I have a confession to make.
I have yet to ride a bike on the streets of downtown Toronto. But I make this admission with no shame – at least on my part. Rather, it's the city that should be embarrassed at the sorry state of Toronto's (lack of adequate) bike lanes.
As mayoral candidate Sarah Thomson said last week, “Toronto streets are not safe for cyclists.” And I agree. It's time to stop the foot-dragging; City Hall needs to pick up the pace, and build new bike lanes while revamping old ones.
As a non-rider, many of my friends are surprised whenever I express my desire for a better bicycle network, particularly in the downtown core. While attending the University of Toronto during undergrad, my main mode of transportation was the subway. But oftentimes – especially at the height of rush hour while being squished against the red TTC doors by hordes of commuters getting off work – I wish I rode a bike.
Still, whenever I took one look at the faded lines marking the virtually non-existent bicycle lanes, I recalled the near-collisions I frequently saw between bikes and cars (a.k.a. eternal foes) and would immediately wipe this silly little notion out of my mind.
For the longest time, I always thought that this was the way bicycle lanes were supposed to be. After all, I grew up in Toronto and these were pretty much the only lanes that I saw on a regular basis. That is, until I travelled to Northern Europe with my family three years ago, and saw the exceptional quality of bike lanes and programs that they had there - a quality that Toronto is capable of reaching and to which it should aspire.
In Copenhagen, Denmark, bold white lines and a bicycle symbol clearly demarcate the lanes for cyclists. In Helsinki, Finland, there are elevated paths – one for cyclists and another for pedestrians, each lane indicated by the appropriate symbols. In Stockholm, Sweden, there are metal barricades on both sides of the lanes, protecting cyclists and pedestrians from moving traffic.
And in all three of these cities, the lanes are wide enough to be safe and comfortable for one or two cyclists to travel side by side. Moreover, Copenhagen, Helsinki and Stockholm have had bicycle sharing programs for years – something City Hall only recently approved.
Toronto has the potential to have similar – that is, better – bike lanes and programs. But until we do, many people who want to get around on a bike, won't. Not only is that a shame for the health of Torontonians and for the environment, it's a shame on City Hall.