Ride On! A retrospective on the battle for Bloor

Bloor Dufferin archive photo IMG_1855

While it might be further west than our pilot project, this picture shows the multiple modes of transportation used on Bloor street historically. 

Ride on

A retrospective on the battle for bike lanes on Bloor

by senior contributing editor Albert Koehl

“I don’t think we’ve discussed bike lanes on Bloor before,” suggested Councillor Stephen Holyday in defence of his motion to delay a 2.4 km pilot bike lane on Bloor St. Several councillors worried that the pilot would lead to bike lane “creep” and come to include other sections of Bloor and Danforth Ave. Despite the concerns, Toronto City Council, after a lengthy debate, voted 38-3 on May 4, 2016 to approve the pilot.

Bloor has been a popular cycling route for virtually as long as the modern bicycle, originally known as the Safety, has been around. In the late 1880s, cyclists on Bloor had to contend with poor road conditions, then horse cars starting in 1890, followed by electric streetcars in 1893, and automobiles from the early 1900s. The completion of the Bloor Viaduct in 1918 enhanced Bloor as an east-west route, while the growing dominance of cars made the route ever more perilous for cyclists. With the revival of utilitarian cycling, especially in the early 1970s, it wasn’t long before the safety concerns of cyclists on Bloor again came to the fore. A May 1972 Toronto Star editorial characterized Bloor and Yonge streets as a cyclist’s “killing ground.”

In 1976, not long after the Arab Oil Embargo and cancellation of the Spadina Expressway, the city hired consulting firm Barton-Aschman to study on-street cycling routes. The Bloor ‘Corridor’ was identified as one of the city’s premier cycling areas with Bloor itself scoring highly on study metrics, including, lamentably, the city’s highest cycling collision rate.

The consultant ultimately rejected Bloor in favour of Harbord/Hoskin-Wellesley not because the latter was better for cyclists, but (implicitly) because cyclists on Harbord would be better for motorists on Bloor. The consultant also concluded that the loss of parking on Bloor would harm merchants, although this appears to have been an assumption masquerading as a conclusion. (A 2009 report by TCAT found that only 10% of shoppers on what is now the pilot stretch of Bloor arrived by car.) It took years before the Harbord route got bike lanes while the gap at Queen’s Park between Hoskin and Wellesley wasn’t actually closed, despite the consultant’s recommendation, until 2014!

Motorists actually had another prime, and exclusive, east-west alternative to Bloor after the Gardiner Expressway was completed in 1964. The completion of the Bloor Subway in 1966, opened up more space on Bloor. The subway also meant that cyclists no longer had to deal with streetcar tracks on Bloor. On Harbord, cyclists to this day are forced into an awkward dance with buses at passenger stops.

In 1992, a report by city consultant Marshall Macklin and Monaghan recommended a Bloor-Danforth bikeway “from city limit to city limit”, to serve as an east-west spine for the nascent cycling network. Bloor-Danforth had been identified as the city’s most popular cycling route. The report provided both short and long term implementation timeframes. Phase III, the final phase for Bloor-Danforth, was to be compIeted in 1993.

The 2001 Bike Plan, Shifting Gears (approved three years after municipal amalgamation) promised to have in place by 2011 a total of 500 km of on-street bike lanes, including the 35 km already in place. Bloor-Danforth was excluded in the plan although the door was left open for future changes.

In 2007, the City undertook a feasibility study for a Bloor-Danforth bikewayfrom Royal York Rd. to Victoria Park Ave. The study was to assess motor traffic and parking impacts and develop bikeway design options. In May 2009, shortly before the release of the study, Councillor Adrian Heaps, chair of the Cycling Committee told the media that bike lanes could be in place on parts of Danforth before the end of the year subject to design work, public consultation, and a vote a Council that Heaps was confident would succeed.

Heaps’ optimistic statement was quickly converted, for reasons never publicly articulated, into an announcement that a consultant would be hired to complete, among other things, a comprehensive ‘traffic’ analysis for Bloor-Danforth. This analysis soon became a plan to do a $500,000 environmental assessment (EA), which later came to be treated as a legal pre-condition for bike lanes, despite the obvious farce of studying the adverse environmental effects of a bicycle lane.

The EA was cancelled shortly after Mayor Rob Ford came to office in 2010. Shifting Gears, having achieved 17% of its objective, came to an end in 2012. The EA, albeit for a more limited section of Bloor, was revived by Bloor area councillors in October 2013. This EA never got off the ground and was later abandoned (ostensibly because of changes to the provincial EA Act).

The pilot project was first proposed to Bloor councillors and to public works in October 2013 by Bells on Bloor, Cycle Toronto, and others. With a new City Council in place in December 2014, and support from six local residents’ associations, Councillors Joe Cressy and Mike Layton championed the pilot initiative, while the new Cycling Manager, Jacquelyn Gulati brought new energy to the project from within City Hall.

For their part, cyclists continued riding along Bloor in ever-increasing numbers,despite the long-standing absence of dedicated road space. A count by city staff found that the pilot section of Bloor had among the highest cycling numbers for roads, including roads with bike lanes, in Toronto --- averaging 3,350 cyclists per day in August 2015.

At the council meeting of May 4, Holyday, perhaps on hearing guffaws (followed by laughter) from the public gallery quickly added: “At least not since I’ve been here.” (He was elected 18 months earlier.) And for the councillors worried that the 2.4 km pilot might lead to bike lanes across Bloor-Danforth … well yes, that’s always been the idea.

Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer and a founder of Bells on Bloor.

Bloor Photo

Joe Cressy rides his bike along a car-filled Bloor. 

Related on the dandyBLOG:

Bike Spotting: Mike Layton on Bloor Bike Lanes

Bike Spotting: Talking Bloor Street Bike Lanes

City Cyclist at it again: Bike Lanes on Bloor

Vision Zero supported by public works but little love for Bloor bike lanes


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