January 18, 2021

Cycling in the 2021 Toronto Budget

On Thursday, January 14, the City of Toronto released their 2021 tax supported capital and operating budgets. With budgets forming the basis of where Toronto’s priorities lie, it’s time to investigate what this budget has in store from a cycling perspective notwithstanding potential shortfalls exceeding $1 billion triggered by COVID-19. For this purpose, I will consult the Transportation Services budget notes.

The 2021 budget presentation can be viewed here

General Budget Observations

In 2020, there were two new tools employed by Transportation Services. The first is a Transportation Equity Lens which addresses the prior inability to evaluate capital programs from this perspective. The equity lens looks at how capital projects are impacted by 17 equity seeking groups within seven categories per the below graphic. The equity lens will form part of the new Capital Program Prioritization Tool which will help guide future capital decisions.

The budget also showed the below graph of the annual killed or seriously injured (KSI) rate per 100,000 people. While the overall and cycling KSI’s appear to be trending down since 2015, the pedestrian KSI’s remained at 5.5 per 100,000 people. It should also be noted 2020 was one of the deadlier years for people who bike with four deaths within the city (and 15 across the GTA).

A perennial issue with past budgets is the ability to fully spend the budget. Unfortunately, the budget does not disclose what was actually spent for cycling infrastructure in 2020, but there was a change in the budget approach which aims to maximize the spending rate. Not including the carry forward, actual spending in 2019 and 2020 for the entire Transportation Services department was higher than the original budget. Compared to 2017, actual spending for 2020 ended up being $235 million higher which works out to almost $500 million. (see chart below) Even so, there is a continued need to call on the City to ensure the Cycling and Pedestrian Unit has the operating capacity they need to fully spend the budget. Federal and provincial programs were cited as reasons for poor bike lane progress in recent years, but there appears to be very little funding from Ottawa and Queen’s Park this time around.

Good News for ActiveTO

Given last year’s successes with ActiveTO and CaféTO, those who supported the program will be pleased to hear the budget does call for expanding those programs in 2021, though no specifics have been provided at this time. The COVID-19 programs in 2020 costed $6.7 million; of which $4.0 million was used for ActiveTO, $2.2 million for CaféTO, $0.4 million for CurbTO, and $0.1 million for Quiet Streets. For 2021, $2.8 million expected to be used for ActiveTO – including $0.9 million for paid duty officers for the weekend road closures – and $1.0 million for CaféTO. Both the CurbTO and quiet streets programs appear to have been dropped for 2021.

General Cycling Funding

As for the core cycling infrastructure funding, $16 million remains available for 2021 which is then reduced to $8.3 million annually after that. Despite this perceived bad news, it should be noted the current implementation plan ends this year and the next Cycling Network Plan update is expected in late 2021 to reveal the latest progress and next wave of projects. There are also a fair number of projects expected to start in 2022 which will include some form of cycling infrastructure but are accounted for separately. These include the following:

Other projects such as the St. Clair – Keele Transportation Master Plan are not expected to start construction until 2025, but $230 million has been committed so far.

Bike Share Toronto

Looking at Bike Share Toronto requires reading the Toronto Parking Authority’s budget notes. After recently expanding their network to 6,850 bikes and 625 stations, no plans for expansion are being considered for this year. However, there is a $1 million provision for e-bike expansion in 2022. A 20% growth in ridership from 2.75 million rides to 3.3 millions rides is expected for 2021 following a 12% growth from 2019 to 2020. (see below graph)

Vision Zero

On the Vision Zero front, the enforcement team (VZET) is expected to get $2.5 million to expand VZET to a total of 18 police officers, while the road safety plan will get $162 million until 2024 (and beyond). The enforcement part could prove to be controversial with increased calls over the past year to defund the police and provide non-police alternatives for road safety enforcement.

Action Items

As for what advocates should focus on for the budget, the main item should be to ensure the Cycling and Pedestrian Unit is equipped with the operating capacity they need to fully spend the capital budget. Attention should also be focused on the Cycling Network Plan update later this year, as well as on the details of expanding ActiveTO. Advocating for city-wide maintenance of bike lanes and trails is another item worth considering; especially as more people take advantage of the trails during (and after) the pandemic. Those wishing to depute can do so on Monday, January 25 or Tuesday, January 26 while written submissions can be e-mailed to buc@toronto.ca.

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