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Today Has Been A Good Day For Cyclists (And Not Just Because of the Weather)

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University Avenue in 2005. Photo by Property of Parkdale, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.


Spring has apparently sprung for Toronto’s cyclists. Today saw the release of the agenda for April 20′s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting, and it’s full of excellent news about Bixi and bike lanes (subject to Committee and Council approval, of course).


First of all, about Bixi: It cheered us to learn that the bike-share program, which, last we heard was mired in a dispute over whether or not the city was going to have to pay for it, is now showing signs of readiness to launch, with eighty stations and one thousand bikes, by May 2011―a year later than its original launch estimate.
The local controversy over Bixi (which originated in Montreal, where it launched in 2009) centered on a dispute over cost. The City began negotiations with the Public Bike System Company, the corporation (owned by the City of Montreal’s private parking authority) that provides Bixi, under the understanding that the Public Bike System Company would find a way to implement Bixi at no cost to the City. The plan seemed as though it might be irretrievably scuttled when the Public Bike System Company eventually asked for a large initial investment from the City.
The latest staff report from Transportation Services contains the details of a proposed compromise between the City and the Public Bike System Company, in which the City would provide support for Bixi not by paying for it directly, but by helping the Public Bike System Company secure a $4.8 million loan to cover the setup costs. The City won’t have to put up any money, but it will be on the hook for payment if the Public Bike System Company defaults. (The City would essentially be Bixi’s dad, co-signing its car loan.) The plan calls for the City to take a 50% share of Bixi Toronto’s profits, if there are any, during each year of the proposed initial ten-year contract.
Also of interest is that the report recommends that City Council allow Bixi to seek six-hundred-thousand dollars’ worth of sponsorships to help defray setup costs. Under the plan, ads for sponsors will be displayed only on bikes and stations―not in roadways.
The report also contains a proposed model for splitting the costs of vandalism to the Bixi system between the Public Bike System Company and the City. Under the plan, the Public Bike System Company will be responsible for all repairs due to vandalism and theft up to 6% of the total cost of the system. After that, any further damage will be paid for by the City. The report cites Montreal’s very low 1% vandalism rate as evidence that Toronto’s fleet would never suffer significant damage from bike-hating evildoers. Conspicuously absent from consideration is the baleful tale of the Vélib bike-share system in Paris, which has seen 80% of its initial fleet of bikes stolen or damaged since launching in 2007. The stolen bikes do occasionally turn up, says the New York Times, though generally only broken in roadside ditches, or for sale on the Eastern European and African black markets.
It will be interesting to see whether, and under what circumstances, all this Bixi stuff will earn the approval of Council.
The other big, exciting bike news on today’s Public Works and Infrastructure Agenda (so much so that it has already grabbed headlines) is the proposal of numerous enhancements to the downtown bike lane network, including, most impressively, a new pair of median bike lanes along University Avenue and Queen’s Park Crescent, between Richmond and Wellesley streets, like so:

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A rendering of what median bike lanes would look like on University Avenue, courtesy of Transportation Services.


That’s right, median bike lanes―meaning they’ll run along the centre of the road, rather than its shoulders, in a Toronto first. The lanes will be implemented on a temporary basis this July, if the plan is approved. To create them, the City will have to eliminate a lane of traffic on each side of University Avenue, reducing it to a total of six car lanes, from its current eight. This will probably upset some people and provide Rocco Rossi with several more talking points. But it is an intriguing idea. (If biking in the centre of the road sounds frightening, take a look at this video of a similar system in use in New York City, and feel relief.)
The plan also contains proposals for new lanes on Bay Street, Lansdowne Avenue, Rathburn Road, Spadina Crecent, York Mills Road, and Westhumber Boulevard. And it even contains proposals for modifications to existing bike lanes, including the installation of “bike boxes” at some intersections along College and Harbord Streets. Bike boxes are street markings that carve out space for cyclists in the centre of the road, so they can make left turns easily. (Here’s a video of them in use in San Francisco.)
All in all, a good day for bikes in Toronto. Now it’s up to City Council to give all this goodness the green light.
(And on a related note, congratulations to the Toronto Cyclists Union, which this morning announced plans for significant expansion, lending further weight to our thesis that now is a very good time to be on two wheels.)

CORRECTION: OCTOBER 15, 2010 This article mistakenly said that the Public Bike System Company was owned by the City of Montreal. In fact, PBSC is a subsidiary of Stationnement de Montreal, Montreal’s parking authority, which is in turn a subsidiary of Montreal’s privately owned Board of Trade.

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