Note: ACTION ITEM – There is a link to the official “Comments Sheet” at the bottom of this post.
The longest uninterrupted north-south bike lane in central Toronto is ‘Route 35‘, which travels along Beverly, St George & Poplar Plains all the way from St Clair down to Queen Street. At Queen it comes to a dead-end, feeding into a black hole of car-priority streets with no bike infrastructure anywhere nearby. Ten years ago, City Council approved the Toronto Bike Plan, which includes north-south bike lanes on Spadina & Peter, and physically separated bike lanes on Richmond & Adelaide. Ten years later, including seven years under Mayor Miller, we still have no bike lanes in that area.
Now, to make things worse, the City is planning to re-design John Street and it looks like bike safety is not part of the equation. In fact, they seem quite ready to push bikes off the street completely.
The City has released a report that puts forward six ‘Alternative Solutions‘ which seem to be carefully written to ensure that cyclists’ needs are excluded from the final plan. One option goes as far as banning bikes completely. Another option includes bike lanes but without wider sidewalks (this option will surely be discarded as it contradicts the primary goal of the re-design: to enhance the pedestrian space). Strangely absent from the report is the most practical option: to add bikelanes and increase the sidewalk width. There is more than enough room to do this, despite the misinformation found in the report. Instead, the entire scenario is unnecessarily framed as a bike VS pedestrian battle.
The conclusion of the report essentially says that in order to accommodate bike lanes, we’d have to keep the sidewalk widths as they are, or move the buildings back a few feet. Honest! It actually says that in the report. They even have a drawing of the buildings, shifted backwards away from the street. (?!)
Here are the ‘Solutions’:
1) “Do nothing”.
2) “Shared street”. Adults, children, bikes, cars and trucks, all sharing the same lane – like a really busy parking lot. Very smart.
3) “Pedestrian mall”. No bikes allowed at all.
4) Reduce lanes from 4 to 2. Increase sidewalk width. No bike lane.
5) Reduce lanes from 4 to 2. Add bikelanes. Keep sidewalks the same width.
6) Move buildings over, to make room for both bike lanes and wider sidewalks.
I was pretty sure that there’s enough width on John Street to make room for everyone to travel safely. So this afternoon, I went down to John with a measuring tape to see why they can’t fit bike lanes AND a wider sidewalk into the plan. Maybe the street is narrower than I remember? Maybe the consultants forgot to measure the street? Maybe their abacus is broken?
I first stopped by St George Street, which has very nice sidewalks, lots of trees, two lanes for cars AND two bike lanes. I measured the width at Wilcocks Street: 9.5 meters. That sounds about right. Municipal streets have to be 9 meters wide to accommodate bike lanes (car lanes have to be 3 meters each, and bike lanes 1.5).
So then I headed down to John Street, and this is what I found:
John at Richmond = 10.1 meters
John, north of Adelaide = 11 meters
John, south of Adelaide = 13.1 meters!!!
There’s enough room at Adelaide to put in 2 bike lanes AND widen the sidewalk by 3.5 meters! In fact, most of John Street is wide enough to do that.
Here’s the breakdown, visually:
It’s quite frustrating to have to go out on the street, as a volunteer citizen with a measuring tape, and produce basic data that contradicts the city’s high-paid consultants.
This six “Alternative Solutions” seem to be intentionally designed to push bikes off John Street. It’s part a growing anti-bike trend we’re seeing from the City, all in the name of “improving the public realm”. The mantra in the planning department is “increase sidewalk width and narrow the roadway whenever possible”. This phrase is used in the John Street report, but I’ve seen it in many others as well. It’s the same language that kept bike lanes off of the original Jarvis re-design. And it’s the same approach that has pushed bikelanes off of almost every major road reconstruction we’ve seen in recent years (including Lansdowne, Bloor, Roncesvalles, St Clair, Dundas, etc..)
Meanwhile, the City has adopted a commitment to expand the bike network. The John Street reconstruction is a perfect opportunity to complete the north-south bike route that currently ends at Queen Street. And as the report shows, it would be the perfect bike/pedestrian corridor to link up dozens of major buildings and attractions (right).
Here’s the really frustrating part. The report begins with a huge graphic of traffic stats that tries to show that there are very few cyclists on John Street. First of all, the stats are bogus. They show fluctuating numbers for cars and pedestrians at different times of the day, but somehow cyclists are always pegged at exactly 2%. This is obviously a fabricated number, and not worthy of being included in an official City report. More importantly, let’s just say for a moment that cycling is at 2%, there are two conclusions that can be drawn from that data:
1) Clearly cyclists don’t like this street. Therefore, why would be bother to put in bike lanes? Or…
2) Clearly, people are more likely to use a street when they are offered a safe space to do so. Pedestrians have a wide sidewalk to use on John Street, and are seen in much larger numbers than cyclists who have not been given a safe space. Therefore, we should give cyclists a safe space to travel, to encourage green transportation.
I would argue that the streets with the lowest cycling counts are precisely the ones that need bike lanes. We need to encourage bicycle use in the areas where residents don’t currently feel safe riding bikes. I have a hunch that pedestrian traffic would be quite low on John Street if there were no sidewalks! Would that be a reason not to install them? Of course not.
Finally, there is no reason for the report to assume that the entire length of John Street needs one single consistent design. Obviously, what’s best up at Queen near Grange Park might be different than what’s suited for John and King. We need a sophisticated approach that looks at each block separately and includes overlooked options (including a Complete Street with bike lanes, and also looking at one-way car traffic on John, which was also not explored).
As this City Council lives out it’s final months in office they have a few chances to show us they care about bikes. The downtown progressive Councillors in particular have very little to show us after four years in office. The downtown wards have had virtually no new bike infrastructure added during this term.
Let’s take advantage of the John Street re-construction and build a roadway that gives more space to pedestrians, and also increases safety for cyclists. A complete street would be consistent with the City’s own transportation priorities, and would set a precedent that ‘bikes belong’ downtown. There is enough room to do it. Is there enough will?
Send your feedback to the City before Thursday!
Download the official comment form here.
Sign up for John Street updates from the City here.
Send official comments to: JohnSt@toronto.ca
Councillor Adam Vaughan: firstname.lastname@example.org
Planning Consultants: email@example.com
Toronto Cyclists Union: firstname.lastname@example.org