After 40 years, is Toronto ready for bike lanes on Bloor Street?
"A successful Bloor bike lane pilot will demonstrate that Toronto is ready to move into 21st century transportation," said Coun. Joe Cressy.
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A growing chorus of planners, transit experts, cyclists and business owners in Toronto are dinging their bells in unison to demand bike lanes on Bloor Street.
On Monday, the city’s public works and infrastructure committee will debate whether to install separated cycle tracks on Bloor between Shaw Street and Avenue Road as part of a one-year, $595,000 pilot project.
The plan goes to council May 2, and committee support could ensure it becomes a reality.
“It all just makes sense, but the most important reason is safety,” said Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation.
More than 3,000 cyclists pedal along the busy Bloor Street stretch daily, “but the current situation is just not safe enough,” Smith Lea said, noting high rates of doorings and other collisions.
“We know from experience that bike lanes make it safer,” said Coun. Joe Cressy, one of the lanes’ biggest boosters.
Cressy’s council neighbour, Ward 20’s Mike Layton, believes adding bike lanes to Bloor could turn the street into a “dynamic” commercial and cultural hub.
“Cities all around us are moving towards pedestrian and cycling models on marquee streets. Bloor is that street in Toronto,” he said.
The plan would see 135 on-street parking spots removed from Bloor, meaning a divisive debate can be expected at both committee and council. However, Bells on Bloor co-founder Albert Koehl urged politicians to consider more than just how the bike lanes will impact drivers.
“What about the savings in our healthcare system from not having to treat cyclists who were hit on Bloor? What about the benefits of exercise and cleaner air?” he said. “These things need to be considered, not just whether it will take someone an extra 60 seconds to drive through the area.”
The idea of bike lanes on Bloor has been floated before, but concerns about the loss of parking and the impact on local business put the brakes on the project.
This time, however, bike advocates say the gears have shifted.
“Never before have we had so many people – and not just the usual suspects – take up the cause,” said Cycle Toronto director Jared Kolb. “We’ve got strong political leadership locally, strong business support, residents and residents’ associations and a growing amount of data that backs up the argument in an unbiased, scientific way.”
Kolb pointed to a study showing only 10 per cent of shoppers along the affected stretch of Bloor Street arrived by car. Those who arrived on two wheels were also shown to shop more often and spend more on average.
“The reality is that cyclists and pedestrians are those businesses’ best customers,” said Smith Lea.
Matthew Languay, founder of the Basecamp climbing gym on Bloor, agrees.
"I was outside yesterday looking at all the cars struck in traffic and each one had only one person in it," he said. "When you take the space of one car and reduce it to the size of a bicycle, it's easy to see how many more people will be able to flow through Bloor.
"I'm absolutely confident this will be a net gain for our business."
40 years of bike lanes on Bloor
The Bloor bike lane debate has been four decades in the making. Here are some key moments in the discussion:
1976: The earliest reference to bike lanes on Bloor Street dates back to 1976, when city officials recommended studying the idea. The report concluded Bloor was an ideal location, but concerns about the loss of vehicle parking sidelined the proposal. The bike lanes were shunted south to Harbord Street instead.
1992: A consultant’s report once again identified Bloor Street as an ideal east-west bike route, saying it “could become a spine for Toronto’s cycling network.” The report suggested cycle lanes could be added to Bloor “from city limit to city limit” by 1993.
2001: The city releases “Shifting Gears,” its official bike plan. It envisions 495 kilometres of on-street bike lanes (only 17 per cent of which get built), but Bloor is not included.
2005: The Take the Tooker group – named for the late cycling advocate Tooker Gomber – is formed and begins agitating for bike lanes on Bloor. They even roll out a mock bike lane on the street during a demonstration.
2007: The inaugural Bells on Bloor ride takes place, drawing about 500 cyclists. Subsequent rides attract over 2,000 cyclists.
2009: A study by the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation finds only 10 per cent of shoppers in the Bloor-Annex area arrived by car.
2011: The Annex Residents’ Association endorses bike lanes on Bloor. Three years later, the ARA proposes the lanes be run as a pilot project “that even ardent cycling opponents would be hard-pressed to question.”
2012: A Toronto Public Health survey finds bike lanes on Bloor is the number one active transit priority for residents in the Annex.
2013: City council votes to conduct an environmental assessment of Bloor Street bike lanes. The assessment stalls, but is eventually deemed unnecessary to proceed.
2016: If approved by council, the bike lanes will be installed over the summer.
Bloor bike lanes by the numbers
5: Kilometres total running on both the north and south sides of Bloor St. from Shaw St. to Avenue Rd., separated by flexible posts
$500,000: Cost to install the lanes for the pilot project
$95,000: Cost to the city to maintain the new bike lanes
1: Lane of car traffic in each direction, plus dedicated turn lanes at “key” intersections
135: The number of on-street parking spots for cars that would be removed of the total 280 currently available
$840,000: Estimate of parking revenue lost from removing on-street parking
96: Per cent of cyclists surveyed by the city who support the pilot project
46: Per cent of motorists and business owners surveyed who support the pilot
With files from Torstar News Service