Could it be that the creeping shadow of a big-box invasion is fuelling the current dust-up over an eastend bike lane?
The question comes easily to mind watching cycling promoters try to finesse a new route on Leslie from Queen south to the Spit - a stretch they identify as a missing link in the city's east-end cycling network.
At a meeting at Bruce Jr. Public School on March 7, just over a year after a truck killed Isaac Morkel as he rode through a green light at Eastern and Leslie, bike lanes fill the agenda.
"If you stand at the corner of Leslie and Eastern, trucks are whizzing by all the time and women are walking by with baby carriages," says Morkel's brother Peter, highlighting the oddness of an area that is supposed to be residential but exhibits all the traffic chaos of the industrial zones of the port lands to the south.
The proposal on the table is not for a lane on Leslie, but for one on Eastern, which biking activists consider far less important.
That's a problem for local councillor Paula Fletcher, a pro-bike politico who finds herself caught in a tussle between residents and nearby fast food chains eager to preserve drive-thrus. The issue has also touched off a kerfuffle with Fletcher's NDP ally in the neighbouring ward, Beaches-East York councillor Sandra Bussin.
Ever since a section of the Gardiner east of the DVP came down in 1999, motorists have flooded Eastern. Residents complained long and hard. Fletcher's plan - an 11-block Eastern Ave bike lane from Logan to Leslie to move cyclists and act as a traffic calming device - seemed a win-win. Her mission, she admits, is to keep the area as residential as possible.
But anyone riding the Sheppard subway line will tell you people don't use routes with useless connections, so unless tons of cyclists need to visit some warehouses or an empty lot that may or may not eventually be home to the scourge of big-box obesity, Eastern seems pointless as a route.
Jacob Allderdice, a cycling activist, says that while it's great to see new bike lanes, the lack of one on Leslie is a travesty. "It's the node! It's the gate!" exclaims an emotional Allderdice.
Like other cyclists at the meeting, he thinks Leslie is the logical route to the redesigned Spit. "It's family activity - are they going to put their bikes on their SUVs and drive there?'
Fletcher agrees that Leslie may seem most logical for a bike lane, but she says city staff think the street is too narrow to accommodate it.
Then there's Bussin's opposition to lanes on Leslie. "Sandra has the other half of that," Fletcher says, referring to the fact that Leslie divides their wards, "and she doesn't support it."
Bussin says Leslie is too complicated, and the lights at Loblaws only make it worse. "The original plan is the wise one: having a lane on Knox. It provides that north route and it's only a block and a half east of Leslie."
Bussin calls Fletcher's Eastern bike lane "industrious," but she's skeptical. "To use [bike lanes on] Eastern as a tool to stop traffic is not a good idea. It's going to create confusion, and trucks will go on Queen."
Bussin suspects that Fletcher's bike lane proposal is an attempt to fend off an influx of mega-stores. Coincidentally, Toronto Film Studios on Eastern has recently sold its site to big-box developer SmartCentres. A monstrous Canadian Tire already sits on Leslie awaiting its official unveiling.
"I don't think you should be using cyclists to traffic calm in an attempt to stop big-box deliveries," says Bussin. She further questions the approach of "rallying activists', noting that the best solution is to leave the matter of box stores up to the oracle at the OMB. Ha!
But David Dunn of the city's transportation services says it's "not impossible to accommodate bike lanes on Leslie.' If it can be done on Eastern, which has more than twice the traffic and is two metres narrower, it can be done on Leslie. "But it's very busy and there's lot's of turning movements."
And let's not forget the interests of the drive-thrus at Tim Hortons, Wendy's and Burger King as they fight for the convenience of their sedentary clients. "There's some resistance to this (Leslie proposal)," notes Fletcher.
Eventually, the cyclists' pleas at the meeting resonate with the councillor, who promises a detailed investigation into the Leslie lane by May.