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Advocates call for more urgency around bike lanes in Toronto

Mayor John Tory has showed renewed interest in the issue.

Cycle Toronto's Mark Romeril picks five bike lanes he'd like to see.

David Hains / Metro Order this photo

Cycle Toronto's Mark Romeril picks five bike lanes he'd like to see.

Cycling groups are urging Toronto to hasten the expansion of its bike-lane network, as several priority projects have been put on the backburner.

Mark Romeril, development manager of Cycle Toronto, says the organization supports the "vision and direction" of the city's 10-year bikeway network plan, which was approved by council last year. But Romeril wants to see more action now.

"The pace of the rollout has been frustratingly slow," Romeril told Metro by email.

The city originally committed to building 60 kilometres of bike lanes and bike trails this year. That has since been cut in half. Of what remains in the plan for this year, only six kilometres are bike lanes on streets.

The rollout was delayed as city staff reallocated resources. More focus was put on studies to back up the city's application for federal money tied to infrastructure projects, including bike lanes.

But Mayor John Tory has shown a renewed interest in the last few weeks. He pledged his support to connecting disjointed lanes in a sit-down meeting with Metro last month and has since met with city staff to evaluate Toronto's progress.

"We've been trying to fill in the gaps," Tory told Metro, adding that this was the advice Cycle Toronto gave him during his 2014 election campaign. "People are looking for that network of safe, sensible bike lanes."

The mayor is planning a followup meeting where staff will present maps highlighting gaps in the city's network of bike lanes. This fall will also bring the Bloor bike-lane pilot to council — and the debate over its future could be contentious.

Whatever happens, cycling advocates say there's lots more to do.

"We still don't even have a downtown minimum grid, let alone a citywide minimum grid of protected bike lanes," Romeril said, referring to the proposal to add 100 kilometres of bike lanes and another 100 kilometres of bike boulevards by the end of this council term in 2018.

Twenty-four of 44 members of council supported the minimum-grid proposal during the 2014 election campaign, but the mayor was not one of them. Instead, he consistently maintained that he supports bike lanes in "sensible locations."

For Albert Koehl, co-founder of cycling advocacy group Bells on Bloor, "sensible locations" are wherever cyclists need them for their safety.

"If we're serious about the safety of cyclists then we need to put bike lanes where they make sense for cyclists," not cars, said Koehl.

He approves of Toronto's 10-year plan but knows from experience that plans don't always come true.

"When it comes to implementation, that's where the big gap is," he said.

He points to Toronto's ambitious 10-year bikeway plan in 2001. The timeline was delayed twice before it was abandoned in 2013. Ultimately, only five per cent was implemented.

Koehl said that outcome is unacceptable for a city that claims to be committed to Vision Zero, the safe-streets philosophy that says every traffic fatality is preventable.

"If we're serious about Vision Zero, we have to make our roads safer. Bike lanes are a part of that."

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