Toronto is slowly making progress on its bike network, but there's lots of room to grow.
Toronto’s bikeway network is often a source of frustration for the city’s cyclists, and with the map above, it’s easy to see why. It illustrates the extent of Toronto’s bike infrastructure―or in some parts of the city the lack thereof―as of January 2015, and how there’s plenty of room for improvement to fill in the gaps. Toronto’s bikeway network includes off-road multi-use trails, separated cycle tracks like those on Sherbourne Street, bike lanes and contraflow lanes (like those on Shaw), and signed bicycle routes that otherwise have no facilities for cyclists (“sharrows” notwithstanding). With the recent addition of the Adelaide and Richmond bike lane pilot project west of University Avenue, and the new contraflow lane on Simcoe Street, the downtown network of bicycle routes is slowly improving; though cyclists await the completion of the oft-delayed Queen’s Quay project.
Outside the old City of Toronto, the network is sparse, mostly made up of off-road multi-use trails and a few scattered bike lanes that don’t connect to any other, such as along sections of Steeles Avenue East and Sheppard Avenue East in northeast Scarborough. The Waterfront Trail, a 1,400-kilometre-long walking and cycling route between Lake St. Clair in Essex County and the Quebec border east of Cornwall, passes through Toronto, though in sections cyclists must use busy streets or meandering routes to follow the shoreline. New trails following hydro corridors and abandoned railways in suburban parts of the city don’t connect to nearby ravines and parks. There are only three places where the city’s designated cycling network crosses Highway 401.
The official City of Toronto cycling map, which used to be available online as a PDF, includes all streets in Toronto and suggested unsigned connections between on- and off-street bikeways. When the map is stripped of the street grid, one can quickly see major gaps in this network: bike lanes that start and stop suddenly, disconnected park trails, and a lack of safe north-south routes, especially north of Eglinton Avenue. Torontoist mapped some of these gaps in the map below, though it is by no means exhaustive.
The gaps in the existing bikeway network show the shortcomings in cycling infrastructure to support a minimum grid of safe bike routes in the suburbs, which would be mostly built on city streets, not in ravines or hydro corridors. For his part, during the 2014 campaign John Tory said that he would support bike lanes where it was “sensible.” But he did not define what that meant or provide a timeline for specific goals.
Fortunately, City staff are studying plans to close some of the bike network’s gaps. Eventually, the Humber River trail will be continuous through Weston and connect into Brampton (though the gap on Stephen Drive would remain), and studies are underway to close the gap in the Waterfront Trail in Mimico, where cyclists are forced onto busy Lake Shore Boulevard for a few blocks. Phase II of the Richmond-Adelaide Cycle Track Study (the current bike lanes, separated only with knock-down pylons, are a pilot study) will see the bikeways extended east to Sherbourne.
But the biggest gap in the Waterfront Trail is in Scarborough, where the route takes a hilly and meandering path on Kingston Road and various side streets between the end of the Martin Goodman Trail in the Beaches near the R.C. Harris Filtration Plant and Highland Creek in east Scarborough. Last week, as a review of the costs associated with the cancellation of the Scarborough LRT project was discussed at city hall, council was reminded of a plan approved by council in 2013 to turn the soon-to-be-abandoned Scarborough RT line to a linear park, similar to New York City’s High Line in Lower Manhattan. The High Line has proven to be a popular park and tourist attraction, but it would be foolish to expect the same result for Scarborough, where the density, history, and local planning are very different from New York’s Meatpacking District.
Instead, there’s a great opportunity to showcase one of Scarborough’s most famous and least accessible landmarks: the Scarborough Bluffs. A multi-use trail along the Lake Ontario shoreline would finally provide more people the opportunity to view the bluffs and connect the Waterfront Trail on a flat route along the water. That, along with better connections to Scarborough’s ravines would do much to showcase the real beauty of Scarborough.