Meet the New Plan, Same as the Old Plan?
Less than 4% of plan implemented heading towards end of year two
by Albert Koehl
Toronto’s no-longer-new ten-year cycling plan, adopted by Council in June 2016, is similar to the old ten-year plan in its promise to deliver hundreds of kilometres of new bike lanes. And it’s very similar to the old plan in another significant way: the slow pace of implementation. The plan may only be approaching the end of year two, but there is reason for alarm. If we want to see the city finally turn the corner on becoming a place that respects cyclists there’s no time to waste in putting pressure on Mayor John Tory, and councillors, to ramp up implementation of the plan.
The new plan provides a 2016-2025 look-ahead and a blueprint for 280 km of new bike lanes or cycle tracks, and 55 km of sidewalk-level boulevard trails. How much of it has been implemented in the first two years? Last year 5.4 km of bike lanes (including the Bloor pilot) were implemented, and this year a total of 7.6 km – amounting to 3.8% of the total plan. It’s worth noting that some of the bike lanes we include in this measure were approved before the new bike plan was in place.)
This Implementation Tracking Table: [2016-2025 Tracking Implementation Table 2016-2017] tells the story of the current state of affairs. The recently installed Woodbine and Renforth bike lanes are this year’s big accomplishments. There have also been some upgrades of existing infrastructure, measuring a total of 4.6 km. By comparison, Montreal has installed 58 km of new cycling infrastructure this year, most of it consisting of bike lanes, according to Bartek Komorowski of Vélo Québec. But, of course, Montreal was already far ahead of Toronto before this year.
What are some of the initiatives the cycling community can take to ensure the new bike plan is actually implemented?
First, cyclists have to carefully monitor the actual state of implementation. There is so much talk in the Toronto media about bike lanes that it’s easy to be deluded into thinking that bike lanes are increasing in leaps and bounds. It’s also time to call on the City to produce an annual progress report on the bike plan. Other cities, even other departments, are required to do this; and considering Toronto’s dismal record, let’s demand transparency and accountability on this important infrastructure.
Less than 2% of our roads have bike lanes. It would be foolhardy to wait until year eight to point out implementation shortfalls, as we’ve learned based on past experience. Unfortunately, it’s challenging to determine precisely what has been implemented without a trip to the street itself. A comprehensive online city map is useful though it doesn’t reveal particular nuances, and isn’t completely accurate. For example, “edge lines” have been substituted for promised bike lanes on the O’Connor Bridge. (These lines are apparently easier to get installed by staff without the approvals that might otherwise be required.) The Bloor pilot is also not shown, though it’s not clear if this was intentional. Sharrows on Bloor are not shown, and contra-flow lanes on Shaw and elsewhere are shown as sharrows.
Next, cyclists have to start calling out councillors. Many councillors will enthusiastically vote for expensive studies for proposed bike lanes in order to defer any real decision. Ask them if they agree that you have a right to be safe on the street where you ride. Don’t expect councillors to do the right thing, without a solid push.
Likewise, the mayor, who has spoken in reassuring tones about bike lanes, must be called to account for appointing some of the most anti-cycling councillors, Georgio Mammoliti and Stephen Holyday, to the public works committee -- a committee which decides the fate of road, cycling, and pedestrian infrastructure projects. (It’s also worth noting that, as of this writing, 4 of 15 positions in the city’s cycling infrastructure department are vacant.)
Mayor Tory and public works chair, Jaye Robinson have committed to reducing road deaths and serious injuries to zero under the Vision Zero Road Safety Plan, so they must accept bike lanes even where there is strong opposition from particular groups. When bike lanes are rejected --- despite an obvious need --- based on the level of opposition, we end up with bike lanes in out-of-the-way places instead of where we need them. Safety is a fundamental right on our public roads. Vision Zero promises safe roads – not “safer” or “saf-ish” roads. Adverse impacts on parking and motorist travel times can be mitigated with intelligent adjustments.
Overall, we need to stop shying away from demanding a reduction in the absurd number of cars in this city. Other cities around the world, like Paris and Oslo, are now going car-free in their core – meanwhile in Toronto, we can’t even get our bike plan installed and what we call‘pedestrian zones’ have two lanes of motor traffic. A good place to focus our attention is on parking as every car trip starts and ends at a parking spot. There is nothing that motorists love more than the massive subsidies they get for free or underpriced parking. When motorists start paying the true cost of parking they will think twice about driving – and start to consider transit, car-pooling, bikes, and sometimes walking.
Our experience over the last decades makes it clear that City Council will not willingly implement cycling infrastructure -- whatever its official plans, proposals, and policies might indicate. It’s our job to diligently, persistently, and assertively demand that our city and our roads be made safe for cyclists.
Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer and founder of Bells on Bloor. The author is grateful to Robert Zaichkowski, Marvin Macaraig, Michael Black, and Joey Schwartz for their contributions to the Bike Plan Implementation Tracking Table.
Related on dandyhorsemagazine.com
Bike lane inventory 2016-2017 - as of September 2017
You can order the 2010 Bike Plan Election issue here.