A line of high-fiving cyclists paraded along the city’s newest bike lane Monday morning. Then, without warning, a gust of wind tangled the whole thing, nearly sending every set of pedals flying.
No injuries, though; every cyclist remained mounted. A few bemused, rubbernecking motorists gawked at the intersection, watching one helmeted participant lay an ironically tire-shaped weight to keep the “bike lane” from blowing into traffic. Happily, things held together long enough for TaketheTooker, a local bike group, to theatrically deliver a pointed message to the city: there are close to a million cyclists in Toronto—recognize them.
Obviously, it wasn’t a real bike lane. The mock corridor was unfurled along 144 feet of Bloor Street, colour-matching the surrounding asphalt and painted with lane stripes and bicycle symbols. An eye-grabbing visual aid, it demonstrated the idea of Bloor and Danforth as the ideal route for TaketheTooker’s proposed “bicycle expressway.”
The notion of a bike lane spanning the city celebrates the memory of Tooker Gomberg. A Canadian politician and environmental activist, Gomberg was known for a history of daring activism, including an anti-nuke demonstration at Volkel NATO Air Force Base in the Netherlands and, in defiance of Alberta’s anti-Kyoto position, locking himself in a vault at Ralph Klein’s office, faxing out statements on the former premier’s letterhead. Locally, he was a 2000 mayoral candidate who, despite crazy, memorable campaign antics, finished second to Mel Lastman.
Gomberg’s suicide in 2004 left colleagues, associates, and many in the public with the need to commemorate his lifetime of advocacy. “He’s a real visionary for the activist movement,” says Angela Bischoff (pictured above, right), Gomberg’s widow and a key player in TaketheTooker’s movement. “When he passed away, we really wanted to have some sort of legacy project to work on, and some of us came up with the idea of a bike lane on Bloor.” With a major subway line supporting pedestrian traffic, relatively flat grades and no pesky streetcar tracks to trip up passing bikes, the route is “perfect” for a two-wheeler autobahn. “Streetcar tracks for cyclists are a real problem,” she says. “Anyone who’s ever fallen on a bike knows it usually happens near the streetcar tracks. Plus, it’s always been really difficult to restripe the lanes when there’s streetcar tracks, making it much more expensive.”
TaketheTooker isn’t the only group with an active interest in claiming part of Bloor for the bike. “We’re actively working with councillors along [the Bloor/Danforth] strip,” says Fred Sztabinski of the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation, referring to his organization’s efforts at city hall to “solve all the little problems.” Local businesses along Bloor are wary of giving up streetside parking, concerned that no cars mean no customers. “We’re looking for data that would show how a lot of customers along this stretch actually get there by transit, bike or foot,” he says. “We know the majority of people here are not driving—it’d be great to have the numbers to show that.”
After last week’s city budget, Monday’s demonstration also addresses the issue’s bottom line: its price tag. With auto-centric infrastructure like the Front Street Extension costing our cash-strapped city $170,000,000, the estimated $25,000-per-kilometer pricetag of a Bloor/Danforth bike lane is, according to TaketheTooker’s literature, “peanuts.”
Another little problem is reducing the number of vehicle traffic lanes to accommodate cyclists. “The city can do studies to show you that removing parking lanes wouldn’t necessarily inhibit traffic flow,” Sztabinski suggests, citing a precedent that made Dundas Street East more bike-friendly. “There used to be four lanes of traffic and they took out two. It hasn’t been a problem at all.”
At this stage in the game, working gradually to change the city’s priorities is the best strategy, says Bischoff. “Once you start getting these major central areas—which are really the most difficult, where the commercial districts really want parking—then it will be much simpler to start expanding the lane all the way to Mississauga and all the way to Scarborough.”
Watching traffic pass the line of mountain bikes and jingling cruisers, Bischoff stifles a subtle laugh. “Three years ago,” she says, “they would have laughed at us.”
Photos by Todd Aalgaard