Toronto council votes to make the Bloor St. bike lanes permanent
Following a year-long pilot project and decades of advocacy by the city’s cycling community, council backs separated lanes between Shaw St. and Avenue Rd.
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The Bloor St. bike lanes are here to stay.
Following a year-long pilot project and decades of advocacy by the city’s cycling community, council voted Tuesday to make the separated lanes between Shaw St. and Avenue Rd. permanent.
The vote was 36 to 6, with Mayor John Tory voting in favour. Two of his deputy mayors, Denzil Minnan-Wong and Stephen Holyday, were opposed.
A city staff report released last month found the pilot project met its key objectives and recommended it be kept. Transportation department staff said it was the most extensive evaluation the city has ever conducted of a project of this kind.
“Our city staff have stated unequivocally that bike lanes on Bloor not only work, they worked well and should be made permanent,” Councillor Joe Cressy (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina), one of the local councillors who represents the pilot area and major supporter of the bike lanes, said before the vote.
“I cannot overstate the significance and importance of the decision we’re about to make today, because for 40 years people have been working to make bike lanes on Bloor permanent. For 40 years.”
The report determined the bike lanes, which were installed along a 2.4-kilometre stretch of Bloor last August, increased cycling rates, didn’t have an overly detrimental effect on car travel times, and had the broad support of cyclists, drivers, pedestrians, and local residents.
The report found the lanes had also improved safety and reduced risk for all road users, which was one of the “primary design objectives” of the project. Conflicts between all road users declined 44 per cent after the lanes were installed.
Councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon (Ward 32, Beaches-East York) argued the safety of riders should outweigh all other considerations. She put up photos on the overhead screen in the council chamber of three cyclists who have died this year in Toronto, including 5-year-old Xavier Morgan.
“This is one of the single most important votes you will ever make in this council chamber. Providing proper cycling infrastructure is the difference between life and death. This should be a unanimous vote,” she said.
The bike lanes are already the second-most travelled cycling facilities in the city, behind only the Richmond-Adelaide separated lanes. Roughly 5,220 riders used the Bloor lanes on an average weekday, according to city counts, which represents an increase of 56 per cent compared to before the lanes went in.
However, adjacent cycling routes on Dupont and Harbord Sts. saw declines in rider volume, which partially offset the increase on Bloor. City staff told council that when all three streets are taken into account, the Bloor lanes led to 370 additional daily cycling trips in that part of the city, or about a 3 per cent increase.
Critics of the project argued that wasn’t enough new riders to justify inconveniencing drivers. The city report determined travel times for motorists on Bloor increased by up to 4 minutes and 15 seconds, from 11 minutes and 14 seconds before the lanes went in to about 15 minutes and 30 seconds after.
“What is the cost to people that simply just want to get home after a day’s work, and need to get to work on time in the morning?” asked Councillor Holyday (Ward 3, Etobicoke Centre).
“Sometimes people need to drive. People know that there’s a cost to doing that. I just want to make sure that people’s lives remain livable.”
Local business associations supported the bike lanes and the city’s economic impact study found the project didn’t have a detrimental effect on local retailers. The report found fewer than 9 per cent of people who travel to Bloor arrive by car.
However, several councillors raised what appeared to be the concerns of a minority of merchants who have reported the lanes have hurt their bottom lines.
In a letter sent to council Monday a group called the Annex Business Bike Alliance claimed the city data was inaccurate and their sales were down as a result of the bike lanes. The group asked the city to change the bike lane design to “mitigate the disruption to our businesses and make the area safer and friendlier for everyone.”
City staff are planning to make tweaks to the bike-lane design. The public works committee voted last month to direct the city to consider modifications to improve traffic flow, pedestrian safety, and loading for local businesses.
There are tentative plans to extend the bike lanes further east on Danforth Ave. in 2019. Council is expected to consider that option in early 2018 as part of a review of the city’s 10-year cycling plan.