Photo by Dylan Passmore from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.
The City of Toronto has an ambitious bike plan. Mayor Miller has cited its implementation as one of his budgetary priorities and there’s an active community of cyclists advocating for an expanded cycling infrastructure. Why, in that case, are we having a hard time getting so many things done?
At a meeting of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) two weeks ago, a majority of the councillors present voted against a recommendation by the general manager of Transportation Services to install bike lanes on a portion of Annette Street running between Jane and Runnymede [PDF]. The 700 metre stretch would link up with bike lanes already approved for Annette between Runnymede and Dundas and thus be an important step in providing not just increased bikeways but an integrated cycling network, allowing users to travel without interruption. Transportation Services considered three options for bikeways in the relevant area: bicycle lanes on Annette, shared roadway on streets parallel to Annette, and sharrows (or shared-use lane markings) on Annette. The report they gave to the PWIC endorsed the first—full bike lanes—without reservation. The rejection of that recommendation has caused an outcry in the cycling community, and it is expected that this matter will be hotly contested at the meeting of the full City Council later this month.
The high level of attention focused on this particular roadway has to do in part with its utility for cyclists, and in part with the political machinations involved. Given the extensive support for the bike lane both in the community and among city staff, councillors’ rejection of the proposal has been seen as an affront to civic engagement: anger is running particularly deep over this one. Councillor A. A. Heaps, Chair of the Toronto Bicycle Committee, has been an outspoken critic of the PWIC vote, as have the councillors who were in the minority at that meeting: Adam Giambrone and Glenn De Baeremaeker. Councillor Heaps’s office confirmed, in a phone call this morning with Torontoist, that he will be recommending that full bike lanes be built on Annette Street, and that he would be supporting the original Transportation Services recommendation despite its rejection by the Public Works Committee.
Councillor Bill Saundercook represents Ward 13, home to the disputed portion of Annette, and has been cited by most as leader of the charge against the bike lanes. (This despite Saundercook’s claim to be an ardent cycling supporter.) He was not present at the PWIC meeting (he is not a member of that committee)—Councillor Grimes spoke to Saundercook’s position at the time. The main reason for their opposition is that setting up bike lanes requires the removal of parking spaces; local business owners have expressed concerns that this will negatively impact retail and commercial activity in the neighbourhood. The Transportation Services report included a survey of the area’s parking needs, and concluded that the spaces which would remain in place after a bike lane was installed were adequate to meet demand.
What of the alternative the PWIC did recommend, sharrows? Sharrows are lane markings which indicate that a roadway is to be shared between cars and cyclists (shared-lane arrows). They are somewhat controversial, as many cyclists feel they do not provide a truly safe environment. (Spacing has a great primer on sharrows here.) Sharrows are relatively new, and there are no conclusive studies or reports on their efficacy. Some view them as a stepping-stone to more robust cycling infrastructure, while others simply consider them a cop-out which provide little or no measurable improvement for cyclists. Sharrows are logistically easier to install and do not require the removal of existing parking spaces. Depending on your point of view, this is either a selling-point or a liability: retaining parking may serve the needs of drivers, but it certainly increases the danger of cyclists getting hit by opening car doors.
The cycling community has come out in full force to try and rescue the Annette Street bike lanes. An email campaign is underway, as is extensive lobbying of councillors. City Council will debate the issue at their next meeting, held on October 29–30.
Bottom photo by hellembry from the Torontoist Flickr Pool.