Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong speaks at the public works meeting, Wednesday May 17.
Toronto's cyclists are about to get a lot more room to ride, but most of it will be in the city's parks instead of on its streets.
At a public works committee meeting Monday, councillors voted to go ahead with a major expansion of the city's off-road bike trail network.
The plan will go to council next month and, if approved, would see the construction of 77 km of bike trails in parks and hydro corridors over the next 10 years, at a cost of $60 million.
Public works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong trumpeted the plan, claiming that Rob Ford's administration is doing a better job of delivering cycling infrastructure than the previous term of council.
"To me one of the big differences is we're actually focusing on getting things done," he told the committee. "The plan before was think about it. The plan now is, actually do it."
In addition to the expansion of off-street trails, on-street bike infrastructure is also getting a boost. The committee voted to elongate a planned east-west separated bike lane on Wellesley St., extending it eastward from Sherbourne St. to Parliament St., with a planned completion date of 2013.
As part of the same motion, staff were asked to report back early next year on building a separated bikeway on Harbord between Ossington Ave. and St. George St., and connecting it to the Wellesley bike path via Hoskin Ave.
While there was widespread support on the committee for both the trail network and Wellesley projects, some councillors questioned why so much money is being allocated to off-road paths compared on-street routes.
The city currently has 113 km of bike lanes, falling well short of the 495 km target set out under the official Bike Plan 11 years ago. A lane on Bay St. is the only major new bikeway being installed on Toronto roads this year, and of the $45 million being spent on cycling infrastructure over the next five years, less than $15 million is being put towards on-street projects.
"We haven't done even a third of the on-street work," complained committee member Councillor Gord Perks. "Somewhere, somehow, resources have been re-allocated."
Andrea Garcia, director of advocacy for Cycle Toronto, said paths through city parks will do little for the thousands of riders who take their bikes to work or school every day and consider cycling an important form of transport.
"These are not commuter routes, these are more recreational routes" Garcia said of the off-street paths. "These trails are going in at the expense of an expansion of the on-road system. People who are on their bikes right now need safer spaces."
While she doesn't believe off-road paths will substantially improve safety for riders who are currently forced to compete with cars for road space, Garcia does think the expanded trail network could have some positive impacts.
"It does introduce the opportunity for more people to get on a bike and try it for the weekend. It's important not to undervalue that," she said.
Minnan-Wong is confident the improved trail network, first outlined last year in the mayor's bike plan update, will make bikers safer by getting them off of the streets and into the parks.
"I agree with minimizing the conflict between cyclists and motorists, and one of the ways you can encourage that is removing the cyclists, and trying to encourage them to use the trails," he told NOW.
Toronto currently has a 286-km network of off-road bike paths, most of which is outside the downtown core. The plan approved Monday would fill in gaps in the system, and identifies extending the West Toronto Rail Path and Finch Hydro Corridor trails, completing the Waterfront Trail, and building a new East Don Trail as among 30-km of priority projects to be completed within the first five years.
The Wellesley lane is part of a downtown separated bike lane network being pushed by Minnan-Wong. The lane was originally intended to be completed in 2012, but has since been delayed until 2013. The first part of the network, the upgrade of a painted lane on Sherbourne into a separated cycle track, is scheduled for completion later this year.