How Council Likes Bike Lane Plans More than Bike Lanes
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How Council Likes Bike Lane Plans More than Bike Lanes

To no one's surprise, council hasn't met its 10-year bike goals in the past.

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Last month, the City unveiled its latest long-term plan to expand cycling infrastructure in Toronto. In an effort to create a connected network for cyclists across the city, the proposed 10-year project identifies 525 kilometres of potential cycling infrastructure to the tune of $153.5 million over the next decade. The majority of the infrastructure would be located on major thoroughfares—with roughly 55 km dedicated to “sidewalk-level boulevard trails” alongside some of the busier streets—while the remainder would be spread out across quieter streets.

The Public Works & Infrastructure Committee agreed on a lower price tag, $16 million per year, and council agreed to the plan in principle, although some significant bike lane recommendations were removed in the process (review the recommended bike lanes here). But the proposal has yet to go through the budget process, so the plan can’t be implemented just yet.

Given Council’s history of not following through on plans it agrees to in principle, that’s an important caveat.

Toronto’s bike map, as of 2014. Map by the City of Toronto.

On the surface, the plan appears to be a healthy step forward for cycling in Toronto. After a rocky series of events for the Bloor bike lane pilot project, the 10-year plan feels somewhat rewarding.

But veterans of the Toronto cycling community won’t be holding their breath. Council has passed bike plans like this before, but between a lack of resources and political courage, it doesn’t have a great track record of meeting its goals.

Back in 2001, the City released a particularly appealing plan aimed at implementing 1,000 km of bike lanes and paths by 2011 [PDF]. The Toronto Bike Plan, approved by city council shortly thereafter, dedicated 495 km to on-street bike lanes, 249 km of off-road paths, and 260 km of signed routes.

Ten years later, the plan is only marginally complete. As of 2014, reports the Toronto Star, only 571 km of bike lanes were implemented, and only 114 of them are on-road bike lanes.

While former Mayor Rob Ford’s term in office didn’t help the plan in achieving its goals (because some bike lanes were removed, the city actually had fewer on-street bike lanes by the end of Ford’s term than it did when it started), previous administrations did little to further the plan’s goals as well. Between 2001 and 2007, only 128 km of new bicycle routes were added, and during Miller’s term in office, the bike plan deadline was extended twice, first to 2012 and then to 2013.

The failure of the 2001 bike plan left Toronto lacking in cycling infrastructure compared to other major municipalities. In comparison, Montreal has 730 km of on-street bike lanes for its 365 sq. km., while Toronto has 114 km for 630 sq. km.

Beyond the incomplete plans of the past, previous city bike plans also fail to meet current cycling needs. In 1984, the city introduced a plan to expand bicycle parking on streets and civic destinations across town. While the plan was a general success for those living in the downtown core (the city currently hosts approximately 17,000 parking spots for bicycles), Toronto’s inner suburbs didn’t get the same infrastructure.

Of course, the City can’t be blamed for failing to predict the future—amalgamation would occur 14 years later—but Toronto still has some catching up to do with infrastructure in the outer regions of the city.

The latest 10-year plan aims to make up for previous incomplete plans—if all is accomplished on time, the City will finally meet the Toronto Bike Plan’s target of over 1,000 km of bike lanes, and will expand much-needed infrastructure to the suburbs by 2025.

But knowing the city’s history, this is a pretty big “if.”

This article was made possible by Urbane Cyclist.