UrbanToronto is celebrating Earth Month throughout April with features that examine the issues and challenges of sustainability in the development industry.

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The way people get around Toronto is changing, and the pace of change is likely to accelerate dramatically in coming years as the number of people both riding transit and cycling for transportation dramatically increases. The degree to which this will change is like nothing the city — and the region for that matter — has yet seen, and will completely transform how we get around, and how the city looks.

Downtown portion of the Toronto Cycling Map, 2024, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

The idea of there being a “war on cars” is a long-held one in Toronto, but if such a war exists it's a war of attrition. While many people in the city still drive, the fundamental geometric reality of limited space and increasing density alongside essentially no major new road capacity, means that for decades, the only expansion in transportation capacity in the city has come in the form of new transit and expanded transit service. This process is accelerating as Toronto is currently building more transit, all at once, than it ever has before and, at the same time, cycling has grown enormously in popularity as a way of getting around, enjoying some fresh air, and beating traffic. It seems inevitable that in a decade or two, people in Toronto will look back on the old ways people got around the city — overwhelmingly in private vehicles, on buses, and only two subway lines — and wonder how we ever got by. 

Probably the most visible elements, so far, of our ongoing transformation are the new bike lanes and bike share stations popping up across the city. What was once limited mostly to the downtown core has spread far further, with bike lanes sprouting up in North York, Etobicoke, and Scarborough, and bike share well on its way to being citywide with the major expansion plan it’s been undertaking over the last few years (watched closed by many on the UrbanToronto Forum).

A Bike Share station in Parkdale, image by UrbanToronto Forum contributor kotsy

At the same time, in central parts of the city, the bike network has grown up a lot: already, the city’s primary transit arteries (Yonge, and Bloor/Danforth) have become its main cycling routes. Not only has this been a big boost for mobility, but the reduction in space for cars brought on by the bike lanes as well as all the new activity has made the streets feel more vibrant than ever. 

Now, to be sure, the forward progress of the bike network is happening in a rather decentralized way, sometimes feeling disconnected and disorganized, but I think this is only reflective of the strong desire to get more lanes and infrastructure out on streets as soon as possible — no doubt influenced by the horrible road safety created by the car-oriented and car-priority transportation system the city had reinforced for so long.

Looking south along Yonge Street in the Summerhill area, image by Reece Martin

‘These aren’t accidents’

Second cyclist death in Scarborough sparks anger over lack of bike lanes (Toronto Star)

That decentralization can create real challenges: an issue with a bike network like Toronto’s is it’s hard to get a grasp of as a new cyclist, short of riding a lot and remembering the corridors that you found the most confidence-inspiring. For example, you may not know about Shaw Street if you’re really just a pedestrian and transit rider, but if you regularly go out on two wheels, this north-south cycle superhighway on the west side is a lifesaver.

There is a real need to create a better system for navigating and classifying bike routes, since yesterday's “bike lane” is today's “painted bicycle gutter.” At the same time, with construction a constant presence, closures and diversions are common and we have not yet quite mastered the art of temporary bike lanes. That being said, much of the current growth Toronto is seeing in cycling is likely on the back of “temporary” lanes. Bike routes such as on University Avenue — slapped down in the pandemic — look rather rough, but are among the city's most useful.

Looking east along bi-directional bike lanes on Mill Street in the Canary District, image by Reece Martin`

And those new lanes aren’t the only things that have had a big impact on people-centric transport in the city. Over the past few years, eagle-eyed pedestrians have probably noticed new “armadillos'' and tighter curbs, encouraging drivers to slow down and look for pedestrians across the city, as well as other changes like 'leading pedestrian intervals' where the walk signal happens several seconds before the green light to enhance pedestrian visibility. That's not to mention new moveable speed cameras and reduced speed limits. These changes are creating a very positive impact for people getting around the city by slowing down cars and improving safety — and they benefit everyone — be it a person walking to the bus stop, someone walking to the office after dropping off their Bike Share bike, or someone who drove downtown for work and is getting lunch.

Everything isn’t quite so rough-and-tumble though: new bike lanes on College Street almost look Danish in design, and the prospect of the dedicated lanes in other parts of the city getting the same attractive permanent design to replace the paint and flexi-posts is very exciting. At the same time, Toronto is set to see its first downtown protected cycle intersection in the not so distant future when the intersection of Bloor and St George is reconstructed to feature a Dutch-style design, with separate waiting spaces for cyclists interconnected seamlessly into the Bloor bike lane. While the network is certainly growing out, it’s also clearly growing up.

Looking east down Bloor at the new Dutch-style intersection with St George, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

That said, there's clearly still a way to go. For one, as cycling grows in popularity, multi-use paths across the city from the Waterfront to the West Toronto Railpath would likely benefit from a multi-point adjustment, as the poor delineation of space between ever-growing numbers of cyclists and pedestrians is bound to create conflict and accidents. Bike Share Toronto, while having experienced stratospheric growth since the pandemic and is continuing to expand aggressively, also needs to seriously improve the basic operations of its network. At the moment, it's far too common to find empty docks uphill uptown and dead ebikes; better balancing and far more charging stations are needed in short order if we want to keep the public bike momentum up.

There are also clear places where we need to learn from the global bike infrastructure champions in the Netherlands: one example is parking. Right now, Toronto is woefully undersupplied with easily-accessible secured bike parking at train stations, and transit operators are desperately trying to keep up with a surge in demand for space on transit to move around bikes and ebikes. These attempts will likely be in vain, and as the Netherlands shows, the solution to this problem are large, secure facilities at train and subway stations (as well as more bike racks and lockers everywhere else). Some progress is being made on this front, but bike parking areas are often poorly-signed, and access and signage are not standardised (different facilities often have different operators), meaning these facilities really only work well for commuters who always make the same trip. With all the new bike parking coming online across all the new transit stations being built in the city, it would be wise to implement a seamless wayfinding system and a consistent way of accessing these areas, perhaps with the tap of a Presto card.

Cycle-in bike parking at Utrecht Stationsplein, Netherlands, image via City of Utrecht

There's also a big need to change how we think about parking at new developments. While provisions for bike storage have long been included in new buildings in Toronto, taking inspiration from the Netherlands and incorporating features like the ability to easily ride your bike into the storage area would likely enhance safety and take a load off of elevators. 

All of that bike parking will be a game-changer for the city as it undertakes a rail expansion program that will more than double the size of Toronto’s existing rail system. With new and expanded light rail and subway lines, and the total overhaul of the GO train network, that is already moving along.


Bikes will likely be a key element in the success of many of Toronto’s latest transit projects as so many of them — from the Finch West line to the extensions of the Yonge and Bloor subways — will be suburban in nature. While frequent and high-quality bus service has been a key part of the GTA’s transportation landscape for decades, bikes have a real role to play for places that are in between — not quite subway-topping transit-oriented development, but also not far enough away from the train that going to a bus stop and waiting makes much sense. For a ring between five hundred metres and four or five kilometres around every single rail station in the city (but particularly in the suburbs), there is huge potential to get passengers to the station on bikes instead of in buses. Shifting some of this traffic to two wheels would not only make for a pleasant last-mile journey experience for tons of riders, but it would also enhance the existing bus services that exist, reducing crowding and allowing for higher speeds.

Secure bicycle parking room, Union Station, Toronto, image courtesy of the City of Toronto

It’s probably not quite landed for most people yet, but that rail expansion is going to fundamentally reshape the city — even without taking into account the powerful pairing of transit and bikes. Today, you can essentially get to all corners of Toronto by frequent transit (as long as you’re willing to walk a bit), but the overwhelming majority of the service is provided by local buses, which, to be sure, are generally fairly modern and convenient, but are painfully slow, often inconsistent in travel time, and liable to disruption in a way that you don’t really see with fixed guideway rail service. The big change we will see as more and more transit comes online over the next decade is that increasingly you’ll be able to travel to all corners of the city by rail plus bike. 

Right now, while the subway in Toronto manages to connect an impressive number of major trip generators there are still a lot of unconnected destinations, poorly-connected dense communities and dead zones. Humber College, Jane and Finch, Liberty Village, Leslieville, The Aga Khan Museum, Sunnybrook Park, Flemington and Thorncliffe Park; all of these locations currently rely entirely on buses to connect people to-and-from them and the rest of the city. But, in just a decade (or fifteen years to be safe), every single one of them will be served by relatively fast and consistent rail transit. While some (including myself) have lamented the speeds we are likely to see on surface light rail routes in Toronto, they will still be an enormous upgrade for people, and if you’re travelling in a wheelchair, or with a stroller, suitcase, or bike, things like large, level-boarding platforms will be a godsend. 

Thorncliffe Park station concept for Ontario Line 3, image courtesy of Metrolinx

At the same time, there is likely to be a ridership explosion when projects like the Eglinton Crosstown, the Ontario Line, and GO RER bring rapid transit service to some of the city's densest neighbourhoods that up until now have had somewhat limited access to fast, high-capacity transit. Places like Yonge and Eglinton, the West Don Lands, and Humber Bay Shores will suddenly become incredible transit nodes when we bring the transit to go along with the transit-oriented development. 

While I think ridership success is inevitable with growing density, improved non-car travel options, and loads of new transit options, what isn’t clear is just how many new transit riders will get on board. While the Vaughan subway extension that opened back in the 2010s has not exactly been a ridership blowout, all of these new projects built along long underserved or already heavily-trafficked transit corridors are likely to be an entirely different story. That being said, fixing some of our most stubborn problems could be the difference between a version of Toronto's transit system that looks like an upgraded and expanded version of today's system, or something entirely different.

Outdated Woodbine GO/Finch West LRT combined station concept, image courtesy of Woodbine Entertainment Group

One thing that is still desperately needed is the closing of a number of key gaps in the transit network that should unlock tons of ridership as new people are brought into the transit fold and new routes become possible. Line 2 and the Eglinton Crosstown should be connected to the Lakeshore East line through some sort of extension east to (the confusingly named) Eglinton station — something that will only be made harder with the complete lack of foresight shown in the design of the Scarborough subway extension that supposedly blocks an eastern extension of the Crosstown from its platform at Kennedy station even just a few kilometres. Another roughly two-and-a-half kilometre gap exists between the Finch West LRT and the Kitchener GO corridor, which, if closed, would connect people from North Toronto and York region to the redeveloped Woodbine site, Pearson Airport, and more, while also enabling all kinds of new regional journeys like Brampton to Humber College, which will only be made more obvious by the provinces new “One Fare” fare integration scheme. Of course, there also needs to eventually be a solution for the divide in the transit system in North York, which could be fixed by extending the Sheppard subway west to Downsview or probably more likely the Finch West LRT east to Yonge street.

It will also be crucial that as the GO train system continues to be upgraded that it becomes more and more in line with the urban rapid transit system. That will mean some sort of enhanced fare integration scheme that brings TTC subway and GO fares in line for urban journeys, integrated wayfinding and passenger information, and the adoption of more of the creature comforts seen on the subway at GO stations such as next train countdown clocks, frequent bus connections, and likely even directly-integrated developments.

Langstaff Gateway area, where a new subway station and rebuilt GO station would serve a new high-density community, designed by Arcadis and Calthorpe Associates for Langstaff Land Holdings Ltd (Condor Properties and Kylemore Communities)

It might not be entirely clear how these two transportation systems come together, but picture this: With new and enhanced bike lanes linking up all of our new transit stations, people will easily be able to get to fast, frequent transit by rail, and since most people can bike five kilometres in less than 20 minutes, the vast majority of the city of Toronto’s population will be within an easy bike ride of rapid transit in just a few years. 

In many ways, transit plus cycling creates a complete zero-emissions transportation solution for the city, with bikes allowing for fine-grained first-and-last mile connections to and from origins and destinations not directly served by rail, and the rail system allowing for quick cross city and indeed cross-regional travel that can get you within a few kilometres of almost anywhere in the city quite efficiently.

That easy bike access to a dramatically expanded suburban rail network will put almost all of Toronto’s inner suburbs within close proximity to rail transit, creating an effect similar to what you see with the streetcars in the old city of Toronto, where you’re never too long of a walk away, but on a dramatically larger scale. This is all placed on top of dramatically-improved transit downtown courtesy of automatic train control on the Yonge Line, new trains on the Bloor Line, enhanced and expanded stations, plus GO Expansion and the Ontario Line, and the core of the current transit system will also be majorly expanded and improved. 

Existing, under construction, and proposed expansions to rapid transit lines in Toronto, image courtesy of the Province of Ontario

This, when combined with new cycling options, will make getting around the city's densest areas easier than ever before, allowing for alternatives when transit isn’t running (or working), and letting more people than ever get around the city; and they have to, because we are no longer building a city solely for cars.

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Reece Martin is the creator and host of RMTransit, a YouTube channel focused on transit, infrastructure, and development around the world, with extensive knowledge and professional experience as a transportation planner.

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UrbanToronto has a research service, UrbanToronto Pro, that provides comprehensive data on construction projects in the Greater Toronto Area—from proposal through to completion. We also offer Instant Reports, downloadable snapshots based on location, and a daily subscription newsletter, New Development Insider, that tracks projects from initial application.​

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Thank you to the companies joining UrbanToronto to celebrate Earth Month.