December 07, 2023

RANT - Yesterday's Consultation Dumpster Fire

Over the past decade, I had a chance to participate in a fair number of cycling related public consultations. While some of them did have their spicy moments such as the pre-pandemic Danforth Study and the Bloor West Complete Street Extension earlier this year, never have I seen quite the dumpster fire as yesterday’s virtual bike plan consultation. The culprits for this were opponents associated with so-called “Balance on Bloor”; the campaign associated with Cody MacRae who started a 12,000-signature petition calling for the recent Bloor West extension in Etobicoke to be removed. Hence it's time to rant again!

Virtual Public Meeting

When participants were asked to answer some initial demographic questions, over 30% of the participants registered were from Etobicoke (which was unusual) whereas the other suburbs were under 10% each. To explain this peculiarity, MacRae had issued a few petition updates which called on the signatories to attend and ask some rather frivolous questions. It seems with council being increasingly supportive of cycling, our opponents have become increasingly desperate and started organizing. Something opponents to the Midtown Yonge Complete Street such as Trevor Townsend attempted to do with that “Keep Toronto Moving” campaign which fizzled after one or two months.

The City then walked through the bike plan presentation as was done during the stakeholder meeting. You can read the presentation here.

After the presentation, participants were asked to fill out the GroupMap asking questions of clarification, how to prioritize projects, measures of progress, and other questions & comments. They were also asked to rate the remarks and comment on them. Unfortunately, opponents flooded each of the four boxes with questions or comments related to Bloor Street, though there were also many comments from supporters of safe streets. This comment flooding effectively made the GroupMap website unusable.

The GroupMap from the December 6, 2023 virtual public meeting was flooded with comments from opponents (and supporters too)

Unlike the stakeholder meeting which had breakout rooms to discuss route priorities, this one did not have them. The time was instead spent by city staff responding to some of the comments and remarks, though participants were allowed to voice other questions or comments at the end. I took the opportunity to thank city staff for putting up with grace some of the ridiculous comments from the opponents and reiterate support for bikeways along Bloor-Danforth-Kingston and Yonge, though my question regarding the status of eglintonTOday was deemed out of scope.

Overall, this virtual meeting ended up being a wasted opportunity and showed the limitations of hosting virtual meetings. The downtown public meeting – originally scheduled for November 27 – ended up being cancelled, while the suburban ones in Scarborough, North York, and Etobicoke still proceeded as planned.

“Balance” on Bloor

The name “Balance on Bloor” is ridiculous given the design of Bloor Street before the complete street extension focused on the private automobile over all else. The complete street extension was what restored balance to the street and improved safety for all road users. Of course, there is the saying in which if you have been accustomed to privilege – in this case driving – equality will appear to be oppression.

The graphic from the so-called "Balance" on Bloor website

Some of the questions MacRae suggested petition signers ask in the update deserve to be called out including the reliability of bike count data, consultation process, accessibility, studying of alternate routes, and so-called increased greenhouse gas emissions from congestion.

Regarding bike counts, it must be stated you can’t count the number of cyclists using a street to justify building bike lanes just as how you can’t determine whether to build a bridge based on the number of people swimming across the river. There are a lot of people who will not consider cycling unless there are protected bike lanes. While showing bike counts before and after can be an effective tool to prove that they boost cycling volumes, what is considered a success in downtown (e.g. over 5000 cyclists per day on Bloor) may be unrealistic in the suburbs which require a lot more work to build cycling culture.

The bit about consultation is laughable given cycling projects have been subject to robust consultations. If anything, they are more rigorous than those done for highway projects such as Gardiner East. City councillors promote public consultations on their websites, e-newsletters, and social media; while the City distributes consultation and construction notices in mailboxes in the affected neighbourhoods. The City has a dedicated website for cycling and pedestrian public consultations and the media will sometimes report on consultations, so the bit about not enough consultation can be thoroughly debunked. Speaking of consultations, members of the public can flag certain areas that may need accessible loading which removes that excuse.

A more civilized consultation for the Avenue Road Study in October 2023

The idea of putting cyclists on alternate routes is insulting given people – regardless of how they get around – prefer to take the most direct route to destinations which are often found on arterials. In some cases, an arterial such as Bloor is the only place to put in a protected bike lane. Especially across the Humber River given there were no safe crossings of the river between The Queensway and Eglinton before the complete street extension. Finally, the bit about greenhouse gas emissions rising due to gridlock is ridiculous since protected bike lanes encourage more people to leave the car at home and bike instead, which would contribute to lower emissions.

Don’t Back Down

While opponents to safe streets have become increasingly desperate and resorted to hijacking public meetings to try to maintain the car-oriented status quo, it’s critical that we road safety advocates not back down. If you haven’t already done so, please provide your feedback on the 2025-27 Bike Plan by Sunday, December 10 using the interactive map, the online survey, and/or e-mail at Let’s keep making our presence heard at public consultations and when cycling projects go to the Infrastructure and Environment Committee and City Council through written submissions or live deputations.

What were some of the public consultation horror stories you have experienced? Let's hear them!

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