Public consultation meeting offers two visions for the future of bike lanes on Bloor Street
by Matt Talsma
photos by Tammy Thorne
It's a dream that's been decades in the making: We are finally seeing traction on the installation of bike lanes on Bloor street. The longest continuous route connecting the east and west sides of the city has long been championed as a candidate for bike lanes by cycling groups like Bells on Bloor and the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation (TCAT). And if all goes as planned, it will be a dream come true by fall 2016.
"This is the first time it's City-led," councillor Mike Layton says of the long sought after bike lanes, "Previous attempts were led by advocates and were derailed by things like budget shifts and problems with Environmental Assessments."
This time around, it looks like it's for real. On Wednesday, December 2, the City held an open house for public consultation on design proposals for a Bloor Street bike lane pilot project that is slated to be rolled out in 2016.
The proposed pilot project will see east and west cycling lanes on the stretch of Bloor between Shaw Street and Avenue road. Wednesday's open house invited the public to comment on two design proposals – options B and C.
Option A, the only proposal that called for removal of all on-street parking within the study area, was scrapped through an internal decision at some point before the open house. "[Maintaining space for] loading, delivery and parking was a crucial piece in rolling out this project,'" says City cycling manager Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati.
Councillor Layton confirms, "it comes as no surprise that parking is a significant concern in this area from both business and residents," but notes that retailers along the stretch are offering "cautious support" for the project.
That leaves option B – cycling lanes next to moving traffic with a narrow buffer between, with street parking curbside – and option C, bike lanes curbside with a buffer of parked cars and bollards between the cycling lane and moving traffic.
Either of the proposed options will be a definite improvement for a stretch of road that currently has no existing cycling infrastructure. "I live on Bloor so a bike lane would be ideal for me," notes Vancouver transplant Austin Reucker.
Daunted by Toronto's lack of safe infrastructure, Austin avoids busy streets and instead weaves a route through the calmer side streets for his cycling commute, "I don't like cycling in Toronto," he says.
It's a sentiment felt by many, and it is well known that safe infrastructure such as protected bike lanes like those proposed for Bloor Street result in increased rates of cycling adoption.
"It definitely fits in with the larger plan of the City in terms of encouraging active transportation," says cyclist and U of T planning student Nadine Oliver. The lanes would be "a big win for increasing quality of life, safety and creating liveable streets and neighbourhoods." Nadine suggests that the design of streetscapes should prioritize pedestrians first, then cyclists and finally motorists.
Cyclist and e-biker Carol Doorman has a few questions about the pilot project design and worries about usage by different modes. "It's not just bicycles in the bike lanes these days," she says. There are skateboarders, e-bikes and those new mini-segways cropping up and Carol finds rules of access to new separated lanes ambiguous, "It's getting more confusing with all the different types out there."
Despite concerns over specifics, there is a general enthusiasm for the project from both the public and City staff. Gulait was pleased with the public response, "there has been a lot of interest in the project and some great feedback on preferred designs."
If you didn't get a chance to make it to Wednesday's open house you still have the opportunity to provide feedback using the City's online survey. Members of the public are encouraged to comment on the proposals until the survey period closes on December 17.
Gulati emphasizes the importance of the online survey, saying that this is one of the most important tools of the study. The feedback will play a large role in informing the design selection process.
Once all of the public feedback is collected and analysed, a preferred design will be selected based on the general consensus, which will be factored in to a second public consultation slated for sometime next spring.
So when will we actually see paint on the ground? Gulati explains that "if all goes well" we are likely to see the installation of the pilot project's infrastructure at some point in the summer of 2016.
Recommendations still need to go through the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) this Spring, and still be approved by City Council. Depending on which design is chosen, installation should only take a few weeks, Gulati assures us.
The sooner the better, we say, but Toronto cyclists are used to patiently waiting. Besides, this is such a fantastic development for a project that has for so long been just a pipe dream, it is worth the wait.
All of the information placards and materials from the open house are available to view here.
NEW: Illustration by Toronto-based artist Brett Lamb featuring now on our homepage will accompany the invitation to our Dec. 30 party... where we will celebrate contributors, dandyhorse's increasing print circulation for 2016, and, of course, the (second?) coming of bike lanes on Bloor... we hope...
Brett Lamb illustration, above, shows councillors Mike Layton and Joe Cressy celebrating the Bloor bikes lanes (which are, in fact, yet to come.)
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