.Corp Comm Connects

Toronto cycling advocates worry bike-lane progress has stalled on Bloor St.

June 4, 2018
Gilbert Ngabo

Like many cyclists in Toronto, Albert Koehl was beaming with pride and optimism last fall when city council voted to make the Bloor St. bike lanes permanent.

The 2.4-kilometre stretch between Avenue Rd. and Shaw St. was a year-long pilot to study the effectiveness of separated bike lanes in improving the safety of all road users. The project was among the first pieces of the city’s 10-year bike plan launched in 2016 to complete a cycling network, which included bold promises to build 525 km of bike lanes, cycle tracks and sidewalk-level boulevard trails by 2025.

But Koehl’s hopes have quickly waned. Now he’s concerned the city will not meet the promised goal, just as it is on track to exceed road deaths recorded in 2016 and 2013, the two worst years on record.

Two cyclists and 16 pedestrians have already been killed on Toronto streets this year, according to Toronto Police.

“Now nothing is happening. Those plans are just stalled,” said Koehl, the co-founder of cycling advocacy group Bells On Bloor, noting it’s “shocking” how little has been done and how little is planned for this year in terms of increasing cycling infrastructure.

“We’ve seen this before, unfortunately,” he said, adding the city has a history of promising big achievements only to come up short. In the 2001 bike plan, Toronto promised 495 km of on-road bike lanes, but only 114 km were built by 2014.

Lack of proper cycling infrastructure is a contributing factor to reduced road safety, and Toronto is “doing miserably” on that front, Koehl said.

“There are also many serious injuries, lifetime injuries and near misses that are ignored,” he said, noting only cases in which someone dies normally make the news.

“Cycling infrastructure is a key part of Vision Zero, and yet very little is happening.”

Koehl said there had been hope the success of the Bloor project would lead to similar projects in other areas, including an extension of the Bloor lane farther east on Danforth Ave. But cycling advocates have been told by city staff there is no follow-up action planned for this route, and any new updates will be announced after the upcoming Oct. 2018 municipal elections, he said.

“So why do a pilot if you’re not going to learn from it?” he said. “They’re just deferring it beyond the election so no one has to take any heat for it. That’s a big problem.”

In an email, the city’s manager of cycling infrastructure, Shawn Dillion, said the city has been “actively” upgrading the cycling network since launching the 10-year plan. So far there have been approximately 20 km of new infrastructure installed, and another 19 km of existing infrastructure upgraded to improve safety and quality, such as adding markings on routes, Dillion said.

Significant projects planned for this year include building cycling connections in the Downsview and York University area, Flemingdon Park and Thorncliffe Park, as well as cycle tracks in the Woodbine neighbourhood, among others.

“We have enough budget to execute our plans,” Dillion wrote. The city has earmarked $8.1 million for cycling infrastructure in 2018, and both provincial and federal governments have chipped in with a total of $66.6 million for public transit infrastructure until 2020, he added.

Koehl called the current pace at which cycling infrastructure is being built “abysmal.” If the city implements its plan this year, at least 27 km of bike infrastructure will be completed by end of 2018.

“This plan is going to fail unless drastic changes are made,” Koehl said.

Cycle Toronto’s director of advocacy Liz Sutherland said there’s a need to accelerate implementation programs on the 10-year plan, starting with extending bike lanes on Bloor and Danforth -- which together make up one of the city’s busiest cycling routes.

As the municipal election nears, she’s hopeful candidates will make increasing cycling infrastructure one of the key priorities.

“We do have a tendency in Toronto to need to study these things to death, when we know from other cities that protected bike lanes makes travelling safer for everyone,” she said. “It’s really a no-brainer.”

Toronto’s deadly streets

- In March, a male cyclist in his 60s died after colliding with a delivery van in North York. The collision happened at the intersection of Laurentide Dr. and Minorca Pl. There are no bike lanes on either routes, but Laurentide Dr. is part of the Quiet Street Routes network of streets recommended for cycling in the city’s 10-year bike plan.

- Last month, 54-year-old cyclist Douglas Crosbie was killed at the intersection of Dundas St. E. and Jones Ave. when a truck driver making a right turn struck him. Both Dundas and Jones have marked bike lanes, but advocates and local city councillor Paula Fletcher have been calling for cycling infrastructure improvements in the area to increase road safety. In a news statement announcing June as Bike Month, the city said there are plans to repaint and improve cycling routes in various areas, including the Dundas and Jones intersection.