Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

2012 was a lousy year for Toronto cyclists — and 2013 doesn't look any better

By: Metro Canada Published on Wed Jan 02 2013

Let's be frank. If you rely on a bike to get around this city, 2012 sucked.

There were tragic headlines about two-wheeled commuters killed in hit-and-run accidents or caught under the wheels of a truck. Stories about riders clipped or injured were a dime a dozen. And it all took place in front of a political backdrop that still points to people who want to be able to safely pedal around this city as some kind of threat to the dominant legacy of the almighty car.

Things got so bad last year that we actually saw a political sit-in on Jarvis Street, as desperate cyclists attempted a doomed game of cat-and-mouse with a resilient lane-marking crew set to turn the corridor back into a five-lane road with no room for bikes.

What makes this more frustrating is that Toronto's inaction on cycling is a total outlier amongst large North American cities. Our municipal contemporaries are adding lanes and drafting large-scale plans at the same time our politicians are debating whether safe infrastructure for cyclists will make Rosedale parents late for dinner.

In the last few years, we've seen New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg build almost 500 kilometres of on-street bike lanes in that city. Meanwhile, in Chicago — a favourite destination for Mayor Rob Ford — Mayor Rahm Emanuel has gotten behind a plan to build more than 1,000 kilometres of bike lanes. Even car-crazy Los Angeles has gotten into the action, opening at least one new on-street bike lane in 2012 — which is more than Toronto can say.

Yeah, we got the Sherbourne Street “cycle tracks,” the first in a planned series of very expensive upgrades to mostly-existing bike routes in downtown Toronto. But even that turned into a bit of a mess. The project's completion dragged, resulting in a nasty few weeks in which neither Jarvis or Sherbourne were available to cyclists. And the chosen design for the lanes — sold to the public with the idea that they'd effectively separate cars from bikes — went bust. The curbs keep bikes out of the main roadway but don't do much to discourage other vehicles from parking or idling in the path of cyclists. It's like they were installed backwards.

Undaunted, city staff seem content to move forward with implementing their separated lane design on other corridors, most of which already have painted bike lanes. Wellesley Street is next, followed maybe by St. George and Beverley Street on the west side of downtown. It remains to be seen if staff and council will ever get around to implementing the proposed separated lanes on Richmond or Adelaide, which would provide a desperately needed east-west route through downtown. Given the recent pace of things — and the fact that Ford has voted against them — I wouldn't count on it.

So what's left to celebrate for Toronto cyclists? Not much. The success of the BIXI bike share program is a mark in our city's favour, though we're still waiting for news on the long-promised expansion. And the new trail routes that have been implemented in parts of the city are a welcome sight. But mostly what we're seeing — now and in the future — is a whole lot of stalled momentum.

This post was originally published at on 2013-01-02T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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