Toronto city hall to consider bike lanes on Bay St.
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The ongoing — and highly polarized — struggle to carve out the appropriate place for cyclists on Toronto’s streets continues at city hall next week, when councillors will consider extending bike lanes on Bay St., as well as recommendations from the health board to increase cyclist safety.
After much discussion with cyclists, local residents and business owners, city staff are recommending “sharrow” markings to designate shared lanes on Bay in the Yorkville area, between Cumberland St. and about 30 metres south of Bloor St. W.
Although the proposal covers only a short stretch of road, it has been hotly contested. Staff initially recommended closing the northbound and southbound left turn lanes on Bay to accommodate bike lanes, but the public works and infrastructure committee asked them to consult with stakeholders and take a second look.
Kristyn Wong-Tam, councillor for the area, said she supports the latest recommendations, which were made after additional research and discussion to understand traffic patterns at a complicated intersection, and could be reconsidered in future.
“If it (the sharrow) is performing the way it should be performing, then we’ll leave it. If it is not performing the way we think it will perform, we’re going to have to come up with alternative proposals,” she said. “Sharrows are not bike lanes, but what we have here is a community-crafted resolution.”
But as Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto, sees it, sharrows are “just better than nothing for cyclists.”
“Sharrows don’t increase safety for cyclists because you’re not actually creating new space for them,” Kolb said. “It’s like ‘share the road’ signage. It’s nice to say but it doesn’t delineate the right of way specifically for cyclists.”
Toronto is lagging other cities in terms of providing cyclists with a network of safe routes, Kolb said, with just 112 km of the city’s 5,000 km of roads equipped with bike lanes.
However, he is more optimistic about recommendations from the public health board for improving the safety of bicycle commuters. They include advocating to Transport Canada for side guards on large trucks, possibly prohibiting bike lanes from being used as storage areas, and reviewing the city’s policies for keeping cyclists safe in construction areas.
Kolb said some of those ideas “could have long-lasting improvements for cyclists in the city.”
Health board chair Joe Mihevc said Public Health Toronto is weighing into the discussion about transportation using bikes for the first time in an effort to avoid accidents and promote active living.
“What you’re seeing here in Toronto is public health adopting a ‘healthy cities’ approach to its work,” he said. “When you have a multi-departmental push for safe, comprehensive bike lanes, then that ups the game for the city.”