May 04, 2020

What's Next for #streets4peopleTO?

The month of April saw Torontonians ramp up their calls for Mayor John Tory, Toronto City Council, and Toronto Public Health to create #streets4peopleTO as cities across Canada and the world have done. While the City had consistently resisted this move and became a national outlier, there has been a gradual shift in attitude while some other improvements have been made. Let’s review what has happened and celebrate the 4th anniversary of the Bloor bike lanes being approved by city council.

Improvements on Bloor and Woodbine

Many of Toronto’s cycle tracks are currently separated only by painted buffers and plastic bollards. While they help in keeping motor vehicles out of cycle tracks, bollards are prone to getting knocked over and require frequent replacement. A new standard of concrete curbs with bollards on top – similar to those used on Ottawa’s Laurier Avenue – is being rolled out and will be used with the planned Bloor bike lane extension to Runnymede Road.
New bike lane protection on north side of Bloor (left) with old protection (right)
The first upgrades of this kind were done on Woodbine Avenue, while one block of Bloor Street near Palmerston Avenue also got this treatment. Unlike with Woodbine, the Bloor installation is a pilot because of the narrower buffers used in the area. If protection can work there, this would open up opportunities to upgrade even more bike lanes in Toronto to cycle tracks. Dupont and Annette Streets – which are the same width as that part of Bloor – would certainly be able to accommodate these upgrades.

Cycle Toronto’s Kevin Rupasinghe mentioned on Twitter these upgrades are planned on other roads such as Richmond, Adelaide, River, Hoskin, Shoreham, Scarlett, and Conlins.

CurbTO

On Monday, April 27, the City of Toronto announced partial lane closures at ten pedestrian hotspots with up to 100 planned; some of which are based on Walk Toronto’s recent submissions (see below map). While it may be a sign Toronto is (finally) taking action, Prof. Tricia Wood was quoted in the Toronto Star saying the closures were more to accommodate merchants. A partial lane closure was done in mid April to accommodate a pizza joint – Vesuvio’s – during its final weekend of operations.




CurbTO was made even more ridiculous by the full closure of High Park during the cherry blossoms as of Thursday, April 30 when it was one of the few places which had become car-free during the pandemic. Closing High Park did not stop people from seeing the cherry blossoms at Trinity Bellwoods Park and the University of Toronto – among other places – while maintaining physical distancing. The closure of High Park and the resources that required also discredits Toronto’s excuse of there not being enough resources to implement lane closures.
Temporary Bloor Street parking closure at High Park (via Spencer Julien)
Some good news did come out of this park closure in which pylons were moved from the sidewalk onto the road to prevent parking and create additional walking space. Not quite the Bloor bike lane extension, but it’s a start. Now if only these pylons can be brought to more parts of Bloor and across Toronto …

April 30 Council Meeting

Toronto’s first city council meeting since the COVID-19 state of emergency began was also the first to ever be held virtually and saw a few positive developments for people who bike.

Regarding the emergency response motion, Mayor John Tory introduced an omnibus amendment which included items to pursue opportunities to provide space for people who walk, bike, or take transit to improve physical distancing, as well as to fast track Vision Zero and the ten year cycling network plan. A separate motion including various cycling projects such as the Brunswick-Borden contraflows and improvements to Shuter and Shaw Streets was also passed unanimously, though a request to look into heated bike lane pavements was removed.

There is one problem with the Mayor’s motion. It does not include any timeframe for city staff to report back to City Council and the fast tracking term is too vague. Per the bike lane tracker I released last week, it would take more than sixty years to complete the 335 kilometres proposed in Toronto’s current cycling network plan based on the average installation rate of 5.5 kilometres annually. This rate is unacceptably slow for a world class city and must be called out when places such as Seville can install their 80 kilometre core network within 18 months. With there not being a better time to realign our streets, Torontonians need to challenge Mayor Tory and City Council to double their bikeway network to 300 kilometres within 1 – 2 years and keep going from there.

Remember 8-80 Streets Danforth?

While we love to look towards other cities for inspiration, it’s worth recalling Toronto has already done their own complete streets demo last year. While some elements such as a performance stage would not be possible right now and there will certainly be complaints over parking, 8-80 Streets Danforth showed Toronto the value of tactical urbanism. With some tweaks, it can be a great template for creating temporary spaces for people who walk or bike during the pandemic. Especially along Danforth where advocates have been calling for a complete streets pilot to happen this year, while pedestrian priority zones should be piloted along Yonge Street which are being proposed as part of yongeTOmorrow.
A good template for temporary walking & cycling spaces can be found from 8-80 Streets Danforth

Next Steps

Some of the recent actions taken by the City of Toronto are steps in the right direction. However, they have been compromised either by more restrictive measures such as the full High Park closure or by the use of overly vague language. Torontonians need to demand firm deadlines and targets for fast tracking Vision Zero and cycling improvements; especially the Bloor bike lane extension and Danforth pilot. Pressure is also needed for the City to confirm when and where the full list of 100 pedestrian hotspots will be installed. Finally, the discussion surrounding downtown Yonge Street needs to be revived with the possibility of doing a pedestrian priority pilot before scheduled reconstruction.
Remember this Star Wars themed video Mike Layton showed during the 2016 Bloor bike lane debate? ;)

May the 4th be with you!

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