A longstanding and controversial plan to build bike lanes on Bloor St. is back on City Hall's agenda.
Six downtown councillors submitted a letter to the public works committee on Wednesday asking for an environmental assessment of the project to be revived. Council approved the assessment in October 2007, but it was halted soon after the 2010 municipal election swept Mayor Rob Ford into office on a promise to, among other things, forestall the "war on the car."
There wasn't enough support on the committee to restart the study immediately, but instead councillors asked city staff for a report on the impacts of completing the assessment. The report will go before the committee in September.
"Outside of approving [the assessment], this was the best thing that could have happened," says Jared Kolb, executive director of Cycle Toronto. "It's been years and years since the original EA was proposed, so there's been a lot of waiting."
"The safest way from the west end of the city to the downtown by bicycle would be a properly designed bike lane on Bloor," Gord Perks, one of councillors who signed the letter, told the committee. "That's why cycling advocates have argued for it for so long."
For years bike activists have been calling for better cycling infrastructure on Bloor, which is not only frequented by a high number of riders but is also one of downtown's few major east-west roads that doesn't feature streetcar tracks. The long-sought bike lane is the subject of the annual Bells on Bloor ride, which attracts hundreds of noisy cyclists every year.
"When it was originally raised it was a good idea," says Dan Egan, city manager for cycling infrastructure, of the Bloor EA. "It's obviously a very important corridor for cyclists."
But Egan stresses that there are many important cycling projects already underway, and his department has to prioritize.
"I think the real question is, what does council want us to do. We take our direction from council," he says.
Public works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong voted in favour of getting a report on the assessment, but he's wary of anything that would interfere with current work to build a network of separated bike lanes downtown.
"I want to focus on getting things done, not just talking about something, not just putting in a report, but actually bricks and mortar and paint," he says. "It's not a secret that our cycling infrastructure section is challenged about getting work done. And so I try and keep them focused on things that have been approved."
Minnan-Wong will wait to see what's recommended in the September report, but he's clear that he's "not a fan" of putting bike lanes on Bloor. He believes there are simply some main arteries, like Avenue Rd. and Jarvis St., that should remian dominated by cars.
"My philosophy toward bike lanes is that not all streets can have bike lanes. Some roads are best left to trying to move traffic, move vehicles, and I believe Bloor is one of those streets," he says.
A 2011 city report found that a bikeway on the Bloor-Danforth corridor "would lead to severe impacts on traffic and parking."
The original environmental assessment would have studied building bike lanes along the Bloor-Danforth corridor all the way from Royal York to Victoria Park, a total of 18.9 km. The study's budget was $500,000 but according to city staff only around $60,000 was spent before it was put on hold.
Also on Wednesday, the public works committee approved a plan to contrsruct a 4-kilometre bikeway on Shaw St. from Douro St. to Davenport Rd. The proposal will go before council next month.