Bike lane on Bloor project Déjà vu
by Albert Koehl
An advocate for Bloor St. bike lanes is a lot like a hamster running on a treadmill: the harder you work the more you realize you’ve seen it all before.
A recent briefing note from City Hall’s Transportation Services reports that a “preliminary feasibility study” will be started for a Bloor St. bikeway. In fact, the same department already did a lengthy “feasibility study” for a Bloor (and Danforth) bikeway in 2007-2009. More useful would be a feasibility study to see if more than a single occupant can fit into the cars that clog Bloor.
The City Hall note also mentions possible action on the Bloor Bikeway Environmental Assessment – an Environmental Assessment (EA) that was first approved in 2009, halted in 2011, revived in 2013, and then forgotten. Since the lengthy EA process doesn’t even have a start date, we’re already looking at more years of the same scenery of inaction.
There is a better, cheaper, and more effective course of action:
- Implement a pilot bike lane on a portion of Bloor St. this summer;
- Assess the findings of the pilot with a view to expanding it to other parts of Bloor (and Danforth) in 2016; and
- Save the $300,000 cost of the unnecessary EA and invest it in building permanent bike lanes on Bloor-Danforth, based on the pilot results.
A 1992 city study identified Bloor-Danforth as an ideal east-west route that could serve as a spine for Toronto’s cycling network -- but there has been virtually no progress since then.
People often fear change, even when available evidence suggests they should welcome it, so a pilot is a useful planning tool that allows for cautious observation, assessment, and adjustment prior to a permanent change.
Where might the pilot bike lane be located?
Any stretch of Bloor (or Danforth) would serve the purpose but given the need for council approval an area with strong support for bike lanes, such as the Annex neighbourhood between Avenue Rd. and Bathurst St., presents the best option for timely action.
In January 2014, six residents’ associations along Bloor in the Annex area called for a pilot bike lane between Avenue Rd. and Bathurst St. A study by the Clean Air Partnership found that Annex merchants get 90% of their business from non-motorists, including a high percentage of cyclists despite the absence of safe cycling conditions. Another recent study by Toronto Public Health concluded that bike lanes on Bloor was the number one active transport priority of Annex residents. The University of Toronto, where many staff and students cycle, borders the area. And the new councillor for the Annex, Joe Cressy and the councillor in the adjoining riding, Mike Layton are both pro-cycling.
As we pointed out at Bells on Bloor, the pilot could easily be extended west from Bathurst about 1.5 km to Shaw St. thereby linking to four existing north-south bike routes (Shaw, Montrose, Grace and St. George streets). And by including the sharrows (as is) on Bloor in Yorkville, and filling in a short gap, the pilot could be extended eastward from Avenue Rd. to Sherbourne’s separated bike lanes, comprising a total length of 25 city blocks.
The pilot approach is ideal for a timid City Hall. In cities like New York and London, England --- where bold steps have been taken to increase the cycling network --- there was strong leadership from the mayor’s office. This isn’t likely in Toronto where an outdated car culture still prevails.
Only in Toronto does City Hall not get the joke about spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to assess the environmental impacts of a bicycle lane. It is for good reason that the law does not require an EA for a bike lane within an existing roadway.
The idea of an EA first came up in 2009, soon after the city announced, with much fanfare, that it would be releasing the feasibility study for a bikeway across Bloor-Danforth, from Scarborough to Etobicoke. The next step would be a decision on a detailed design along with public consultations. Councillor Adrian Heaps, chair of the Cycling Committee, told the Globe and Mail that the first part of the bikeway on Danforth (given adequate road width) could, if approved, actually be in place later that year.
There was predictable opposition from some merchants, who routinely overestimate the contribution of motorists to their businesses, perhaps because they are far more likely than their customers to drive to their shops. Equally predictable, a number of councillors stepped in to champion the cause of parking spaces over the safety interests of cyclists.
City Hall quickly backed down from making a decision and instead announced that an external consultant (which morphed into the EA) would be hired. The feasibility study was re-branded as a “preliminary evaluation” and buried, which allowed City Hall to say whatever it wanted about its results. We obtained about 1000 pages of the study under a Freedom of Information request. This simply confirmed the obvious: there would have to be some conversion of parking and rush hour lanes to cycling traffic -- but a bikeway was feasible.
The EA was cancelled soon after Rob Ford became mayor. In the fall of 2013, Councillor Adam Vaughan and five Bloor councillors orchestrated the revival of the abandoned and unnecessary EA (for Avenue Rd. to Keele St. only) -- despite our urging to focus instead on a pilot. A revived EA was merely a guarantee of another study, instead of action, and the punting of a real decision past the 2014 municipal election.
Deliberate or not, City Hall has virtually perfected a circle of perpetual inaction for Bloor bike lanes. Instead of painting a simple new lane, it promises expensive, unnecessary studies that either don't get done because of the cost or a claimed lack of staff resources, or get done and are buried, or cause long delays that cloud memories and hand the file to a new council that wants to start over.
Cyclists are frustrated with the hamster’s path. If we want to see a change of scenery on Bloor, we must push City Hall to set a new course. Pilot bike lanes marked on the asphalt of Bloor St. this summer gets us off the treadmill of feasibility studies, EAs, and the same old spin.
Albert Koehl is a founder of Bells on Bloor, and organizer of last year’s BIKESTOCK, Toronto’s biggest ever cycling advocacy rally. He has been a public interest lawyer for over two decades.
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