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Bixi is Approved, University Bike Lanes Are Not

Photo by chewie2008~, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

Toronto just ordered a thousand new bikes, then nixed plans to install bike lanes on one of the City’s most central thoroughfares. UPDATE: And it was all a terrible mistake.
The thousand new bikes are courtesy of Bixi, which passed Council on Tuesday night, meaning the public bike-share system is set to arrive in Toronto next May. But earlier tonight, in a late session, with just twenty-eight councillors in their seats, a proposal to add bike lanes to University Avenue died a pretty unceremonious death.

The University Avenue bike lane pilot project, which we wrote about when it first came up for consideration last month, would have resulted in the temporary installation of median bike lanes along University Avenue and part of Queen’s Park Crescent, starting in July and ending in September. After the trial period, the City would have considered installing the lanes permanently. Adding them would have necessitated eliminating a car lane in each direction on the busy arterial, bringing it down to a total of six car lanes, from eight.
All other bike lane expansions under consideration by Council (including new “bike boxes” on College and Harbord streets) were approved. The University Avenue lanes were singled out for removal as a result of a motion by Councillor Suzan Hall (Ward 1, Etobicoke North). The final vote against the lanes was 15-13. The City Clerk’s blog, as always, has the complete breakdown.
Cyclists can at least console themselves with Bixi, which passed 33-8, thanks in part to a vigorous defense of the program’s financials and logistics in Council Chambers Tuesday by Daniel Egan, manager of cycling and infrastructure programs for the City, and Gary Welsh, general manager of transportation services.
At issue was the 4.8 million dollar loan the Public Bike System Company (the company that will operate Bixi Toronto) will be taking out in advance of Bixi Toronto’s launch. The City is getting Bixi at no cost, but is required to act as guarantor for the loan, meaning taxpayers will be on the hook if the PBSC defaults. City staff said, during the debate, that Toronto currently has eight to ten such loan guarantees outstanding, and that none of them have ever defaulted. The PBSC is considered a worthy credit risk because they’re owned by the City of Montreal’s private parking authority.
Bixi needs to line up three years’ worth of sponsorships and 1,000 membership pledges before the loan money starts to flow, but assuming the PBSC and the City can do that, the program will launch with eighty stations, a year from now. City staff say prices will be similar to those in Montreal, where Bixi costs $78 a year, and day passes are $5.
UPDATE, 1:00 A.M.: Former Torontoist contributor Jonathan Goldsbie, who was watching online while the University Bike lane vote was coming down, adds this interesting tidbit: Councillor Paula Fletcher (Ward 30, Toronto-Danforth), whose tie-breaking vote led to the nixing of the lanes, may have voted in error, due to what she insisted, at the time, was a computer glitch. Jonathan writes: “It’s possible, but I’m inclined to think it’s more likely that she just pressed the wrong button.” The Globe agrees. Fletcher apparently attempted to have her vote reversed, but was rebuffed.

CORRECTION: MAY 13, 2010 This article originally mistakenly said that Bixi, in Montreal, cost $78 a month; rather, it’s $78 a year.
CORRECTION: OCTOBER 15, 2010 This article also originally 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.


  • Jonathan Goldsbie

    No mention of the voting error/glitch?

  • tapesonthefloor

    Bixi is $78 a year, guys.
    Nick in Montréal

  • Steve Kupferman

    Fixed, and formal correction pending.

  • Steve Kupferman

    Jonathan’s run-down of the Paula Fletcher voting mistake/glitch is now summarized in an update, above. And it’s also being reported by the Globe and CTV

  • http://undefined mattalexto

    Hey folks, I’m trying to get as many people as possible to join me for a morning bike ride up and down University Ave Thursday between 7:30am and 9:30am.
    It’s not a protest or a demonstration, just a way of saying, “Hi, cyclists vote and we know who was too cowardly to try something new to alleviate congestion in our city”.
    And even if you have to be at work that’s cool, just try to include University ave in your route this one time.

  • David Topping

    Formal correction appended late last night. Thanks for catching.

  • http://undefined atomeyes

    Your bike ride will bring awareness to the fact that bikers are fine commuting without restricted lanes.

  • http://undefined mattalexto

    Yes, you’re right.
    There was lots of room to bike on University, and also lots of room for cars to tear down the street at high speed, eager to get to the next red light.
    I found there were huge gaps between clusters of cars, and most drivers stayed out of the right hand lane due to occasional illegally parked cars and delivery vehicles.
    I also noticed that the road conditions were terrible. Lots of pot holes and cracks along the edge of the road. This makes for a really uncomfortable and much more dangerous ride.
    A bike lane would not suffer the same wear and tear as a car lane. A barrier between the bike lane and car lanes would help slow down individual drivers.
    The idea that University Ave is somehow “congested” is completely wrong. The only time this morning that cars were bumped to bumper from one intersection to the next was when there was a fender bender at University and Wellington and a firetruck was blocking traffic.
    What blows me away about this whole debate though is how hesitant some councillors are to be proven right. I mean, if the bike haters on council were really confident that these lanes were a bad idea, wouldn’t they be happy to see the pilot project fail? That would certainly make bike advocates rethink their strategy wouldn’t it?
    Do we measure the boiling point of water with an opinion poll?

  • http://undefined nib

    I’m all for cycling, I just fail to see how reducing traffic lanes reduces congestion.

  • Ryan D

    There was no reduction. University would have the same number of traffic lanes it has now.

  • Steve Kupferman

    There was, actually, going to be a reduction. Each side of the street was going to lose a lane of car traffic.

  • Ryan D

    Sure, two lanes of car traffic would be lost. But they would be replaced by two lanes of bicycle traffic.

  • Steve Kupferman

    You speak in riddles, my friend.

  • http://undefined rek

    Reducing the number of lanes does not necessarily mean the remaining lanes would be incapable of handling the same volume.

  • http://undefined friend68

    It really does.

  • Ryan D

    “Traffic” doesn’t exclusively mean automobiles.
    That might seem like semantics, but it’s actually a pretty important point: Bicycle lanes, like “car lanes”, let people get where they need to go. Bicycles count as traffic, whether you’re looking at the dictionary or the Highway Traffic Act.

  • http://undefined nib

    But congestion refers to car traffic. I’ve never seen a bike traffic jam before.

  • ilikebikes1035

    That is a bummer about the bike lanes. I think bike shares are a great idea, but they really need the infrastructure to support them. I have a folding bike which affords me enough flexibility that I don’t really use the bike share system (Boston got one going over the summer – Hubway), but I see people riding and weaving through traffic who look like they don’t really know what they’re doing. Boston is working on improving its bike lane system, but a bike share system without it, in high traffic areas, seems like it is asking for trouble – especially with inexperienced riders.