Bike lanes need attention as cyclists hit the streets

With the last of the snow banks melting and the mercury rising, more and more cyclists will be tuning up their bikes and taking to the streets.

In fact, 2014 may see a record number of riders do so, if previous years’ statistics are any indicator.

Last year, in what the advocacy group CycleTO have called a first, cyclists outnumbered motorists on a major arterial road in the city’s core.

According to a CycleTO headcount, between the hours of 5 and 6 p.m. on Sept. 19, a total of 680 bikes headed westbound on College Street compared to 618 cars. During this period, bicycles made up 52 per cent of westbound traffic on the street.

CycleTO also found since 2010 bicycle traffic on College Street alone has increased by 67 per cent. While College Street does have unprotected bike lanes, many other routes do not.

Infrastructure development just hasn’t kept up with demand.

That’s why it’s with a sense of urgency that the City of Toronto should be scrambling to improve urban cycling infrastructure.

Both New York City and Chicago have done so in recent years and the time is nigh for Toronto to improve its network of bike lanes. If New York’s iconic Eighth Avenue can be redesigned to feature protected bike lanes and more space for pedestrians, surely we can reimagine our own roadways.

It’s something that should have been done more than a decade ago, and in fact there were approved plans to do exactly that.

In 2001, the city started the Toronto Bicycle Plan with a goal of completing 495 kilometres of bike lanes by 2011. To say the city has fallen short of this mark would be an understatement, as construction has pretty much ground to a halt.

According to CycleTO, as of 2013, Toronto had only installed 114 kilometres; and from 2012 and 2013 a miniscule 2.4 kilometres were established.

In light of this, the Et Cetera is calling for the City to recommit to completing the 2001 Bike Plan – but that’s just a starting point.

A lot has happened in the 12 years since the Bike Plan was established.

To compensate for the increasing number of cyclists, even more lanes than outlined in the plan should be created, with real consideration given to Bloor Street, regardless of the results of the environmental assessment currently underway.

As well, some existing lanes should be overhauled, with particular attention paid to making them safer. Not only will doing so save lives, it will also get more people on bikes.

One way to inspire confidence among would-be cyclists is to place parking spaces outside of bike lanes (this is known as floating parking), creating a buffer that protects cyclists from traffic. Because this method is merely rearranging how space is used, it doesn’t require drastic changes to the width of a road.

As congestion in the city only worsens, the Gardner Expressway crumbles, and the TTC struggles to accommodate its ridership, getting more Torontonians riding should be a top priority at City Hall.