Bike lanes integral to global movement away from cars

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Most people know the physical and mental health benefits that come with riding a bike.

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But the environmental and economic advantages are also huge.

It’s about six times more expensive to drive a car than ride a bike in the big city, and since people on bikes tend to look around a neighbourhood as they travel, biking has proved to be a boon to local businesses.

The transformation Toronto is undergoing is happening in hundreds of cities. From Milan to Mexico City and Berlin to Bogota, biking infrastructure is booming everywhere around the world.

New bike lanes on The Esplanade and Mill St. are the latest addition to Toronto’s biking network.

Two-way protected bike lanes on the south side of those streets let riders connect to existing bikeways on Bayview Ave., Cherry St., Lower Sherbourne St. and Yonge St. ( For a complete, ongoing update on bike lanes in the city, visit Toronto.ca .)

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The majority of people who pour into the St. Lawrence Market and Distillery Districts do so on foot, by bicycle and via transit.

Vehicle congestion includes rush-hour commuters using the neighbourhood as a shortcut to and from the Gardener Expressway.

  1. A section of Dundas Ave. E., which incorporates the intersection at River St., was full of cars and TTC vehicles as far as the eye could see on Sunday as motorists attempted to get on the Don Valley Parkway or access the eastern part of the city.

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  2. Cyclists are enjoying the newly created bike lanes along Bloor St. E., near Sherbourne St., but they had to navigate around couriers, cars and construction vehicles blocking the routes on Friday, Sept. 11, 2020.

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  3. Bike lanes on Yonge St., north of Bloor St., on Saturday, July 17, 2021.

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The Esplanade bike lanes have the support of Toronto’s pro-biking groups; there’s at least one citizen’s group vehemently opposed.

F.L. Agar, a resident of the neighbourhood, both drives and bikes, and hopes the new bike lanes on The Esplanade will deter cars from clogging the area during rush hour.

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“The traffic there is worse than ever, worse than pre-pandemic,” he said.

On the other hand, as a driver, he’s annoyed that parts of the Esplanade are newly one-way. It takes him longer to get around.

“It’s a moderate inconvenience,” Agar conceded, “but it’s going to make it safer for bikes in the area.”

In a recent interview, Jacquelyn Hayward, Toronto’s Director, Transportation Project Design & Management, explained the complex investigation and consultation process that goes into the biking infrastructure —  a process that takes into account everything happening on the streets and in the neighbourhood.

That includes current and projected traffic volumes, safety concerns, public transit presence, local area intensification, parking and drop-off areas, and special access and delivery needs, among many other considerations.

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“It’s trying to balance all those needs while providing a safer option for people who choose to bike,” said Hayward.

“We’re finding an increasing number of people in our city are choosing to bike for at least some of their trips. It’s a fast, reliable and cost-effective option. People are also concerned about their health — both for general physical activity, and, during the last 18 months, for having space from other people.

“During the pandemic, cycling became quite an attractive option.”

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The city launched a 10-year network plan in 2016 and it’s updated in three-year increments. There was a lot of public feedback in the initial planning stage, and neighbourhood consultation happens before bike lanes are created.

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Toronto has many avid bicyclists, but change is difficult, and there are always some objections to new biking infrastructure, said Hayward.

“(But bike lanes) are about improving the operation of our streets for everybody, so we can make it safer for people walking and driving along the street when we incorporate space for bikes as well.   There’s data to show that when we have bike lanes, car to car collisions go down along those streets, as do collisions and impacts on people walking.

“We’re looking to increase the safety and comfort of the streets for everyone.”

Since 2015, the Government of Canada has invested in almost 650 kilometres of active transportation trails, bike and pedestrian lanes, and recreational paths.

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The pandemic enabled Toronto — and every other major city in the world — to speed up the creation of biking infrastructure.

Bicycling was already enjoying a renaissance in major cities and then COVID pushed it into a whole new realm, as people abandoned mass transit to avoid infection and found other means of transportation.

Cyclists make their way along a closed-off Lake Shore Blvd. E. as part of ActiveTO on May 1, 2021.
Cyclists make their way along a closed-off Lake Shore Blvd. E. as part of ActiveTO on May 1, 2021. Photo by Ernest Doroszuk /Toronto Sun

The pandemic became an opportunity for cities to think fast about transportation planning.

“We have accelerated our delivery, absolutely,” said Hayward, explaining the city put in 15 kilometres of bike lanes and six kilometres of trails during 2018 and 1019.

In 2020 and 2021, they put in 50 kilometres of lanes and five of trails.

Later this year, Hayward’s department will bring the next three-year plan to City Council and identify projects for 2022, 2023 and 2024.

The general idea is to start expanding the bike network, currently concentrated in the downtown core, to reach every part of Toronto.

Hayward hopes to be able to maintain the quicker pace of installation, too.

The goal is to create streets that serve everyone who uses them, “complete streets that serve everybody’s needs and are safely operating,” said Hayward.

“When we have those projects delivered, it’s exciting how it can improve communities.”

lbraun@postmedia.com

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