Danforth bike lanes gain ground

Dozens of Danforth Avenue business owners have put a small blue sticker on their windows that says “Danforth Loves Bikes.”

It’s a short message, but supporters of the Cycle Toronto campaign hope it goes a long way to getting bike lanes on the Danforth.

“Our goal is to have everyone on board,” said Val Dodge, a Cycle Toronto member who cycles to work along the Danforth year-round, even in the record cold last February.

More people are cycling on the Danforth every year, he said, and for good reason – coupled with the Bloor Viaduct, it’s the only continuous route north of the lakeshore that connects the East End to downtown without any streetcar tracks. And Danforth is also wider than most Toronto streets.

About 500 cyclists joined Bells On Danforth on June 6. The family-friendly cycling trip along Danforth Avenue has grown larger every year. PHOTO: Andrew Hudson
About 500 cyclists joined Bells On Danforth on June 6. The family-friendly cycling trip along Danforth Avenue has grown larger every year.
PHOTO: Andrew Hudson

“If you look at it now, there’s already a sort of de facto bike lane,” said Dodge, noting that for most of its length, cyclists have enough room on Danforth to pass parked cars without worrying about being “doored.”

Members of Cycle Toronto expect some end-of-block street parking would be lost and some left-turn lanes reconfigured, but that bike lanes could go onto Danforth without too much trouble.

But in 2009 and 2012, city council rejected attempts to add a planning study of Danforth bike lanes to another one for Bloor Street.

And while a March survey of 62 merchants and 152 pedestrians in Greektown found customers who cycle or walk spend more per month than drivers, not all Danforth business owners are convinced.

“If it takes away parking, I’m afraid I wouldn’t be for it,” said Ruth Heathcote, owner of the Wag on the Danforth pet store.

Pointing out the big bags of food and cat litter on her shelves, Heathcote said she sells many things that cyclists would struggle to carry, adding that drivers generally want to make a quick stop and go.

“Mind you, we deliver as well,” she said.

“But I do get people coming in and going, ‘Oh my God, it’s so hard to park on the Danforth.’”

A few blocks east at the Relish Bar and Grill, manager Mary Stewart had a different view.

Not only does Relish have one of the blue stickers in the window, on July 23 it will be the last stop on the first of four “Danforth Loves Bikes” pub crawls.

Stewart said Relish has asked the city many times for a lock-up post – since all the staff cycle to work, they usually resort to locking their bikes together in a 10- to 20-bike pile.

“We’ve tweeted a lot of pictures about the chaos, but we haven’t got one yet,” she said, smiling.

As for cycling on Danforth with no bike lanes, Stewart said it does feel unsafe in the busy stretches.

“One of our staff was in a biking accident two weeks ago, so he’s still out with a concussion,” she said. “We’re all kind of nervous right now.”

Local councillor Mary-Margaret McMahon is a cycle commuter who regularly takes the Danforth to city hall. She is also vice-chair of the city’s public works committee, the only member who represents a downtown ward.

McMahon said that even councillors from suburban wards, where new bike lanes are often a rarity, joined a unanimous vote in June to extend a protected bike lanes pilot on Richmond and Adelaide Streets – another east-west route that Cycle Toronto had long called for.

“Jared Kolb from Cycle Toronto said ‘If you build it, they will come,’ and it’s totally true,” McMahon said. “Look, it went from 500 to 2,100 cyclists per day on Richmond.”

“The numbers speak for themselves.”

City staff are developing a new 10-year cycling network plan for Toronto, and until July 31 people can give their feedback using an online survey with interactive maps on the city website.

After looking at the map, McMahon said she would love to see bike lanes on Danforth, and connecting north-south lanes on Woodbine Avenue.

Danforth is “very wide, and a beautiful ride, actually,” she said. “But we need painted lanes and separated lanes, especially.

“They keep all road users safer.”

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Bike lanes on Danforth are going to happen, I just hope it happens in the next couple years instead of 10 years from now. Bloor-Danforth is a perfect continuous route through the city and will encourage so many would-be-cyclists to dust off their bikes in the garage or to buy a bike. There will be increasing calls for bike lanes on Danforth especially if bike lanes are installed on Bloor between Shaw and Avenue Road next year which city council will vote on in January.

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