#CityShaping

The Development & Possibilities of a Bike-Friendly Toronto

With the explosive growth of the last half century, the city has been forced to take on some massive undertakings since the end of World War II. Between 1953 and 1966, Toronto constructed the Gardiner Expressway, the Yonge subway line, the University subway line, and the Bloor-Danforth subway line. In the lead up to those projects, some very difficult decisions had to be made, and some very heated discussions occurred.

Such is the historical trajectory of Toronto. First comes rancor, then comes debate, then comes action.

Currently, it seems that cycling in Toronto is poised to join the ‘big leagues’ of popular discourse. A subject upon which seemingly every Torontonian holds opinion, cycling continues to inspire as much passionate debate as other major issues in Toronto, including Uber, affordable housing and transit. What has become clear is that NOW is cycling’s time. And just like other major paradigm shifts in Toronto’s history, it’s not without its controversy.

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Photo: The Telegram, August 29, 1957. Source: http://bit.ly/1izcOeC

Last week, the City of Los Angeles – one of the world’s most notorious car-centric cities – unveiled a new transportation plan called Mobility Plan 2035. Intended to reduce the number of fatal auto collisions to 0 over the next 20 years, the scope calls for added bike lanes and transit infrastructure, in some cases at the expense of private auto lanes, as well as substantial speed reductions.

The document – endorsed by a large margin of City Council when adopted – represents a rethinking of Los Angeles’ unique traffic needs. Ultimately, what is desired is to reduce speeds across the city (especially along the city’s many long, straight boulevards), citing the fact that currently, 1 out of every 10 Los Angeles road collisions, or 10%, involves a pedestrian.

While 10% seems like a relatively low number, all things considered, over 35% of all road fatalities in LA are pedestrians.

As of late July 2015, Toronto has had 23 pedestrian/cyclist deaths this year. One of Toronto’s deadliest on record.

In June of this year, Toronto Public Health released Pedestrian and Cycling Safety in Toronto, a sobering report offered as a form of ‘myth busting’ of a number of popular misconceptions regarding the role that pedestrians play in auto collisions in Toronto. The undeniable theme: that pedestrian-involved collisions are most often not the fault of pedestrians, and that they could have been avoided.

As Toronto continues to grow and intensify, movement will be one of the most valuable commodities available to residents.

Beyond saving lives, there is simply more growth potential in emphasizing bike development for cities. In New York City, the Department of Transportation reported a 49% increase in businesses which are along bike routes, making bike routes a great way to revitalize neighbourhoods. Even in non-urban areas, bike infrastructure has been shown to have some pretty impressive effects – in North Carolina’s Outer Banks, the state of North Carolina found that on a one-time investment of $6.7 million, the area enjoyed a return with a staggering ratio of $9 for every $1 spent.

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Photo: Still from a now infamous exchange between a cyclist and a pedestrian at Queen’s Quay this summer. Source: http://on.thestar.com/1YfVETt

Toronto is poised to make its next big paradigm shift regarding movement, and it is one that will be as hotly contested as it will require that cars accept a reduced role in our still-growing city, with an increased role of bike, transit and walking options.

If Los Angeles, and Pyongyang, North Korea (no, seriously, North Korea’s largest city is embracing dedicated bike lanes to keep car, bike, and pedestrian traffic separated, offering an extensive network to navigate the city on two wheels!) can accept this fact, surely Toronto can as well. The future is in bike-friendly development, and Toronto is on its way to large-scale improvements. We just need to ensure that we don’t lose ourselves in the debate.BIKE 3

Photo: Dedicated bike lanes in Pyongyang, North Korea, part of a large cross-city network of paths which connect the city. Source: http://bit.ly/1RzFQtU