Bicycle lanes on Bloor Street are "closer than ever before" as the Toronto street gears up for what could be its biggest transformation since the city laid a subway under it.
A proposal for physically separated bicycle space from Avenue Road to Shaw Street is being formally unveiled on Wednesday afternoon. If approved by municipal politicians, a pilot project could be in place this summer, the result of a decades-long campaign by activists.
"Bloor is a very flat street across the city, it goes through a part of the city that has high cycling mode share, there aren't any streetcar tracks," said Jacquelyn Hayward Gulati, manager of the city's cycling infrastructure and programs.
"It's a street that's important for all kinds of users. There's obviously the Bloor subway line underneath and there's a lot of people driving on Bloor, but there's a lot of people currently cycling on Bloor as well. And so we want to serve an area that cyclists are using today, and has a lot of destinations that cyclists want to go to."
Although the proposal would mean less parking for motorists – which could have signed its death warrant even a few years ago – it has gained support at city council. This is helped both by the fact that it is a pilot and by the open-minded agnosticism of the local business lobby.
"We are closer than ever before," said Jared Kolb, executive director of the advocacy group Cycle Toronto. "With a really fantastic piece of infrastructure, it could unlock a whole host of latent demand."
A push to gather data about the effects of the lanes, research funded by the Metcalf Foundation and the local business improvement areas, would also inform efforts to roll out bike infrastructure more broadly. The research would look at updating an earlier study, which showed that only a small minority of shoppers along parts of Bloor arrived by car, far fewer than merchants believed. And it would try to measure what impact the bike lanes would have on economic activity along the street.
Bloor has not changed a lot in recent memory, despite the turnover of some long-standing businesses. The Metro Theatre, Toronto's last porn cinema, has become a climbing gym. The Brunswick House is closing at the end of March, with a chain-store pizzeria reportedly interested in the dive-bar site. But the streetscape looks fundamentally the way it did decades ago.
The bike-lane proposal would change that in a very visible way. It calls for a parking-protected bike lane on one side of the street, meaning that there would be a line of stationary cars between the cyclists and moving traffic. On the other side of Bloor, there would be a bike lane marked off with flexible posts, probably the same kind seen on Richmond or Adelaide streets.
This design requires a reduction in space for through traffic, cut to a lane in each direction, although engineers would fiddle with turning lanes to minimize the effect on travel times. And it would mean that the number of parking spots would be cut in half.
In interviews about the proposal on Tuesday afternoon on Bloor, neither cyclists nor motorists reacted according to type.
Gerald Schreinert, talking after exiting his vehicle around Spadina Avenue, said that having parking on both sides was "convenient," but perhaps not crucial. "As long as they have it on one side," the Annex resident said.
Steven Conway, who lives farther west and was locking his bike near the Honest Ed's department store, said that having separated lanes "will do wonders" for promoting cycling. But he was cognizant of the competing needs at play. "I wouldn't want it to affect the businesses in the area," he said.
Bike lanes on Harbord Street, a parallel road just to the south, have attracted large numbers of cyclists, even without physical separation from motor traffic. And Mr. Kolb, with Cycle Toronto, said Bloor will probably get thousands of users right away.
"One of the concerns that we actually have with the pilot is it's going to open … and it's just going to be rammed full immediately," he said. "We're going to have kind of the problem of screaming success."