Message to Toronto's Budget Committee: The funding is there. Let's get serious about building the Cycling Network Plan

Photo: Marvin Macaraig

Good evening. My name is Paula. I am a long-time Toronto resident and cyclist, and I am an active member of Cycle Toronto. I am here to urge the city to accelerate the implementation of Toronto's cycling plan and grow Toronto's cycling infrastructure and to make these objectives a priority in the 2018 budget. These measures are good for the city, and good for all of us. 

Toronto City Council voted overwhelmingly in June of 2016 to expand the city's cycling infrastructure over a ten-year period. Since then, the pace of installations in 2016 and 2017 has lagged behind significant and growing public support for development of better cycling infrastructure. Evidence shows that Toronto's residents want to cycle more, and that Toronto's residents do cycle more where the infrastructure is available to them (Toronto Star, December 5, 2017). Speeding up the implementation of the cycling plan meets the needs of Toronto's residents and achieves many broader public policy objectives. Furthermore, given recent funding announcements from the province and the federal government (Toronto Star, June 5, 2017), I would urge city council to set a target date for implementation of the plan by the end of the next term of council, in 2022. 

I bike to work and to social events and to run errands, and I use my bike much more now than I did ten years ago, precisely because Toronto has during that time expanded its network of bike lanes. Like many city residents, I am not comfortable riding my bike in the midst of traffic. I am able ride my bike as much as I do because many of my most frequently travelled routes in East York and downtown have separated bike lanes. But not all Toronto's residents are as fortunate as I am. The city's own backgrounder to the Cycling Network Plan recognizes this inequity when it refers to the fact that installation of infrastructure in Scarborough, North York and Etobicoke lags behind downtown.

Cycling is good for individual health: this is an important objective for all demographic groups, but it is especially important for city policy to encourage active transportation like cycling among our city's aging population and young people. Biking is good for the environment because it reduces individuals' reliance on cars and thereby decreases greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change with its catastrophic and costly effects. By expanding Toronto's cycling infrastructure to all of Toronto's neighbourhoods, cycling will be embraced by a more diverse population, including new Canadians, older cyclists, and cyclists with disabilities. The city for all of these good reasons has embraced a policy of developing infrastructure that encourages biking. However, the objectives of the cycling plan can be more effectively achieved if the installation of cycling infrastructure are accelerated. 

Toronto's Vision Zero Road Safety Plan is aimed at reducing traffic fatalities and serious injuries on city streets, and I support recent Council motions to speed up the implementation of the road safety plan. I agree with the budget's provision for the creation of two new cycling unit staff in the 2018 budget and two staff focused on implementing Vision Zero. Accelerating the creation of safe bike infrastructure is consistent with the objective of the road safety plan. 

The cycling plan recognizes the special status of fast busy streets ("major corridors") and the need for more study and investment to facilitate safe cycling along those corridors. The establishment of a central corridor along Bloor-Danforth has exciting potential, and it is more urgent than ever with the recent council vote to make the Bloor Street bike lanes permanent. In addition, the development of major corridors outside of downtown will create safe cycling routes that can be accessed by more of the city's residents. Unfortunately, most of the major corridor studies were put on hold when the bike plan was approved in 2016. Those studies must be reactivated without delay. The cycling plan must develop infrastructure in major corridors, or the city's bike routes will look like a patchwork quilt of biking zones and not a truly accessible city-wide network.

Cycling is also encouraged by provision in the budget for reliable winter clearing so that cycling is safe all year round, and by making more and better bike parking available. Both of these items need to be addressed in the budget. All of Toronto's bike lanes should be reliably cleared because unreliable winter maintenance will deter some cyclists (particularly in demographic groups that have not historically embraced cycling) from cycling year round. And cyclists who do bike in the winter should not be expected to dodge snow and ice to get where they need to go. As with winter maintenance, inadequate parking facilities for bikes also operates to deter people from cycling: people will not get on their bikes if they have nowhere to lock them. The budget should clearly disclose how much will be spent on bike parking, and should come up with a plan to address the parking backlog.

There are so many good reasons to accelerate the implementation of the bike plan, and this submission has only highlighted some of the most obvious ones. We urge the budget committee to prioritize this issue and ensure that the 2018 budget meets the objectives set out in this submission. 

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