Toronto has a revamped bike network plan hailed by cycling advocates as progress toward new bike lanes on Bloor St. W., Danforth Ave. and potentially University Ave.
The shift from a 10-year plan with missed milestones to a short-term, more focused blueprint got support from councillors outside the core, including Frances Nunziata pushing for protected bike lanes on Scarlett Rd. and other sites in her York South-Weston ward.
“I feel that dedicated bike lanes are a lot safer for motorists, pedestrians and cyclists,” Nunziata told colleagues Wednesday during lengthy debate that saw plans for several new lanes included in the plan but also a failed attempt to reinstall protected lanes on Jarvis St.
“We hope that this is a recalibration that gives greater direction for the next couple of years, as well as some aspirational goals around longer term projects,” said Mike Layton (Ward 11, University-Rosedale), council’s most vocal cycling advocate, after votes to add at least 120 kilometres of bike lanes over the next three years.
“Most of votes, there were very few people left on the outside saying, ‘I don’t want bike lanes on major roads,’” he said. “It was pleasantly surprising that so many councillors, and not just from downtown, support the expansion of off-street and on-road biking facilities, and spending money on them.”
Jared Kolb, executive director of advocacy group Cycle Toronto, called the votes “a major milestone in resetting the Toronto cycling network plan.”
That plan includes: extending Bloor St.’s protected bike lanes from Shaw St. to High Park as early as next summer; testing lanes as pilot projects on Danforth Ave. in the Broadview Ave.-Dawes Rd. corridor; and considering bike lanes during planning for a “complete streets” remake of wide and busy University Ave.
Bike traffic on the 10 busiest cycling routes will be tallied and made public by devices one councillor dubbed “Tory tally towers” after Mayor John Tory proposed the data collection.
Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam surprised many colleagues with a bid to reinstall Jarvis St. bike lanes painted over in 2012 at the urging of then-mayor Rob Ford and a cost of more than $250,000, including reinstallation of a reversible centre lane for vehicles.
Wong-Tam called that removal “one of the worst policy pieces of the Rob Ford legacy” and said Jarvis, busy with drivers commuting from Rosedale and beyond, needs bike lanes to slow traffic, increase safety and prioritize the needs of local residents.
Tory and council allies including Deputy Mayor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who as Ford’s public works chair oversaw removal of the Jarvis lanes and installation of a protected lane on nearby Sherbourne Ave., together doomed Wong-Tam’s motion, which failed on a 10-16 vote.
“Killed the Jarvis Street bike lanes, again!” Minnan-Wong (Ward 16, Don Valley East) crowed on Twitter after the vote. Wong-Tam (Ward 13, Toronto Centre) fired back that collisions on Jarvis increased after the bike lane removal and “no one should boast about putting people in danger.”
Minnan-Wong lost his own battle to get city staff to track bike usage of streets considered for bike lanes and consider those totals when deciding to proceed. Some colleagues ridiculed the notion, pointing to an explosion of riders on Richmond and Adelaide Sts. after protected lanes went in.
“You wouldn’t determine if a bridge was needed by counting the number of people swimming across a river,” Jacquelyn Hayward, the city’s director of transportation project design and management, told council.
In adopting the new plan, council acknowledged the original ambitious long-term plan failed.
In June 2016, council approved a 10-year cycling plan with $16 million in annual funding. It included a detailed year-by-year schedule and budget for study and implementation of proposed bike lanes, cycle tracks and trails.
Since then just 33 kilometres of the 560 kilometres of painted and protected bike lanes envisioned in the original plan have been built. The Star has also previously reported the city underspent the annual budget for the plan in both 2017 and 2018.
City staff blamed the slow progress on the time required to design new lanes, get council approval and install them, co-ordinated with other city work to minimize disruption for road users.
With files from Ben Spurr
David Rider is the Star’s City Hall bureau chief and a reporter covering Toronto politics. Follow him on Twitter: @dmrider