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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="http://www.flickr.com/photos/eurodave/354207839/"}his daveness{/a}, from the {a href="http://www.flickr.com/groups/torontoist/pool/"}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.

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