City plans to install bi-directional bike lane on Harbord in 2014

Reviewing plans for new bi-directional bike lane on Harbord and Hoskin

City plans to install bi-directional bike lane on Harbord in 2014 and is currently conducting a cycle track study for Richmond - Adelaide
Public consultation continues to October

by Sarah Greene

In 2011, City Council voted to begin designing and consulting with the public on a separated bike lane on Harbord-Hoskin, as part of a downtown network of separated bike lanes, which will also include Wellesley, the Bloor Viaduct, Sherbourne and Beverley (south of College).

The Sherbourne lane went in last fall but officially opened on June 10; construction on Wellesley is planned to start this year.

On Thursday, June 27, the City hosted a drop-in public consultation session at Kensington Gardens, and unveiled plans for a separated, bi-directional bike lane on Harbord and Hoskin, which will include a bi-directional bike path around the periphery of Queens Park Circle and continue west to Ossington (about 2.5 kilometres).

Plans for Queens Park Crescent as part of the Harbord-Hoskin bike lane upgrades

City planners are recommending that the lane go on the north side of Harbord, because that would have the least impact on parking, lights and traffic (parking will likely be moved to the south side of the street). If a bi-directional lane is put in, some parking will be lost – something that local residents and businesses aren’t thrilled about – but the City plans indicate that demand will still be met – 115 to 147 of the current 195 spaces will be maintained, and on average, 115 of the spots are occupied during off hours and 157 are in use during peak hours, and there is parking available on residential streets nearby.

There is debate in the cycling community about why the City is building separated bike lanes on a stretch that is already a popular bike path when there are so many streets that could use new paths and painting new lines on the road is much cheaper than constructing barriers. According to one of the bulletin boards at the meeting, Harbord-Hoskin is the second busiest cycling route in Toronto and cyclists represent 40% of traffic during rush hour.

Harbord and Borden - photo by Jun Nogami

Yet for some cyclists and drivers, more separation might mean more comfort. Derek Chadbourne, owner of the Bike Joint on Harbord, says that for him, Harbord currently works perfectly fine. “But at the same time,” he adds, “I know that a separated bike lane is not for me, it’s for people who are still a little bit unsure of riding in this city. For that, I can get behind it.”

Côte-Sainte-Catherine's separated bi-directional bike lane photo by Will Lachance

Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19) agrees, saying his wife was initially uncomfortable with cycling on city streets when she moved to Toronto. “She comes from a small town where you drive most of the time,” he says, “And when she got here, I had to introduce her to my bicycle culture, where we bike everywhere: we bike to dinner, we bike to the park, we bike to work, we bike to school; it’s just part of my life in Toronto and has been since I was a little kid.”

Layton is supportive of separated bike lanes on Sherbourne, Harbord and Hoskin, as well as on Wellington, Adelaide and Richmond, where the city is currently studying extending the downtown network of separated lanes. “The main reason why I am supportive of the separated lanes is that it encourages people who aren’t comfortable cycling to try it,” he says, adding that when he and his wife began cycling in Toronto, they tended to choose the streets with bike lanes on them.

These new separated lanes will hopefully encourage more people to bike on Harbord – Layton says that he would like to see a cost-benefit analysis of how these bike lanes will positively benefit the local community -- and to measure how many people will get out of their cars and on to bikes.

Local councillor, Adam Vaughan (Ward 20) is also on board. “Yes, Harbord is functional. But this [proposal] makes it functional and safe. It makes it safer. I think it's great," he says. He adds that there are still major obstacles to getting the network needed to make cycling truly safe in our city:

Do I think this [adding a bi-directional bike lane] makes Denzil Minnan-Wong the king of bicycle lanes? No. Because I've got half a dozen other bicycle lanes that I've been waiting five years to have built. And we've just added Bloor Street to the list again. We have passed at council: Simcoe (and the changing of Simcoe for two way street for two way bike lanes); we've asked for Richmond and Adelaide to be looked at (both one way and two way street options); we have asked for Peter Street (Queen all the way down to the Waterfront); we've asked for Wellington and we've asked for Portland to be included, linking up with the bike bridge that gets you down to the waterfront as well. So, between Portland, Peter and Simcoe; between Richmond, Adelaide, and Wellington; We have approved all of those at council now twice and we are just waiting for Denzil [chair of the public works and infrastructure committee] to build a new bike lane, instead of just fixing an old one.

And Denzil's position is that while we are waiting ...nothing else happens because we have one big project we are trying to get underway, we don't want to dilute the resources, so we can't even stripe Denison Avenue with a contraflow lane to get into Kensington Market, and we can't start the process of striping Peter Street to get used to the idea of the city bike lanes there. It's insane. He wants to build cycle tracks and nothing but and he only wants to do one at a time and that is what is slowing down delivery of bike lanes that have been approved and are welcome in neighbourhoods right now that can make life safer for cyclists."

Image above from the City of Toronto's Richmond-Adelaide cycle track study booklet.

Overall, Vaughan says building beautiful bike infrastructure is the way to build cycling capacity in the city – and is especially important for Harbord. “You can't just roll a bike lane through one of the most important heritage communities in our city and come up with yellow plastic bollards from Home Depot and just say, 'There. It works, it's safe.'" Vaughan says Toronto should not emulate Montreal with their concrete bollards everywhere, but instead we should do what Vancouver did and design new streets that have major cycling capacity.

Photo by Yvonne Bambrick of the Hornsby bike lane in Vancouver from the dandyBLOG.

He adds, “We need to bring beauty to this debate, not just safety." Building beautiful cycling infrastructure will, in turn, garner support, he says, even from non-cyclists.

But what about those lost parking spots on Harbord? He says that they’re only losing 19 spaces, and they’re revisiting on-street parking on side streets. “On Barton we found that just by moving signs five meters here or there you can pick up the lost spots,” he says, adding that if the city can relax the configuration of parking on all the side streets, they'll be able to make up for lost parking.


The City will continue to work on refining its plans for Harbord-Hoskin, and public consultations will continue until October (with another open house planned for October, details TBA). Construction for the new separated bike lane is scheduled for the Summer of 2014.

For more information on the Harbord-Hoskin upgrade plans and contact info to give feedback to the City, see here .

For more information on the downtown bicycle lane upgrades, click here.

Related on the dandyBLOG:

The City announces plans to extend the Railpath

Councillor Pam McConnell supports BIXI expansion

Ryerson research says separated bike lanes safer

Sherbourne bike lane audit

What's it like biking on Sherbourne

Queens Quay cycling detour update

Bike Spotting on Sherbourne (pre-cycle track)

Bike Spotting on Jarvis

Face-lift for pock marked Sherbourne

There is a story by Derek Chadbourne in our current safety issue about the new Sherbourne "separated" bike lane in Toronto that focuses on the problem of parking in the bike lane - even when it's separated! Order your copy here.

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4 responses to “City plans to install bi-directional bike lane on Harbord in 2014”

  1. hamish says:

    This is a frustrating waste of staff time and effort, and momentum. Yes, separations will be/are nice; and Harbord is not perfect right now, though improved from a few years back. But the real needs are not to rework an existing bike lane, but to improve situations throughout the city, especially in the west end of the core, eg. what happens when Harbord ends? Then what?
    It’s also a bit frustrating when the writer is presented with some technical info from Velo Quebec that I think call into question the actual real potential for extra conflicts with Harbord, it’s bypassed. The main problem is that the blocks are too short: there will be multiple opportunities for conflicts/crashes between cyclists and motorists with all of the turning opportunities with the many short blocks that go all along Harbord St.
    The Velo-Quebec folks, where there have been years of experience with these types of lanes, suggest that it be limited to situations/streets where one side is clear of interrupting traffic, or one way streets, or “on two-way streets where left-hand turns are prohibited and with a limited number of intersections and driveway entrances (ideally, not more than one every 300m).” p. 81 of the 2010 Guidelines for Ped and Cycling Infrastructure book.
    So the Harbord blocks are around 75m each, or one-quarter the recommended distance.
    It’ll be unsafe, unless the traffic mazes are adjusted.
    These bi-directional lanes are thus a waste, but could be excellent perhaps if put along Dundas St. W. east side from Bloor St. up to Annette.
    I also find it both sad and curious that a proposal to re-work Bloor St. in the Annex from 1996 with a bi-directional pair of lanes didn’t go anywhere, I think from it being too risky from the collisions PofV with the short blocks, is now OK for Harbord St. 15 years later.
    There are dozens of other places that need fixing far more than Harbord does now.

  2. Natalie says:

    I have a shop on Roncy and we lost about 20 parking spots on the street after construction-hell when the sidewalks were expanded and bike lanes added.
    Guess what?
    We have MORE foot traffic and shoppers then ever. Cyclists are abundant AND they are big shoppers too. They stop frequently cause they can park anywhere. Lots of people still drive around Roncy of course and it’s a prettier street than ever.
    Losing a few parking spots actually IMPROVED things for us.

  3. scott ossington says:

    I really don’t think getting more bikes on Harbord is the problem, There is so much bike traffic the city should shut down Harbord to automobile traffic and make it bike and pedestrian only,

  4. Herb says:

    Vaughan is misleading. He’s implying that Harbord is the only project for Cycling staff. They’re working on a number of projects, including Wellesley, Richmond/Adelaide, Shaw contra-flow, Railpath extension, and who knows what else. Why doesn’t DH get a quote from Denzil in response, or at least from staff, to this one-sided response? Vaughan throws out a lot of assumptions and I’m skeptical about the history of what he claims happened.

    Hamish presents his own preferences, but in surveys of the broader public (as UBC conducted) they found that simply painting lines was not popular and still turned the majority of people off from cycling. They were especially turned off if the bike lanes were right next to parked cars. So separation and providing a buffer from parked cars is necessary to make cycling accessible and safer on major streets.

    Montreal still has their bidirectional separated lanes, such as on Rue Rachel ( They’ve even improved it with a concrete curb instead of the old metal bollards. It’s a street that crosses a number of major and minor streets – more major ones than Harbord and Hoskin. So while unidirectional separated lanes would be nicer, bidirectional still works well even on Harbord and Hoskin, and increases the accessibility and safety of cycling to a much wider audience.

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