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FORUM: Build the grid, build the vision (October 2018)

October 16th, 2018 · No Comments

City council should catch up on traffic safety

By Liz Sutherland

Do you remember the day you first rode the protected Bloor bike lanes?

For me, it was a hot day in late August — almost exactly two years ago — and I had my dog Sadie in the bike trailer. Coming from Bloordale, I experienced a close pass by a truck at Ossington Avenue and then entered the pilot area. What a difference those bollards made!

In a congested city, a protected bike lane actually moves more people than the same space dedicated to motor vehicles.

The two kilometres of protected bike lanes on Bloor Street — now permanent — were possibly the most hard-won, and certainly the most studied, bike lanes in history. Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue were identified decades ago as natural choices for bike lanes because of the high density of destinations like schools, workplaces, and shops. These vibrant streets also link diverse neighbourhoods on a direct and flat street with transit running below.

The Bloor Street campaign provides many lessons in building a big tent of supporters who are passionate about safer, more vibrant, and livable streets. We engaged a broad group of residents, business owners, schoolchildren, politicians, and organizations, in addition to cycling advocates.

The work, of course, is far from over.

We need to see these lanes extended east and west. We need to see intersection improvements to respect the memory of Dalia Chako, who was killed while riding her bike this spring at Bloor and St. George streets. And, finally, we need the permanent design to accommodate the major increases in ridership we’ve seen since the bike lanes were installed (up 56 per cent in the first year!).

But there’s no question that the Bloor Street pilot provides a model we can use elsewhere to demonstrate the health, safety, economic, and environmental benefits of cycling infrastructure — not to mention the positive impact on moving people more efficiently.

This last issue is probably the least understood aspect of installing bike lanes in busy cities. Some people worry that these lanes will make congestion worse, especially if a bike lane means removing a lane of car traffic.

What’s interesting is that the reverse is true — in a congested city, a protected bike lane actually moves more people than the same space dedicated to motor vehicles. A study from the United Kingdom found that a new protected bike lane can move five times as many people per hour as a motor vehicle lane in the most congested parts of London. We need to do a better job of explaining how bike lanes improve congestion for everyone, no matter how they get around.

The good news is that public support for protected bike lanes has grown as drivers and bike riders alike have become used to this new infrastructure. Cycle Toronto and the David Suzuki Foundation commissioned a poll last month showing that 82 per cent of Torontonians across the city support protected bike lanes, including a surprising 75 per cent of drivers.

The challenge is to help our leaders catch up with this shift in public opinion. Debates at Toronto City Council often polarize the issue unnecessarily. The result is a frustratingly cautious approach to installing bike infrastructure that fails to capture the urgency of preventing people from being killed and injured on our streets. We’re behind schedule and only two years into a 10-year bike plan. Other Canadian cities are leaving Toronto behind in the rapid build-out of their protected bike lane networks. We need to find a way to accelerate the process in Toronto so we can keep people moving — safely — and remain a world-class city.

Our polling shows two-thirds of Torontonians want a cycling grid by 2022. We are hoping that these polling numbers will help city council see that it’s time for a rapid build-out of our 2016 Bike Plan — with the main streets included — so we can enjoy the freedom we have on Bloor Street everywhere in this city.

The upcoming municipal election is a great opportunity to ask candidates about their commitment to supporting this build-out. The Bloor Street bike lanes have shown that if you build it, they will indeed bike it. Now let’s build the grid and spread the benefits.

Liz Sutherland is the interim director of advocacy and government relations at Cycle Toronto. Learn more about cycling safety as an election issue at cycleto.ca/buildthegrid and sign up for Action Alerts at cycleto.ca.

Tags: Annex · Opinion