October 16, 2021

A Second Look at Prioritizing Cycling Projects

Back in April 2017, I wrote a post about prioritizing cycling projects given projects such as the King Street Pilot and calls to have the John Street environmental assessment reopened. I had argued there was not a need for bike lanes on those streets with alternatives being readily available nearby, but noted Harbord and Bloor Streets – only 400 metres apart – were both able to maintain high cycling volumes. With a public consultation coming up on October 20 for a bikeway along Palmerston and Tecumseth, I decided to revisit this question and ask if there should be more urgent priorities to pursue or if we should pursue bikeways closer apart downtown.

A recently installed contraflow on Winona

Proposed Palmerston-Tecumseth Route

The proposal would create a four kilometre bikeway from Dupont to Niagara Streets; mostly consisting of contraflows with short sections of cycle track and bike lane. I had questioned the purpose of this bikeway given the Shaw Street bikeway is 800 metres west and the Annex-Kensington bikeway (e.g. Denison-Bellevue, Brunswick-Borden, Brant) is 500 metres east. When I asked this question on social media, there were several legitimate reasons for supporting the project. Thanks to those who have commented on both Facebook and Twitter.

Palmerston-Tecumseth Route (via City of Toronto)

I only biked on Palmerston a few times to bring our dog to the Bathurst-Dupont Animal Hospital in order to bypass Bathurst Street. With Bathurst being the one place I got doored in 2014, I understand the need for people riding bikes to avoid that street whenever possible. While there is a strong case for putting in a bikeway along Bathurst from the Waterfront to Steeles – there was even a book ride organized by The Reading Line in 2016 for that purpose – the only parts being considered in the upcoming bike plan update is a study north of Highway 401.

Toronto's upcoming bike plan update shows the only part of Bathurst being considered is north of Highway 401

Some local cyclists cited taking the Shaw Street bikeway would lead to a 1.6 kilometre return detour away from Palmerston which can be cumbersome, while others noticed Palmerston-Tecumseth would be a more direct route than the zig-zagging needed to go between The Annex and Kensington Market. Another potential connection which would make the Palmerston-Tecumseth bikeway attractive is a proposed bikeway along Portland Street and Dan Leckie Way which – along with the existing pedestrian and cycling bridge – would provide a much needed connection to the Waterfront between Fort York Boulevard and Simcoe Street. A not insignificant two kilometre gap.

A More Questionable Contraflow

Over the past few weeks, a contraflow bikeway was installed along Woodfield Road from Fairford Avenue to Queen Street. Wayfinding sharrows were added along the rest of Woodfield to Monarch Park, as well as along Monarch Park Avenue to connect with Destination Danforth. This contraflow route was an ActiveTO quiet street last year, yet bike lanes exist on Greenwood Avenue just 350 metres to the west.

Map of Woodfield - Monarch Park bikeway (via City of Toronto)

However, the bike lanes along Greenwood – as well as on nearby Jones Avenue – have two important flaws. Both bike lanes are placed in the door zone and abruptly stop at Queen. Woodfield not only has the advantage of providing a direct connection to the Waterfront, but also allows people to bike through Monarch Park to get to Danforth. While Woodfield-Monarch Park may offer a more direct connection, I would have put a higher priority on upgrading the Jones and/or Greenwood bike lanes with protection, as well as add a second north-south bikeway north of Danforth along either Broadview, Pape, or Donlands.

Other Burning Priorities

Reflecting on the Palmerston-Tecumseth and Woodfield-Monarch Park projects showed there can be legitimate reasons for supporting both projects. However, there are other gaps within Toronto which need attention. Earlier this week, a fatal five-vehicle collision happened on Parkside Drive which served as a reminder why Parkside needs to be made safer for all road users including lowering the speed limit to 40 km/h, widening sidewalks, and replacing the southbound curb lane with a multi-use path. A bikeway along Parkside would provide a key north-south route in conjunction with Keele Street and Weston Road which the Toronto Community Bikeways Coalition proposed last fall. The death of Miguel Joshua Escanan in August prompted the need to prioritize completing the proposed ActiveTO project on Avenue Road from Bloor Street to Davenport Road; something which City Council approved a motion at last week’s meeting.

A memorial was set up on Parkside Drive the day after Tuesday's fatal crash

Tragedies aside, there are several other gaps which need to be filled such as along Bloor from Runnymede to Six Points, College from Manning to Lansdowne, Dundas from Sorauren to Bloor, and Gerrard from Parliament to River. A key midtown gap is in the process of being filled in along Winona Drive while the surface portion of the Eglinton Crosstown LRT is in the process of having bike lanes painted in. Of course, even bigger gaps exist in Scarborough in which a team from UTSC recently released a report on how Scarborough can establish a fully connected cycling network of its own.

Painted bike lanes along the Eglinton Crosstown LRT (via Hafeez A on Twitter)

Carrying On

Overall, Downtown Toronto is starting to have its bike lane building blocks in place; thanks in part to last year’s successful ActiveTO rollout which will return to committee and City Council in December. Downtown is in a position where it can put in bikeways closer apart to accommodate the high ridership volumes. However, taking the equity perspective shows there remains large cycling gaps in Toronto’s inner suburbs such as Scarborough which would need to take a higher priority; even if it is more politically challenging as we have seen with the Brimley bike lanes being removed five months after installation. As the City of Toronto prepares to release its next near-term cycling implementation plan, let’s ensure we keep these perspectives in mind in order to build a true city-wide cycling grid.

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