Westward Ho! What’s next for Bloor

bloor west: no bike lanes

On a brisk Tuesday evening, about 100 residents gathered at Bloor Collegiate Institute, near Bloor and Dufferin, to rally for a westward extension of the Bloor bike lanes. On the ride over from our office near Queen and Spadina, we felt the stark difference between riding in the protected bike lanes, which end at Shaw Street and riding on Bloor west of Shaw with no infrastructure, negotiating the precious little space between parked cars and motor vehicle traffic—with only our bells and voices to carve out a pathway. Feeling the difference reignited our drive to get Bloor extended to High Park, to create a viable east-west bikeway linking to well-used routes.

The meeting brought together a chorus of voices sharing their experiences on the Bloor bike lanes and building a case to extend them west.

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Since there are a lot of misconceptions that linger around the impacts of the Bloor bike lanes on business activity, motor vehicle traffic, vibrancy, and safety (both real and perceived), we decided to distill each speaker’s points to bust those myths.

 

Albert Koehl (Bells on Bloor) - History of Bloor and the bicycle

Myth: The idea of a continuous east-west route across the city is new.

Reality: We’ve been talking about this since the 1950s. In 1991, the city’s second ever bike lane was built across the Prince Edward Viaduct (Albert joked that one of the benefits to adding bike lanes to a bridge is that there is little business opposition). Since then many movements, including Take the Tooker, Bells on Bloor, and of course our own Bloor Loves Bikes, have used different tactics to demonstrate the potential for bike lanes along Bloor.

Why it matters: Albert pointed out how progress has been stalled because of bureaucratic hurdles and lack of widespread political support. As we look westward, it will be crucial to push for positive council decisions and avoid getting mired in study upon study.

Fun fact: The Bloor bike lanes are one of the most comprehensively studied projects the General Manager of Transportation Services has ever undertaken.

 

Nancy Smith Lea (TCAT) - Bloor pilot study and what we learned

Myth: Removing on-street parking to make space for protected bike lanes leads to fewer customers and less local spending.

Reality: Merchants consistently overestimate the number of patrons who drive, and the negative impacts of adding bike lanes on parking. Nancy shared that the Bloor pilot actually lead to net gains in parking spaces, dispelling the argument that customers who do need to drive can no longer shop on Bloor. It’s important to note that the business owners present raised valid concerns about loading. We recognize that convenient loading zones are a key consideration in designing protected bike lanes on main streets with a diversity of businesses.

Why it matters: Building bike lanes on main streets will always involves rejigging the streetscape and moving on-street parking to Green P lots or side streets. The business case is already built: TCAT has done three comprehensive studies diving into the economic benefits of bike lanes on local economies. We need to communicate their findings in digestible stats and stories that will speak to business owners’ concerns.

Fun fact: TCAT’s 2017 study evaluating before-and-after conditions on Bloor in the Annex and Koreatown revealed that 90% of customers arrived by foot, bicycle or transit.

 

Jennifer Klein (Secrets from Your Sister) - The business perspective

Myth: Businesses are closing as a direct result of implementation of the Bloor bike lanes.

Reality: Things change. One of the most challenging and energizing part of owning a business is navigating change. Twenty years on Bloor and Jennifer is resoundingly optimistic about making Bloor more vibrant and safe for all road users—whatever that might look like.

Why it matters: in order to have productive conversations with naysayers, whose resistance is often based on fear of change rather than facts, we need local champions like Jennifer to speak directly to their concerns.

Fun fact: After noticing an increase in the number of customers arriving at her store by bike, Jennifer is designing a unique piece of furniture for people to hang their helmets while they shop in her store.

 

Sharon Zikman (Doctors for Safe Cycling) - The health perspective

Myth: The health risks of riding a bike outweigh the benefits.

Reality: Rigorous studies like one recently carried out by the British Medical Journal found that cycling to work is linked to a substantial decrease in the risk of developing and dying from cancer or heart disease.

Why it matters: Unlike many of our societal health and wellbeing concerns, like mental wellness, which do not come with a proven prescription, the prescription of riding a bike has little to no harmful side-effects. And the most exciting thing is that we can all be part of this solution.

Fun fact: Sharon’s prescription is feasible to all and require a minimal dose required—just a bit of daily pedalling is enough to reap the physical and mental health benefits of regular exercise.

 

Councillors Bailão and Layton - The view from council

Myth: We won the pilot, so pushing for a westward extension should be a piece of cake.

Reality: We know it better than anyone else: it took years of work to build a big enough tent to hold up our push for the pilot. We’ll have to draw on proven tactics and integrate new strategies to push for every single inch of bike lane. That’s the political reality in Toronto.

Why it matters: There’s no room for complacency. If we want to see bike lanes extended westward, we need start working today to lead productive discussions (especially with detractors), create space for dissonance, and bring new voices in.

Fun fact: When Mike Layton started riding on the back of a tandem as a young child, there were a grand total of two bike lanes in Toronto. So, we have made some progress.

 

Nahum Mann (Bloordale CIA) - The local perspective

Myth: Bike lanes are for the hardcore and don’t contribute to safety and comfort for everyone else.

Reality: As a parent of a young child, Nahum sees hundreds of parents dropping their kids off by bike, neighbours who cycling to work, and people biking to parks, shops, and community events. He also noted that businesses needn’t fear loss of convenient delivery, as most shops already receive deliveries on side streets.

Why it matters: BIAs and CIAs often hear from their most vocal opponents of bike lanes, whose arguments are often rooted in trepidation about change. It’s important to get into the nitty-gritty about logistical matters like deliveries to tease about those myths that lead to opposition.

Fun fact: The Bloordale BIA sees bike lanes as part of a larger movement towards sustainable streets which include more trees, public spaces, and laneway art.

 

Gideon Forman (David Suzuki Foundation) - The proof is in the polling

Myth: bike lanes are for downtown dwellers. The city is divided when it comes to opinions on creating space for people biking.

Reality: All of Toronto supports making our streets safer for biking—even those who identified driving as their main form of transportation. Almost 6 in 10 drivers support lowering speed limits city-wide and 3 of 4 drivers support building bike lanes citywide.

Why it matters: Polling gives us the evidence to demonstrate consensus on issues that are often framed as divisive. The more we can share that the people from Etobicoke to North York to Scarborough are on board for bike lanes, the easier it will be to secure majority votes on bike lane projects when they go to City Council.

Fun fact: People across Toronto not only support building bike lanes—two thirds of residents  citywide support speeding up the process!

 

Jared Kolb (Cycle Toronto) - Next steps

Myth: Confident cyclists don’t need protected infrastructure.

Reality: Jared used to ride along Bloor in mixed traffic to get to work. As a “young, kamikaze cyclist,” he loved the thrill of the ride—but now knows that only a tiny percentage of Torontonians riding are confident riding in these wild-west conditions.

Why it matters: if we want to move past cycling as a fringe mode of transport, we need to build a city-wide grid of protected bike lanes on main streets that are designed with eight-year-olds and 80-year-olds in mind. Painted lanes and sharrows won’t convince people to try riding. We need to advocate for ages and abilities infrastructure.

 

Fun fact: talk about value for money: the 2.4 km bikeway on Bloor between Avenue Road and Shaw Street cost $500,000—and is now the second most popular bike route in the city. Similarly, we witnessed incredible increases in ridership on the Richmond and Adelaide cycle tracks, which are the highest volume cycling facilities in Toronto - and move more cyclists during rush hour than the adjacent motor vehicle lanes. The cost? Just $780,000 to install and $197,600 annually for sweeping and snow-clearing.

 

Imagine a six kilometre bikeway connecting the ROM to High Park

As we rode away from the meeting, we were brimming over with visions of a bikeway from Avenue Rd. to High Park Ave. that connects neighbourhoods, giving people space to ride to work, to school, and with friends. We’ve experienced the benefits firsthand. But a lot of people still need convincing. The challenge will be to broadly share the information presented at meetings like Westward Ho! to those people who aren't already in the room. We have the studies, the stories, and the expertise. Now let’s get it out into communities along Bloor and foster productive discussions to move this crucial project forward.

 

Activate!

  • Sign our new pledge to extend the Bloor bike lanes west to High Park Ave.

  • Subscribe to our Action Alerts list to get touchpoints and find out what you can do to support the campaign.

  • Join the conversation on Twitter: tag @Cycle Toronto, @BellsonBloor, @BloorLovesBikes and using #BloorLovesBikes, #BikeTO

  • Images speak a thousand words. Share your photos showing why we need bike lanes all the way to High Park.

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By Sarah Bradley on Apr 18, 2019

  Bloor, Bloor bike lanes, Bloor Loves Bikes, Bells on Bloor, advocacy