City Hall is moving forward with its controversial proposal for a 24-kilometre bikeway on Bloor-Danforth, even though two of the top mayoralty candidates are expressing reservations about how Toronto's cycling network has expanded.
The municipal government quietly issued a request for proposals for an environmental assessment - believed to be a first for a bike lane in Toronto - of the corridor on Jan. 27. The city is expected to select a winner in April or May, after which a consultant will begin the painstaking task of measuring traffic patterns, on-street parking needs and local opinion on a route that passes through more than a dozen neighbourhoods from Etobicoke to Scarborough.
The consultant will also look at design options for separating the lane from motorists, as the city is already contemplating on University Avenue and other streets. The contract's cost won't be released until after the winner is selected.
"I was sick and tired of looking at Bloor-Danforth in a fragmented fashion," said Councillor Adrian Heaps, chairman of council's cycling committee. "It deserves to be looked at as an entire corridor, the same way as a subway."
Considering the public sparring match last year over adding two kilometres of bike lanes to Jarvis Street, the proposed bikeway on Bloor-Danforth could erupt into a major issue in the campaign for the Oct. 25 election.
"You saw the upheaval over Jarvis," said Councillor Case Ootes, a bike-lane foe whose ward includes Greektown. "This'll be that much more controversial."
One mayoralty contender is already saying he would "absolutely" stop the environmental assessment if elected. "I have said that I don't want [bike lanes]on major arterials," Rocco Rossi, the former Liberal fundraiser positioning himself as a right-of-centre candidate, said yesterday. "Bloor-Danforth is as major an arterial as you can get, from one end to the other. I think it would be a disaster."
Mr. Rossi favours expanding Toronto's bike network on secondary streets. Former Liberal deputy premier George Smitherman has said he would "pause" new bike lanes while taking a comprehensive look at the plan. He wouldn't relegate bike lanes to backstreets.
Putting bike lanes on Bloor-Danforth has been discussed for years, but this is the first time a third party will take a comprehensive look at the idea. City staff completed a "preliminary evaluation" of parking and traffic conditions on the route last year and concluded it wasn't feasible to install a uniform bike lane without displacing on-street parking and disrupting traffic flow - two suggestions that prompted an outcry from business owners.
But a new study from the Clean Air Partnership, released yesterday, found that 58 per cent of business owners and shoppers in at least one segment of the route, Bloor West Village, would prefer wider sidewalks or a bike lane, even if the number of on-street parking spots is cut in half. Ninety-six merchants and 510 passersby were surveyed last summer.
"The support was higher than I thought it was going to be," said Nancy Smith Lea, director of the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation, part of the Clean Air Partnership. The $40,000 paper, funded largely by Transport Canada with a $10,000 contribution from the city, followed a similar study in Bloor-Annex, which found even stronger support for bike lanes.
But that doesn't mean the proposal would sail through. "I think on a busy road like Bloor Street, it's actually kind of dangerous," said Paula McInerney, chair of the Bloor West Village Business Improvement Area, who wasn't consulted for the study. The strip's parking is a "little gem," she said. "We need it."
Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, a cycling fanatic who chairs the Public Works committee, said he is not worried that council's political complexion could change dramatically enough after the election to halt a bikeway on one of Toronto's most important east-west thoroughfares.
"The Bloor-Danforth route will happen, from the East end to the West end ... And we will all survive," he said. "It is not as radical, I think, as some people would try to pretend it is. We're not trying to declare war on anybody."
NEW BIKE TRAIL
There's one kind of bike lane everyone loves: the off-the-road kind. Thirty kilometres of new paved trails are coming to Toronto's hydro and rail corridors this year and next, thanks in part to federal and provincial stimulus cash. (Ottawa is paying $6.7-million, Queen's Park $6.7-million and the city $10-million.)
New trails will be built in the Finch and Gatineau hydro corridors and the CN Leaside rail spur before the stimulus deadline of March, 2011.