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Will Separated Bike Lanes on Harbord Divide the Neighbourhood?

At community consultation meetings, residents and business owners squared off over the future of the strip.

Harbord Street may be getting bidirectional bike lanes, but not everyone is happy about that. Photo by {a href=""}his daveness{/a}, from the {a href=""}Torontoist Flickr Pool{/a}.

Have you heard about the bike lanes on Harbord Street? No, not the sharrows, or the bike box at St. George Street, or that wonky bit around Queen’s Park. These would be brand-new, separated bike lanes. In recent weeks, City officials and several Harbord community groups have met to discuss the possibility.

The City’s Transportation Services division is working on improving several bike-lane corridors (the still-unfinished Sherbourne lane being one of them). In July 2011, city council voted to explore different types of cycle tracks, and to direct City staff to start looking into the possibility of a separated bike lane on Harbord Street and Hoskin Avenue. In June 2012, council expanded the scope of the project. Now, staff are looking into a lane (or lanes) that would start at Harbord Street and Ossington Avenue and go all the way to Wellesley and Parliament streets.

The public meetings—one with the Harbord Village Residents’ Assocation and Councillor Adam Vaughan (Ward 20, Trinity-Spadina) on November 12, and another Tuesday night with Councillor Mike Layton (Ward 19, Trinity-Spadina)—were both held in coordination with Cycle Toronto. Attendees provided a panorama of views of life on and around Harbord Street, though the HRVA’s meeting had a stronger business presence.

Daniel Egan, manager of cycling infrastructure and programs, anchored both meetings with an overview of cycling statistics (Toronto has over one million adult cyclists, he said) and explained planning considerations and possible designs for the bike lane. The City is considering implementing a bidirectional bike lane, with eastbound and westbound bikes sharing the same side of the road. Lanes like those have been a common fixture in Montreal since the early 1990s.

The bidirectional bike lane would be the first of its kind in Toronto. The concept received mixed reviews from meeting attendees. Some people were puzzled by how it would integrate into the major intersections at Spadina Avenue and Bathurst Street, while others said it would be a great way to reduce sidewalk cycling.

There was opposition to the notion of redesigning the street. Hamish Wilson, a cycling activist, questioned the wisdom of improving Harbord when some cyclists would rather see bike lanes on Bloor Stret. (Councillor Vaughan said that “Bloor connects the city.” In other other words: “Forget it.”)

The Harbord Street Business Improvement Area advocated for the interests of businesses along the stretch of Harbord between Spadina Avenue and Borden Street, home to 40 parking spots and to the Harbord Bakery, one of the most iconic and popular businesses in the area.

The bike lane would cut the number of parking spots in the BIA in half, reducing it to 20. The City is looking into off-street parking. Harbord Bakery’s representative seemed comforted by the fact that every single person who spoke said that they shop there, and that they would never want to see the bakery harmed by changes to the street.

Cycle Toronto suggested branding the neighbourhood—home of the first major bike lane in Toronto and the highest density of cyclists—as a genuine cycling destination. Studies have shown that bike lanes in New York City have increased retail sales by 50 per cent. Other studies have found that most Bloor-Annex shoppers arrive by foot or by bicycle.

If things go as planned, 2013 will be dedicated to consultation and design. Construction is expected to begin in 2014.


  • Anonymous

    These things are complicated, but in my eyes, Harbord already has good bicycle infrastructure. Maybe this would be a good idea on Jarvis, heh.

  • barrywhite

    I still don’t like the idea of seperated lanes. I like flowing with traffic, it just makes for a more natural street. Pedestrians know where you are, cars know where you are turning, etc…

  • Melissa

    did they have to say about busses? I had a helluva time navigating
    around a TTC bus along Harbord just west of Spadina to St. George. I’m
    with Hamish: let’s work on making other streets more bike friendly.
    Harbord is pretty great as-is, with the exception of Queen’s Park, which
    could use a path through the park like the cool one they just finished
    at Wellington, east of Spadina.

    • Anonymous

      I cannot understand your post. Are you a TTC bus driver? Why are you having trouble navigating ‘around’ a bus?

      In any case, the bike lanes on Harbord are nice for an experienced cyclist like myself, but a separated lane would be good for families with kids, and those too chicken to bike today.

      • Slim

        Kids or people too chicken to bike shouldn’t use separated lanes unless the lanes are wide enough to accommodate passing and the slow cyclists stick to the left. This is already a problem with the Sherbourne lane.

        If separated lanes aren’t wide enough to have a fast lane/slow lane (like in Copenhagen), then we shouldn’t have them. But this is what happens when you have people who don’t cycle making decisions, and a useless Bicycle Union (sic) that thinks everyone should bike regardless of their proficiency. You need to meet a certain standard to drive, and the same should be true of cycling, or at least of using bike lanes.

        • Guest

          Cycle Toronto = Toronto Cyclists Union, yes those militant people. The people that hijacked the Jarvis revitalization project.

      • Anonymous

        “Why are you having trouble navigating ‘around’ a bus?”

        Curbside parking makes it nearly impossible for motorists to pass a bus for much of Harbord, and where there isn’t parking there’s often a bus stop, meaning the bus is cutting off cyclists at intersections as it pulls in and then away.

  • Anonymous

    Harbord needs wider sidewalks and a solution for the bottlenecking that happens behind TTC buses.

  • Nick

    I pity those in this proposed bike lane who get stuck behind me and my bike trailer that I use to ferry my son around, as I can only do about 10 klicks per hour. And isn’t paint a lot cheaper, and thus the budget that is going to be used for this could be used to paint a lot more bike lanes elsewhere in the city? I’m with barrywhite, too: complete streets as opposed to divided streets are the way to go (and the Jarvis with newly installed reversible lane doesn’t count by any stretch of the imagination as “complete”….).

  • Antinephalist

    Are these lanes going to be ‘separated’ like the ones on Sherbourne are? Because if that’s so, then a bidirectional lane on Harbord will only result in people parking in them and blocking two lanes of bicycle traffic instead of just one.

    • Rachel Lissner

      There were several designs presented, like flexible bollards, a painted barrier, slanted/angled curbs, flower potters, and a physical solid one. The rolled curbs on Sherbourne are so EMS and Toronto Fire could easily access buildings, which people then quickly pointed out that the UPS and taxis already take the liberty of doing so. There was also some criticism about why EMS and Toronto Fire get such high priority in the design plans.

  • W. K. Lis

    Are sidewalks used for travelling? Are automobile lanes used for travelling? Are bicycle lanes used for travelling?

    Which ones will actually have a traveller stop at a moments notice and go inside a store? The travellers on the sidewalks and bicycles. The travellers in the automobile lanes cannot stop without turning off to look for a parking spot, but will usually not be able to without blocking other traffic.

  • tpoff17

    harbord already works and of all the streets i ride seems like the least in need of a separated bike lane. we need separated lanes on some major arteries like richmond, adelaide and bay or york street. these would connect the city.

    • Rachel Lissner

      Richmond and Adelaide are identified on the downtown upgrades in the link provided in the article.

  • Mark Jull

    I think of Harbord as one of the best streets to bike on – I see no reason to ‘fix’ it in its entirety. However, Wellesley between the park and, say, Yonge could stand to be separated to stop cars from parking in the bike lane. Also, it would cool if the light at the end of Hoskin (at Queens Park) gave cyclists a head-start to get down to that left turn lane at Wellesley. As for Harbord from Spadina to Oss – I don’t see how separating the bike lane will improve things for cyclists, or for other users and uses.

    I’d much rather see one side of Bloor lose its on-street parking for a bi-directional bike lane, especially from Spadina west to… wherever it ends!

  • patrick A

    The separation of bike lanes makes for a
    more unnatural and dangerous application of a mechanism whose primary purpose
    is safety. Furthermore, the bike society of Toronto has an already tough time
    getting a painted bike lane on a city street approved, can you imagine the slow
    rate at which new “separated” bikes lanes would be introduced.

  • Jay S

    You can’t pass people with separated lanes, and the narrow riding area is dangerous. No separated lanes.

    • Anonymous

      Montreal called, said you need to get a clue.

  • Duncan’sCityRide

    This article neglects to include some important information provided at these meetings (and favours a rather lame and sensationalist headline). Bi-directional and separated bicycle lanes along Harbord will effectively increase the peak hour cycling capacity on the street. Most of the bicycle traffic (from information presented at the meeting, roughly 90%) is traveling east in the morning and west at night. A bi-directional bike lane will work as a “double wide” bike lane at these times, allowing faster riders to pass slower ones and provide safer access for more people traveling by bike. My advice is to look beyond the selfish and harmful “vehicular cycling” attitude that is behind most objections to separated bicycle lanes. A few macho dudes can jostle with heavy motorized vehicles for space, the rest of us who simply want to travel in an inexpensive, fun and self-propelled manner will gladly accept and use separated infrastructure.

    • Anonymous

      I don’t think a lot of people are against separated bike lanes, I think in this specific case there’s a general feeling of Harbord already works quite well, why not invest in new bike lanes, rather than trying to re-configure something that doesn’t really need it. Sure there might be some macho jostlers out there, but I’m not one of them, and i think a lot of others aren’t as well.

  • Anonymous

    I really feel that Harbord works fine the way it is. A bi-drectional bike lane is a neat idea, but I think looking into putting it on something like Richmond or Adelaide would be better. I would like the city to instead of separating harbord, to look at improving intersections for cyclists and drivers on harbord (and in other places), as that seems to be where most accidents and run ins happen.

  • Sean Marshall

    I was at the second meeting, on Tuesday night and I bike on Harbord daily now. I came in very skeptical about any separated bike lanes, seeing the mess on Sherbourne with UPS trucks and other vehicles taking over the “separated” lane. This is supposed to be mitigated when work is ‘complete’ – with bollards and green paint.
    I’m a little less skeptical about the idea coming out of the meeting. A two-way path will be better separated from motor traffic and will give more room for passing (one joke raised was to have a reversible lane in the middle) and provide new and less confident cyclists a chance to get their feet wet.
    That said, I think Harbord’s pretty good now, but I’m a relatively fast cyclist and confident in mixed traffic.

  • Slim

    Harbord is currently great to bike on, and beautiful. It doesn’t need any changes. DMW just wants to build separated lanes for the hell of it, so he can say “look at me!!! look what I did!!!”

    • Anonymous

      Agreed. re: DMW.

  • BikeTO

    Harbord is a great place to start. Hopefully it will help build momentum for a much larger network of protected bike lanes. The people who love will love this will be the 60% of people who currently don’t bike but would consider doing so if they had a safe and comfortable route (the 60% comes from a Portland study). Currently many people who label themselves as “cyclists” are already “comfortable” with riding in traffic (though given their complaints not all that comfortable). But even they (I’d include myself in that category) can find things to like in this proposal.

    One, it will remove some on-street parking. On-street parking is dangerous for cycling. It puts cyclists in an awkward position between moving traffic and opening doors. Even experienced cyclists can get into trouble here.

    Two, as a bidirectional lane it will be easy for cyclists to pass each other.

    Three, the City will finally fix the Queen’s Park circle intersection with Hoskin and Wellesley. It’s a ridiculous and dangerous intersection for cyclists and pedestrians. It will now provide a separated bike lane to take cyclists out of the park and will calm the intersection so people are less likely to be run over.

    Now that’s something to be thankful for.

    • Sean Marshall

      Even when riding as part of a CAN-BIKE II group, we were yelled and honked at for going around Queen’s Park the proper way between Wellesley and Hoskin (and vice versa). The proper bike-only route through Queen’s Park is easily the best part of this plan.

    • Anonymous

      I think the city should look at improving cycling conditions on College street ahead of doing anything to bling up Harbord. Harbord could be good with some bollards and better paint for visibility. It works rather well in Ottawa. Some work could be done at major intersections to make them safer.

  • Brian

    Harbord is mostly OK for bike lanes. University, Jarvis, Richmond, Adelaide — those are the streets that need separated bike lanes!

  • Brian

    The one place where the bike lanes on Harbord and Wellesley need improvement is at the intersections. Intersections are where bikes and cars need the most guidance and instead of providing it, the bike lanes abdicate this responsibility and become dotted lines. Bike lanes at intersections should be more separated, not less.