April 20, 2019

Small Changes for a Big Difference

Like many others in Toronto’s cycling community, I am frustrated with our city’s slow pace of bike lane installation. Montréal was able to install 90 kilometres from 2016 to 2018 while Toronto only installed 25 kilometres. As much as we need to push for key projects such as on Bloor and Danforth, a recent announcement for a cycling project revealed how small changes can also make a big difference.
Cycle track on Dufferin while under construction in August 2018
The Argyle-Florence bikeway is proof of this argument. Last year, a short bi-directional cycle track was installed on Dufferin Street to connect contraflow bike lanes on Florence, Waterloo, and Argyle. Having used this route often, I can see first hand how it improved safety when biking east-west without having to be on busy streets such as Queen. However, a gap remains on Argyle from Ossington Avenue to Shaw Street, which is the subject of a public meeting on Tuesday, April 23 (6:30 PM) at the Gladstone Hotel.
Diagram showing the required road width for contraflow bike lanes (6.8 metres)
Half of this gap from Givins to Shaw Streets is wide enough to accommodate a contraflow bike lane, but the Ossington to Givins stretch is too narrow at 6.0 metres. A street needs to be at least 6.8 metres wide in order to accommodate a marked contraflow bike lane and parking on one side.
SOURCE: City of Toronto
To complete this gap, the direction from Ossington to Givins will be reversed and two-way bicycle traffic will be allowed without a marked lane. Several other nearby one-way streets will be reversed to accommodate the change. This unmarked contraflow idea has been used before in the Netherlands (and elsewhere) and can be useful for filling such short gaps. Not to mention, this one block reversal would considerably reduce the chances of drivers going faster than 30 km/h; a condition which would reduce the need for bike lanes. An advisory bike lane – similar to what can be found in Ottawa – is another solution that could be considered.
An advisory bike lane such as this one in Ottawa could be used instead of an unmarked contraflow
When I initially saw this proposal, I reflected on how local cyclists in my Parkdale neighbourhood were pushing for bike lanes on Seaforth for years. As with the short stretch on Argyle, Seaforth is too narrow to accommodate bike lanes without removing parking. We even tried to get a contraflow bike lane on Dowling back in 2016 to improve Waterfront connectivity, but the idea of removing parking triggered considerable backlash; prompting the City to install those lame sharrows on Dowling and Beatty instead.
Seaforth at O'Hara - Add "bicycles excepted" signs to allow westbound cyclists to legally avoid Queen
If you look at a map of Parkdale, you will note there is no way to legally bike west from O’Hara to Lansdowne without using Queen; prompting many people to bike illegally on Seaforth anyway given heavy traffic on Queen. Going east, you can at least use Maple Grove to get to Brock. If the City can adopt the same idea on Seaforth from O’Hara to West Lodge, such a short change – coupled with cycling improvements on Lansdowne Avenue per the bike plan – would enable people to bike east-west through Parkdale without using Queen, which has zero chance of getting bike lanes anytime soon.
Diagram of proposed Peel and Gladstone contraflow bike lanes (SOURCE: City of Toronto)
Also in the area, contraflow bike lanes are proposed on Peel Street and Gladstone Avenue to connect Argyle-Florence with the West Toronto Railpath extension. When the Dufferin underpass at Queen was completed in 2011, drivers no longer needed to use Peel, Gladstone, and Queen to continue on Dufferin and traffic volumes decreased considerably. There are some advocates calling for protection on these contraflow routes given the frequent bike lane blockages across Toronto. However, best practices suggest protection is unnecessary on local streets with 30 km/h limits, though bollards and planters exist on Simcoe Street given higher traffic volumes. A couple of other concerns brought up at the April 8 public meeting include pick ups and drop offs near the child care facility at 20 Gladstone, the lack of a signalized crossing at Dufferin and Peel, and a desire to reverse the direction of Alma Avenue to avoid having three consecutive one-way westbound streets. Comments to the City are due on April 23.
Map of existing Argyle-Florence bikeway shown in solid green, the key gaps on Argyle (1), Peel-Gladstone (2), Seaforth (3), and Lansdowne (4) shown in red, and potential connections shown in dotted green
The proposed “quick wins” on Argyle, Peel, and Gladstone - when added together - will considerably improve the safety for people riding bikes east-west from Brock to Shaw; providing valuable connections to several nearby bike routes. Applying the same idea to Seaforth along with cycling improvements on Lansdowne will extend those east-west benefits to High Park, the existing West Toronto Railpath, and beyond.

What other short cycling gaps in Toronto do you feel need to be filled? Let’s hear it!

Rob Z (e-mail)

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