photos by Tammy Thorne
by Albert Koehl
The design options for a bike lane on Bloor Street were unveiled earlier this week in a public meeting. It’s been a long wait. A Bloor Street route has been on cyclists’ radar almost from the beginning of Toronto’s cycling revival in the late 1960s and early 1970s – but never before have we gotten to this point. As a recent media headline announced: Bike Lanes on Bloor No Longer Just a Slogan, Thanks to Pilot Project.
The design options are an important step, even if it is only for a 2.4 km pilot from Avenue Rd. to Shaw St. The opportunity to actually argue about competing options is itself a noteworthy milestone. We’re still a long way from the 24 km east-west route along Bloor-Danforth needed to create a spine for Toronto’s cycling network, but the pilot will finally give us a measurable achievement where it matters – on the asphalt beneath our tires. While it’s worth pausing to enjoy this moment, the biggest fight is still ahead – not only to keep the implementation from sliding yet further into the future but to get the necessary approval from the city’s public works committee.
The proposed implementation date originally set for the spring of 2016 has already quietly been moved to the summer. The wiggle room for a 2016 implementation is now slim and there is a risk of losing yet another year. We’re already well over two years out from the original call for a pilot and now at least another half year from a real world bike lane. An energetic advocacy effort therefore remains key to ensure the project gets approved by public works soon after the second planned consultation early in the new year.
Albert Koehl with City of Toronto cycling manager Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati.
The public event on December 2 was impressive for both the quality of the design displays and the public interest. Shortly after the 4 p.m. start time, the gym at Trinity-St. Paul Church was already crowded with members of the public. A team from the City’s Transportation Services Dept, including Cycling Manager Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, and planners from the MMM group informally guided the public through the designs options. (Historians will recall that MMM prepared the 1992 report recommending Bloor-Danforth as a cycling spine for the city – with a second phase implementation date of 1993!) At the 8 p.m. end point of the event, the public actually had to be asked to leave. An online survey is now on the city website.
One of the challenges for the pilot area will be the narrow (12.2m) width of Bloor in the popular shopping and entertainment area between Bathurst and Spadina. TTC buses (for night service) require from 3.1m to 3.3m for a single lane, therefore using up to a total of 6.6m in road width. The liberation of one parking lane provides almost enough width for a bike lane on each side, although without the buffer some experts consider essential. The new parking lane will be far narrower than the existing one, freeing up additional space.
Two potential options for the bike lane pilot.
The willingness of the Bloor Annex BIA to consider the re-dedication of a parking lane is already a far cry from the days when the loss of a single parking spot could only be achieved over the cold, dead bodies of merchants and their City Hall reps. Instead, the BIA, under the thoughtful leadership of Brian Burchell, publisher of the Annex Gleaner, is helping to fund an economic impact study of the bike lane pilot.
The study, which has already begun by measuring the 'before' picture, is being carried out by the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation , with support from the Toronto Cycling Think & Do Tank and additional funding from the Metcalf Foundation and the Korea Town BIA. The study’s authors should be able to build on the 2009 report by the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation, which showed that motorists comprised only 10% of local business patronage. Indeed, the new study will hopefully sway other parts of the city in favour of cycling infrastructure.
In the Spadina to Shaw segment, the parking lane to be eliminated, and the remaining one to be narrowed (and therefore unusable for motoring), now serve one other function that may well provoke the greatest opposition from politicians who pledge allegiance to single-occupant cars. During the morning rush hour the south-side parking lane currently becomes an eastbound driving lane; in the afternoon, the north-side parking lane becomes a westbound driving lane. These lanes will no longer be available for rush hour car traffic. On the other hand, there will be two new cycling lanes available during both rush hours to anyone that gets on a bicycle.
In one design option, the remaining parking lane would be moved away from the curb and become a safety buffer for cyclists. In other words, cyclists will have the sidewalk on their right and parked cars on their left. The risk of being doored by a driver will be eliminated.
Although many cycling commentators focus on the width of the buffer for the bike lane, an issue that gets scant attention is intersections, where most collisions actually occur. At the wide Spadina and Bloor intersection, the volume of motor traffic, cyclists, and pedestrians is high. The area has schools, daycare centres and shopping and entertainment venues, along with various tourist destinations like the Royal Ontario Museum in the so-called Bloor St. Culture Corridor. Under the proposed designs, there will be an awkward mixing between cyclists heading east or west on Bloor across Spadina and motorists changing lanes on Bloor to make a right turn onto Spadina. Although not on the current agenda, the area is ripe for a reduction in the posted speed limit.
In our fight to make streets safe for cycling, we still face a City Hall where the dominant mentality includes a manic devotion to single occupant cars. The Bloor bike lane pilot won’t solve the problem of the inefficient use of public road space for cars and parking, massive transport carbon emissions, or the death and injury toll on our roads … but it’s a step in the right direction, if we make sure it actually happens.
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