Bloor Street Bike Lane Update
Is there reason for (cautious) optimism?
by Albert Koehl
The fight for a bike lane across Bloor St. will—if all goes well—achieve another significant milestone by next summer when the existing bike lane is to be extended from Shaw St. to High Park (and perhaps beyond). There are at least some reasons for optimism, although the last half century of experience provides more than enough reason to leave nothing to chance.
Currently, there are bike lanes on two segments of Bloor St. The first, installed in 1991, runs 1.6 km from Broadview Ave. westward across the Bloor Viaduct to Sherbourne St.; and the second, installed in 2016, runs 2.4 km between Avenue Rd. and Shaw St. (A third 500m addition at the Six Points interchange in Etobicoke is also underway.) The planned extension from Shaw to High Park would cover another 3.5 km of Bloor - or 4.5 km if it reaches all the way to Runnymede, which is an option that City staff is currently exploring.
There are good reasons to believe that the Bloor bike lane will actually be extended to High Park. The July 2019 update for the watered-down Bike Plan included the extension to High Park with an anticipated installation date as early as the summer of 2020 – a timeline that is supported by all three local councillors. City staff have already begun consultations with local business owners to address issues such as loading zones, while a consultant has been hired to do the design work. In addition, the new manager of the cycling unit, Becky Katz (most recently from Atlanta, Georgia) appears to be keen to get this project done. Her enthusiasm is shared by the local community, including over 85 local enterprises in the subject area who have already signed a letter of support.
It is, however, important to remember that the extension must first go back to city council for approval. This is no small detail, especially among city leaders who still value the approximately 20,000 motorists passing along Bloor through the area during the course of a day over everyone else. It’s worth noting that 20,000 transit users in the same area pass underneath Bloor in a single hour in the morning while many pedestrians and cyclists (quietly) do the same on the surface. It’s also worth remembering that the corridor study for Bloor that was to have been completed by 2018, was never even started – a failure that was never explained.
If the bike lane from Shaw to High Park is actually installed, the city would suddenly have the most significant piece of cycling infrastructure in its history – while marking another step forward in cyclists’ epic quest for a safe east-west bikeway across the city. The bike lane from Broadview to High Park would cover 9 km of Bloor on one of the busiest cycling routes in the city -- 10 km if the section to Runnymede is also installed. The only interruption in such a continuous route (leaving aside the sharrows in Yorkville) would be the 550-metre gap from Sherbourne to Church.
The official reason that the gap can’t be closed ASAP is that the simple painting of a bike lane must be coordinated with major road re-construction work slated for 2022 (already five years behind schedule assuming it isn’t delayed yet again). The result would be to have an impressive 9-km bike lane that is undermined by a small gap creating the very “isolated and disconnected islands” that characterize Toronto’s safe bike routes, as recently documented in a U of T study. Toronto’s investment in Bloor would be akin to someone who invests in the building of a beautiful house to which the only access is a rickety ladder.
The Bloor bike lane would become even more significant if Danforth Ave. finally gets a bike lane. Unfortunately, small-minded thinking among some local stakeholders — instead of the width of the road — has long been an impediment to progress. Here too there are, however, reasons for optimism including a successful pop-up bike lane a few months ago by 8-80 Cities, an approved, upcoming study by the city, and an infusion of energy to the project from one of the local councillors, Brad Bradford.
In short, with the bike lane plans for Bloor and the studies slated for Danforth Ave., there is reason for optimism that the forever-studied, never-implemented Bloor-Danforth bike lane may soon become a reality, or at least move forward. As always, the cycling community must keep up pressure on City Hall to ensure plans become action.
Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer and founder of Bells on Bloor.
Check out the MASSIVE community support expressed for the Bloor bike lane expansion in this video that includes lots of interviews with locals and local business owners in Bloordale: