Cycling through the streets of Toronto can be a daunting, dangerous and deadly journey. Local headlines prove just that with the rise in fatalities and serious injuries to cyclists and pedestrians on city streets in recent years.
After years of heated discussion and debate, action is finally being taken. Cyclists have held their breath in anticipation for the new pilot project on Bloor Street, where street parking will be transformed into bike lanes until Fall 2017, accompanied by talks of widening sidewalks along Yonge street. A dream come true for Toronto cyclists and pedestrians alike!
Even with recent moves towards the focus of pedestrianization, it could be argued that the city is behind in the times of cycling and pedestrian infrastructure in comparison to cities across the pond like Paris, London and Copenhagen. In fact, Copenhagen is officially the first Bike City in the World, with over 390km dedicated to bike lanes and a Cycle Super Highway. The efforts to build infrastructure for cyclists started back in the 1960s’ with the emergence of the oil crisis and the environmental movement. So really, this idea of building infrastructure for cyclists and pedestrians is nothing new. Toronto has seen success with bike lanes along Richmond, Adelaide and Queens Quay, where roads have been revamped to meet growing needs. Now Queens Quay is one of the most viable and enjoyable city routes for cyclists and pedestrians in the GTA along the waterfront.
Cycling has grown in popularity over the past few years, with many opting to exclusively use it as their mode of transportation. Just like any other way of getting around, there must be a foundation for its support and a shift in how the city considers how residents move within the core. Now, with the pilot project underway, it highlights the growing demand for cyclist and pedestrian infrastructure and how we are responding.
Ultimately, there are many benefits to bike lanes and wider sidewalks. For starters, more opportunities for active lifestyles are creating a healthier city – Toronto has now been rated one of the healthiest cities in Ontario. With the city generating more safe spaces for those to participate, it may lead to even more involvement with happier, healthier residents. Not only would this have a positive impact on Torontonians, the environment would benefit exponentially; decreasing pollution and maybe one day, in a perfect world, eliminating gas emissions all together. Having infrastructures built within the city could create a positive impact on surrounding local business due to a higher volume of people passing by. More people may choose to stop and shop in local shops along their route, simply because the spaces are more accessible.
City buildings and streets are already established. So naturally our next question is, where will we find more room for bikes, cars and pedestrians to co-exist?
Toronto has started considering how they can encourage residents to find alternate modes of transportation within the core; downtown toll routes are brought into council discussions, a new toll route pilot program along the QEW is becoming a focus, and providing alternate options for areas that previously weren’t accessible by anything but car – like the UP Express to Pearson. The city is continually trying to find ways for better access to transit with increased frequency on busy routes and all-door boarding. Programs like Bike Share Toronto and Car2go encourage the realization that people don’t need a car in the city. It’s the dawn of a new age in the GTA – where everyone shares the road equally. Drivers can realistically leave the car at home, avoid high parking rates and enjoy their city from a new perspective: as an active passenger.
So what’s next in this new dawn in the GTA?