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Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong and Mayor Rob Ford. Photo by Ben Spurr.
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Photo by Ben Spurr.
At a rainy ceremony next to Allen Gardens on Monday, Mayor Rob Ford cut the ribbon on Toronto's first separated bike lanes.
Construction of the Sherbourne Street cycle tracks was completed last December but the city only put the finishing touches on the project last month by adding green on-street paint markings and special left-turn bike boxes at intersections.
"For too long politicians at City Hall have talked a good game," said public works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong before the ribbon-cutting. "For years the city has been talking about a safe and connected cycling network, and separated lanes in particular. But sadly there has been little action. And today is a modest step forward. Most importantly it is a sign of the things to come."
The councillor said that under the Ford administration, the city has committed $90 million to cycling projects over the next decade. Work on additional separated bike lanes, on the Wellesley-Hoskin-Harbord corridor, is set to begin this year.
After Minnan-Wong's speech, Ford took questions from the media and said he supports plans to create a network of separated bike lanes downtown.
"We're committed to integrated bike paths, bike lanes throughout the city downtown. And this is a great first step," he said. "Downtown obviously, people cycle a lot. You can't really compare obviously the suburbs to downtown. You [won't] see me cycling from Etobicoke down here, but some people might want to do that and all the power to ‘em."
"And that's what people want downtown, they want to have bike paths," he added.
Jared Kolb, the executive director of bike advocacy group Cycle Toronto, said Ford's presence at the ribbon-cutting was "a little ironic" given the mayor's past statements about bicycling. In 2007, Ford, then a city councillor, infamously said that roads are for motorists and whenever a cyclist is killed by a car it's the cyclist's fault.
Kolb pointed out that the Ford administration has removed more kilometres of bike lanes than it has installed, and Toronto is falling behind other cities when it comes to cycling projects. London, he said, recently launched a $1.4-billion bike initiative that dwarfs Toronto's $90-million commitment.
"Progress is glacial," Kolb said. "Cyclists aren't waiting. They're taking to the streets in more numbers than ever, but they need enhanced safe infrastructure, which is a grid of protected bike lanes right across the city."
But Kolb was clear that the Sherbourne cycle tracks will definitely make riders safer and they're a step in the right direction.
"It's a good day. It's our first cycle track, it's officially open," he said.
Few cyclists were out in the drizzling rain on Monday morning, but one rider who was carrying his two year old son in a bike-mounted stroller said the Sherbourne lanes give him "peace of mind."
"It's my go-to lane if I need to go in this neighbourhood," said Brad Hunter, who lives in nearby Cabbagetown. "Absolutely, it's the best choice, especially carrying a child with me."
Toronto's first foray into separated bike lanes has not been without problems however. Cars are often seen parking in the lanes on Sherbourne, particularly south of Gerrard Street where the rolling curb design makes it easy for motor vehicles to drive up onto the raised track. North of Gerrard the path is separated by a larger curb that cars can't mount as easily.
According to Dan Egan, the city's manager of cycling infrastructure, the transportation department is looking at ways to prevent cars from encroaching on the lanes. He hopes to install posts or bollards south of Gerrard sometime this summer, on a pilot project basis.
No matter how effective the Sherbourne lanes prove to be, they won't likely be used as a prototype for the separated network planned for Wellesley-Hoskin-Harbord, Richmond-Adelaide, and Peter-Simcoe. Egan says that going forward, the city is looking towards more temporary, paint-and-post designs that can be quickly installed without expensive road reconstruction.
"We're looking at alternative designs, temporary designs, just so that we can roll them out quicker," he said.
The Sherbourne cycle tracks cost $2.4 million, but much of that was spent on scheduled road re-surfacing.
Ford was a surprise participant in Monday's ribbon-cutting. The city press release about the ceremony didn't mention that he'd be attending, but at around 10:30 a.m. he drove his trademark black Escalade SUV to the intersection of Sherbourne and Gerrard, and after parking on a side street, walked across Allen Gardens and stood at the podium next to Minnan-Wong.
After cutting the ribbon, he walked back to his car, followed by reporters who peppered him with questions about the drug scandal that continues to cloud his administration. As he has since last month when reports first surfaced of a video allegedly showing him smoking crack cocaine, Ford refused to answer any of them.