We looked at the status of the long-awaited Annex bike lanes, which could see a pilot project begin in 2016.
After years of public meetings, council discussions, and community outreach, the Annex might finally be getting bike lanes, if another study and a pilot project goes its way.
Transportation Services Toronto is conducting a preliminary feasibility study this year to determine the best way to implement bike lanes on the busy arterial. If the plans get approved, a portion of Bloor Street West could have a pilot bike-lane project installed in 2016, a prospect that excites both cycling advocates and the local residents’ association.
“There’s a lot of interest in this quarter, both positive and negative. For drivers and businesses there are a lot of factors that need to be right,” said Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, manager of cycling infrastructure and programs.
Part of the feasibility study requires Gulati to consider several design options that address environmental and infrastructure issues related to cyclists, business owners, and car drivers. For instance, adding bike lanes to Bloor Street could mean less available on-street parking. Some business owners believe cutting this parking could hurt business, but according to a comprehensive study done in 2009 called Bike Lanes, On-Street Parking and Business [PDF], only 10 per cent of patrons in the Annex get there by car.
Another cycling issue Gulati will have to consider is safety. A large stretch of the Bloor Street corridor is used as a major route for cyclists to get around the city despite the lack of bike lanes. During rush hour, the 50-kilometre-per-hour speed limit can be dangerous for cyclists, particularly when they’re forced to weave in and out of traffic.
“It’s awful for cyclists because they’re just squeezed out, at least in the Annex, to the side of the road,” said Albert Koehl, a cycling advocate and vice-chair of the Annex Residents’ Association (ARA).
In a 2011 ARA Cycling Policy, the committee suggested reducing the speed to 30 kilometres per hour as a compromise, referencing a U.K. study that notes that “a pedestrian hit at 50 km/h has approximately a 50 per cent chance of survival while a pedestrian struck by a car at 30 km/h has a 95 per cent chance of survival.”
The earliest references to bike lanes on Bloor date back to a study done in 1976. The Bloor corridor was one of two routes consultants determined to be high priority, according to bicycle use at the time and predicted future use. In 1981, another report referenced the ’76 report, again insisting the corridor should be reviewed for a potential bike lane. The corridor was rejected as a route because of motor traffic concerns.
In 1992, a report by Marshall Macklin and Monaghan Limited identified Bloor-Danforth as an ideal east-west route for bicycle lanes. The purpose of the study was to identify one east-west route and one north-south route that would form a “’spine’ network of on-street lanes in the City of Toronto.” In 2010, the City retained a consultant team to work on the Bloor-Danforth Bikeway Environmental Assessment study. But this study was rejected in 2012, as council chose to refocus the available resources to other cycling priorities, including bike trails. The struggle to give the Bloor bike lanes priority in the budget has been ongoing since.
Gulati was aware of the strong interest in this corridor when she assumed her role as manager earlier this year. She didn’t comment on why it’s taken so long for Bloor Street to be seriously considered for a bike lane, but said that “there’s interest from councillors and the community, and I think we’re probably closer now to the timing being right.”