As we roll into bike week, the mood was decidedly testy at the May 16 cycling committee meeting at City Hall, when the group had to absorb yet more negative news about how badly our Bike Plan is failing cyclists.
It's no surprise to Toronto cyclists to learn we're not excelling compared to European cities. More troubling is that we're not measuring up when it comes to Canadian cities either, according to a pair of researchers at Rutgers University in New Jersey, John Pucher and Ralph Buehler, whose report was before the committee.
Most of those assembled seemed to find the news embarrassing. Some, like veteran North York cyclist Clay McFayden, argued that the city is falling behind car-loving burbs like Brampton and Mississauga when it comes to promoting cycling. Others, including Andrew Wood, blamed the provincial and federal governments for not providing much-needed funds and leaving the city to fend for itself.
The report was eventually received and forwarded to several of the committee's subcommittees for more study.
Certainly, money from other levels of government couldn't hurt. The authors of Cycling Trends And Policies In Canadian Cities note that having a bike-friendly province, which Ontario is not (the Ministry of Transportation does help promote safer cycling but contributes no hard cash) makes the biggest difference.
In 1995, for example, Quebec adopted a bicycle policy to "increase the use of bicycles for transport." By 2000, weekly cycling rates in Quebec had doubled over 1991's, and 4,000 kilometres of new on- and off-road lanes had been added to the bikeway network. The province of Quebec also helps with half the maintenance.
Montreal leads Toronto in winter cycling rates despite its often frigid conditions and greater snowfall. Here, we just plow snow into bike lanes in winter.
Federal support for Ottawa's National Capital Pathway has also made a huge difference. Ottawa has more than twice our cycling rate, although we can claim "over three times as many reported cycling injuries," according to Pucher and Buehler. No doubt the injury rate among cyclists here has a little something to do with the fact that Ottawa has 822 kilometres of bikeways, while Toronto has only 252.
Pucher and Buehler observe that "Ontario plays virtually no role at all in promoting cycling, coordinating cycling programs or funding cycling infrastructure," leaving cities to do what they can on a voluntary basis.
Yes, we could do with more bucks from the province and feds, but at the same time, there's lots more Toronto could be doing to restrict cars. The city just lacks the political will. Pucher and Buehler point out that "only the politically easy measures have been adopted." The result is that we're shunting more cyclists onto bikeways in ravines, which are nicer to ride but a less practical option for those trying to get around the city on two wheels.
Indeed, the political modus of the current council is to choke when it comes to providing for bikes, even in easier instances. "Roadical" moves like a Bloor Street bike lane don't even make it past the consultation stage, even though Bloor has a lot of things going for it from a technical standpoint. Bike lanes are also not part of a redesign of Richmond. Ditto for St. Clair, where a redesign for the streetcar right-of-way doesn't include a bike lane, despite the avenue's great width.
On Royal York, council squeezed a bike lane link to the lake from the standard 1.5-metre width to 1.2 metres last week after howls of protest from car-loving area residents.
Martin Koob of the Toronto Bicycling Network says council's decision sets a bad precedent if "citywide policies can be sacrificed when local councillors oppose them in their wards." Others, like Derek Chadbourne of Advocacy for Respect for Cyclists, mused about calling for the resignation of cycling committee chair Councillor Adam Giambrone for his support of the Royal York bike plan.
"It's a sad day for cyclists when Adam Giambrone doesn't support cycling," says Chadbourne.
Giambrone, for his part, agrees the Royal York solution is not ideal, especially for a major north-south link in the west end. "But a lot of avid cyclers on council are in support," he counters, and adds, "We have more money for the Bike Plan this year, and I'm expecting to get more next year."
Cyclists will be happy to hear that. Right now, they're being squeezed off the road.