This I didn't expect. The Ford administration is proposing physically separate bike lanes downtown, including a new one along Richmond...
Separate bike lanes headed downtown
Urban Affairs Reporter
Mayor Rob Ford may not come off as a friend of the cycling community, but it will likely be on his watch that Toronto’s first protected bike lanes get built on city streets.
Ford’s team has voiced “no opposition” to a comprehensive plan put forward by the newly minted public works and infrastructure committee chair, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, which would see an connected network of curbed cycling routes along busy roads such as Sherbourne, Wellesley and Richmond Sts.
“I think there’s a misconception that Mayor Ford has an opposition to bike lanes. He wants to create bike safety. He wants it where it makes sense,” said Minnan-Wong, adding that both the cycling community and local community groups support the plan.
“This shouldn’t be about ideology. It’s about making a pragmatic choice and recognizing that cyclists need solutions and those solutions don’t have to conflict with cars.”
The separated lanes will affect parking in some areas, but cars could be accommodated by constructing the bike route next to the sidewalk. Cars would be able to park next to the curbed bike lane, adding yet another layer of safety.
Minnan-Wong’s plan has two major north-south and east-west routes, and extends to the lake at Queens Quay. Smaller roads such as St. George, John and Beverley Sts. would be used to provide a seamless network.
Most of the streets affected already have bike lanes, with some minor additions needed to connect the existing patchwork. The one big exception is Richmond.
A two-way bike lane would need to be constructed along that one-way street, which would likely mean removing one of its four lanes, Minnan-Wong said. Not ideal, but necessary to connect the network.
It’s a perhaps ironic twist that Ford — who once argued to council that “roads are built for buses, cars and trucks” — and his administration are pressing forward with not just bike lanes, but protected ones, in the core.
When the then front-running candidate released his transportation plan in September, it was with a vow to end Toronto’s “war on cars.”
The plan concentrated on freeing up roads for drivers by scrapping cumbersome streetcars in favour of subways, and building 100 kilometres of off-road bike trails at a cost of $50 million. Some $5 million would be put toward on-road routes in areas where traffic would not be affected.
Bike lanes, specifically whether they belonged on downtown arterial roads, became the first major election issue. Controversial plans to replace one of Jarvis St.’s five lanes with a cycling path, as well as a proposed pilot project that would have put a divided, European-style lane along University Ave. hijacked the debate.
Conservative candidates such as Ford, Rocco Rossi and Giorgio Mammoliti argued the routes would worsen gridlock. The lone left-winger, then deputy mayor Joe Pantalone, countered that cyclists and cars must share city streets.
The battle over bike lanes was perhaps the first indicator of quiet culture war simmering across the city. The issue pitted left against right and the downtown against the inner suburbs, a theme that would continue throughout the long campaign.
The bike-car fight was further stoked at Ford’s inauguration, when his guest speaker, Don Cherry, opened his remarks with: “I’m wearing pinko for all the pinkos out there that ride bicycles and everything.”
Ford’s critics have since taken to wearing “Bike Riding Pinko” pins.
But Andrea Garcia, director of advocacy and operations with the Toronto Cyclists Union, thinks the supposed divide between cyclists and drivers has been overblown.
“I think a lot of drivers ride bikes and a lot of people who ride bikes drive cars. We’re all citizens of the same city and people choose to get around differently on one day versus another day,” she said.
The cycling union is one of several groups, including the University of Toronto Graduate Students Association, the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association, the York Quay Neighbourhood Association, and the Toronto Island Community Association that have signed a petition in favour of Minnan-Wong’s proposal.
Cycling advocate Alan Heisey brought a petition with about 300 signatures to the public works committee in August, along with a proposal virtually identical to the one put forward by the new chair.
Minnan-Wong said staff will still need to determine the financial impact, but added “putting in curbs and getting out a bucket of paint doesn’t cost a lot of money.” He hopes to bring it to committee by the spring. If it passes, it will go on to council and, in an ideal world, construction could begin by end of year.
Under the previous regime, Minnan-Wong, a vocal right-wing councillor, did not support the Jarvis lane (which opened in July) or University route (which never passed council). But it wasn’t a political decision, he said. The difference is that the old administration wasn’t approaching the bike lane issue properly.
“If they were going to put the lane in the middle of University Ave., how are you going to get there? It’s not connected to anything. And when you come to the end, where do you go? This hooks the city together.”