Bike lanes on Bloor on the back burner again?

Illustration by Ness Lee from our June 2014 issue. Note, the numbers in the illustration are no longer current due to the City's new method of counting. One thing is constant though: Bike lanes are always something we'll get "next year" (or the year after). That's the legacy of the Bike Plan: we started in 2001 with something like 50 existing km of lanes; since then we have built 60 km, less than 5 km per year.

Bike lanes on Bloor on the back burner again?

Pilot project promised for 2016 by bike-loving councillors, but what about 2015

By Tammy Thorne

Cyclists in Toronto may wonder, “Why can’t we have nice things?”

We now have one ‘nice’ bike lane along Sherbourne that is clearly a space made for bikes (even if cars do park in it too often.) But it came at a cost. An Environmental Assessment (EA) of Bloor-Danforth bike lanes --- to be started in 2014 --- was abandoned, apparently to allow City Hall to focus on other priorities. The stated logic was that the cycling unit was too busy installing Sherbourne and upgrading Wellesley (which is still happening) to go through with the Bloor-Danforth study. The former mayor was also keen to get cyclists off city streets and into the trails. Lack of resources in the cycling unit is a common refrain to the ears of cycling advocates in Toronto – sometimes its human resources, sometimes it’s monetary, but mostly it’s “just wait till next year (or the year after)”. That’s why we at dandyhorse are concerned about this latest chapter in the long and storied history of the push for bike lanes on Bloor.

In the fall of 2013, City Council (at the prompting of Cressy’s predecessor, Adam Vaughan) approved an EA for Bloor-Danforth – or, to be precise, the revival of an EA started in 2010 but then abandoned in 2011 under Mayor Ford’s administration. A February 18, 2015, briefing note from transportation services, however, now reveals that no action has been taken to re-start the EA, as it was directed to do almost two years ago. The brief states:

“There is currently a backlog of outstanding studies and therefore funding for a Bloor Street-Dupont Street Bikeway EA, previously estimated to cost approximately $450,000, would need to be considered in light of other priorities and commitments. If funds in this program are not sufficient to undertake this EA Study, if one is required, due to these other priorities and commitments, a request will be made as part of the Transportation Services 2016 Capital Budget submission to increase the "Engineering Studies" budget specifically for this project so that the EA can be

proceed in 2016.”

In the west central part of the city – where a bike lane pilot project on Bloor would be welcome – you have the two wards with the most cyclists in all of Toronto: Wards 19 and 20 (both named Trinity-Spadina for whatever weird gerrymandering reason.)

So it goes to reason that two of the “bikiest” councillors preside over these downtown districts. Both councillors are young, and both are regular, everyday cyclists.

Heck, they both even bike on Bloor themselves from time to time, and recognize the need for improvement.

Councillor Joe Cressy  (Ward 20 Trinity-Spadina) is new to City Hall so he’s a self-proclaimed eternal optimist.

He’s said it before, and he said it again when I spoke to him recently: “Bike lanes on Bloor are my top priority.” Joe Cressy grew up on Walmer and lives on Albany in the Annex and says he has always supported bike lanes on Bloor. He calls himself a bike activist.

Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19 Trinity-Spadina) is part of a lineage of bike activist royalty: His father, Jack, led the development of the first ever bike committee at City Hall.

Layton was not impressed with this latest hold-up on the Bloor project. He was recently quoted in NOW saying the study should have been done in 2014, as council ordered: “We had clearly given direction to staff to include it as part of the budget last year, and it wasn’t. Which is frustrating,” Layton said in regard to the latest chapter in the Bloor street boondoggle.

Another important note: pilot projects don’t require EAs. (They do need council approval.)

So what’s the hold up?

Cressy says he doesn’t think it’s right to characterize the Bloor bike lane hold-up as a “boondoggle.” He says this time around, the hold up is more a product of the former mayor and his executive: “They killed the EAs around bike lanes on Bloor.”

Fine, blame it on Ford. But why can’t we at least get a pilot project for bike lanes on Bloor for 2015 – why wait for 2016?

Cressy said, the pilot project is coming, and that’s a good thing. He also said it has to be done right – with the right amount of public consultation and for the right length (end-to-end) on Bloor. The community – or I should say, various communities along Bloor – have never asked for an end-to-end pilot. The push has been to get a pilot (or pilots) in the areas where it can get done sooner than later. In the Annex there is wide support from businesses and residents.

“What has been put forward as a proposal is to do design options and feasibility study for 2015 to introduce a pilot for 2016,” he said.

“So that is a GOOD thing. In terms of being a cycling advocate myself and someone who uses Bloor and who has part of Bloor in my ward,” he continued cheerfully; “A pilot is a good thing. This is a good thing because we have a timeline now to do it.”

When asked whether or not a full EA will be required again before a bike lane can become a reality on Bloor, Cressy said he’s inquired the same thing himself of City officials. He also noted that there are possible provincial changes coming that may make EAs unneeded in certain cases.

Still, he agrees there is no need to dilly-dally: “We need to do things in parallel: Pilot and study at the same time. It will work. Whether we call it a feasibility study or an EA – we just need to get it started.”

Great. Let’s get started then.

Where and when will we see that bike lane pilot project?

“A pilot has to work – if you do one that doesn’t work then it could be contrary to the goal,” he said. “It has to connect to the grid.” Cressy also said he’d like to see a study on the full length of the Bloor corridor. The bike advocacy group Bells on Bloor has suggested a bike lane be piloted from Shaw to Sherbourne.

“I’m a believer in robust consultation,” he said, adding that good consultation ultimately produces a better product with more community buy in, which are crucial for pilot projects.

But the Annex Residents Association and five other residents’ associations in the Annex area have all already said “Yes!” to bike lanes on Bloor. Heck, they even made a video saying how much they’d really like one. Studies by Toronto Public Health and the Clean Air Partnership have also made the case for bike lanes on Bloor. Which begs the question: How much consultation is enough?

Cressy also said that part of doing a pilot project properly is providing a “full riding season” – in other words, three months are needed to fully assess the success of a pilot – starting spring through fall.

So, does that mean we’ll be getting a Bloor pilot project installed this fall then – in 2015 – so that it’s ready to ride in spring? Can we do public meetings over the spring and summer for a fall installation on Bloor?

“Staff has not given us a month-by-month break down yet for the timeline,” he said, adding; “I want to see bike lanes on Bloor as soon as possible.”

(Yes, the sooner the better we say.)

In the meantime, Cressy will continue to ride on Harbord and College where he feels more comfortable because of the bike lanes.

“Bike lanes on Bloor are my top cycling priority –we’re going to get it done, not withstanding the challenges of the past.”

“Bike lanes are good for business, good for the community and good for kids too – do you know how many schools we have all along Bloor?” he asks rhetorically.

“When a bike lane on Bloor is done right it will alleviate congestion and be good for business and make for a safer, more complete street,” Cressy said trying to end on a positive note.

Now if we could just get a timeline on when we’ll see those design options as part of that feasibility study, we’d also join in on the optimism. Indeed, it would be dandy if we could see a pilot project on Bloor installed in time for students returning in the fall.

The first lesson of cycling on Bloor for new students in the city shouldn’t be learning the meaning of being “doored”.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

The Hamster and the Cyclist: Bike lanes on Bloor Deja Vu

Bike lanes on Bloor: an update

Bike Spotting on Bloor: Do you shop by bike?

Fur flies when Yorkville weasels out of a bike lane

 

 

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