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NEWS: Bike lanes to extend to High Park (Sept. 2019)

October 8th, 2019 · No Comments

Annex advocacy group wants to hold city to its promise

Bike lanes have an abrupt ending at Shaw Street westbound on Bloor. JUAN ROMERO/GLEANER NEWS

By Juan Romero

The City of Toronto has approved the extension of the bike lanes on Bloor Street from Shaw Street to High Park and a local activist group is trying to make sure the project gets fulfilled.

Bells on Bloor was founded back in 2007 with the express purpose of getting bike lanes on Bloor Street. The city conducted studies in 1978, 1998, and 2008 about the construction of potential bike lanes in the city, and all three years the results were positive. Yet, nothing came of it until 2016 when they installed the pilot lane on Bloor Street.  

Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer and co-founder of Bells on Bloor. He has seen approved projects such as these get dropped along the way by the city, so he is cautiously optimistic about plans to extend the lanes. 

“We have been involved in this long enough to know that when we hear positive things from city hall, whether it is another study or another report, it doesn’t necessarily translate into a bike lane,” says Koehl. “So we are not celebrating yet, what we are is optimistic that things are moving in the right direction.” 

Bells on Bloor has collaborated with Cycle Toronto’s Robert Zaichkowski and the local Cycle Toronto ward group on a letter with more than 110 signatures, including 65 from Bloor Street store fronts, assuring the city that businesses along Bloor are in favour of bike lanes. 

“Our objective with the letter was to pre-empt the usual, tired narrative that businesses don’t want bike lanes,” Koehl said. “We were quite happy with the reception that we got.” 

Members of the groups went to door to door to speak to every business owner to see if they supported the extension. 

The group has made various arguments as to why the bike lane extension is important. 

“The immediate extension is very important because now what we have is a bike lane stub. It basically goes from Avenue Road with no eastward connection and it goes to Shaw with no westward connection. We know that the current bike lane has been hugely successful, even that short 2.4 km stretch, but we want to increase the success, and that means allowing more people to have access to that route safely,” Koehl said. 

Among other reasons, Koehl says that building a bike lane on Bloor that goes east to west could serve as the potential “spine” for a bike lane network all across the city. It also would serve as an alternative to the subway, as there is no street car service on Bloor Street.  

Despite the wide support from most people in the area, some business owners think it might not be too beneficial to the way they run their businesses. Dominic Pietropaolo is the co-owner of Strictly Bulk, located near the intersection of Bloor Street West and Ossington Avenue. He says he is not in favour of the extension because it will affect his deliveries. 

“I have no problem with bike lanes, but in my case as you can see it is going to affect my deliveries. If they build bike lanes there won’t be any room for the trucks to park,” says Pietropaolo. “Other businesses on Bloor have alternative routes and alleys but here we don’t. So unless the city can do something about my case, I won’t be in favour.” 

Pietropaolo gets deliveries to his store every day of the week except Monday, and he says dealing with them is a big part of his job. From the perspective of sales, he admits that the bike lanes might actually be beneficial. 

Bloor Street businesses located on the current bike lane seem to indicate that lanes are not affecting business sales for the most part. Ward 11 councillor Mike Layton said that according to current research, the bike lane extension should be a good addition. 

“We researched by using debit card usage information from businesses in the area and it suggested that the pilot area actually performed quite well,” says Layton. “So with all those considerations I don’t think there is much data that would suggest that an extension is not a good idea.” 

Bells on Bloor is pushing for the construction of the extension to go ahead prior to the next municipal election cycle. The city has actually announced that it may be done by as early as next summer. Koehl, however, says he’s waiting for the approval and installation of the lanes before he starts celebrating.

“We won’t be celebrating until there is a bike lane on Bloor Street. The city is saying we could have the bike lane as early as next summer, but that could also mean as late as the end of 2021,” says Koehl. “Once you get into another election cycle these things often go echoing in different directions. So our objective right now is to keep pushing very hard.”

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