January 25, 2019

Some Momentum for 2019


OK! So I haven’t had the chance to write here for almost three months. Part of it was because I was on vacation in the Middle East in December (more on that soon), but things have not been idle on the cycling front this month with some developments worth sharing.

Early Signs of Optimism
2015 Coldest Day of the Year Ride on Adelaide
To call the Richmond-Adelaide protected bike lanes a success is a serious understatement. Since the bike lanes were first installed in 2014, ridership increased more than tenfold to become Toronto’s busiest bike route with collisions reduced by 73% and minimal impact on motor vehicle users. Given these findings, city staff finally recommended making these bike lanes permanent, though it baffles me how it could take almost five years to get from approval to this point. With the Infrastructure and Environment Committee (which replaced the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee) voting unanimously to keep the bike lanes, the motion should be slam dunk at City Council next week and could be one of the few times this term where a cycling motion unanimously passes city council. If only the same could happen when REimagining Yonge returns to City Council in a couple of months …

A couple of changes were approved, including moving the Adelaide bike lane to the north side. City staff recommended this move because the current configuration sees frequent bike lane blockages from York to Yonge Streets due to deliveries and passenger pick ups or drop offs. The City may want to consider a similar move on Richmond given the large protection gaps on the same stretch caused by TTC bus stops or add pedestrian waiting islands. In any case, improved protection on Richmond and Adelaide is essential which could be done with raised cycle tracks or barrier curbs.

Biking Beyond Downtown
Biking Beyond Downtown panel moderated by the Toronto Star's Shawn Micallef
The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT) released their Biking Beyond Downtown report last week at a sold out event in North York Centre. The report provided four steps to building suburban cycling culture including identifying neighbourhoods, identifying barriers to cycling, removing barriers (and start cycling), and keep cycling with community bike hubs as one means to accomplish this goal. This was a main focus for Scarborough Cycles which now has four bike hubs in an area serviced by only one bike shop, led more than 1000 people on rides, and repaired more than 2000 bikes since starting operations in 2016.

The event featured some unique perspectives including Fionnuala Quinn with the Bureau of Good Roads (Washington, DC) and Michael Skaljin with Toronto’s Tower and Neighbourhood Revitalization Unit. Quinn presented some mind blowing examples from Fairfax County (Virginia) where a highway widening required the reconstruction of 50 bridges and advocates got safe cycling facilities on all of them. Something Ontario’s advocates can be jealous of given MTO’s resistance to make bridges over 400-series highways bike friendly. Skaljin discussed collaboration with Toronto’s Solid Waste Management and Tower Renewal to save bicycles from being sent to landfills. Erica Duque – an active transportation planner with the Region of Peel – noted Peel Region had more schools registered for bike to school week than Toronto (165) and that Halton led the Toronto area with five percent of children biking to school.

Bike Plan Woes Getting Attention
Map showing the bike lane installations from 2016 to 2018
Over the past year and a half, I had the chance to work with Albert Koehl in tracking the progress (or lack thereof) of Toronto’s bike plan. The data we collected showed only 25 (centreline) kilometres of on-street cycling infrastructure was installed from 2016 to 2018; a pace dwarfed by Montréal which installed 57 km in 2016 and 2017 and New York City which put in 77 miles (124 km) in 2017 alone. We recently published these findings in Dandyhorse, including a tracking table and a Google Map. These findings got considerably more media attention this time around with Cycle Toronto’s article in NOW Magazine and Toronto Star articles from Ben Spurr and the editorial board, though the Star cited the installation total at 33 km.

As for what 2019 has in store, a Twitter thread from Spurr revealed roughly 20 km of on-street bike lanes and 3 km of trails was expected this year (subject to council approval). Most of the $44 million in funding would be going to federally funded projects such as the West Toronto Railpath, the East Don Trail, and Eglinton Connects. While the latter won’t be open until after the Eglinton Crosstown LRT opens in 2021 (or 2022), it has the potential to become a game changer with Eglinton becoming Toronto’s longest east-west bike route from Kennedy Road in Scarborough to Mississauga!

An upsetting note came from Mayor John Tory, who claimed Thorncliffe Park residents wanted the recently installed bike lanes there removed. This is the unfortunate consequence of when the bike plan gets built too slowly and done piecemeal instead of taking the network approach. In the case of Thorncliffe and Flemingdon Parks, protected bike lanes on Overlea and Donlands – recently redone without cycling facilities despite the bike plan’s inclusion – would have helped connect those residents to Toronto’s east end. Add in Danforth and the east end grid would be completed.

Final Thoughts
Can we finally get the Bloor bike lanes extended west (and east across Danforth)?
The City’s cycling unit is expected to introduce a bike plan update this spring. While I look forward to reading it, this update is unlikely to be enough given the bike plan’s failure to properly co-ordinate with capital works and bring new projects in. This brings the following questions for advocates:
  • Do we still focus on the overall bike plan and call for its acceleration?
  • Do we ignore the plan and instead focus on selected arterials each year?
  • How can advocates and city staff improve collaboration to ensure progress in the right places?
Whatever course Toronto’s cycling community takes, we must do everything in our power to ensure Toronto gets back on track to achieving real Vision Zero. Especially considering eight traffic deaths have already happened in January alone.

Happy New Year!
Rob Z (e-mail)

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