When city works crews started painting bike lanes onto the easternmost stretch of Dundas East late last summer, I suddenly found myself cheering on Councillor Case Ootes in his campaign to have the white lines removed from the pavement. It's not that I've got anything against cyclists or their alternative mode of transportation, but enough is enough already, I thought. A considerable part of my route to and from work at City Hall (Shuter between Yonge and River) had already been narrowed to one lane for the benefit of pedal pushers. And now the once easy cruise along Dundas from Kingston Road to Broadview had suffered the same fate.
The commute downtown from the east end and back was going to become a nightmare, I figured. My weekday schedule would require a major overhaul. And judging from all the noise Ootes was making back in July when he came within four votes of getting the two-thirds council majority needed to reconsider last spring's bike-lane decision, I wasn't the only motorist with awful visions of gridlock.
"It's simply not an acceptable situation when you've got continual backups at rush hour," the then deputy mayor said. "Very few bicycles use the lanes. People aren't going to get out of their cars to use bicycles."
Right on, I muttered to myself. Go for it, Case. And going for it he still is. With a new council now in place, a simple majority vote is all it will take to black out the bike lanes on Dundas East. And at some point in the months ahead, Ootes will try have his colleagues do exactly that.
Alas, I'm no longer cheering Ootes on. Funny thing, but in the past five months I've come to appreciate those once dreaded bike lanes. They've changed the way I drive to and from work in a very positive way, and the folks living in the residential neighbourhoods along the route can't help but be very happy about that.
Truth be told, Dundas between Kingston Road and Broadview was a virtual expressway. In fact, "racetrack" would not have been a misnomer for the arterial road when it was a four-lane thoroughfare. Never mind the posted speed limit of 40 km/h.
According to area councillor and current deputy mayor Sandra Bussin, a police study found that 80 per cent of the cars travelling on Dundas East were averaging speeds of 72 km/h. I don't doubt for a minute that I was one of the transgressors who'd pull into the curb lane to speed ahead of cars stopped at a red light or waiting to turn left. It was the accepted traffic pattern, and I never realized how stressful it was until a few weeks after the bike lanes were put in place.
Not only was my trip just six or seven minutes longer than it had been, but I also started arriving at work less frazzled, without having suffered the after-effects of road rage. I've come to understand the meaning of the term "traffic calming."
"These are the kinds of structures that work to control erratic driving behaviour," says Bussin, whose Beaches-East York ward includes the section of Dundas between Kingston Road and Greenwood. Although the bike lanes were introduced as part of a city plan to create 1,000 kilometres of dedicated bicycle routes over the next decade, the councillor maintains her priority in supporting the initiative was public safety - particularly that of school children trying to cross a very busy and dangerous street.
And while she agrees that some modifications may be necessary to make the new system work better, Bussin is adamant she'll vigorously oppose Ootes's efforts to have the bike lanes scrapped.
"There are real issues about democracy here," she says, pointing out that the bike lanes were a community council response to serious concerns raised by residents of neighbourhoods Ootes doesn't represent.
Brian Ashton, the Ward 36 (Scarborough Southwest) councillor who opposed the bike lane proposal and supported Ootes's first attempt to have it reconsidered, now agrees with Bussin.
"Quite frankly, I don't think it's a big enough earth-shattering matter to have it reopened," he says. "I don't want it to turn into a Britney Spears annulment issue."
Even Ashton now concedes the bike lanes haven't caused the kinds of problems he envisioned. "Sure, it's slower at peak times, but it only costs me an additional five, maybe 10 minutes to navigate the route compared to what it used to be," he says. "I'd rather spend my energy encouraging the mayor to prepare a comprehensive transportation plan for the whole city. That's what we're missing."
In the meantime, Ashton, Bussin and Ootes will all be waiting for a report on the bike lane project from transportation services staff. That document won't be ready until sometime in the spring, says Dan Egan, manager of pedestrian and cycling infrastructure.
But he maintains that early indications show the new bike lane on Dundas has already had the desired effect.
"It has calmed the whole street down," says Egan, who also sits as a city rep on the Toronto Cycling Committee. "Once you accept that you can't go any faster than the driver in front of you, it's pretty relaxing. If you can't accept that, you should probably find another route."
Or get a bike.