Many cyclists use the Harbord Street bike lanes every day in Toronto. Photo by Martin Reis
What’s happening on Harbord? Bike lane improvements...we hope
On the surface, Harbord is a cyclist’s paradise. But patches of missing bike lanes and controversy surrounding big new plans for bi-directional buffered lanes reveal giant cracks under Harbord’s smooth surface. (Read our latest update posted on Oct. 17, here.)
By Tammy Thorne ~ originally published on Sept. 20 ~
Something is happening on Harbord Street in Toronto. Every day thousands of cyclists ride back and forth on this bike lane – and it’s a beautiful thing to behold.
The thing is, there’s a bit of a gap in the bike lane on Harbord, just west of Spadina. The gap is right where you’d want a bike lane too: when crossing one of the busiest streets downtown, Spadina Avenue. From Spadina west to Borden there are these markings called sharrows instead of a bike lane. Now, sharrows are meant to show cyclists and motorists where and how to share the road, and when placed in the middle of the road they encourage cyclists to take the lane if there isn't enough room for a car to pass safely, but in some cases they have caused confusion.
Next to the sharrows on Harbord are parked cars. In Toronto, every cyclist’s nightmare is getting doored, and placing bike infrastructure like bike lanes and sharrows right in the “door zone” is a typical "made-in-Toronto compromise” (much like sharrows themselves).
But Harbord is also one of the best bikeways in the city. Cycle Toronto has come forward in strong support of a plan to build a Montreal-style bi-directional and buffered bike lane along the north side of the street. At first blush it appeared to be something that Harbord businesses had been on board with, but following an August 23 Toronto Star article, it seemed something was afoot in the bike lane.
In the article, Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, announced plans for a “love-in” style protest at Harbord bakery (reportedly opposed to the lane proposal) this Saturday, Sept. 21.
It’s important to have separated bike lanes in any city to encourage new commuter cyclists, to help ease congestion and, of course, to make things much safer for the existing masses of cyclists already biking daily. People are injured every day riding their bikes, usually due to careless driving, but also often because of dangerous, incomplete or downright shoddy infrastructure in our city. People are dying in our streets. Safety is a serious issue. So where are our separated bike lanes?
We're quite fond of the Sherbourne cycle track, even though more parking enforcement is clearly needed for that lane. We think a network of connected and protected bike lanes should definitely be a top priority for Toronto. But the questions are: Is Harbord the best place to start? And, is bi-directional (or Montreal-style) the way to go?
Following a Toronto Star article originally titled “Harbord bakery versus Harbord bikery” (newspaper clipping below) the BIA was not pleased with being characterized as “anti-cyclist” and BIA chair Neil Wright claimed that the bakery was unfairly targeted. “We have many members on our BIA who ride bikes. The Harbord BIA has always supported bike lanes,” Wright says. “Harbord bakery is innocent and it is very, very disturbing that Cycle Toronto decided to pinpoint the bakery – just one member of the BIA.”
Wright said the entire BIA is concerned about the bi-directional proposal as it doesn’t take into account access for clients and delivery vehicles to businesses on the north side, noting the gas station specifically, as well as the fact that the design might very well be too narrow to accommodate the many cyclists who use that route every day and may want to pass each other in the bike lane. “We’re open to bike lanes of any kind. It just seems like this plan was completely top down and that someone at City Hall, like our mayor and [public works chair] Denzil Minnan-Wong, just decided to ‘get it done’ – that this is totally in the hands of politicians.” Wright says the BIA’s number one concern is for the safety of all road users: pedestrians, cyclists and cars too.
In response, the Harbord BIA (which includes businesses from Spadina to Borden, with associate members to Bathurst) sent this letter below to local politicians and The Star, dandyhorse magazine, and others. (dandyhorse has garnered attention by doing Bike Spotting streeter sessions on Harbord asking cyclists what they think of the bi-directional proposal.)
Wright said that protesters this Saturday will be greeted with a table of free food, and any sales inside the bakery will be donated to a charity.
Note that sharrows are dark pink on the new bike map from the City -- the Harbord-Hoskin/Wellesley bikeway is across the very top of this map section below. (Ed's note: The sharrows on Spadina are an example of very poorly placed sharrows: They provide no use at all and are slated to be removed this year.)
So what is actually going on here?
Do the thousands of daily cyclists – many of them new, student cyclists – and drivers have to endure this dangerous bottleneck without the aid of proper infrastructure or guidance on how to share the space properly just to avoid removing a few measly on-street parking spots?
Why not complete the bike lane as it is now from Spadina to Harbord and move the parking to the side streets?
The Wellesley bike lane upgrade, according to this City's website, includes putting in bollards along the existing uni-directional bike lanes. It will also involve - gasp - removing some on-street parking. What would a bi-directional bike lane on Harbord-Hoskin do to improve safety that a uni-directional separated bike lane wouldn’t do?
Next week we will continue to discuss Harbord and other proposed separated bike lanes with Councillor Adam Vaughan.
Related on the dandyBLOG:
Sherbourne Bike Spotting (Sherbourne cycle track story from issue #10 will be posted on the dandyBLOG soon along with new Bike Spotting sessions this fall.)