When it comes to cycling safety, Toronto is riding in circles.
The statistics aren't good. Collision rates between cars and bikes remain steady, hovering unchanged at 1,100 a year for more than a decade. Two or three cyclists are killed every year in accidents, and Toronto has more bike collisions per capita than any other city in Canada.
It's tempting to blame this lack of progress on our current mayor, but Toronto was already on track to miss important safety targets before Rob Ford took office promising to end the "war on the car."
According to the Bike Plan council approved in 2001, we should have 495 kilometres of bike lanes by now. Instead, we have 113. That's not all Ford's fault.
In fact, despite the mayor's anti-bike rhetoric, since he was elected Toronto has taken important strides toward becoming a modern cycling city.
Last year, we joined the ranks of Montreal and London, UK, by bringing the Bixi bike-share system to the downtown core. By the end of 2012, Toronto should hit another milestone: its first-ever physically separated bike lane, on Sherbourne.
Bikers' main grievance with the Ford administration, then, isn't so much that no progress has been made as that improvements aren't happening where they'd make the most difference.
The philosophy of current cycling policy, as laid out in the mayor's 2011 Bike Plan update, is to build bikeways only "where the community supports them and where they do not impede traffic flow." This means the city will readily tear out lanes that are perceived to cause traffic problems (see Jarvis, Birchmount, and Pharmacy) but is also prepared to make significant investments in cycling infrastructure as long as motorists face minimal impact.
Over the next five years, $45 million has been earmarked for capital bike projects. That's no small amount, but very little is going to new, on-street bikeways. All but one of the proposed separated lanes would be upgrades to existing painted routes, and two-thirds of the money is going to recreational trails in parks and hydro corridors, far removed from the busy roads where hundreds of riders are injured every year.
As long as the priority is limiting motorists' aggravation, efforts to improve cycling safety are doomed to be minimal. "There are few remaining opportunities to accommodate bicycle lanes on Toronto roadways without reducing traffic capacity," noted a Transportation Services report last year. When bike initiatives clash with driver needs, guess who wins?
While they wait on a new philosophy to take hold at City Hall, cycling advocates are learning to take what they can get under Ford, and hope that last year's lane removals won't be repeated.
"Every year we get little dribs and drabs, but eventually it adds up to something," says activist Dave Meslin. "The main thing is that we're never moving backwards."