Archived columns and blog posts by Matt Elliott

Enough with the data, we already know bike lanes work: Elliott

City transportation staff are recommending that council make the Bloor bike lanes permanent.
City transportation staff are recommending that council make the Bloor bike lanes permanent.

The 19-page document, released last week, systemically uses a giant pile of data to destroy any and all potential objections to keeping the bike infrastructure in place permanently.

Oh, you thought the lanes were underused? False. Counts show bike traffic is up 49 per cent. It’s already the second busiest bike route in the city, with more daily users than 86 of the TTC’s 175 surface transit routes.

But isn’t it destroying local business? Not a chance. A city- commissioned economic impact study interviewed businesses and customers and determined that just nine per cent of the people coming to Bloor Street to shop arrive by car.

If that isn’t enough to convince, they also obtained point-of-sale data from Moneris to determine there has been no loss in business relative to the rest of the city. Try arguing with that.

But, but, but … surely these bike lanes are causing traffic chaos? Nah. The report measured an increase in driving time of just over four minutes in the afternoon peak. And traffic engineers think some further tweaks to the system can smooth that out.

Added to that, the study also measured real improvements to safety — the number of conflicts between road users is down 44 per cent.

As stodgy reports written by bureaucrats go, this is a damn masterpiece. It’s like The Great Gatsby of municipal infrastructure studies.

But as much as I appreciate it and understand why it was necessary, I really hope this is the last time the city needs to produce a report like this.

Because while, yes, the results are validating to those who have been pushing better bike infrastructure for decades, they are not at all surprising.

No one should be shocked to learn that bike lanes are a force for good. It’s been true in cities all over the world. I have yet to find an example of a place where the fear mongers were right – no cases where the installation of bike lanes led to a line of empty storefronts or 24/7 gridlock.

Instead, the story is always the same as it is on Bloor Street. Good bike infrastructure leads to more cyclists. It leads to increased road safety for everyone. It leads to lower commuting costs for cities and for people.

All this is borne out not just in last week’s Bloor study, but in similar Toronto studies of the effect of bike lanes on Richmond Street and Adelaide Street and Sherbourne Street. It will play out on Woodbine Avenue too.

But despite never getting different results, Toronto politicians have insisted on running the same experiments over and over. And bike infrastructure seems unique in this constant desire for study and data — Toronto council has given the green light to multi-billion dollar subway and expressway projects with nowhere near the level of data collection they’ve demanded to justify bike lanes.

Enough. With a mountain of data and research behind it, the Bloor study should set a city-wide precedent — no longer should bike lanes be looked at skeptically.

The time and money Toronto spends debating, measuring and studying bike infrastructure would be better spent building more of it.

This post was originally published at on 2017-10-16T00:00:00.000Z

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Matt Elliott

City Hall watcher, columnist and policy wonk in Toronto.
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