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Councillors Revive Plan for North America’s Largest Bike Station at Nathan Phillips Square

The $1.2 million project has been in limbo since 2011.

Bikes in Nathan Phillips Square during 2008's Bike to Work ride  Photo by rob harris28, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool

Bikes in Nathan Phillips Square during 2008′s Bike to Work ride. Photo by rob.harris28, from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.

City councillors have voted to revive a plan to build North America’s largest bike station in the underground parking lot at Nathan Phillips Square. The project, which would include 380 bike parking spaces and shower facilities, was delayed after Toronto Parking Authority staff said that removing 24 ordinary parking spaces in order to accommodate the new facility would cost $70,000 in lost revenue.

Monday, councillors on the City’s government management committee voted 3-2 in favour of reviving the plan, subject to approval from city council at its meeting in May.

Councillor Paul Ainslie (Ward 43, Scarborough East), who chairs the committee, said the underground lot doesn’t appear to be operating close to capacity, meaning the lost car parking wouldn’t make a difference. “When you get down to the lower [parking lot] floors, nine times out of 10 there’s a good chunk of it that’s vacant,” he said following the vote. He added that the planned showers and bike repair shop within the facility would encourage cyclists who currently avoid riding to work. “Who wants to be beside somebody that’s biked all the way from Scarborough or Etobicoke on an 80-degree day?” he wondered aloud.

Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North), who voted against the project, slammed its $1.2 million budget as “reckless spending” and objected to the loss of parking spaces. “What we should be doing is utilizing that [space] for cars,” Ford said following the decision. “I’m sure there’s other places that bikes can park around here. We don’t need to take out parking spaces out of prime locations to build showers.”

The bike station was initially proposed as part of the Nathan Phillips Square Revitalization, a project approved under former mayor David Miller. City staff told the committee that half of the $1.2 million budgeted for the station has already been spent on design and planning. Transportation staff quietly deferred the project in 2011 after parking authority officials objected to the potential loss of revenue. Councillor Joe Mihevc (Ward 21, St. Paul’s) found out about the delay, and filed an administrative inquiry, which led to the committee’s vote.

Jared Kolb of Cycle Toronto, the city’s largest cycling advocacy group, praised the committee’s decision. “It sends a strong message that cyclists are an important part of the transportation mix,” Kolb said. He argued for the efficiency of using 24 vehicle parking to accommodate up to 380 cyclists. “In terms of a return on investment, it’s a fantastic use of space,” he added.

A 2009 City study found that 91 per cent of commuter cyclists believe “more secure indoor parking would improve cycling in Toronto.” Bike stations at Victoria Park Station and Union Station are already up and running, and one is planned for the future Finch West Station on the Yonge-University-Spadina subway line.

The overall cost of the Nathan Phillips Square revitalization has ballooned to approximately $60 million, up from about $40 million in 2007. Ainslie attributed this to council-approved additions to the project—such as enhanced landscaping—after the original approval. He assured reporters that the bike station wouldn’t contain unnecessary frills. “I don’t think you’re going to see any brass or marble in there,” he said.

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