So far in Toronto’s race for mayor, all of the contending candidates who have said anything about bike lanes on city streets have proposed either an outright freeze on new bike lanes, or that lanes should be painted on side streets and removed from busier routes. I have a certain respect for those candidates who have come out against cycling (although I strongly disagree, and this is a vote-deciding issue for me). But proposing to install bike lanes on quiet side streets? That’s just stupid.
Here’s the problem: cyclists (myself included) already ride on busy major roads, especially in the core. Nobody who rides a bike in this city is going to prefer to zig-zag up and down through neighbourhoods – which are designed to prevent through traffic – when there’s a perfectly good, straight, level street running exactly where we want to go. Putting a network of bike lanes through the neighbourhood is going to do nothing at all to attract cyclists, and will just inconvenience residents who lose street parking space.
The whole point of installing bike lanes on major streets is to separate vulnerable bicycle traffic from fast-moving vehicle traffic, and prevent the often violent (and sometimes deadly) conflicts between the two mixing in the same lane. There is already a good volume of cyclists on Toronto’s busy thoroughfares, like Bloor, Jarvis, Queen and Spadina for example. That’s because those streets are the most direct routes to where cyclists want to go – exactly the same reason those routes are busy vehicle routes. There are going to be large volumes of cyclists on those streets, no matter where you install a bike lane. If bike lanes are going to be useful at all, they must go where the cyclists already are.
If the problem with installing bike lanes is limited road space, as I’m sure it is in many areas, then on-street parking should be removed first. Thoroughfares like Bloor and Queen should be for moving traffic. More parking could be made available on side streets instead. Bike lanes on side streets are a waste of time and money, and convenient for nobody. As long as there are no bike lanes on the routes that cyclists use, we’re going to continue to have problems. I hope one of our candidates has the courage to say so.