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Woodbine bike lane opponents should look to the record

Bike lanes along Woodbine Avenue in the east end of Toronto.
Bike lanes along Woodbine Avenue in the east end of Toronto.

Woodbine Avenue’s new protected bike lanes are just a few weeks old and already opponents are playing the same old hits.

A petition started by Woodbine area residents calling for Mayor John Tory to remove the lanes outlines the same set of tired objections I always hear about new bike infrastructure.

Their list of reasons to remove the lanes starts, as these things apparently must, with a plea to think about the children.

“Traffic has increased since (the lanes) opened. We see many cars diverting to residential side streets in order to find quicker routes,” they write. “These routes are travelled by children walking to school and the increased traffic will make it less safe for them to walk home.”

It seems to me that one of the ways you could make school commutes safer for children is to provide safe alternatives to driving — like, say, separated bike lanes. But what do I know?

The hits continue. Increased traffic, they say, means more idling, and thus more emissions. This is a common refrain: drivers tend to become bleeding heart environmentalists the second something threatens to slow down their commute.

I should note that their claims of increased traffic have yet to be quantified. This is all anecdotal.

Also anecdotal? The petition’s suggestion that “there are not very many cyclists that use Woodbine as a commute route.”

Never mind that city counts conducted prior to the installation of lanes found up to 200 cyclists on Woodbine every day. Never mind that further official counts will be conducted, and are bound to be more accurate than casual observation.

But the petition-pushers don’t stop with simply claiming the lanes are underused – they also suggest the lanes might be physically impossible to use.

“The hills from the bottom are massive and even the most in shape person would end up a sweaty mess by the time they got to work,” they write.

That’s got to be news to the people who do cycle to work along Woodbine (or other hilly routes) and only sweat a reasonable amount – I’m sure they’re happy to know they’re among the most physically fit people on earth.

Look, I get it. Change is hard. But objecting this strenuously to lanes that have only been around for a few weeks is ridiculous. Try a little patience.

Because there is, in fact, lots of worldwide data showing that despite the kneejerk opposition bike lanes tend to attract, the feared traffic chaos doesn’t materialize and safe bike lanes work over time to dramatically increase cycling numbers.

For instance, a 2014 study conducted at Portland State University looked at new separated bike lanes in five U.S. cities. They found that the lanes increased ridership by anywhere between 21 and 171 per cent, with about 10 per cent of that increase coming from new cyclists.

And then there’s Toronto’s own success story of the bike lanes on Richmond and Adelaide – infrastructure that caused ridership along those routes to triple, all without materially impacting measured automobile travel times.

Despite the rancor, I’ve yet to hear a reason why Woodbine Avenue’s story will be much different.

Instead of playing the hits, these bike lane opponents should try looking at the record.

This post was originally published at on 2017-09-25T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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