Toronto's downtown bike-lane network is poised to improve as the city takes more "baby steps" to make cycling safer.
The public works and infrastructure committee backed a staff recommendation to expand the bicycle infrastructure on two key downtown routes, as well as looking at upgrading it on several smaller downtown roads.
If approved by the full council next month, the largely separated bicycle lanes on Richmond and Adelaide Streets – which now end west of Yonge Street – will be pushed as far as Parliament Street.
"It continues to be a pilot, but we're just expanding it, extending it across," Councillor and committee chair Jaye Robinson said. "We're doing our best, in baby steps, to deliver safe passage for cyclists. Today we made another step."
The push to extend the lanes comes on the heels of a wave of bicycling fatalities that rattled the cycling community. Three people have been killed in the past month, leading to calls for a so-called "minimum grid" of lanes separated from motor-vehicle traffic.
"One part of having a separated connection is it will encourage folks who wouldn't have been comfortable riding [in traffic]," said Jared Kolb, executive director of the advocacy group Cycle Toronto.
"What this move does today is … it helps to unlock the potential for people to be able to ride their ride in a safe manner."
The proposal also calls for improvements in the area near the bike lanes – including various loading zones and no-standing regulations – to help other commuters and delivery trucks.
The original lanes on Richmond and Adelaide were installed in 2014 and are being studied as part of an environmental assessment that also takes in bike lanes on Simcoe Street. The extensions approved Wednesday will be added to the EA process. A recommendation on the future of all of these lanes will go to city council in the latter part of 2016.
Early results suggest that the first part of the cycle tracks were successful. Cycling volumes went up by 2.5 times on Richmond and tripled on Adelaide, based on counts done in 2014 and 2015. In both cases, according to a staff report, "motor vehicle travel times … do not appear to have been negatively impacted."
Downtown Councillor Joe Cressy noted that the city's core has a resident population of about 200,000 but a daytime population nearly four times that as people flock there to work. "We need to encourage and incentivize people not to drive to work," he told the committee meeting.