Building bike lanes from nowhere to nowhere


The bike lane on Esther Shiner Blvd. in North York isn’t long or wide, protected from motor traffic nor connected to any other bikeway. In fact, most of the time the bike lane doesn’t have any cyclists using it.

But it’s a good place to start if you want to understand why City Hall has failed to build a coherent bike network.

The bike lane was opened in 2008 in conjunction with a new road for a high-rise residential development near Sheppard and Leslie named after the former North York councillor whose legacy includes the extension of the Spadina Expressway to Eglinton Ave.

The bike lane runs 350 metres (about the length of three football fields) on the north side of the road, but on the south side it ends inexplicably at a railway underpass. It runs from nowhere to nowhere, unless you live in a condo tower on Esther Shiner Blvd. and want to go to IKEA, which is the most significant local landmark in the area – although, it’s probably faster (and safer) to walk, given the turning lanes for motoring IKEA shoppers.

The best that can be said about this stub of a bike lane is that it’s better than nothing, but even this is debatable given how often little-used bike lanes become fodder for opponents of cycling infrastructure in general. 

“Look,” cyclists might complain, “no one drives on the roads. Why build them?”

Stranded bike lanes like the one on Esther Shiner can usually be rationalized. In this case, it could one day make sense if linked to the nearby Don Trail. But more than a decade later the only provision for cyclists along a potential link on Sheppard to the trail is a sign warning them to keep off the sidewalk.

In other cases, bike lanes are installed where minimal opposition is anticipated. These  additions help inflate City Hall’s cycling accomplishments, and are justified as a step toward achieving a broader network, even if there is no timeline for actual connections. The bike lanes become stubs that resemble access ramps to highways that are never built. 

“Look,” cyclists might complain, “no one drives on the roads. Why build them?”

The Esther Shiner bike lane might be considered an anomaly, except for the many examples like it in the city. Indeed, Toronto’s first bike lane installed 40 years ago on Poplar Plains Rd. remained an unconnected stub for almost 15 years. Likewise, most of the bike lanes opened last year (a pitiful 8.5 kilometres in total) don’t provide safe connections on arterial roads.

The updated 2016 Bike Plan included eight “corridor studies” for bike lanes along arterial roads like Bloor and Danforth that could serve as connecting routes. All but two of the studies, however, have been put on hold by council. One exception is a study for Bloor that could extend the existing two-kilometre cycle track from Avenue to Shaw all the way west to High Park. Instead, the study sits idle.  

The study for a Yonge bike lane between Sheppard and Finch in North York was actually completed, albeit spurred by planned road reconstruction. City staff recommended bike lanes for a beautified streetscape in an area now dominated by residential towers. Esther’s son, former city councillor David Shiner, supported moving the bike lane west to Beecroft, a short road dominated by a cemetery and city parking lot, to preserve Yonge’s six lanes for car traffic. The mayor likewise supported this option, despite a potential cost that rivals the city’s annual budget for council’s Vision Zero road safety plan.

Officially, city planners and politicians understand that bike lanes must be connected to be useful. “Connectivity” is the new buzzword for bike planning. However, not even City Hall is connected to a single bike lane.

The problem is that routes important to cyclists are often eliminated from consideration – or put on hold indefinitely – because motorists’ travel times and parking might be compromised. This planning by a process of elimination amounts to serving left-overs to cyclists and is no way to create a coherent bike network. It’s no surprise that Toronto’s 150 km of bike lanes remain a scattered hodgepodge on the city’s 5,600 km road system.

It’s time for political leaders to accept the value of bike lanes – not just for people on bikes, but for the many people who simply appreciate the health, affordability, and climate benefits of the bicycle and want to see their neighbours get to work safely.

The bicycle is good for Toronto. Bike lanes along connecting routes like Bloor-Danforth are vital to a long-overdue cycling network. The extension of the Esther Shiner bike lane can wait.

Albert Koehl is an environmental lawyer, road safety advocate and founder of Bells on Bloor.




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