News / Toronto

Ontario commits $25 million for cycling lanes

Ontario Transportation Minister Glen Murray has announced $25 million for cycling facilities on provincial highways and municipal roads over the next three years in an effort to make Ontario Canada’s premier cycling province.

The money, the first that has been specifically set aside for biking in the provincial budget, will be for quick wins and pilot projects.

But it’s a new policy to incorporate cycling in every provincial highway and bridge project that some bike advocates are calling a game-changer.

It means cycling will be automatically incorporated into road works, Murray said Monday at the Ontario Bike Summit.

“The experience of jurisdictions where they do that is it actually doesn’t cost you any more because… you basically integrate it. You can see it on Highway 7 in Toronto: You’ll see the Viva (bus) lines, you’ll see a sidewalk and you’ll see a roadway with several lanes on it and you’ll see a cycling trail. From now on, we’ll just simply build it in like we build sidewalks unless there’s a cost reason,” he said.

The exception will be where it doesn’t make sense, such as in Brampton, where there are sidewalks along highways that aren’t being used. Those are being re-purposed as active transportation corridors.

“There’s roadways that when they’re upgraded, there will be paved shoulders on them. For the safety of cyclists across the province it’s an entirely different game,” said Jared Kolb of Cycling Toronto.

While it won’t have as big an impact on Toronto, in places like Milton and Ajax, “it’s a total game-changer,” he said.

Cyclists have been asking for the $25 million since 2008, said Eleanor McMahon, founder of the Share the Road cyling coalition.

“Cycling infrastructure is quantum leaps cheaper than most,” she said.

“It’s about nine to one when you look at making an investment in cycling infrastructure and the investments that accrue as a result,” said MaMahon.

But Toronto won’t be left off the map, said the chair of the city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee.

“Toronto is going to fight for its fair share of the $25 million,” said Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who told the bike conference that the city is working on a new cycling plan that will be announced next year.

“There will never be enough money to spend on cycling infrastructure. There’s a huge demand, not just on roads but on trails,” he said, adding that the public wants to see those facilities built faster.

The public, he said, doesn’t understand the “convoluted” environmental assessment process that means it can take four or five years to realize a project.

This summer the city will begin piloting uni-directional bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide Streets – a project that was conceived in 2011, according to Minnan-Wong. Flowing bike traffic in one direction means there’s no cost for signal lights.

“I’ve been very frustrated we haven’t been able to complete this project faster,” he said.

“Putting in a separated bike lane is a really challenging thing to do. The number of people you have to consult is phenomenal,” he told the cycling conference.

Families with children love separated cycling lanes, said Minnan-Wong. But the “road warriors” who want to peel down the street don’t want them.

While the bike trails that Minnan-Wong touted at the conference are great, Kolb said the city needs to get back to building on-street bike lanes that have been neglected during the current term of council.

“We’ve removed bike lanes on Pharmacy Rd., Birchmount, Jarvis etc. Last year we only added 2 kilometres of on-street bikeways. We’ve got to do a lot more for existing cyclists to improve the safety for them and improve those connections,” he said.