(Here’s a great article from The National Post about cycling in Toronto – and detailing an idea that cyclists, and motorists in this city need to get behind.)
The Toronto Cycling Committee, chaired by Councillor Adrian Heaps, wants to make cycling an integral part of the city’s transportation strategy.
It plans: – Swipe-card-access bicycle storage areas at subway stations because, without doing evidence-based research, it has decided bicycle theft is the main reason people don’t cycle to work. – To add 218 kilometres of cycle lanes by 2010. – Ticketing of cars parked in, and removal of snow from, cycle lanes. – Construction of workplace showers (but no steam and shiatsu.)
If more people used their bikes to get to work year-round, that would greatly reduce traffic congestion at the times it really matters: the two daily rush hours. That should be the main goal of our municipal cycling strategy. In Amsterdam, where bikes are a mainstay of the transportation plan, you can’t tell it is rush hour by observing non-bike traffic. What works in Amsterdam, however, won’t work here, because they (at least for now) are Dutch and we aren’t. The cycling committee’s initiatives are laudable. But anyone who thinks they will result in even a slight diminution of the city’s traffic congestion is dreaming in Technicolor.
Fear of bicycle theft is not the reason people don’t bike to work. What stops people from bike commuting to work is fear for their safety. This has two aspects: being hit by cars and unsafe road surfaces. Bike lanes address neither issue. They don’t protect bikers from car doors or cars making right turns. They are also useless in winter because the city doesn’t clear snow quickly enough. Those who commute in summer but not winter stop, not because of the cold but because of unsafe road surfaces.
What is needed is a physical barrier separating cars and bikes and a means of keeping bike lane surfaces from becoming slippery.
The way to do it is staring us in the face: four lane, controlled-access bicycle expressways with ice-melting coils in the roads to keep them free of ice and snow — four north-south and three crosstown.
The north-south are the easy ones. Toronto has two major river valleys — the Humber and the Don — and the expressways could be built at the sides. There is already one along the Don that starts at Lawrence Avenue East and ends near Lake Ontario.
To prevent collisions, a physical separation would be needed between bikes on the one hand and pedestrians and wildlife on the other, so the bike lanes would periodically gently overpass the ground. The entire Bayview extension should be bicycle-only from Nesbitt Drive to River Street. After that there is no place to go other than The Brickworks, accessible from Broadview Station. Consequently, Rosedale Valley Road could be bike-only starting east of Park Road.
But for this to work, an expressway going straight through the centre of the city is needed. It could run alongside the Allen Road and Spadina University subway line from York University (when the subway extends that far) to Eglinton Avenue West where the Allen ends and the subway goes underground. Cyclists would cross Eglinton and travel through Cedarvale and Sir Winston Churchill ravines and Boulton Drive down to Davenport Road.
From there, the best choice is to elevate the bike expressway from Avenue Road to University Avenue all the way downtown to Adelaide, so cyclists could fly over intersections. The inferior choice is a bicycle right of way down the middle, protected from cars by concrete barriers.
This is also the way the east-west expressways would work. Richmond and Adelaide should have unidirectional expressways or rights of way. Bloor-Danforth is a good choice for an uptown route and Eglinton is for the north, linking with the north-south as do car expressways.
It will cost money, but we spend a fortune on infrastructure for cars and public transit. The TTC spent $55-million to $60-million to reconfigure St. Clair West to shave 12 minutes off that route’s travel time and is getting $2.6-billion to extend the subway to York University.
A fraction of that invested in bike infrastructure would cure the rush-hour traffic congestion, and, unlike the TTC, not lose money and require annual subsidization.
By definition, citizens, not politicians, will have to take the lead on this one. Otherwise, we’ll just end up spinning our wheels. – Murray Teitel is a Toronto lawyer and journalist.