Nice thought to have protected bikeways in Toronto, physically separating cyclists from pedestrians and from cars, making it safe for all.
Unfortunately the plan to do them on University Ave., from Richmond St. to Wellesley St. will not work. It does not connect anything to anything. It will just provide politicians like Rocco Rossi a wonderful excuse to say that “we are not a bicycle city,” as it will not increase the number cyclists significantly.
In fact, the purpose of having protected bikeways is to increase the current number of cyclists. It would allow people that are not currently cycling because of fear of cars an opportunity to try it in a safe way. This is especially attractive for children, older adults, as well as inexperienced adults.
Nevertheless in addition of having physical separation on arterials, when roads have speeds for cars of 40 km/h or higher and/or over 5,000 cars per day, you need to connect places of origin to places of destination. You need a minimum grid. Toronto is approximately 20 by 40 kilometres; it would be ideal to have a protected bikeway every 2-3 kilometres so that you would have 8 going East – West and 16 North South.
An initial trial should have at least one route North - South from Eglinton Ave. to Lakeshore Blvd. (along University or Yonge) and another East – West on streets like Richmond St. and Adelaide St. all across the city. Ideally the trial should have three in each direction -- a mini grid which then could expand.
People who are not currently cycling in Toronto will not begin to do so just because you have 1,300 metres of protected facility that does not connect places. The existing cyclists will be the only users, maybe adding a few that are using other roads and will move over to try this one, but they are not additional riders.
It will not show any significant increase and it will not serve to make the case for protected bikeways in Toronto. Actually it will have the opposite effect.
The only positive aspect is that it will educate people on what a “protected bikeway can look like”, even if it is on the wrong side of the street. It should always be uni-directional, on the left, from slow to fast: sidewalks for pedestrians, protected bikeways, then slow car lanes, then fast cars.
Why is it that Toronto is so timid, so scared of thinking big and acting big?
We have one innovative pedestrian crosswalk at Yonge and Dundas, the “scramble” that allows a time for pedestrians to walk in all directions, and three years later we have two. In similar cities like Christchurch, New Zealand, they try one, it works, and within six months they have all the crossings along that main street as a scramble.
Toronto announces it is bringing public bikes and then the director of transportation announces on CBC that “the system is not proven” and the decision is postponed. He does not realize the places like Copenhagen have had it for 20 years; Paris has 20,400 public bikes for the last two years and Montreal now has its very successful Bixi program.
Finally we were going to get the first protected bikeway. We know that in addition to the bikeway itself, we need connectivity, a grid. We get 1.3 kilometres! Can you imagine cars or transit if they just had 1,300 metres of streets or rails at a time? Where could they go to?
Thinking small, acting smaller.
Let’s keep this in mind as we choose our candidates for Mayor and Council across Ontario. Toronto is already good; let’s elect the right people to make it truly great. Who has the vision, political will and managerial capacity to get things done? Who is not afraid to think big and hopefully to act big? There are some good municipal staff all over the GTA, and they deserve to have the best politicians providing the necessary leadership and support. The community has the obligation to think carefully who to elect and to participate in the process.