Council shouldn't let cars with accessibility permits stop in bike lanes, group warns

The city may be trying to help disabled people get around Toronto, but its plan to allow cars with accessibility permits to stop in separated bike lanes is misguided, a group of cycling, pedestrian and disability advocates said on Monday.

Plan to change bylaws has already been given green light by public works committee

Should cars with accessible permits be able to stop in bike lanes while loading or unloading people? The city's public works committee thinks so, but critics say it would ruin the lanes and put both pedestrians and cyclists at risk. (David Donnelly/CBC)

The city may be trying to help disabled people get around Toronto, but its plan to allow cars with accessibility permits to stop in separated bike lanes is misguided, a group of cycling, pedestrian and disability advocates said on Monday.

The city's public works committee has already approved the idea of allowing cars with permits to stop in bike lanes while loading and unloading people with disabilities. City council is set to vote on the plan at its Tuesday meeting.

That move drew the ire of the Accessibility Coalition, which represents people with disabilities as well as groups like Walk and Cycle Toronto. The group staged a protest at city hall Monday, warning the change endangers the city's most vulnerable road users.

It's not a comprehensive solution to the problem.- Jared Kolb, Cycle Toronto

Walk Toronto's Daniella Levy-Pinto urged councillors to scrap the plan and go back to the drawing board.

"This change is a step backward," she told reporters.

Levy-Pinto, who is blind and navigates the city with a service dog, said her biggest fear is that cyclists will go up on the sidewalk to get around parked cars, something that's especially dangerous for her. She said it's "naïve" for the city to think cyclists will stop and wait for the car to move.

Jared Kolb, of Cycle Toronto, said his organization is concerned about the proposal as well.

"It's not a comprehensive solution to the problem," he said, noting cyclists who do ride out into traffic will be dealing with drivers that may not be expecting them.

Don't change rules, redesign lanes, Cycle Toronto says

Kolb suggested the city consider developing more lay-bys, which are built in turnoff points that don't interfere with the cycle tracks. Wheel-Trans vehicles are already using these lay-bys on Sherbourne Street.

Both Levy-Pinto and Kolb also criticized city officials for not holding public consultations on this plan. Staff should also look to other jurisdictions, they said, to see how those places have handled this issue.

Adam Cohoon, who uses a powered wheelchair, said there are certain spots where bike lanes have cut off accessibility features, but said that's due to poor design. Changing the rules completely, he said, would only lead to conflict between road users.

"I want council to reject this recommendation," he said.

Ridership way up on Sherbourne cycle track

In its report, city staff say they are working to improve the designs of the cycle tracks, but still call for the bylaw changes.

Since the Sherbourne Street bike lane has been installed, staff said, ridership has soared from 1,200 cyclists per day to 3,500 cyclists per day taking the lane. The rate of collisions, meanwhile, is down.

The move to allow some vehicles to stop in bike lanes also appears to undermine some of the work done by Toronto police, who launched a crackdown on cars parking in bike lanes early last summer, saying the problematic parking "deprives cyclists of their personal safety and impedes the orderly flow of bicycle traffic throughout the city."

The news also comes during the deadliest year for pedestrians in over a decade, with more than 40 people dying on city streets.