New Bike Lanes Pop Up in South Scarborough and Across Toronto
By Jim Sanderson
As a result of a series of By-laws passed by City Council over the past few years, notably three enacted in May 2020, Toronto streets are being redesigned with bike lanes on many arteries . While these lanes please some residents, others have concerns about the frequency of their use, their safety, and their effect on traffic flow and the quality of Toronto’s air.
One question arises from the consultations conducted before the lanes were erected. A long-time Cliffcrest resident, who is also a biker, told me “the lanes seem to be based on an ‘if we build them, they’ll get used’” reasoning. He says it is wishful thinking promoted by a small but highly vocal community of cyclists, as well as cycling lobbyists, some of whom do not even live in Toronto.
In a statement to the Bluffs Monitor, the Manager of Cycling and Pedestrian Projects for the city, Becky Katz, advised that ActiveTO (an agency set up in response to the Covid Pandemic) sent 23,000 notices that included a feedback email address to local residents. She also stated that Transportation Services conducted a virtual town hall meeting on the subject. Toronto.ca’s Cycling and Pedestrian Consultation page also asks for feedback – sort of. A note states the page is designed to “provide the public with an avenue to learn about the future of our roads.” This description reads more like an advisory than an invitation for feedback and objections.
According to Cycling and Pedestrian Projects, traffic in temporary and legacy bike lanes will be monitored by Transportation Services so they can be deemed a success or failure in Sep 2021.
Some Cliffcrest residents point out that both new and legacy lanes are virtually unused in colder weather, which in Toronto is at least 60% of the year. Many people have observed a resounding lack of cyclists in the new lanes on Brimley Road, even on sunny summer days.
Councillor Crawford told The Bluffs Monitor that he “supports bike lanes only where they make sense, and will review the outcome of the pilot for this specific location with ActiveTO. He will make decisions… based on the best interests of the community and the city. ActiveTO chose Brimley Road as a pilot since it connects the Gatineau Trail at Lawrence Avenue with Bluffers Park at Kingston Road. The Brimley Road lanes have not been designated as permanent and will be subject to investigation by ActiveTO before any long term decision is made.”
An important issue linked to the ‘lanes on roadways’ design is potential damage to Toronto’s air quality caused by increased gridlock. With restricted access and dramatically increased travel times, vehicles are now on the road far longer, pumping emissions into the environment. Drivers also seek routes through residential areas to escape congestion. One bike lane advocate advised that “we just have to get as many people out of their cars as soon as possible.” However, any city growing as fast as Toronto requires a minimum number of vehicles to simply keep it running. Even if critical CPH (Cars Per Household) levels remain about the same – or even decrease slightly as the city gets bigger – the total number of vehicles on our roads must increase in concert with an expanding population. Goods and people must be moved and mobile services provided. Vehicular traffic is known to transportation economists as an ‘inelastic’ demand, an activity that continues even when it becomes more costly and difficult. The assumption that if driving is made more frustrating people will be forced out of their cars and onto public transit or bicycles is simply unsupported and unsound. It has, however, caused increases in cycling accidents and raised safety concerns. A local merchant on Danforth Avenue pointed out that the new lanes force people parked in narrow designated areas to open their doors right into the path of traffic approaching from behind.
There is no doubt that the rise of cycling as a clean and healthy method of personal transportation is a good trend, but with low and zero pollution “Smartcars” set to appear in the very near future, why is Toronto not planning road space for them too? Some suggest that Toronto can take far better advantage of the extensive parks and green spaces available to all of us lucky enough to live here. With hundreds of kilometers of park pathways, hydro easements, LRT tracks, and river and lakefront shores, there are all kinds of locations where safe green lanes could be constructed that might not increase road rage, intensify gridlock, or affect our air quality.
~ Jim Sanderson is a local resident, and the author of Toronto Island Summers, and Life in Balmy Beach.