April 03, 2017

Prioritizing Cycling Projects

For cycling advocates, it can be tempting to push for bike lanes everywhere. However, there can be such a thing as pushing too far; especially when support is lacking or our pedestrian and transit user allies risk being alienated. Two recent projects – the King Street Pilot and pedestrianization on John Street – prompted this concern and lead to this question which needed to be asked.

In light of limited advocacy resources and political will, how should advocates prioritize their efforts?

The 504 King streetcar on Roncesvalles Avenue
Having used Toronto’s busiest streetcar route – the 504 King – on several occasions, I have seen first hand how crowded and slow it is. Especially during the morning rush hour. To improve service, the City of Toronto proposed a pilot project restricting motor vehicle traffic within the study area covering Dufferin to River Streets. Given cycle tracks and quiet routes exist on Richmond and Adelaide Streets east of Strachan Avenue, as well as the pilot project’s primary goal of improving transit, bike lanes on that stretch are unnecessary. However, special care is needed to ensure cycling conditions do not get any worse for those accessing local destinations. Certain proposals called for allowing street furniture on wider sidewalks, which could endanger cyclists and force them onto the streetcar tracks; leading to safety risks and possibly defeating the main goal of improving transit.
King Street Pilot options - Yellow denotes pedestrian areas (link to slides)
A connection through CAMH allows cyclists to access the planned West Toronto Railpath extension from Richmond-Adelaide. However, there are no safe east-west routes west of the rail corridor, which is a key challenge for residents of the Parkdale priority neighbourhood. The proposed Liberty New Street does not have a firm timeframe nor does it adequately address east-west connectivity.

The King Street Pilot could provide an opportunity to test protected bike lanes from Strachan Avenue to Dufferin Street. No parking is allowed from Sudbury Street to Fraser Avenue, while off-street parking facilities are available at both ends with wayfinding improvements needed at Shaw Street. If successful, it could become easier to justify extending the bike lanes through Parkdale to the Roncesvalles bridge; something easier to accomplish than on Queen Street due to the width.

John Street (via Torontoist)
During the summer months, John Street is reduced from four lanes to two with the extra space being used for increased pedestrian (and patio) space. A recent count done on John Street found bicycles made up of over 70% of rush hour traffic. Given this was completely different from the 2% found in the initial study in 2012 – thanks in part to the Richmond-Adelaide cycle tracks – local advocates called for the reopening of the environmental assessment.

While I respect the hard work done by local advocates there and it would be nice to have some car-free streets (especially in Kensington Market), I disagree with the idea of making reopening John Street a priority. Not because of local councillor Joe Cressy refusing to support the idea, but there are more important projects at stake such as making the Bloor bike lanes permanent and extended, as well as Reimagining Yonge which has a public meeting scheduled for this Wednesday. Not to mention, the cycle tracks between nearby Simcoe and Peter Streets are only 500 metres apart, which is already consistent with best practices in Delft (Netherlands) which spaces their bikeways 400 to 750 metres apart when crossing various barriers.[1] Having bike lanes only 200 to 300 metres apart – which would be the case if John Street were to get them – would not do justice for the other parts of Toronto with significant gaps in the bikeway network.
Only 500 metres separate Peter and Simcoe Streets
Given this pedestrianization initiative and proximity of nearby cycle tracks, it would make more sense to reduce the speed limit on the entire length of John Street – not just north of Queen Street – to 30 km/h with traffic calming measures to make the limit self reinforcing.


The fact Harbord and Bloor Streets are 400 metres apart did not stop the City of Toronto from installing bike lanes on both streets. Bloor-Danforth is one of the city’s few continuous east-west corridors while Harbord primarily serves the University of Toronto and only goes from Queen’s Park to Ossington Avenue. The question of how close to space bike lanes is dependent on relative utility. In the case of Bloor, the 36% increase in cycle traffic per city statistics did not stop Harbord from getting high cycling volumes.
Toronto's Cycling Network Plan
Before we can make the cycling network in the downtown core even more dense, we need to keep in mind the need to provide all of Toronto a minimum grid of cycle tracks and bicycle boulevards. Ideally by placing all residents within one kilometre of cycling facilities.

Choose wisely!
Rob Z (e-mail)


[1] John Pucher & Ralph Buehler. City Cycling. Page 133.


  1. This is exactly it! Cycling while picking up steam in the mainstream consciousness still remains far from mainstream, particularly as a commuter option. To get there you have to expand infrastructure that makes cycling easy, safe and attractive. To do that requires not only political, but neighbourhood buy-in. That doesn't mean picking only the easy, no-brainer options for new or better bike lanes. It does, however, mean there are a limited number of bikelanes that can be gained through persuasion and/or pressure, as such, the community should choose wisely where to apply that pressure. In particular, the thought should be where can we achieve the greatest gains for cycling, ideally at less than the greatest cost (political capital) I think in the core, the focus should be (almost) exclusively on Yonge and Bloor; While Yonge and Eglinton would top my list elsewhere in terms of on-road facilities, along with clusters around college campuses, where we can get a new generation cycling who may carry that with them in their working lives.

  2. "A recent count done on John Street found bicycles made up of over 70% of rush hour traffic".

    Doesn't this say it all?!

    Although I'm a cycling advocate I'm no extremist and I certainly recognize the need to prioritize and compromise. However, in this particular context, it seems pretty obvious that cycling infrastructure is badly needed on John Street. Keep in mind the current 70% figure exists *despite* poor infrastructure.