Bloor Street West Bike Lane shows need for National Active Transportation Strategy

Prepared by Kim Perrotta MHSc, Executive Director, CAPE, October 20, 2017

Last week, Toronto’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee decided to maintain the Bloor Street West Bike Lane.  The bike lane was installed on Bloor Street from Shaw Street to Avenue Road as a pilot project for one year.  It was a watershed moment for bike lanes in Toronto because Bloor Street is one of the busiest streets in the city.  But the debate also exemplifies the desperate need for evidence-based direction from the federal government.

Before the installation of the Bloor Street West Bike Lane, this stretch of road was used by approximately 24,000 vehicles and 3,300 cyclists per each weekday, and recorded, on average, 22 collisions involving cyclists each year.  After the installation of the bike lane, cycling increased by 49% to 5,220 cyclists per week day, while the number of vehicle/cyclist conflicts was decreased by 61% (Toronto 2017).

City staff recommended maintaining the Bloor West Bike Lane on the basis of several evaluation studies which found that: a significant number of drivers, cyclists, and pedestrians felt the road was safer with the bike lane; driving time along this stretch increased by only 2 to 4 minutes respectively during peak times; customer spending increased among local businesses; and strong support for the bike lane was expressed by cyclists, pedestrians, local residents, and drivers who ride a bicycle on occasion (Toronto, 2017).

Sixty people and organizations were registered for deputations at this Committee meeting. Despite the positive results from the evaluation studies and the passion of the testimonies, two of the six councillors still voted against maintaining the Bloor West Bike Lane.  Councillor Holyday and Councillor Mammoliti were fixated on the cost of installing the bike lanes, the risk of slowing vehicular traffic, and the loss of parking spots.  It was frustrating and disheartening.

Bike lanes reduce injuries and deaths among cyclists.  They increase levels of physical activity, which reduces chronic diseases, deaths from cardiovascular disease and cancer, and health care costs.  Bikes emit no air pollutants and no greenhouse gases.  Bike lanes make jobs, services, and recreational opportunities more accessible to people who cannot drive and to those who cannot afford their own vehicles.  With so many health, environmental, and social benefits, why is it so difficult to get bike lanes installed?

We need to think  about bike lanes differently.  We have to think of them like sidewalks; essential infrastructure that protect people from vehicles while fostering healthy lifestyles.  We have to think of them like soccer fields and hockey arenas; community assets that promote physical activity and social cohesion.  We have to think of them like parks and greenspace; a land use use of land that improves air quality, mitigates climate change, and promotes mental health.

There is a role for the federal government to engage in this debate.  Chronic diseases cost Canada hundreds of billions of dollars each year in lost-time and health care costs.  Bike lanes are a public health priority; one that could be fostered and promoted with a national strategy that includes targets, design criteria, and policies.  Citizens need help getting municipal councillors on side.  The federal government needs to get health care costs under control.  It is time for a National Active Transportation Strategy.

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