Tomorrow at City Hall, the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) will be discussing, debating and voting on a package of proposals for Toronto’s bike network. Some of the report is really positive, and some of it is a huge step backwards for Toronto. I’m writing a few quick blog posts today about some of the highlights of the report.
Part One: Birchmount and Pharmacy
In 2008, City Council approved the installation of bike lanes on Birchmount and Pharmacy, in south-west Scarborough. Both of these lanes had also been approved in the 2001 Toronto Bike Plan (see PDF for District 4).
The bike lanes are working well, and automobile traffic is also flowing nicely. In the new report, city staff state clearly that “staff have reviewed the operation of these lanes and have concluded that they do not have a significant adverse effect on teh traffic operations and parking situation” on either street.
Here’s a great video, shot by cyclist Darren Stehr, showing a rush-hour ride on Pharmacy. He starts the ride at Danforth, at 5:10pm, and rides all the way up to just south of Lawrence and then back down again to Nancy Street. You can see that the street is working – for all users.
(The original video was 28 minutes long, but he reduced it to 8 minutes by speeding up the tape, for your convenience)
During the 2010 city election, Michelle Berardinetti campaigned very strongly against the bike lanes, and won the election with over 50% of the vote.
As a democracy activist, I’m torn here between my faith in democracy and my love for bike lanes and road safety. On one hand, I believe that residents should have a major role in designing their own neighbourhoods. On the other hand, we know that bikelanes encourage more cycling and can also save lives (and broken arms, legs, etc).
Councillor Berardinetti likes to point out two factors, related to this situation:
1) There are alternative routes for cyclists. For example, there are proposals to create a new off-street bike route through Warden Woods that could connect to the Gatineau Hydro Corridor (to the north west), and the Taylor Creek Park path (to the west). Another nearby route is the proposed Dawes Road bikelane.
2) She claims that her office receives many phonecalls complaining about the bike lanes.
Here’s my response to both factors:
1) Alternative routes: If there are alternative routes being built, let’s wait until AFTER those routes are completed, before removing the lanes. Why create a gap, in which cyclists in the ward have no safe route? It seems irresponsible to remove the existing lanes before alternatives have been built. I would also add that the alternative routes might not be convenient for those cyclists who live on, or depend on, Birchmount and Pharmacy.
2) Public opinion in the ward: As I said, I like democracy. So if the vast majority of residents in the area want the bike lanes out, then take them out. But I think it’s a mistake to interpret the election results purely as a referendum on the bikelanes. There were many other issues in the election. I also think it’s a mistake to base the decision solely on complaints that are coming in by phone. In politics, there is a sad truth about constituent behaviour: they are more likely to call when they DON’T like something, than when they DO. No one is going to randomly call the Councillor and say “I just want you to know that the road is working fine for me and, speaking as a driver, you can leave those bike lanes in”. Those calls don’t happen. So if we’re going to remove bikelanes in the name of democracy, let’s do it right. That means a proper consultation process, where residents have time to learn the facts, talk to each other, propose alterations, hear from the actual cyclists who use the street, etc.
We know that bike traffic isn’t high on these streets. No doubt. But even if 40 people are using it, doesn’t that make it worth it? That’s not for me to say. This is a choice for the residents of the ward, and it would be irresponsible to remove these lanes without properly consulting those residents. I think many of them would support the lanes, in the name of safety and fairness, if given the chance.
So I propose these amendments to the staff report:
1) That any bike lane be removed only after proper community consultation.
2) In the case of removal, the re-painting should only occur after alternative routes are completed.
Staff should also be asked to prioritise the Warden Woods bike path, and explore options for connecting the Warden Woods path to the Taylor Park Creek path, with a connection through the city-owned Dentonia golf course.
I’ll add one thing here too. The total cost of removing these lanes is $210,000 dollars. ($120,000 for Pharmacy and $90,000 for Birchmount). Seems like a waste of money, to paint lines and then remove them three years later. Imagine how that money could be better spent. I would spend it on three full-time staff, who’s job is to promote cycling in suburban neighbourhoods!
Part One: Birchmount and Pharmacy
Part Two: Separated lanes on Richmond and Bloor
Part Three: Defending the Jarvis bike lane