Despite more funding, good talk and some action, bike riding in Toronto's core could still be better and a lot safer.
Missing most in our biking network of disjointed lanes and paths is a meaningful east-west link in the core. Enter Bloor.
It may sound car-azy. Riders who've had the displeasure of navigating the car-clogged arterial know that the chances of getting door-prized by a motorist are higher here than on any other street.
But Bloor is a natural. It's long, flat and direct. And unlike other major east-west car-terials where bike traffic is high (College, Queen, King), there are no streetcar tracks to get in the way of simply repainting the traffic lanes into new bike lanes.
More importantly, the Bloor subway provides great access to public transit, making Bloor a logical route to restrict cars in favour of bikes. A moderately full train can carry 600 people.
Activists hope to create a living legacy to climate change and cycling activist Tooker Gomberg, but they're not the only ones pushing for a Bloor lane. The city is currently studying a proposal put forward by Cycling Committee chair Councillor Adam Giambrone to initiate the project with an 8-kilometre stretch between High Park and Sherbourne
Says Giambrone, "One of the biggest flaws in our bike lane system is the lack of a major east-west route in the downtown. Bloor is easy - it's nice and direct. It's like a highway, and it shoots right across the city."
The 8 kilometres the city is contemplating will cost as little as $200,000 (though consults would be extra), a bargain considering that a simple stoplight costs about $150,000 to install.
Bloor poses fewer technical challenges than one might think. From Spadina to the Bloor Viaduct, this once-suburban avenue gets wider, spreading to six car lanes plus bike lanes near the Viaduct. In the west end, Bloor widens nicely west of Dundas West, and that width continues.
Accommodating bike lanes in narrower sections will be less straight-ahead, since businesses, as usual, are reluctant to reduce the number of spaces for on-street parking. But we may actually be overestimating the need for parking on Bloor.
For example, making room for Bloor lanes between Dundas West and Spadina would necessitate the removal of around 300 parking spaces. Along this same length, though, there are about 460 parking spaces in Toronto Parking Authority lots. Existing public parking lots can accommodate overflow traffic on the more crowded sections of Bloor near Yonge and all along the Danforth.
The Harbord example could also be followed to make room. There, parking spaces were removed on one side to make room for a bike lane, but the parking that remains on the other side is now usable 24 hours a day.
Still, Councillor Kyle Rae, whose Toronto Centre-Rosedale ward includes some of Bloor, says he's "not convinced Bloor is the right place."
"The freeway effect of Bloor is probably attractive," says Rae. "But Wellesley makes a far better connection than Bloor: it's calmer, and there are fewer commercial users. And after what I went through on Carlton/College... the businesses went nuts."
So why not redesign or widen those sections where limited space or parking don't permit a bike lane?
U of T prof Doug Hutchinson, who's been biking for 30 years all over the world, finds, "Bloor is in serious need of road redesign at virtually every point on the stretch from High Park to Sherbourne, as there are hazards, bottlenecks, pinches, variable road widths and other stupidities all along its essentially unplanned width."
Plans are already in the works for the Avenue-to-Church section.
Increased road space east of Sherbourne allowed the former Metro government to be surprisingly flexible on a critical east-west bridge. It installed bike lanes across the Viaduct.
"If there weren't a bike lane over the Viaduct," Hutchinson says, "I couldn't commute safely to U of T."
But even as many politicians move to give cycling some grease, city council has avoided putting full bike lanes on Royal York in Etobicoke, despite the strong planning rationale.
The planning and transportation committee, meanwhile, wants bike lanes narrowed, asking the Cycling Committee to "develop alternative standards."
Even Giambrone's motion to officially start making Bloor better for bikes in the fall was followed by his proposal two weeks later to ease parking restrictions on Bloor between Dufferin and Lansdowne.
So while Tookerphiles embrace the logic of a Bloor bike lane, making room for bikes in a car-rupt smogtown is still uphill.