Final Essay: Pushing the Pedals - The Public Cycling Infrastructure of Toronto
Updated: Jun 4
CS413DA for Professor Neil Balan at Wilfrid Laurier University
Movements towards bike lanes are becoming increasingly prominent in Toronto and have been backed by discourses of sustainability and environmental advocacy. Bike lanes have a physical place on many roads and come in varying levels of protection for the cyclist. The simple lines on the road and/or divisional buffers form a social enclosure to contain or expose the cyclist. They create a disciplinary society that is ordered to obey what is quite often just paint on the road. (Tyler, 2019)
Toronto has become a hotspot for cycling with routes for commuting, errands and leisure riding. However, the "safety of cyclists amongst other means of transportation is debated and the extent of the network of bike lanes impacts how quickly and efficiently a cyclist can move through a municipality” (Tyler, 2019). The City's network of separated bike lanes was 18.7 km in 2017 (Burke and Scott, 2018), and by 2019 there are now 39 km of cycle tracks and 619 total km of on-street cycling infrastructure (City of Toronto, “Network Status”, 2019). This influx points towards cycling as a priority within Toronto, yet there are issues with the cycling network itself. “Bike lanes act as chokepoints, limiting the routes and ways people can move through an area and the construction that arises when they need to be created causes a structural concern in the mobilities of citizens” (Tyler, 2019). Although new routes are created each year, there are only certain areas that seem to benefit from their construction and the routes themselves do not often connect to each other with proper bike lanes and/or cycle tracks the full way. The maps posted on social media and websites become outdated each summer, such as those on blogTO and the Google Maps indicators. With a focus on the downtown core, I will briefly look at the Bloor-Danforth intended route, the Harbourfront and Bay St. area, including the Pan Am Path and Yonge-Dundas Square. I will examine how the built infrastructure of bike lanes and cycle paths through Toronto limit the safety of cyclists due to the lack of connectivity in the network, visibility of the conduits and users, and the absence of environmental sustainability. Therefore, the cycling infrastructure requires improvement through quality research and funding for network expansion alongside a supportive voter base.
Policy and Hot Spots
It is first important to note the rules and regulations surround bike lanes, cycle paths and how this ultimately impacts the creation of the built environment. Most of the regulations revolve around the width and who is permitted to use and stop in a bike lane. Vehicles such as mail trucks, taxis and emergency service vehicles are permitted to stop in un-protected bike lanes. Other than these vehicles, only bikes, unicycles and tricycles are allowed to use them and stop in a bike lane. By looking at Appendix B, a problem can be determined with this allowance. A FedEx truck is seen parked overtop of a bike lane on Bay Street, just North of the Bay and Harbour Street intersection. This prevents a cyclist from staying within the lane and they must dodge the truck by riding on the road. While there is no on-street parking, an approaching cyclist must risk their safety and ride on the regular road.
The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) recommends a three-foot buffer between a bike lane and parked cars (Schimek, 2018). NACTO has contributed to creating a guide through having the authors “conduct an extensive worldwide literature search from design guidelines and real-life experience. They have worked closely with a panel of urban bikeway planning professionals from NACTO member cities, as well as traffic engineers, planners, and academics with deep experience in urban bikeway applications” (NACTO, n.d.). The network for cycling in Toronto is controversial because of the congestion within the city before cycling traffic is added. Also, with Canada’s harsh winters, drivers must adjust to an increase in cycling traffic each spring when the number of bicycles on the roads jumps after the snow melts.
Adelaide track is right in the heart of the Financial district and one block south of the parallel cycle track on Richmond. Whether couriers, commuters or a leisure rider, these tracks have a daily total of approximately 6520 cyclists during the month of June according to a study done in 2016. That is a huge flow of people and both cyclists and drivers rated their experience significantly more comfortable and safer after the tracks were installed (City of Toronto, “Public Drop-In Event”, 2018). It should be noted that pedestrians rated their experience lower, but only by half a point on a ranking scale out of 10. Young and Dundas is a hot spot for accidents, including “dooring” which will be discussed later, however is a major intersection for retail, dining and entertainment and also is the location of a bike share spot and yet does not have a bike lane along either of the intersecting roads. How do Toronto’s policy makers and city planners think this is a good idea? It puts a cyclist’s life at risk and if they want to obey the lanes they cannot get where they need to necessarily go.
Cycle Toronto has promoted the hashtag “#BuildtheGrid” as a message indicating that the connectivity needs to improve between the different routes. The organization itself believes in Toronto as a they indicate it is an “outstanding cycling city” (Cycle Toronto, 2019). However, the organization also consistently advocates for improvement and aids in education, coordinating community events and fundraising for better cycling infrastructure. This all can assist in limiting the risks posed to cyclists in their travels around Toronto. Hot spots need to be connected to each other to prevent law-bending and the endangerment of citizens.
Design and Functionality
“Bike Lanes may be distinguished using color, lane markings, signage, and intersection treatments...these include way-finding and route signage, regulatory signage, and warning signage” (NACTO, n.d.). It would be important to mention that there are different types of cycling infrastructure. Separated bike lanes, also called cycle tracks in Toronto, are an “exclusive facility for bicyclists that is located within or directly adjacent to the roadway and that is physically separated from motor vehicle traffic with a vertical element” Flynn & Sundstrom, 2015). They “provide more comfort for cyclists than traditional on-street painted bike lanes but fall within a transportation framework much more so than off-street paths or trails, which generally are recognized as more recreational in nature” (Rosenblatt, Flynn & Sundstrom, 2015). There are a variety of separation types as well that range in price and aesthetic level.
Relatively inexpensive and potentially quicker-to-implement types of separation include flexible delineator posts, planters, parking stops, or a "floating" parking lane for motor vehicles. In contrast, generally more expensive but robust treatments might consist of heavy-duty bollards, concrete "jersey" barriers, raised curb medians, bike share kiosks, or physically raising the SBL to sidewalk level. To realize the full benefits of several treatments at a potentially lower overall cost, a combination of separation treatments can be used. (Rosenblatt, Flynn & Sundstrom, 2015)
There is also the standard bike lane which does not have barrier between the cyclists and the car traffic. Bicycle infrastructure needs to follow the building guide to “improve traffic safety, reduce congestion, improve air quality and public health, provide better and more equitable access to jobs and opportunities, and bolster local economies” (NACTO, n.d.).
White, green and yellow appear to be the paint colours most often used for bike lanes and cycle tracks in Toronto. Green as a paint colour has actually been proven to increase the safety in comparison to colours like blue, which blend too easily and are therefore not as visible (Vera- Villarroel et al., 2016). The paint seen in each of the appendices is white and standard in Toronto from auto to cycling markings.
Future Development Concerns
Charles Burke and Darren Scott argue for the inclusion of Network Robust Index (NRI) to evaluate the potential changes in traffic times with the addition of separated bike lanes. Although there are many people in support of the lanes being upgraded or added to city streets, there is also backlash, primarily from car drivers who commute to work by a personal vehicle. There is the concern that adding bike lanes can narrow roadways and contribute to congestion. In 2014, John Tory, who was the Mayor of Toronto, was in support of adding bike lanes to help with traffic congestion in the city.
The NRI approach measures the impact on vehicular travel time attributed to reduced road capacity. It is implemented as a Caliper Script® toolkit within TransCAD®, a powerful transportation GIS. Using traffic simulations, the tool first calculates travel time for a network at full road capacity and then recalculates a new travel time after some or all of the capacity from a link has been removed. The process is then repeated by the Caliper Script toolkit, again and again, until a capacity loss, travel-time impact estimate is produced for every link in the road network. (Burke and Scott, 2018)
The method is used to evaluate the travel-time impact on vehicular transportation and in this case with the addition of separated bike lanes. The approach enables infrastructure planners to see where the sensible sections would be and, in contrast, where the lanes should not be built due to a negative rating. It can be used as evidence to convince the drivers, who occupy a huge part of the voter pool, that these lanes will not harm their commute. This is not the only factor but definitely can affect the decision of policy makers and politicians who can delegate the funding towards cycling lanes or not. Former Mayor, Rob Ford actually removed a separated bike lane in the downtown core after the support from auto commuters. Driver concerns have limited development in many ways in the past, and bike lane developers are incredibly familiar with this issue. Roadways are contested spaces between who can use them or wants to use them and who has the actual rights to the paved surface area.
Burke and Scott focus on Bloor-Danforth, which is a target conduit for commuters and is a West-East pathway through the core of Toronto. Their results suggest the difference in commute for drivers would be under five seconds, therefore extremely small in the long run, post construction. Five seconds in delay could help prevent a collision risking someone’s life, which is when whereabouts the value is placed is put in question. The financial cost of building and adding bike lanes in Toronto varies depending on the speed and business of the street(s) in question. The cost to implement separated bike lanes, which are preferred on high speed routes, can range from $180,000 to $1,000,000 per kilometre (City of Toronto, “Cycling Infrastructure”, 2019).
Building Sustainable Infrastructure
The promotion of cycling and bike usage goes hand in hand with living a “greener” lifestyle. People may have the privilege to opt to use a bicycle instead of a car on a nice day to get some exercise but there is also the pressure from society to be more environmentally friendly and ultimately sustainable. Bicycles do not require fossil fuels to run and do not emit exhaust to pollute the air. They also do not require as much space and parts of driveways could be replaced as at-home gardens instead, if someone truly wanted to help the environment and grow local. While some choose to ride a bike to work or for errands, other still opt for the use of their car. If more people switch to carpooling and cycling there would not be the need for as many motorized transit lanes, but actually a substantial increase in the connectivity and safety of bike lanes.
In the move towards an increased quality and quantity of bike paths, cycling tracks, trails and more, roadways and paths need to be either repaved, repaired and/or expanded. The construction materials that go into these projects must be more sustainable than what has been used in the past. Due to the nature of many cycle tracks and bike paths being built within congested areas, the less often repairs need to be made the better, otherwise major delays and frustration could ensue. The paths might as well also be created from recycled materials to help prevent waste. Tavira, Jimenez, Lopez-Uceda and Ledesma use their research on recycling aggregates and screening wastes to promote the use of these materials by the construction sector, in particular for the construction of bike lanes. Bike lanes, although used frequently, do not have a large quantity of weight passing over them at one time, unlike a car or truck on a travel roadway. Despite this lack of weight, reused aggregates still meet the standard requirements to be used in structural layers (Tavira, Jimenez, Lopez-Uceda & Ledesma, 2018). “The findings of this study can reduce natural aggregate extraction from rivers and quarries, significantly minimize the ecological footprint, [and] prevent illegal and landfill deposits” (Tavira, Jimenez, Lopez-Uceda & Ledesma, 2018). This means regular practices can be exchanged for ones such as this to help preserve the earth and limit our human impact. Although this study was conducted in Spain, similar recycling practices could be performed in Canada. Using recycled goods could decrease the cost of materials making more routes possible and therefore increasing the coverage of the cycling system to many areas of all class levels.
James A. Pritchard comments on the work “Bike Lanes are White Lanes: Bicycle Advocacy and Urban Planning” by Melody L. Hoffman. Hoffman looks at the intersectionality between race, gender and class in bicycle culture (Pritchard, 2018). She argues bike lanes cater to gentrification and on page 129, Hoffman claims “a communal space was taken from the poor” in the example of Minneapolis’ introduction to more bike lanes (Pritchard, 2018). As bike lanes are developed, they are often to cater to a white middle class. In Toronto, commuting appears to be the priority of most bike paths and the recreational routes are aimed at family bike rides, assuming a family could afford bikes for each member of the family. Many homeless and lower working class individuals use bikes as personal transportation because they do not have a driver’s licence or cannot afford a vehicle, and yet these individuals are not included in conversations about cycling developments. On page 141, Hoffman argues, “finally, there is “a need to diversify both who bikes and who plans for the infrastructure the bicyclists utilize”” (Pritchard, 2018). Considering a bike lane in Toronto is considered to be public, just like roads and city transportation, any person should be able to confidently use the system.
This continues to the equal maintenance and attention to all components of a cycling network. While a superior path can assist in giving a community safer opportunities to participate, “poor or inadequate infrastructure—which has disproportionately impacted low- income communities and communities of color—forces people bicycling to choose between feeling safe and following the rules of the road and induces wrong-way and sidewalk riding” (NACTO, n.d.). Safety is of utmost importance for a healthy community and prosperous city. At the intersection at the bottom of Bay St., the bikes are often travelling faster than the cars. The pedestrians walking to the pier to catch the ferry over to the Toronto Islands must be cautious as the bikes wail past. In this section, the bike lane is not well marked as pictured in Appendix A. The text and lines blend in and suggest looking both ways, but as many tourists use this walkway they are often looking up at the CN Tower or trying to figure out where they need to go based on the street signs, not looking down at their feet where it says to look left and right. I have seen close calls in this area because people were looking at the attraction information or trying to figure out a map. This poses a risk for not only the cyclists but the pedestrians as well. Motorized vehicles might also become involved in a collision if the interaction is pushed onto the main car travel route. “Intersections are where most bicycle-vehicle collisions occur, and where riders feel the most stress” (Rosenblatt, Flynn & Sundstrom, 2015). Minimizing risk of collision is essential.
In Appendix C, the image shows a bike lane that shifts left in order to allow for cars to turn right. This photo is from the Harbourfront area of Toronto, on Bay St. Although this has proven to be a good layout in Salt Lake City, the yielding must come from the drivers (Rosenblatt, Flynn & Sundstrom, 2015). This type of planning is designed to increase the visibility of a cyclist, but a cyclist is also potentially surrounded by drivers who may or may not pay attention to them instead of just one on the left side. Although drivers are required by law to pay attention, visibility of the cyclist can be affected by lighting, clothing colours, vehicle angles, and weather conditions. The same care and attention are required when car users open their doors. “All of the design guides recently developed in North America for separated bike lanes include a buffer to account for the door zone when the bike lane is placed between on-street parallel parking and the curb” (Schimek, 2018). In the Ontario Traffic Manual (OTM), however, standard bike lanes are also required to have a buffer, unless in a low traffic area (Schimek). 14.6% of bicycle-motor vehicle collisions involved a car door from 2014 to 2016 (Kolb, 2017) in according to Toronto crash reports, however these types of collisions, called “dooring” are not included in the formal accident report statistics (Schimek, 2018). By building conduits and cycling corridors that are backed with user experience insight and scientific research, Toronto has the ability to invest in a fantastic cycling future with limited accidents that are most often preventable.
Great work has been done to improve the cycling network in Toronto, but this is still insufficient for the extent Torontonians desire to use bicycles as a mode of transportation. One of the great things I found while doing research was the high number of repairs stops at TTC stations. For the future, Toronto has a 10-Year Cycling Network plan to help improve and invest in the public infrastructure. In Appendix D, we can see the extensive network that has not only been proposed but in fact approved by officials. Being approved in 2016, projects have already been initiated with a hope for a positive cycling future in The City with estimated completion around 2025. Each Torontonian and tourist of “the 6” should be able to ride a bike with confidence and ease no matter their skill level or age. The City is becoming more connected through its public cycling infrastructure, one buffered section at a time.
Burke, C. M., & Scott, D. M. (2018). Identifying “Sensible locations” for separated bike lanes on a congested urban road network: A Toronto case study. The Professional Geographer, 70(4), 541-551. doi:10.1080/00330124.2018.1455518
City of Toronto. (2016). Cycling Network Plan: Council Approved [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2017/10/956c-CyclingNetworkPlan- CouncilApproved.pdf
City of Toronto. (2018). Public Drop-In Event: Richmond-Adelaide Cycle Tracks [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.toronto.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/08/982a-Richmond- Adelaide-boards_2018-06-25-web2.pdf
City of Toronto. (2019). About Toronto’s Cycling Infrastructure. Retrieved from https://www.toronto.ca/services-payments/streets-parking-transportation/cycling-in- toronto/bike-lanes-contraflow-lanes-and-separated-cycle-tracks/
City of Toronto. (2019). Network Status. Retrieved from https://www.toronto.ca/services- payments/streets-parking-transportation/cycling-in-toronto/cycle-track-projects/network- status/
Cycle Toronto. (2019). 2018 Annual Report [PDF file]. Retrieved from https://www.cycleto.ca/sites/default/files/Cycle%20Toronto_Annual%20Report_2018_Fin al.pdf
Google Maps. (2017). Pan Am Path. Retrieved from https://email@example.com,-79.376667,3a,90y,50.26h,80.31t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1seFet5iequUFjBWVtY9WXqA!2e 0!7i13312!8i6656
Google Maps. (2018). 33 Bay Street. Retrieved from https://firstname.lastname@example.org,- 79.3775831,3a,75y,15.2h,71.7t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sI8C5GcXHq1AtjO7MFCA7DQ!2e 0!7i16384!8i8192
Google Maps. (2018). 8 Bay Street. Retrieved from https://email@example.com,- 79.377009,3a,75y,327.01h,75.17t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sx- enIZO7gT7FDLuE2x4PJA!2e0!7i16384!8i8192
Kolb, J. (2017). Dooring collisions on the rise, yet not addressed in City’s Road Safety Plan. Cycle Toronto. Retrieved from https://www.cycleto.ca/news/dooring-collisions-rise-yet- not-addressed-city%E2%80%99s-road-safety-plan
NACTO. (n.d.). Urban bikeway design guide. Retrieved from https://nacto.org/publication/urban-bikeway-design-guide/
Pritchard, J.A. (2018). Bike lanes are white lanes: Bicycle advocacy and urban planning. By Melody L. Hoffman. Environmental History, 23(4), 903-904. Retrieved from https://doi- org.libproxy.wlu.ca/10.1093/envhis/emy068
Rosenblatt, B., C.F.A., Flynn, M., A.I.C.P., & Sundstrom, C. (2015). Separated bike lanes go mainstream. Institute of Transportation Engineers. ITE Journal, 85(10), 39-45. Retrieved from https://libproxy.wlu.ca/login?url=https://search-proquest- com.libproxy.wlu.ca/docview/1721906811?accountid=15090
Schimek, P. (2018). Bike lanes next to on-street parallel parking. Accident Analysis, 120, 74-82. doi:10.1016/j.aap.2018.08.002
Tavira, J., Jimenez, J.R., Ayuso, J., Lopez-Uceda, A., & Ledesma, E.F. (2018). Recycling screen waste and recycled mixed aggregates from construction and demolition waste in paved bike lanes. Journal of Cleaner Production, 190, 211-220.
Tyler, S. (2019). CS413 Paper Proposal (PDF file). Wilfrid Laurier University, Waterloo. Vera-Villarroel, P., Contreras, D., Lillo, S., Beyle, C., Segovia, A., Rojo, N....Oyarzo, F. (2016).
Perception of Safety and Liking Associated to the Colour Intervention of Bike Lanes: Contribution from the Behavioural Sciences to Urban Design and Wellbeing. PLoS ONE, 11(8) 10.1371/journal.pone.0160399 Appendices
Appendix A Pan Am Path, Downtown Toronto
(Google Maps, “Pan Am Path”, 2017)
Appendix B 33 Bay Street, Downtown Toronto
(Google Maps, “33 Bay Street”, 2018)
Appendix C 8 Bay Street, Downtown Toronto
(Google Maps, “8 Bay Street”, 2018)
Appendix D Cycling Network Plan – Approved 2016
(City of Toronto, “Cycling Network Plan”, 2016)