Although dedicated cycling lanes are much less controversial than they used to be, there is still some grumbling about where they have been implemented. I ride my bike to work, not every day but often enough to appreciate that bike lanes help make the trip feel a little safer. In the interest of full disclosure, I work in Scarborough, so I have not yet used the bike lanes on Yonge that were installed in June as part of a pilot to expand the cycling network across the city. I don’t use the bike lanes on Danforth because I prefer Mortimer, which is a much quieter street.
By and large, I support the expansion of bike lanes that replace on-street parking with an alternative method of transportation.
Street parking on an arterial is the worst use of road space imaginable.
I also support the installation of bike lanes on Yonge. The logic of the plan was that a network of cycling lanes would be better utilized, and Yonge is the vital link to the network. Last year, there were more than 150 groups that advocated for the bike lanes. Part of their argument rightly predicted that many former subway users would prefer to cycle downtown during the pandemic.
In addition to providing a cycling route, the bike lanes provide a pleasant buffer between the cars and the street patios. Having enjoyed patio dining north and south of Davisville, there is no question for me that the patio experience is more pleasant where there are bike lanes between diner and idling car.
My own informal survey of those who live in the area support the bike lanes; however, those in support are also the ones who use the lanes to get downtown. For those who drive, there is no question the area is more congested and traffic is often brought to a standstill at intersections that allow right and left turns.
There are also legitimate concerns about how the lanes are marked, sightline obstructions and, in the case of Danforth, the continued use of on-street parking adjacent to bike lanes. There will always be controversy over how scarce resources are divided.
The bike lane pilot project on Yonge between Davisville and Bloor has a feel of permanence with the installation of separation barriers and planters.
As more people return to the office and may not feel comfortable taking the subway or cycling, it is likely that car use will increase in the short term. The winter will also be telling to see how well Yonge functions when the patios are gone and the bike lanes may not be as well utilized. Change is difficult at the best of times and the reality is that Toronto is not Amsterdam.
Amsterdam is the most bike-friendly city on the planet, and the average family owns almost two bikes per person. That is not to suggest that we can’t get there, but, in between now and then, pilots should be reviewed to ensure the street continues to function and that markings, barriers and turn restrictions continue to make sense.
This will help ensure that more people buy into the change and, in the process, make the changes more sustainable.