Toronto·Safer Streets

'Political will' needed to solve city's bike lane disparity, advocates say

In the latest instalment of our Safer Streets series, CBC Toronto looks at why some neighbourhoods have updated, separated bike lanes protected by posts or planter boxes, while others rely on faded road paint — or nothing at all.

Cycling advocates question city's 'piecemeal' approach, lack of infrastructure 'equity'

Every morning, Danforth resident Lanrick Bennett bikes alongside his 10-year-old daughter Zoë when she heads to school. The pair uses a unprotected bike lane with faded road markings - and Bennett questions why some neighbourhoods like his are years behind when it comes to cycling infrastructure. (Lauren Pelley/CBC News)

Every morning, Lanrick Bennett cycles with his daughter Zoë to her elementary school.

And every morning, he's acutely aware of another cyclist dad who never made it home from the same faded, unprotected stretch of bike lanes.

It's a roughly eight minute, three kilometre trip from the Bennett family's home near Danforth and Jones avenues to Duke of Connaught School near Greenwood Avenue and Queen Street East. Roughly halfway through the route — one that's often marked by heavy traffic and blockages in the bike lane — Bennett passes a ghost bike in memory of Douglas Crosbie, the east-end father who died after being hit by a truck in May.

"It's scary," says Bennett, after a recent morning ride. "I'm riding on painted lines. I have no protection whatsoever for Zoë."

Bennett, a council hopeful, is among those raising concerns about the disparity in the city's cycling infrastructure, which some advocates see as a crucial equity and public health issue that needs a fast fix from the next city council.

Until there's city-wide change, Bennett says troubling questions remain: Why do some neighbourhoods have updated, separated bike lanes, protected by posts or planter boxes, while others rely on faded road paint — or nothing at all?

City's cycling network has 'equity issue'

"Where we are in the east end, if you look at the west ... you're seeing protected bike lanes on River, on Gerrard, on Adelaide, on Richmond. You look toward the east of us, and they've got a fully protected bike lane on Woodbine," he says. "We're kind of in the middle, where we've got nothing."

The city's 10-year cycling network plan, approved by council in 2016, proposes an expanded network of 525 kilometres of cycling infrastructure. But Liz Sutherland, director of advocacy and government relations at Cycle Toronto, says what's been built to date reveals an "equity issue."

Various bike lane pilot projects have popped up in recent years, from the Adelaide-Richmond cycle tracks to the now-permanent Bloor bike lanes, but Sutherland says other areas are lagging behind.

Parkdale, for instance, is a neighbourhood with no safe cycling route to get downtown.

Liz Sutherland, director of advocacy and government relations at Cycle Toronto, says there are 'street-by-street campaigns to get cycling infrastructure in Toronto, when this kind of infrastructure should be built by default.' (Grant Linton/CBC News)

"It seems we have to have these street-by-street campaigns to get cycling infrastructure in Toronto, when this kind of infrastructure should be built by default," Sutherland says.

"Some neighbourhoods have the resources to advocate more than others, and I think that can result in an inequity."

Family physician Dr. Samantha Green, who co-founded the advocacy group Doctors for Safe Cycling, feels the most public pressure comes from the downtown core.

But safe infrastructure across the city is crucial for public health, she says, since protected bike lanes are a research-backed way to reduce cycling deaths. 

"What I think we need is political will," she says.

Dr. Samantha Green, co-founder of the Doctors For Safe Cycling advocacy group, stresses that research shows that protected bike lanes work in keeping people safe on the road. (Paul Smith/CBC News)

'Piecemeal' approach to cycling infrastructure

Coun. Paula Fletcher says the city has a "piecemeal" approach.

"The transportation division has to have cycling as important as automobiles and pedestrians, so it's not all separated out," she says, adding bike lanes need be incorporated into road refreshing from the get-go. 

The latest city data for its Vision Zero initiative — part of a multi-national effort to eliminate road deaths — shows a dozen cycling corridors across the city were enhanced with new road paint or green markings in 2018, thanks to roughly $75 million in funding from all three levels of government.

In Fletcher's ward, for instance, the Dundas East bike lanes, first opened under her watch in 2002, were refurbished after Crosbie's death. 

What some see as disparity, according to Fletcher, stems from many downtown neighbourhoods starting out with a comparative lack of cycling infrastructure in the first place, which spurred the creation of Adelaide-Richmond cycle tracks and Sherbourne Street bike lanes.

"There's been more attention to cycling in the downtown core because there had been no attention to cycling in the downtown core," she adds. "So it does seem like they're getting everything, and they're getting the new standard."

Cuts could hinder efforts, councillor warns

So when will that new standard be applied across the city?

If Sutherland has her way, it would be sooner than the city's current decade-long cycling plan.

Her organization partnered with The Toronto Centre for Active Transportation for a report in June, which calls on the next city council to build safe, connected bike routes in every ward, and speed up the cycling network plan to be built within the next four years.

But Fletcher, a cyclist herself, worries the potential shift to a 25-seat council system championed by Premier Doug Ford could further hinder the city's efforts — if the province's legislation receives royal assent and survives a court challenge.

"Digging down and getting things like that done will get even harder," she warns.

This story is part of CBC Toronto's new road safety series, Safer Streets. Whether you drive, bike, or walk, we want to hear your stories about sharing the road. What areas concern you? How do you want to make our streets safer? Send us an email: SaferStreetsToronto@cbc.ca

About the Author

Lauren Pelley

City Hall reporter

Lauren Pelley is a CBC reporter in Toronto covering city hall and municipal affairs. Contact her at: lauren.pelley@cbc.ca

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