Pretty much every cyclist agrees Toronto needs more bike lanes. The question is: Where should we put them?
Few cyclists would dispute the claim that Toronto needs more bike lanes. In 2012, we saw a net gain of exactly zero kilometres of new bike lanes, thanks to the removal of the Jarvis lane and the introduction of the separated Sherbourne lane. We are lagging far behind scheduled progress outlined in the City of Toronto’s Official Bike Plan (PDF), which called for 495 km of bike lanes by 2012. Instead, we have only 111.6 km of existing lanes since the plan’s 2001 approval. Clearly, there’s still a lot of work to do, and it doesn’t help that our mayor isn’t exactly bike-friendly.
“My philosophy with cycling lanes is that you need good main routes and, when you get off those main routes, typically you’ll be part of the normal traffic flow,” says Jennifer Keesmaat, chief planner for the City of Toronto. “But if you can integrate cycling infrastructure on those big main streets where you’d have significant amounts of traffic, then you can begin to create the infrastructure that allows people to commute, as opposed to just doing little neighbourhood jaunts.”
While we need small connector lanes to link the major arteries together, we must build a network with a strong skeleton before adding the fine sinews. “The closer you get to heart of the city, the more critical mass you have on those lanes,” says Keesmaat. “It’s like a funnel. You have more density, more activity. So building up the funnel first should be a big priority.”
With this in mind, the burning question is: What streets are the most in need of bike lanes? I surveyed local cycling experts for their wish lists and, though there are many side streets that would make good connectors between the main arteries, for the purposes of this article I had respondents stick with major routes to cover as much of the city as possible. Here are the top 10 suggestions compiled from their answers:
10. Royal York Road, from Dixon to the waterfront*
“Royal York basically runs from Dixon right down to the waterfront,” says Keesmaat. “Part of Royal York already has [bike lanes], but you could continue them from Bloor Street northwards.” Keesmaat adds that this plan could be combined with an extension of the Queensway bike lane to service cyclists in that end of the city.
9. Pharmacy Avenue and Birchmount Road, from Eglinton Avenue to Danforth Avenue
If anyone can name what streets in the east end need bike lanes, Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Ward 38, Scarborough Centre) is the guy to ask. He rides his bike downtown every day from his Scarborough home, weather permitting.
“[The City] took out the bike lanes on Birchmount and Pharmacy, and that’s where they should have been,” says De Baeremaeker. “On Birchmount and Pharmacy, you weren’t hurting drivers that much. A few [drivers] were shocked that there weren’t two [bike] lanes [on Birchmount and Pharmacy]; there was only one [bike] lane [on each street]. But once they got over the shock, they sort of went, ‘Oh, okay, I can still go shopping—I can still go wherever I want.’ [Their implementation] was just a small change, but for the cyclists it made a world of difference.”
8. Lansdowne Avenue, from Dupont Street to Queen Street
“There’s a real gap in the network right there,” says Jared Kolb, director of membership outreach for Cycle Toronto. “Folks that are coming from the west end and trying to connect to the core come in on Annette. They come to Dupont. The Dupont bike lane ends at Lansdowne, and they have nowhere to go. The Lansdowne bike lane was approved, so let’s get that installed.”
Dan Egan, the City’s manager of cycling infrastructure, confirms that a Lansdowne bike lane is in the works. “That’ll be part of the Dupont [environmental assessment],” he says. “We’ll take a look at whether or not it makes sense to go down Lansdowne or continue on Dupont. That whole part of the city is a challenge because of the railway crossings.”
7. Woodbine-O’Connor, from Kingston Road to Eglinton Avenue
“That could be a great route to connect Scarborough to the core,” says Kolb. “There is already some infrastructure. There are some lanes that have already been painted, and it’s just a matter of connecting that.”
De Baeremaeker adds, “It’s relatively close to downtown Toronto, so it would be a good feeder for people from the suburbs. If we can get a bike lane to Woodbine, and Birchmount, and Pharmacy, people will come out of their homes, come out of their shells, and bike all over the place.”
6. Wellesley-Harbord-Hoskin corridor, from Parliament Street to Ossington Avenue
This stretch already has a bike lane, but it could be better. “I think separated bike lanes for Harbord is a pretty obvious direction to go in,” says Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina). “It doesn’t have a streetcar on it, which is good. It doesn’t have, at least in some sections, as many businesses on it, so the parking demands are less.”
According to Egan, a cycle track will be coming to the corridor over the next two years. “We’ll see Parliament to Yonge in 2013. Yonge to Queens Park Crescent, [which] is being reconstructed in 2014, comes as part of that reconstruction. The Harbord-Hoskin piece from Queen’s Park to Ossington will come in 2014 as well.”
5. Dupont Street, from Dundas West to Yonge Street (via Davenport Road)
Robert Bateman, owner of Bateman’s Bicycle Company, knows this is a prime east-west connector frequented by many cyclists. “It’s a new development spot—and a terrible spot to bike,” he says. “It’s a good connector, because you can come all the way from the west and zip over to Yonge, so that stretch of Dupont is key.”
Egan indicates that such a lane could be coming. “We’ve committed to doing an environmental assessment with the Dupont bike lane, how it interacts with the Dundas intersection, and how we can take it further east. But that’s something we’ll look at later this year. It’ll be more of a 2014-2015 project.”
4. University-Avenue corridor, from Eglinton Avenue to Front Street
Keesmaat gave this one high priority. “There’s a gap in the existing infrastructure downtown right now. If that infrastructure could go straight up University, straight up Avenue Road, you could go right up to Eglinton almost,” she says. “In the core of the city, University would be a really important north-south connector that would allow people from adjacent neighbourhoods to cycle over and go down that corridor.”
Layton emphatically agrees. “I’m a huge fan of University. It’s got to fit one bike lane at least. It’s a good one that’s been discussed in the past, and one that we should follow up with. It would be a great north-south route. I don’t think it would have huge impacts on traffic.”
3. Eglinton Avenue, from Black Creek Drive to Kingston Road
“There are lots of cyclists in midtown and it’s a key piece for connectivity,” says Kolb. “It’ll get more people riding bikes as well. Give people a good option, and people will choose cycling over other modes of transit.”
Egan also recognizes the importance of an Eglinton lane. “We have bike lanes approved on Eglinton all the way to Scarborough as part of the LRT project. But where the LRT goes underground at Laird all the way over to Black Creek, we need to find a way to connect cyclists in that section. It’d be a pretty good midtown connection for cyclists.”
Adds Keesmaat, “What I love about Eglinton is, if you look at the city geographically in the middle, it runs almost the length of the city. It runs for 17 km, so I think it’s a pretty good fit.”
2. Richmond and Adelaide, from Sherbourne Street to Bathurst Street
At the start of the year, the City announced an environmental assessment on Richmond and Adelaide—a study that city council decided to pursue over a year ago.
“The environmental assessment is underway now, and that’s critically important because there’s really nothing south of Shuter that connects through there,” says Egan.
Kolb agrees: “Richmond and Adelaide were identified in the Bike Plan back in 2001, and that’s a clear winner in terms of promoting connectivity.”
1. Bloor-Danforth, from High Park Avenue to Woodbine Avenue
“There’s been a lot of controversy for many years over Bloor Street,” Keesmaat says. “Bloor Street’s another one that runs the length of the city. If there was a way to accommodate [the bike lanes], that would be great. The challenge is: How do you do that?”
“Let’s make it happen,” says Kolb. “Bloor-Danforth is probably the dream of a lot of cyclists. It’s perfectly suited. There are no streetcar tracks. It connects the west end of the city to downtown, through the east end, and beyond. That’s a great candidate for bike lanes.”
Egan also sees the necessity of a Bloor-Danforth lane. “It’s a logical one. It doesn’t have any surface transit, just a subway underneath. It’s very heavily used. It’s one of the few streets that crosses the city in a straight line, more or less. It has a lot of flat surfaces, a lot of destinations. That should be high priority.”
CORRECTION, FEBRUARY 5, 2013: The original version of this article includes incorrect directional information about the proposed Royal York bike lanes. The lanes discussed would extend northward from Bloor.
Where would you like to see bike lanes in Toronto? Tell us in the comments section below.