Toronto's big cycling challenge? Coaxing nervous riders onto the road

Coun. Mike Layton says city needs more cyclists to drive the demand for bike lanes, but without bike lanes, many are too scared to ride.

City has 10-year plan to build cycling network, but advocates calling for more lanes sooner

(John Rieti/CBC)

Sarah Speedie has the "want" to ride her bike to work, but for now, that only goes so far.

Speedie has been riding to her job for one week, something she says she only feels comfortable doing after having taken a safe infrastructure tour put on by Cycle Toronto. If there's no lane, she often dismounts.

Her message to city councillors? "Where they're able, invest in that infrastructure," she told CBC Toronto.

Cyclists like Speedie could be key to Toronto getting more bike lanes, says Coun. Mike Layton, because right now the city is stuck in a "chicken and the egg scenario" where people are saying they want to ride — but only if there are safe routes.

"How do we increase the number of cyclists when we know more people want to bike, they just won't because the infrastructure doesn't exist?" Layton said.

Coun. Mike Layton, left, and Coun. Janet Davis, right, were among several councillors who joined the ride hundreds of cyclists kicking off Bike Month on Monday. (John Rieti/CBC)

A vocal proponent of the Bloor Street bike lanes, Layton says he'd like city council to push for more protected lanes across the city.

"It's going to take bold change," he said.

Instead, Layton says council seems to be taking a cautious approach. The Bloor lanes are still just a pilot project and may not continue, while lanes on Jarvis Street, Pharmacy Avenue and Birchmount Road have been established then removed.

Toronto is adding several new bike lanes — several of which are contra-flow lanes, where cyclists can ride in either direction on a one-way street — in 2017 as part of its 10-year cycling network plan. Bike lanes are also on the way for Lake Shore Boulevard in Etobicoke, and Woodbine Avenue in the east end. 

The provincial and federal governments are also investing in cycling infrastructure in the GTA.

'Torontonians are cyclists'

Cycle Toronto's Jared Kolb says when those lanes are built, ridership data will prove it: "Torontonians are cyclists."

Kolb, speaking at a celebration marking the launch of Bike Month in the city, says he's seeing an increasing number of people hopping on their bikes to get to work.

"When we're installing safe, protected infrastructure, people are riding," he said.

In the downtown core, many can reach a bike lane. The problem, he says, is those riding from Midtown, Etobicoke or Scarborough often face jagged routes where only part of their trip is protected from cars.

"We have a growing network in the downtown core, but we have not done enough to connect it," said Kolb. 


John Rieti

Senior producer

John started with CBC News in 2008 as a Peter Gzowski intern in Newfoundland, and holds a master of journalism degree from Toronto Metropolitan University. As a reporter, John has covered everything from the Blue Jays to Toronto city hall. He now leads a CBC Toronto digital team that has won multiple Radio Television Digital News Association awards for overall excellence in online reporting. You can reach him at