Image by Brett Lamb
How much does a bike lane cost? Not much.
If bike lanes are so cheap why don't we have more of them?
dandyhorse analyzes the cost of the Bloor bike lanes in respect to Toronto’s cycling and transportation budgets
Story by Jacob Lorinc
Stretching the length of Shaw Street to Avenue Road, two sandy white lines mark a new chapter in the history of Bloor Street West. The Bloor bike lanes are here. A thoroughfare that was once a cyclist’s headache at best is now an acceptable commute at worst — the result of a favorable council decision made last May and the product of intermittent debate spanning the past forty years give or take.
For cyclists, especially new city cyclists, in and around the downtown core, the new bike lanes are a welcomed victory. But the lanes have also been met with ample criticism from suburban spokespeople fearful of the potential costs and perceived congestion that might tag along with it. In addressing the implementation of Bloor bike lanes during a city council session on May 4, 2016, Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) questioned the cost versus benefit potential concerning bike lanes in the dead of winter: If the lanes are only used for half of the year (an assertion causing any avid cyclist’s head to swivel) are they really worth the cost?
When a bike lane adorns Dupont St., Davenport Rd., and College St., asked Councillor Stephen Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre), in that same meeting, why should the city pay for another lane along an east-west arterial road of such close proximity?
Rebuttals and preconceived notions aside, these questions hold certain value. Particularly, these questions are contingent on an element of cycling infrastructure of which many of us are not well informed: Cost.
Especially in Toronto, contentious policy issues are often contentious due to cost, but in the case of bike lanes, rarely do we know, or understand, how much we actually might pay for one.
So how much does a bike lane cost, anyways? Well, not much. That would be the short answer; but the question is vastly open-ended and far too loaded to provide a short answer sans explanation.
The first step when analyzing the cost of a bike lane is to consider the amount that cycling infrastructure extracts from the City’s overall transportation budget. According to the 2016 capital budget briefing note on transportation services, $14.25 million was allocated to cycling infrastructure for 2016. The entirety of the transportation services capital budget, however, is $5.2 billion, not including the $6.4 billion allocated separately to the TTC. In sum, cycling expenditures comprise 0.02 per cent of the city’s transportation budget.
Of course, these statistics aren’t remotely surprising; it only makes sense that a fraction of the transportation budget would go to cycling when there’s so much transportation infrastructure to fund. The 2016-2025 Capital Budget allocates 89.676 million to cycling infrastructure. The latest addition of that, of course, being the newly added Cycling Network Plan, expected to install 525 km of bike lanes and reach completion by 2026.
Out of that $14.25 million budget, 0.03 per cent comprises the Bloor bike lane expenditures. The total cost for the 2.6-km long bike lane is $500,000, 25 per cent of which, according to acting director of transportation management Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, goes into planning (other City officials did not confirm this percentage when asked, nor did they respond to requests for a breakdown of the planning costs). The remaining 75 per cent, she says, goes largely into construction costs—painted lines, painted symbols, removal of existing paint, and implementation of signs and bollards—while approximately $40,000 goes towards traffic control, paid duty officers, and tow services.
Here’s a brief overview of the costs, using the new Bloor bike lanes as the example:
- $125 per bollard x 413 = $51,625
- $160 per bike & diamond symbol x 83 = $13,280
- $80 per directional arrows x 75 = $6,000
- $100 per bike & chevron symbol x 323 = $32,300
- $3-7 per meter of marked lines on pavement x 2477 m = $7,431-17,399
- Traffic control, paid duty officers, tow services = $40,000
- Removals of existing paint prior to installment of bike lines = $40,000
Total: $190,636 (approximately)
*Note: these calculations do not include: costs for signs (between $50-$150 each depending on size); evaluation costs; contingencies; paint for line markings; and planning costs (although estimated to comprise roughly 25 per cent of the budget).
All things considered, the category of bike lane used along Bloor Street is of a cheaper variety. Hayward Gulati notes that prices rise when a more complex form of bike lane is required; the raised cycle track on Sherbourne St., for instance, cost $750,000 for 600 m of track (compared to the approximately $116,000 per 600 m for Bloor.) The bike lanes used along Bloor — i.e.: the most commonly used type of bike lane design — take a much smaller bite into the cycling budget. While in some ways it is different from typical, simple line-marked bike lane — mainly in that it’s more of a cycle track, as it is physically separated from traffic by parked cars in parts — this is an issue that, if anything, concerns potential congestion (and on-street parking) rather than cost of bike lane design.
In contrast to Toronto’s cycling budget, Bartek Komorowski of Vélo Quebec notes that Montreal’s city council has recently allocated a good chunk of change towards cycling infrastructure each year. Approximately $45 million per year will go towards expanding the bike network over three years (2016-2018). - compared to Toronto's $14.25M in 2016 (and estimated $10M per year to follow up to 2025.)
Much of this will go towards a newly introduced cycling feature called “vélo rues,” which aim at creating bike-focused streets where cars are expected to move slowly in order to accommodate bike-heavy traffic flow, and could include bike-safety technology like prioritized bike signals in corresponding intersections, if council agrees.
To add to Montreal cyclists’ seemingly luxurious disposition, the un-amalgamated boroughs outside Montreal have individual transportation budgets, providing ample funds for cycling infrastructure – which, as noted earlier makes up a pittance of any city’s larger transportation budget – in the greater Montreal region. Plateau-Mont-Royal, currently headed by cycling-friendly mayor Luc Ferrandez, is one that Komorowski says often pilots various cycling projects in an attempt to experiment with newfound forms of bike infrastructure. Some projects have received backlash for being perceived as intrusive to local businesses and fodder for local traffic congestion, although Komorowski believes that much of the criticism Ferrandez faced was blown out of proportion in the media, seeing as he was recently reelected with an even stronger majority than in the previous election.
While the comparison acts as a stark juxtaposition to Toronto — where the cycling budget is smaller and decision-making is prolonged —Komorowski says that the one inevitable similarity is the fight over cycle tracks.
“It’s no different here than in Toronto. It’s a universal problem. If parking spaces are involved, there will be a fight.”
Some things never change.
Jacob Lorinc is an editor at The Varsity and a guest contributor to dandyhorse.
CORRECTION: This story originally, incorrectly stated that 14.25 million was allocated to the Capital Budget for cycling from 2016-2025 - or 1.6 million per year. It is actually 14.25M for cycling in 2016, the total amount for 2016-2025 is 89.676 million (which was correctly stated in the story). We have requested a breakdown of the 14.25M spending on cycling projects for 2016. We regret the error and it has been now been corrected in this story.
Related on dandyhorsemagazine.com: