The Danforth Stripes Back
by Jake Allderdice, from issue 6
Talk to someone from Canada’s east or west coast about the hills in Toronto, and you’re likely to get a raised eyebrow in response. Fact is, we’re pretty lucky here. Most of our rides are as flat as an Amsterdammer’s.
In the east end, searching for a low-stress ride back up to the Danforth from the Beaches or the Leslie Spit, eventually you’ll discover Coxwell Avenue.
It’s the gentlest of climbs, a fact underscored by its historic route as a tramline connecting the Danforth with the lake. Even today, just east of Coxwell and Danforth, you can buy a western sandwich and a glass of beer at the “Terminal Grill,” so-called because of its proximity to the former terminus of the Danforth streetcar line.
Coxwell’s status as an important neighbourhood centre is signified by two political markers. It is the ward boundary between Toronto City Councillors Fragedakis and Davis on the north side of the Danforth and Fletcher and McMahon on the south. But more significantly, at Mortimer Avenue, it is the location of the East York Civic Centre, the borough’s former “City Hall.” When East York was folded into the City of Toronto in 1998, the civic centre was used to store useless junk from downtown City Hall: the city’s bicycle infrastructure planners were moved here, for example. The transition occurred during Mayor David Miller’s tenure, but the bicycle planners haven’t got a lot on their plates with Rob Ford in power either.
Perhaps they’ll find themselves shovelled out to Scarborough Town Centre next. In the meantime, a few projects from the past are still gumming up the planners’ off ices. One of them is the long overdue “bicycle expressway” that some have called for along Bloor-Danforth. The proposal first surfaced in a planning document in 1992 and has reared its head periodically since then.
Recently, a group of activists led by the late Tooker Gomberg’s widow, Angela Bischoff, have been lobbying for the route to be created as a memorial to Tooker. Sadly, “Take the Tooker” is not a rallying cry our current mayor is likely to take up. Nonetheless, the city says it is examining the proposal, with input from the IBI Group – a planning office with a portfolio of “smart growth” and walkable communities.
Indeed, city planner Uwe Mader is considering what most dandyhorse readers would call a no-brainer: putting bike lanes into one of the few downtown thoroughfares connecting the east side of the city with the west. Despite concerns from business, studies show that no one really drives to the Danforth to shop.
Most shoppers are, in fact, local residents who walk or bike to the area. Bike lanes would not change much for local businesses then, but they would change everything for cyclists.
The important question is: what is the best way to implement the new route? The IBI Group’s work is meant to answer that, but there’s no word on how long it will take – or whether or not the study has even begun.
Let's look again at Coxwell and Danforth.
“Nothing to see here,” as the cops say. “Move along.”
Fact is, the speed of traffic here sucks the life out of the neighbourhood. The Globe and Mail once noted that taxi drivers refer to this strip as the “miracle mile” because at a certain speed they can catch all the lights at green. But seriously, what would you want to slow down for along here, anyway? Not much – until you reach Pape. West of Pape, the Danforth becomes livelier – and that’s because traffic speed lessens.
Cars slow down because they have to squeeze into one lane of traffic due to lefthand
turn lanes at intersections. Bicycles, meanwhile, can travel this leg of the Danforth
at normal speed in the curb lane next to parked cars – with as wide a margin of safety from dooring as in most official bike lanes.
This stretch of the avenue reflects philosopher Ivan Illich’s notion that “…free people must travel the road to productive social relations at the speed of a bicycle.”
In this case, “productive social relations” means pedestrians have full run of the street, turning the Danforth into a market bazaar – a Mediterranean-style ramble. This was not accidental. It was the result of business associations meeting with city planners to say “make our piece of the city great.” All it took was repainting the existing right-of-way, which created left-turn lanes that became de facto pedestrian refuges and right lanes wide enough for cars to park or to drive, but not both. And so, the right lanes have become de facto bike lanes.
There is no one who can say they do not understand how this works. Everyone now
understands it. The only remaining questions are: When will this model be extended to the rest of the Danforth? When will Danforth and Coxwell be as great as Danforth and Logan?
And when will life east of Pape finally reach the speed of a bicycle?
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