Toronto's new bike plan revealed

A report to the city's Public Works Committee suggests construction on a series of separated bike lanes in the downtown core will begin this year.

Bloor Viaduct could see construction this year

Cyclists in Toronto will soon be able to use separated lanes on some streets, which advocates say make for safer biking. (John Rieti/CBC) (John Rieti/CBC)

A report to the Toronto council's public works committee recommends construction on a series of separated bike lanes in the downtown core begin this year.

The plan recommends that separated bike lanes be implemented this year across the Bloor Viaduct between Sherbourne Street and Broadview Avenue using the existing bike lanes.

This route was earmarked as the first location for the installation of the separated bike lanes as it does not require removing any existing traffic lanes or parking.

'A can of paint doesn't make people feel safe.'— Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong

The report suggests that further study be conducted to evaluate different design options for the separated bike lane network and identify its impacts. These additional studies would also lead to the implementation of bike lanes on Sherbourne Street and Wellesley Street next year.

"We have to improve safety for cyclists and we have to make sure that motorists don't veer into lanes of cyclists," said Coun. Denzil Minnan-Wong, chairman of the city's public works committee.

"Cyclists are a reality. There are more of them and we have to have an appropriate way for them to get around the downtown," he told CBC's Jamie Strashin.

Staff report

City bike plan

The report recommends that studies be done to consider lanes on Richmond Street and/or Adelaide Streets, between Bathurst Street and Sherbourne Streets, and north-south bike lanes in the corridor from Peter Street to Simcoe Street.

Bi-directional lanes preferred

The city should also study connecting the existing Beverley Street lanes to the waterfront, the report says. All of those lanes would be separated.

Separated bike lanes have been adopted in Montreal. (Giacomo Panico/CBC)

The staff report said bi-directional lanes, like those pictured at the right, would be the ideal design for the separated bike lanes. Uni-directional lanes "are the preferred design from a cycling and traffic operations perspective," but staff say those lanes would have "greater impacts" on traffic and parking.

If they are all implemented, the city stands to install 13.9 kilometres of separated bike lanes downtown. Staff estimate that the maintenance costs for the separated lanes at about $20,000 per kilometre per year.

The city should draw on the $42.7 million currently allocated to cycling infrastructure in its five-year capital plan to fund the construction of the bike lanes, the report said. Under the proposal, no further capital funding is required to implement the plan, according to the report.

However, the report recommended that work on the Bloor-Danforth Bikeway Environmental Assessment be scrapped to free up funds for the new plan. It also suggests that bike lanes should be removed on Pharmacy Avenue and Birchmount Road.

Meanwhile Minnan-Wong said the days of the Jarvis bike lanes could be numbered as well.

"I think a number of councillors still have concerns on the necessity of the Jarvis Street bike lanes and I'm sure they'll come up during debate at council," Minnan-Wong.

The report says the priority of any bike plan should be to close gaps in the bike lane network, to upgrade downtown cycling infrastructure and to support high-traffic areas and the newly launched BIXI program.

'Some sacrifices'

Minnan-Wong first floated the idea of a network of curbed, physically separated paths earlier this year.

Protected lanes — which place a physical barrier between traffic and bicycles — are commonplace in other large cities, but not in Toronto. Speaking on Thursday morning to CBC's Metro Morning, Minnan-Wong said the options for the physical barriers could include curbs, bollards and planters, but indicated that's up for discussion.

"A can of paint doesn't make people feel safe. There are too many accidents happening. We need to address that and provide a safer option," he said.

The majority of the proposed separated network uses existing bike lanes, said Minnan-Wong, although he added "in terms of parking, there are going to have to be some sacrifices."

If implemented, Minnan-Wong's proposal would introduce the city's first physically separated bike lanes. The public works and infrastructure committee will debate the report next Thursday.

Biking advocates have long argued for separated lanes, saying they make cyclists feel safer and would increase the number of people using bicycles to get around.

Cyclist Michael Orr said physically separating bikes lanes on downtown streets may reduce the friction between drivers and cyclists.

"I don't think we want to have war on cars but at the same time we want to facilitate bikes as much as possible and practical," Orr said.

Mayor Rob Ford has spoken out against bike lanes in the past and his bicycle plan envisions building a cycling network along the city's ravines and parks. It included no plans for additional lanes or enhancements on the city's roads.

With files from CBC's Jamie Strashin