Photo by Martin Reis from Pride and Privilege on Bloor a dandyhorse story.
Making Bloor safe for cyclists is not as easy as you might think
by Albert Koehl
For all the simplicity and joy of riding a bicycle, making roads safe for cyclists is a very complex matter once it reaches City Hall. It’s hard to imagine that building colossal projects like the Don Valley, Gardiner, and Allen expressways could have been as difficult. By contrast, it’s worth remembering that our national railway was planned, financed, and built in about 15 years. The story of the Bloor bike lane already stretches back at least 50 years. When a 2.4- kilometre bike lane pilot on Bloor St. (between Shaw St. and Avenue Rd.) was made permanent in November 2017, it was only after the city completed what its transportation manager described as the most comprehensively studied road project in North America. Some folks might then have expected the extension of the Bloor bike lane to become easy. No such luck, as it turns out.
So, what’s going on in the latest chapter of this saga?
You may recall that a few months prior to the installation of the pilot Bloor bike lane in August 2016, city council also approved a ten-year bike plan. The new plan set out 335 kilometres of bike lanes to be installed over ten years, subject to the pre-requisite of a “corridor study” for lanes proposed for busy roads. Council indefinitely deferred all corridor studies, with the exception of the Yonge and Bloor St. studies, both of which were described as “currently underway.” (The corridor study includes Bloor from Sherbourne St. to High Park.)
Beginning early this year we prodded City Hall about the status of the Bloor corridor study, particularly after finding out that the study was stalled -- in fact we discovered it hadn’t been started. This was particularly surprising given that that study was to be informed by the Bloor pilot study. City Hall then diligently ignored us until several weeks ago when staff revealed that the corridor study was in a “queue” behind an environmental assessment (EA) for a bike lane on Bloor East in the 450-metre gap between Sherbourne and Church Streets. No date was offered for the start of the corridor study once it reaches the front of the queue.
We had believed that the words “bike lane” and “EA” would never again be uttered in the same sentence after the province announced, in October 2015, that the law was being updated to clarify that EAs are not needed for bike lanes. “Bike lanes and trails easier to build under new provincial rules,” read the Toronto Star headline. Indeed, we had always asserted that assessing the environmental impacts of a bike lane was rather absurd, even comic. It turns out that the matter is still open to interpretation, according to the City.
The bigger issue is why the 450-metre bike lane gap on Bloor East will delay the bike lane corridor study for the broader stretch of Bloor. In fact, filling the gap in the bike lane on Bloor East is only part of a much larger streetscaping project that has been discussed for several years. The streetscaping initiative runs from Church to Parliament Streets, and includes features like better accessibility for disabled people, lower speed, and better pedestrian crossings. We’re excited about these improvements, although it’s curious that a similar project along Bloor in Yorkville wasn’t subjected to an EA, the result of a city decision that was upheld in court (and reported on these pages).
The City routinely hires consultants to prepare major studies instead of doing the work itself. What’s also curious is that city staff are suggesting that the EA and the corridor study can’t be undertaken at the same time even though both studies would be informed by the completed pilot.
The new delay for bike lanes on Bloor might be understandable if the city was otherwise racing to install bike lanes across the city -- but the opposite is true. Sadly, when staff in the new year gives its progress report on the ten-year bike plan to councillors, it will be brief. Since the approval of the bike plan in June 2016, new bike lanes are few and far between (as previously documented).
Where does all of this leave us, aside from continuing to ride in the gutter or in fear of car doors opened into our paths?
First, we need answers. Barbara Gray, the city’s transportation manager was hired, in part for her expertise in making streets safe for pedestrians and cyclists. Send her an email to ask what’s happening with the corridor study for Bloor, and why there’s been so little progress on the ten-year bike plan.
Second, get ready for the City’s “progress” report on the bike plan. Consider telling City Hall’s infrastructure committee what you think once the date for the meeting is set.
Third, call councillors along Bloor St. and ask why our safety continues to have such a low priority, and why the Bloor corridor study is stalled. Email Bloor Councillors Gord Perks (High Park to West Rail Path), Ana Bailao (West Rail Path to Ossington), and Mike Layton (Ossington to Sherbourne), as well as Mayor John Tory.
Making our city safe for cyclists is not a problem of complexity but of political will.
Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer, road safety advocate, and founder of Bells on Bloor.
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