Before the end of the year, the City of Toronto is set to make two major changes that’ll affect our fledgling network of bike infrastructure. After a prolonged battle, staff are finally scheduled to remove the bike lanes on Jarvis Street. They’ll also complete construction on the city’s first-ever physically-separated bike lanes on Sherbourne Street.
Neither of these moves are good news for Toronto cyclists.
I’ve written a lot about council’s wrong-headed decision to remove the Jarvis lanes. The justification to do so was always weak, based more on political spite than sound transportation planning.
Removing the lanes will cost about three times more than it cost to install them. It’s being done with no local consultation and against the wishes of the local councillor and contrary to the recommendations of staff. Worst of all, returning Jarvis to its five-lane configuration with the silly reversible centre lane will result in the resurrection of a street design that was expressly rejected by the community through a consultative planning process that wrapped up in 2009.
And there’s still no real evidence that reverting the street will significantly improve travel times for cars.
And then there’s Sherbourne, just a few blocks away, which is currently torn up for the construction of separated cycle tracks running along both sides of the street from Bloor to Lake Shore. The new design, which will replace the existing painted bike lanes that were installed in 1996, is touted as superior because it creates a physical barrier between cars and cyclists.
As a fairly avid cyclist, the Sherbourne project baffles me. For $2.5 million in reported construction costs, it’s a waste of resources that could have gone to vastly expanding the larger network of bike lanes.
I get that separated bike lanes can be useful, especially when it comes to encouraging newbies to give cycling a try downtown, but I totally reject the idea that all bike lanes should be physically separated like the Sherbourne design. Just as road design varies for other vehicles based on expected speed and conditions, separated bike lanes should be built mostly in areas where there’s a real need for the enhanced safety and security they can provide.
In downtown Toronto, conditions are ripe for separated lanes on roads like Richmond, Adelaide, University or Bayview. Sherbourne, as a relatively low-speed and low-traffic arterial, doesn’t qualify—all it ever needed was a simple resurfacing. Instead, it’s getting overbuilt lanes that, on a per-kilometre basis, will cost more than 28 times what it cost to install the painted lanes on Jarvis Street.
This kind of slipshod planning is the end result of council’s decision last year to toss out an established city-wide plan for cycling and instead replace it with a collection of half-formed ideas that emerged—again without consultation—from councillors and a mayor who have never shown much love for two-wheeled transportation. It’s not too late to do better.
Council should start by finding a way to reverse their previous decision to waste $250,000 removing functional lanes on Jarvis. And then they should revisit the downtown bike plan to expand the scope and make it more cost-effective. Put separated lanes only where they make sense and look at places where painted lanes can be added quickly and cheaply to improve the overall network. Most importantly: start talking to cyclists again.
Let’s get moving.