Bike Plan to Nowhere: Three ways the new bike plan report falls short

Staff released their report (PDF) on Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s much-ballyhooed bike plan last week. It’ll be debated this Wednesday at the meeting of the Public Works & Infrastructure Committee, after which it will, if approved, go on to City Council for final consideration.

The Toronto Cyclists Union has served as a somewhat unlikely ally to Minnan-Wong as he’s talked up his plan for a network of four separated bike lanes across the downtown core. They’ve even visited with neighbourhood groups across the downtown to build support for the idea of protected bike lanes.

The release of the staff report appeared to throw cold water on that budding friendship, however.

The union’s response:

This report was released today and the Toronto Cyclists Union, representing over 1,100 members, is disappointed with the lack of progress in the report. It is not bold enough to address the needs of hundreds of thousands of Torontonians who ride bicycles. In fact, several of the recommendations outlined in the report set the City back on cycling progress.

via Statement on 2011 Bikeway Network Report | Toronto Cyclists Union.

To Minnan-Wong’s credit, he told the Toronto Star’s David Rider that he “wishes staff had taken a ‘bolder’ approach” in their report.

So why does the report — let’s just say it — kind of suck? Let’s count the ways.

Reason One: It’s a bike plan that eliminates bike lanes

First, it’s a bike plan that actually floats the idea of eliminating established bike lanes in Scarborough and previously approved — but not installed — lanes on Bloor West.

Councillor Michelle Berardinetti, one of the Team Ford members that sometimes breaks ranks, pushed for removal of the two Scarborough lanes — one’s on Birchmount Road while the other is on Pharmacy Avenue — as part of her election platform (PDF).

Though staff report that the two lanes “do not have a significant adverse effect on the traffic operations and parking situation” on the two roadways, and advise that removal of the lanes will cost more than $200,000, Berardinetti told the Toronto Sun that she would continue to support their removal because “[this] is what the residents want.”

It’s populist thinking like that that make me wonder why we don’t just replace our elected officials with a series of online polls.

Here’s a nifty video showing a cyclist riding the Pharmacy Ave. lane during rush hour. While hardly the definitive word on this sort of thing, it does not, to me, resemble traffic chaos.

Reason Two: It’s a bike plan that barely recommends new bike lanes

The authors of the report essentially hedge their bets on every major recommendation. The only protected lane they recommend without further study is a small installation over the Bloor Viaduct. They’re also a little bullish on protected lanes on Sherbourne and Wellsley, recommending them for 2012.

The other proposed lanes in Minnan-Wong’s network, including a lane or Richmond or Adelaide — which the report notes “would have the greatest benefit for cyclists” –, are pushed off into the future, noting that more studies must be done.

I’m being critical of the report’s authors, but I should note that their timidness to recommend lanes is grounded in reality, considering the views the mayor and Minnan-Wong have expressed in the past.The report includes a lengthy section in the summary that serves as a kind of disclaimer for councillors who once fought hard against bike infrastructure:

It is important to understand, however, that the implementation of other separated bicycle lanes will, in most instances, result in a reduction of vehicle traffic or parking capacity. It is with this understanding that this report seeks authority to undertake further in-depth assessment, including a comprehensive consultation and design process, to evaluate the different design options for this separated bicycle lane network, and to identify impacts and recommend potential mitigating measures

In other words: We really don’t want to spend a zillion hours producing a bunch of reports for bike lanes on Richmond Street if you’re going to inevitably dismiss any bike lane that might impact the free movement of cars.

Reason Three: It’s a bike plan that works against, rather than with, the cycling community

In addition to floating the idea of removing lanes in Scarborough, the report also calls for the cancelling a previously-funded environmental assessment that would “develop an innovative design and implementation plan for developing a bikeway along the Bloor-Danforth corridor, and identify short and long-term design options, including evaluating the feasibility of physically separated bicycle lanes.”

Minnan-Wong justifies the cancellation by saying “we only have so much money and we only have so much staff” and pointing to better uses of the funds set aside from the EA. The cycling community, apparently, would disagree:

Hundreds of cyclists hit Bloor St. Saturday for the annual Bells on Bloor ride with the simple message ringing out — build bike lanes from one end of Toronto to the other across the major artery.

via Cyclists pedal hard for bike lane | Toronto Sun.

The disconnect between what the plan actually proposes and what the cycling community is asking for is disappointing. I guess it should be noted that another term for cycling community is taxpayer community.

For those playing along at home, the best way to rapidly expand cycling infrastructure in this city is to aggressively design and approve pilot projects, in the style of New York City’s Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

Minnan-Wong’s stated desire to take a “bolder” approach is the one thing that gives me hope out of this disappointing report. Bold is what cyclists should get. Bold is what this city deserves.

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