News / Toronto

Fate of Bloor St. bike lanes hangs in balance, number of users revealed next week

City staff will reveal the results of the yearlong pilot project and if numbers don’t support it, mayor will advocate removal.

Cyclists travelling west on the Bloor St. W. bike lanes near Spadina Ave.

Torstar News Service Order this photo

Cyclists travelling west on the Bloor St. W. bike lanes near Spadina Ave.

Decision day is at hand for the Bloor St. bike lanes.

In a highly-anticipated report expected to be published next week, city staff will reveal the results of the yearlong pilot project of separated bicycle lanes on the major downtown thoroughfare.

The report to the public works committee will recommend whether to make the lanes permanent, ahead of a council vote next month that’s expected to be closer than the 38-3 decision that approved the lanes on a trial basis.

That initial May 2016 vote was one-sided in part because Mayor John Tory threw his support behind the project. But Tory was clear at the time if the pilot data didn’t support the project “then I will be advocating it be taken out.”

A spokesperson for the mayor said Tuesday that Tory remains undecided.

“From the very beginning, the mayor has made it clear he wants staff to rigorously monitor these lanes and he would wait until all the studies were complete before deciding whether to support making them permanent,” Don Peat wrote in an email.

“The mayor is going about making this decision in a responsible way.”

Whether Tory supports keeping the lanes could prove a defining moment for his mayoralty. Over nearly three years as mayor, Tory has championed progressive transportation causes like an ambitious 10-year cycling plan, and a “Vision Zero” road safety strategy aimed at eliminating bicycle and pedestrian injuries.

But he has also made campaigns to keep car traffic unencumbered a hallmark of his administration. And should he support making the Bloor lanes permanent, Doug Ford, the former suburban councillor currently considered Tory’s main rival in next year’s election, can be expected to use it as political cudgel.

Jared Kolb, executive director of advocacy group Cycle Toronto, argued that Tory can’t credibly claim to advocate for initiatives like the road safety plan if he doesn’t support keeping the Bloor lanes.

“I don’t think that a city that’s committed to Vision Zero and eliminating serious injuries and fatalities on our streets can seriously endorse and stand behind that plan if it is ripping out bike lanes,” he said.

The data released next week will include statistics on traffic flow, cycling volumes, public perception and economic impact.

Cycling advocates argue that the most important metric is whether the Bloor lanes have made the street safer.

The report will include limited information on collisions, but preliminary data the city has already released showed 85 per cent of cyclists surveyed said the lanes made them feel safer.

Data the city collected last fall weeks after the lanes were installed showed 4,500 riders used the route every day, a 36 per cent increase compared to before the lanes went in.

The bikeway caused a significant increase in travel time for drivers, however, with delays of up to eight minutes and 30 seconds in the evening rush hour. The volume of cars on Bloor decreased 22 per cent, to 20,000 per day.

The numbers in the new report are expected to be more favourable to the bike lanes. City hall insiders say cycling counts have risen since last year, and delays to drivers have been reduced thanks to signal timing and signage changes.

One obstacle to keeping the lanes could be concerns raised by some local business owners. The preliminary city data showed businesses were “roughly split” on the bike lanes, with 44 per cent in favour and 53 per cent opposed.

Barry Alper, who co-owns the Fresh restaurant chain, said revenues at his Bloor and Spadina Ave. location are down five per cent, while business at his other three locations in Toronto has increased. Other business owners told the Star they’ve seen sales decrease between 16 and 40 per cent.

“If the bike lanes stay, then we’re going to have to sit down and figure out what the future of our bakery is. And it breaks my heart,” said Suki Lee, whose family has owned the Hodo Kwaja bakery near Manning Ave. for 25 years.

Many owners say reduced parking is the problem — the city removed 166 of about 280 on-street paid parking spaces to accommodate the lanes.

But while Alper and Lee said they’d like the city to consider modifications to the bike lanes to provide easier access to drivers, both stressed that they support cycling infrastructure in the neighbourhood.

“If my choice is no bike lanes or these bike lanes I choose and support these bike lanes. No question,” Alper said.

Councillor Joe Cressy, whose ward is one of two straddled by the 2.6-kilometre project area, is a vocal supporter of the lanes, but he said he believed they could be improved by some “minor changes.”

He has proposed creating time-specific accessible parking spaces to accommodate people with mobility issues, and also suggests modifying the design to enable easier loading for businesses.

But he believes the city report will reflect that the lanes are already a success, and argued that council would be unwise to remove them.

“What I expect it will say and show is that Bloor St. is moving people more safely, and it’s moving more cyclists,” he said.

“Twenty-first century cities don’t tear out bike lanes. They build more of them.”

More on Metronews.ca