It's becoming a not-so-proud tradition in Toronto: propose a bike lane, approve a bike lane, and then delay building the bike lane.
The city has consistently fallen short of targets set out in the official Bike Plan 10 years ago, and it appears the separated cycle track planned for Wellesley St. is the latest project to be pushed back. According to a report going before the public works committee next Wednesday, the separated lane from Queen's Park Crescent to Sherbourne Ave. won't be completed until 2013, a year later than originally planned.
It's disappointing news for the city's cyclists, who are eagerly awaiting the completion of a downtown network of separated lanes to bring Toronto up to speed with other major North American cities, which have been implementing similar projects for years.
Dan Egan, head of cycling infrastructure for the city, says completing the Wellesley lane by 2012 was always an ambitious target, but the main reason for the delay is that the consultation process for the separated lane on Sherbourne Ave. took longer than anticipated.
"We don't have the resources to do several at the same time," he says. "Sherbourne took a lot longer than we expected. The design involved quite a bit from beginning to end."
The Sherbourne lane will be Toronto's first separated bikeway, and Egan says the transportation department is experiencing something of a learning curve. The process was not as simple as finding a way to divide cyclists from car traffic; staff also had to take into account the disruption of garbage pick-up and Wheel Trans service, as well as the removal of all the street's parking spaces.
But some are questioning whether the current administration has its cycling priorities in order. Public works chair Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong is championing a plan to build 30 km of off-road trails over the next five years, and Jared Kolb of Cycle Toronto (formerly the Toronto Cyclists Union) is disappointed that bike lanes appear to be taking a back seat to the trail project.
"This delay [on Wellesley] signals that the trails network is of a higher priority than the network of separated bike lanes," Kolb says. "But trails can never offer the kinds of connections that our streets provide. What about the safety of people who ride to work or school downtown?"
Kolb is concerned that the Wellesley delay could lead to setbacks for other elements of the separated lane network. An update on a bikeway for Hoskin - Harbord was scheduled for this month but has now been put off, and that project will have to be completed before work can begin on lanes planned for Beverly - St. George, for which there are no firm timeline.
Egan says other elements of the lane network are still on schedule however. An environmental assessment for a separated cycle track in the Richmond - Adelaide corridor will begin this summer and construction should begin next year.
Councillor Minnan-Wong did not return a request for comment, but in the past has said that he is firmly committed to completing the separated network, which he first proposed last year in conjunction with the controversial removal of the Jarvis St. bike lane.
Aside from revealing the delay, the report on Wellesley also includes preliminary design ideas for revamping the street. Although staff had originally favoured a bi-directional bike lane - a two-way bike path on one side of the street - the preferred option now is a raised cycle-track level with the sidewalk. But because its installation would require resurfacing the entire street, staff is considering installing a temporary curb to separate bikers from traffic, and converting it to a raised bikeway the next time Wellesley undergoes routine maintenance.
In what could be a nuisance for drivers, all of Wellesley's left-turn lanes would likely be removed, and left turns prohibited at some intersections. At least 31 of the street's 43 parking spaces would also be lost.
A public consulation on the project is set for June, and in the meantime, Egan is urging Toronto's bikers to be patient.
"We'd all like to have them done yesterday, but the reality is they need to be done properly," he says. "I don't think you can cut any corners in doing these things."