Council Added 40 kms of Bike Lanes when Nobody was Looking
Those folks would be wise to pay a little less attention to the bike lobby
There is a coronavirus threatening civilization, so the city of Toronto decided to fast-track the building of 40 more kilometres of bicycle lanes.
First things first, I guess.
This is, apparently, historic in that it is the biggest one-year expansion of the bike network in Toronto’s history. Just the sort of thing you slide through when people aren’t paying attention.
In any event, I wanted to double-check the facts for this column so I googled “bike lanes Toronto” and a local news site called Toronto.com popped up.
The main story was about the bike-lane expansion, but that wasn’t what caught my eye. Right across the top of Toronto.com was an ad for a 2020 Kia Sorento. Even better, in the shoulder of the story, was another ad for the same car. There wasn’t an ad for a bicycle anywhere on that page. Just car ads (there was another one at the bottom). Now we know which of these two modes of transportation pays the freight around here.
In any event, the story said — and I quote — that the bike lanes will make it easier for commuters to get to and from work during the COVID-19 crisis. Somebody should tell council that nobody is at work during the crisis, including them. They did this while holding a virtual meeting.
I imagine they got these brainwaves after reading stories that were in the Star recently. There was one that caught my eye in which urban designers imagine a car-free road network in post-pandemic Toronto.
This Freedom Ring Road would encircle the city and allow people in wheelchairs, or pushing baby carriages, or walking and cycling to visit the Brickworks on Bayview or attend an open-air yoga class in the middle of Queens Quay. All without fear of being hit by a car.
Will somebody please tell these people that this is not California. We live in Canada. Even in a good winter, it is either too cold to ride a bike or there is snow on the ground five months of the year. Sometimes six.
Yes, some people cycle 12 months a year. Not many, but some. At the Star, there are two that I know of; at the Globe, one guy not only cycled to work each and every day but he and his family always took a January vacation in a non-insulated cabin north of Kenora that didn’t have electricity. (They sure didn’t have to worry about black flies, did they? But the outdoor privy must have been something else.)
Downtown, in the old city of Toronto, is where the cyclists live. And there, within reason, is where there should be bike lanes everywhere. I say within reason because University Avenue south of Bloor is not a good reason. It will prove to be dangerous because it’s a major thoroughfare for traffic coming into and going out of Toronto.
It reminds me of one of the most famous thoroughfares in Europe, the Champs-Élysées in Paris. The Ontario legislature at Queen’s Park is about where the Arche de Triomphe would be. You can get over to Queen’s Park on crosswalks or at intersections; it’s virtually impossible to get to the Arch because it’s in the middle of a traffic circle.
Which reminds me: would the bicycle lobby quit saying things like, “We should be reducing or eliminating cars and car parking on our main boulevards, as is the case throughout Europe.” They say this knowing that not all that many GTA residents have been to Europe. I have. Many times, particularly in the last two years. Cars are everywhere. See my reference to the Champs-Élysées as just one example. And they park on those streets, too.
My take: Most on council forget that Toronto is a megacity. It is more than the Lake up to Bloor and Parliament in the east over to Bathurst. It’s the Rouge River to the 427 and north to the 407 (approx.) and if you’re living out there and working downtown you are not going to ride your bike. Nor are the people commuting in from Oakville and Whitby, or Kitchener and Peterborough. Those people are not Lance Armstrong; they ride the GO and the bus and subway and most of all they drive. That’s right. They drive.
When the pandemic wanes, and it will sooner or later, and the people who can’t work from home go back to the office, they will not be crazy about riding transit. Not for a while, anyway. Which means they are going to be driving their cars. In fact, dealers are reporting that people are buying again. May sales were way up over April’s. And once they get used to driving those cars downtown again, it will be a long time before they give them up.
City Council has been living in a dream world for years. Times have been good and Toronto’s on top. It might not be, after the pandemic. Those folks would be wise to pay a little less attention to the bike lobby, which isn’t all that big, and a lot more to the car crowd, which is huge.
Norris McDonald is a retired Star editor who continues to write for Wheels under contract. He reports on the weekend’s motor racing each Monday at wheels.ca.