The confrontational phrase “war on cars” has been much used in recent years. It is a sensationalist term that serves only to fuel the flames between those favouring one mode of transportation over another, when in fact each mode of transportation has its own benefits and challenges.
Cycling is a combination of fun, good exercise, sometimes a necessity or a challenge, and other times faster and cheaper than taking a car or transit. LiveGreen Toronto published the booklet Changing Gears with facts and statistics about cycling in Toronto, obtained through a 2009 Cycling Study. It shows that 54 per cent of adult Torontonians are cyclists, and a whopping 81 per cent of recreational cyclists also have access to a motor vehicle.
The numbers also show that:
• Toronto has 16,000 post-and-ring racks for bicycle parking
• 56 businesses received Bicycle Friendly Business Awards from the City
• 600,000 Ontarians ride a bicycle daily and 182,000 daily riders are in Toronto
The fears and risks of riding on shared streets are understandable. Streetcar tracks and getting the ‘door prize’ – colliding with the opening door of a stationary parked vehicle – remain among the biggest issues for Toronto cyclists.
New infrastructure and programs are underway to improve safety. City Council’s Bikeway Trails Implementation Plan was adopted in 2012 to expand the network of multi-use trails over the next 10 years, including hydro corridors, rail paths and more on-street connections.
In July, a separated bike lane on Sherbourne marked the completion of Phase I of a plan to add 14 km of enhanced bike lanes in the downtown area. These raised lanes, called ‘cycle tracks’, provide separation from vehicular traffic and extend from Bloor to King Street.
New ground markings include:
• Bike boxes: On-street marking used at intersections to designate a space for cyclists to wait in front of cars at the red light and proceed first on green.
• Contra-flow bicycle lanes: One-way streets for motorized traffic can be a two-way street for cyclists. Knox Avenue, which runs one-way south from Queen Street East to Eastern Avenue just west of Greenwood Avenue, features a northbound contra-flow bike lane for users of the Lakeshore trail to connect to the bike lane on Greenwood.
• ‘Sharrows’: Shared lane pavement marking with a bicycle symbol and two white chevrons, used to remind drivers to share the road with cyclists.
Of course cyclists are required to adhere to the rules under the Highway Traffic Act, including stopping at red lights, and staying off sidewalks! The latter carries a $90 fine.
To learn how to cycle or become more confident, you can take CAN-Bike training, join a casual bike group to gain confidence, or find local commuters to ride with. The Toronto Cyclists Handbook, download-able at cycleto.ca/handbook, contains tips and rules for safe riding.
Toronto has been called the bicycle theft capital of North America. In 2010, police reports showed 3,247 bike thefts. Even Ward 32 councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon’s commuting bike wasn’t safe – it was stolen outside City Hall earlier this summer. Bike ownership is hard to prove, often not properly documented, and bikes are easy to pawn or spray-paint. One can only hope that a heavy, secure bike chain and lock will be enough of a deterrent, or that your end point is near Union Station or Victoria Park Station – they boast bicycle stations with secured, monitored access for daily commuters.
Bicycle Lanes and Trails
As Beachers, we are fortunate to have local access to the wonderful Martin Goodman Trail. Covering 56 km from the Rouge River to the Humber bridge, the Beach section starts around Silver Birch Avenue and connects with downtown via the Portlands. From there, the Waterfront Trail – with up to 3,500 users per day – takes you west. Waterfront Toronto’s current projects are improving Queens’ Quay’s streetscape and will include a seamless trail connection from either side of downtown.
Local trail improvements in the Beach were made in autumn 2012 and early 2013 with new ground markings and signage. The Ward 32 Transportation Committee was instrumental in the project. Chair Adam Smith says they first analyzed trail issues, usage, rules of the multi-use trail and identified blind corners and high traffic areas. Then they devised appropriate signage and presented everything to the City.
“The City did an excellent job”, Smith says. “Parks staff and other departments were very receptive to our suggestions and adopted most.”
What’s next for Smith’s team? A crosswalk on Woodbine Avenue between Queen Street and Kingston Road, not only for safer foot traffic but to connect cyclists from Norway Avenue with the bike lane on Dundas Street East. The ward’s cycling group, 32 Spokes, is also pushing for this connector.
“We still have a gap in our cycling infrastructure and east-west connectors … but it’s a city-wide issue,” says Smith.
Aside from the Martin Goodman Trail, our next east-west connection is the bike lane on Dundas, and on-street cycling along Danforth and Bloor Street. The latter is heavily used but not the safest route (see ‘dooring’).
Even developers have started accounting for increased bicycle usage and the city now requires new high rises to include bike parking spots at a ration of 0.75–1 per unit. I wonder if all these new condos sprouting in the East End have included them too?
Martina Rowley is an environmental communicator