The City’s new public works chair on cycling

Illustration by Warren Wheeler.

Councillor Robinson says she's excited to work with Mayor Tory to roll out cycling infrastructure as chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee

But what's it like biking in her ward?

Story by Jenna Campbell

Councillor Jaye Robinson was recently elected Public Works and Infrastructure Committee Chair (PWIC) and says she is excited to work with Mayor John Tory and council to help accelerate cycling initiatives.

Robinson, City Councillor for Ward 25 (Don Valley West), was recently (re)appointed by the new mayor to his executive committee and was also appointed as the new chair of PWIC replacing Denzil Minnan-Wrong. (The Public Works committee is where the buck stops on bike lane-related proposals.)

"I'm honoured to be the new chair of public works," Robinson says. "It's a big portfolio and I'm ready for the challenge. We're bringing a 10-year network plan forward this summer and I'll be focused on results."

There have been recent councillor-driven initiatives to make streets safer, including Josh Matlow’s push for lowering the speed limit to 30 km/h from 40 km/h on all residential roads. (See our dandy interview with Matlow here.) Robinson says the City needs to look at lowering the speed limit alongside other traffic calming measures including increased signage and improved road markings and configurations: “The concerns are the same [across the city] but the solutions can be highly neighbourhood-specific.”

So what's the councillor got planned for street safety in her neighbourhood?

The three major concerns she heard consistently on the campaign trail were individuals’ issues with traffic congestion, transit reliability and lack of capacity, and the amount of motorists infiltrating neighbourhoods due to construction on arterial roads. “People are terrified. The incident in Leaside really heightened people’s concerns,” she says.

“Honestly, you’d knock on a door and every family, they were saying the same thing, and people are at their wits end with it. The frustration has really peaked on these issues,” she says.

Christopher Owens, a nurse at Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre, who rides his bike to work most days, says he would like to see better bike infrastructure and transit service in the neighbourhood too, and that it's harder to find a safe street, as a cyclist in Ward 25.

“I feel that better and more transit, better cycling infrastructure and better amenities for pedestrians are the best way to [improve safety],” says Owens, who is also the Bicycle User Group (BUG) co-ordinator for what is likely one of Toronto’s largest BUGs, with about 300 members. (The CBC and UHN also have massive BUGs.) Note: Owens’ views in this story are solely his own and do not reflect those of his employer.

During the summer, Owens takes the Don Trails to work to avoid traffic, despite the extra 15–20 minutes added to his commute. Most often, he cycles Sherbourne Street to Rosedale, past Chorley Park and along the Bayview extension into the residential streets of Leaside.

“Hills can be quite dangerous for cyclists, especially when cycling uphill alongside cars that are roaring past at 70km/h. That is why I make every effort to avoid Bayview, despite it being the most direct route to work,” he says.

The trouble spots in his commute include the Bayview extension and the Eglinton intersection.

“If the road had dedicated, protected cycle lanes and intersections, I'm confident that ridership in the area would greatly improve," but he says he realizes bike lanes are a hard sell in a car-dominated part of town.

Bike lanes on Bayview would serve at least three large institutions in the area: Sunnybrook Hospital, York University, the Toronto French School, as well as the Evergreen Brickworks, an environmentally focused community activity hub located in the midst of the Don Valley trail system. A bike lane on Bayview (which was in an original iteration of the City’s bike plan) would certainly make the ride to the Brickworks possible for families with children.

Along with bike lanes on Bayview, Owens would like to see bike lanes on Eglinton. “We don’t really have a north-south connection outside the downtown area,” he says, adding that lowering speed limits would be key to increasing safety.

“The further away you are from the core, the more dangerous it feels to be sharing the road in 60-70 km/h zones with motorists. If you're to commute along Bayview, Mount Pleasant, or much of the city beyond the core, there is virtually no direct route to take other than a major arterial because of the abundance of cul-de-sacs and dead ends. While I ride through Leaside, I find that segment of my commute to be the most stressful, as I often notice drivers failing to stop, or even slow down at all-stops,” he says.

However, Councillor Robinson intones that the City’s method for expanding the bikeway network will be to continue to focus on the core of Toronto with cycling infrastructure improvements and slowly expand the network out, in a thoughtful way.

“To me, to put bike lanes in in a piecemeal way across the city doesn't make sense. Let’s build a safe and connected bicycle network throughout the city,” says Robinson. "If we can connect the city with a network of safe, reliable, dedicated lanes, we're going to see a dramatic increase in cycling."

Photo courtesy of Jaye Robinson's office.

The downfall in executing bike infrastructure, she says, happens when council does not ask for interim reports from its staffers. “We’re the governance and oversight and we have to make sure staff are reporting back on time,” Robinson says.

“There are some issues at City Hall and so I think there needs to be a bit more respect for staff in the tone of debates in the council chamber and in working together,” she says. “I think the level of respect has to go both ways and we have to work together. So that’s something [I’m] hopeful [about], that’s one of my biggest focuses.”

But when asked is she would support a bike lane on Bayview, she says: "We need to focus on the big picture. It's not about bike lanes on any particular streets, it's about picking routes to build out a safe, convenient grid across the city."

And what about Eglinton?

"Again, it's about the network – how do we connect lanes on Eglinton to the south and north?"

 Related on the dandyBLOG:

City councillor pushing for lower speed limits on residential roads

Q&A with new Ward 20 City Councillor Joe Cressy

Mayor, mayor new this fall: Who's the bikiest of them all?

dandyCommute: Sunnybrook to Parkdale

Bike to the BrickWorks

BrickWorks Bike Works

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