How Complete Streets Improve Commutes For City Cyclists—and Motorists
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How Complete Streets Improve Commutes For City Cyclists—and Motorists

A new book proves the success of the projects in two downtown case studies.

After heated debate in City Council and the eventual passage of the Bloor bike-lane pilot project, the feasibility of cycling on Toronto’s roadways has been brought to the fore. How can cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers share the city’s streets safely and fairly? Can Toronto’s roads accommodate all forms of transportation?

That’s the question the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation’s Nancy Smith Lea and researchers set out to answer in the new book, Complete Street Transformations in the Greater Golden Horseshoe Region.

The book, penned alongside researchers from Ryerson University and the University of Toronto, examines nine Complete Street transformations—that is, roadways that are upgraded to better accommodate all users, including pedestrians, cyclists, drivers, and public transit commuters—in southern Ontario, including two in downtown Toronto at Queens Quay and Richmond and Adelaide.

The study of the improvements made to Richmond and Adelaide streets, which included the addition of a cycle track separated from vehicle traffic by flexi-posts and planter boxes, concluded that the upgrades resulted in an increased number of cyclists using the roadways and reduced travel times for drivers. During off-peak hours, on Richmond, a motorist’s trip was up to 30 per cent faster during off-peak hours after the cycle track was installed. On Adelaide, there was a 12 per cent increase in travel times during peak hours.

In the study, both cyclists and drivers reported that they felt safer using the street once it had been upgraded. The report did not, however, mention how incorrect usage of the roadway, such as drivers and delivery trucks parking in the bike lane, can render it less safe since cyclists usually have to merge with traffic.

Meanwhile, the Queens Quay revitalization project that bridged the gap in the Martin Goodman Trail drastically increased the number of cyclists who use the path, up by 888 per cent since 2007. The expanded waterside walkway also improved pedestrian traffic. Local businesses, too, reported an increase in commercial activity since the roadway opened last summer.

But not all efforts to create Complete Streets have been universally praised. Last summer, a pedestrian initiative closed a lane of traffic on John Street, placing planter boxes and lounge chairs inside. Signs were also installed that told cyclists to dismount their bikes and to walk them through the area—an inconvenience to anyone trying to commute by bicycle.

While Complete Street transformations have proven to increase active transportation, ease congestion, and help local businesses, the authors of the book say that data on the effects of these upgrades is not always easily found. They say that, in some cases, the results are not being studied thoroughly enough by municipalities. It is perhaps because of this that the implementation of upgrades that accommodate more forms of transportation has not been more widespread across Toronto.

But with the installation of the Bloor Street pilot project likely to be complete by the end of this summer, and rumours that King Street could be redesigned in the near future, it’s hard not to be optimistic about more Complete Streets coming to Toronto.

This article was made possible by Urbane Cyclist.

CLARIFICATION: This article has been updated to clarify the streets on which motorists experience faster travel times.