News / Toronto

Toronto falls behind other cities on bike lanes

New York cycling advocates say their city has made great strides over the past decade and is worth emulating.

Cyclists ride in a downtown bike lane protected by flower pots.

Eduardo Lima / Metro Order this photo

Cyclists ride in a downtown bike lane protected by flower pots.

Toronto is being left in the dust as North American cities expand their bike-lane networks.

"We've failed to deliver as a city," said Jared Kolb, the executive director of advocacy group Cycle Toronto. Council passed a 10-year bikeway plan last year, but progress is slow. "We consult things to death. We just need to build it."

The city has invested in its system of trails, but cyclists are frustrated by the sluggish growth of on-street bike lanes. Kolb was disappointed to see city council vote in 2016 to defer a number of bike lanes on major corridors until after the 2018 election.

While the city plans to install 31 kilometres of bike lanes in 2017, that's half of what was originally planned. Most of that infrastructure is in the form of trails or sharrows; only 8.7 km are on-street bike lanes. That includes the 3.6-km Woodbine Avenue bike lanes, now scheduled to be installed in late August. Those lanes are a month late, due to delays in the city tendering process, and will be installed almost a year after council approved the project.

Other cities are moving much faster. Including trails, Austin, Texas — which has about a third of Toronto's population — installed 46 km of bike lanes in 2016.

San Francisco, Calif. — which is around the same size as Austin — will install 22.5 km of bike lanes in 2017.

New York City — about three times the size of Toronto — installed 120 km of on-street bike lanes in 2016, including 29 km of protected lanes. Toronto only has a total of 20 km of protected lanes and around 250 km of overall on-street bike lanes.

New York cycling advocates say their city has made great strides over the past decade and is worth emulating.

"The city has made a tremendous investment in the bikeway network," says Caroline Samponaro, deputy director of New York-based Transportation Alternatives.

Samponaro explains that the data-driven former mayor Michael Bloomberg saw the value of bikes as an affordable and effective way for cities to improve transportation and meet environmental goals.

Former N.Y.C. transportation guru Janette Sadik-Khan was empowered to make quick changes to the city's cycling network. Through grassroots activism and political leadership, it got done.

From 2006 to 2016, New York City built 615 km of bike lanes. Over the same time period, ridership increased by 150 per cent while total cyclist fatalities per year decreased, according to a report released last week.

Samponaro said one of the most basic arguments was one of the most effective.

"It's not an amenity. This is a matter of basic safety," she said, adding that current New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio's commitment to achieving zero pedestrian or cyclist fatalities has seen the city renew its efforts.

Still, Shawn Dillon, Toronto's acting manager for cycling infrastructure programs, says local cyclists should be optimistic.

"We're thrilled with the unprecedented levels of support," he said, referring to funding from all three orders of government.

As for the on-street bike lanes, he said: "They're coming."

More on Metronews.ca