Photo: Toronto cross-town bike lane could be a game-changer

(Credit: Second Avenue Protected Bike Lane via Flickr)

By Gideon Forman, Science and Policy Analyst and Jared Kolb, Executive Director, Cycle Toronto

During the recent federal election, a candidate distributed flyers promising that, if elected, her party would make "historic investments in infrastructure".

"Infrastructure" can mean almost anything, of course, but after this vague language the flyer offered something concrete: "This means building cycling lanes and better public transit."

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The transit pledge wasn't unexpected — many politicians talk about that — but her other promise was surprising and welcome. Among the dozens of issues a candidate can mention, this one chose bike lanes. Perhaps the world is changing.

This month the David Suzuki Foundation is launching a campaign to have bike lanes built in Ontario cities. It's all part of our effort to help folks spend more time outdoors, reduce traffic congestion, clear the air and cut greenhouse gas emissions.

Our first goal is getting a major bike lane on the main east-west corridor of Canada's largest city: Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue. We think it could prove a game-changer not just for Toronto but for municipalities across the country.

Toronto already has lanes on shorter streets, such as Adelaide in the downtown core, and they're proving very popular. Since bike lanes were installed on Adelaide in 2014, the number of cyclists has nearly tripled, from 550 to 1,575 over an eight-hour period. Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, the city's cycling infrastructure manager, says people on bikes now represent nearly half (43 per cent) of traffic on this street. That's an extraordinary statistic, and one to remember when naysayers argue cycling could never move large numbers of people.

Now it's time to take this successful experiment and run it right across the city with a "cycle track" — or protected bicycle lane — on Bloor-Danforth.

The David Suzuki Foundation and its local partner, Cycle Toronto, are optimistic the project will come to fruition. The new federal government has promised billions of dollars for "green infrastructure", a bucket in which bike lanes should comfortably fit. The Bloor route is backed by six local residents' associations. And city staff are recommending approval of a pilot lane along Bloor, to be built in spring 2016.

As well, the project should garner support from drivers, especially elderly ones. The U.S. advocacy group People for Bikes says protected lanes reduce driving risks. Other experts point out that by clearly delineating spaces for cyclists and automobiles, the lanes make road use more predictable and safer for everyone.

The Bloor proposal comes in the midst of a growing belief that reliance on private motorized vehicles needs to be sharply curtailed. In Ontario, cars are now "the largest source of transport emissions", according to the province's environmental commissioner. The inactivity implicit in car travel is also harming our health: the Canadian Association of Physicians for the Environment says, "Each additional hour spent in a car per day is associated with a 6% increase in the likelihood of obesity." The growing popularity of cycling in Canadian cities shows that when you give people the opportunity to leave their cars at home, they will.

A Bloor bike lane is a great idea — one that could spark similar projects across Canada. But not everyone at Toronto city council is embracing it. That's where you come in.

If you believe we need more bike lanes, please take a moment to express this to decision-makers by filling out the "Bloor Loves Bikes" pledge:

It doesn't matter where you live: please fill out the pledge to build momentum for bike lanes and cleaner air throughout the country!


November 2, 2015

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