and the upcoming ride.
Bells on Bloor co-founder Albert Koehl (taken by Diane Taylor Sexton)
RZ: What was the motivation behind starting Bells on Bloor?
AK: About a decade ago, I heard someone say “bike lanes are great, but they aren’t realistic for Bloor Street.” I rejected that reality of having no room for a clean, affordable, and healthy way of getting around the city. I also rejected the reality where dirty air, climate change, and unsafe streets are acceptable.

The purpose of Bells on Bloor – which brought together dedicated advocates and other groups (e.g. Take The Tooker, Bikes on Bloor) – was to create a space for people to say they also want bike lanes on Bloor. It was also to show City Council the massive support for this idea. Seeing up to 2000 cyclists on Bloor was an impressive sight and difficult to ignore.

RZ: How did Bells on Bloor and other advocates play a role in getting the pilot project installed?
AK: Everyone who has biked on Bloor – one of THE most popular cycling routes in the city DESPITE the lack of bike lanes – has helped in getting the bike lanes installed. When people cycle on Bloor, they make an important statement about their right to the road and their refusal to be denied access to this important cycling route. It has also become an act of defiance to the auto lobby and the status quo.

Many advocates over the years played important roles such as Wayne Scott, Martin Reis, Tammy Thorne, Derek Chadbourne, Hamish Wilson, Angela Bischoff, and Nancy Smith Lea. Key milestones include the 2009 TCAT report refuting the notion motorists bring in business, getting all residents’ associations and BIA’s on board, support from Councillors Layton and Cressy, positive media exposure, and the recent involvement of Cycle Toronto and the David Suzuki Foundation.

There are also the 1977 Barton-Aschman and 1992 MMM Group reports which supported bike lanes on Bloor. We prepared a document which discussed this history in greater detail.

RZ: What were your first impressions of the Bloor pilot project?
AK: I smiled every time I thought about the new bike lanes, which was often. There is room for improvement, which is why we proposed a lessons learned session with Transportation Services. Cyclists have lots of observations and positive feedback they can offer to the city. Bells on Bloor aims to focus on the positive, which is why we did a clean up to say “thank you".

RZ: How can advocates push to make the pilot project permanent and extend the bike lanes across Bloor-Danforth?
AK: Cyclists need to cycle and shop on Bloor; be nice to pedestrians; and tell anyone who listens that they love the bike lanes. As advocates, we also need to change the debate. The automobile is outdated and unsuitable for crowded cities. The way of the future is transit, cycling, and walking. The sooner the city accepts we CANNOT accommodate everyone who wants to drive and park anywhere they want, the sooner we can build an efficient transport system with healthy, affordable, and clean options.

RZ: Tell me more about next month’s Bells on Bloor event.
AK: The ride starts 11:00 AM at Christie Pits. We call it a ‘Victory Lap’ because we want to celebrate this key achievement as a first step towards bike lanes across Bloor-Danforth. Since September 25 is also the Journée des Franco-ontariens, we may subtitle it the Tour de Bloor.

Our Victory Lap will go east on Bloor, south on Sherbourne, west on Wellesley, north on Jarvis, and west on Bloor back to Christie Pits. At Christie Pits, we then transition into David Suzuki’s Homegrown Park Crawl (a.k.a. Christie Crawlfest) with food, music and entertainment. As usual, we will give away free bells.

UPDATE (2016/08/25): The official Facebook event page for Bells on Bloor can be accessed here. Please share with other Toronto cyclists.
Route map of Bells on Bloor 2016
To close this post, I included some Bloor bike lane pictures taken on Thursday, August 18. While there were some complaints about the bike lanes being narrow, most of the bollards were installed by then and were effective in keeping motorists out. The missing sections (e.g. eastbound lane by Shaw, both sides from Spadina to St. George) were done as of this morning. If Queen’s Quay and Richmond-Adelaide are of any indication, the Bloor pilot should also considerably increase cycling volumes and therefore, justify making the bike lanes permanent with improvements.
Parking protected bike lanes with no stopping signs west of Walmer.
A case of why bollards are needed to keep motorists out. Fortunately, this
section east of Spadina was fixed when I was there for Open Streets TO yesterday.

While curbside parking is not ideal next to the University of Toronto stadium,
the bike lane is deviated enough to mitigate dooring concerns.
Now if only we can get these bike lanes extended across Bloor-Danforth ...

See you on September 25, Toronto cyclists!
Rob Z

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