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Toronto’s Bloor bike lanes should stay, Mayor Tory says

Cyclists using the Bloor Street bike lane in the Annex neighbourhood in Toronto, on Aug. 11, 2016.

Christopher Katsarov/The Globe and Mail

Toronto Mayor John Tory says Bloor Street West's experimental bike lanes should be made permanent, citing a new city report that concludes they boosted cycling by nearly 50 per cent and had little impact on overall local retail sales.

The study, unveiled on Wednesday, acknowledges that drivers are still experiencing rush-hour delays ranging from two minutes to more than four minutes because of the new lanes. But it also says the lanes have made the affected stretch of Bloor Street much safer for both cyclists and drivers, reducing the rate of collisions and near-miss incidents.

Any notion that these latest numbers could put the controversy over the lanes to rest proved false, however, as some Bloor business owners who blame them for plummeting sales questioned the city's findings.

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"People sometimes don't like change," Mr. Tory told reporters. "But my job is to do what I think is best, in a balanced way, for all of the people of the city of Toronto."

Until now, Mr. Tory had remained relatively neutral on the fate of these protected bike lanes, awaiting the data from the pilot project that launched last year along a 2.4-kilometre stretch of Bloor Street West from Avenue Road to Shaw Street.

While in support, the mayor also called for "continued improvements" to reduce congestion for drivers as well as address business complaints over curbside access and deliveries. He noted that after preliminary numbers in June showed delays for drivers as high as eight minutes in the evening rush hour, the city tweaked traffic-signal timing and made other changes to cut that added travel time in half.

The lanes, long demanded by cycling advocates, will be debated by the city's public works committee next week before going before council next month. Their approval will likely prompt renewed calls for more new bike lanes, including on other parts of Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue.

The city's report says Bloor's bike lanes have become the city's second-most popular cycling route – averaging 4,925 riders a day in June, up from around 3,309 before they were installed, a 49-per-cent jump. (The number of cars was down 16 per cent, to 20,434, with some traffic increases on nearby Harbord and Dupont Streets.)

And the report also appears to contradict complaints made by some local businesses that the lanes were harming sales across the strip.

According to numbers the city obtained from Moneris Solutions Corp., which provides debit and credit-card machines, customer spending increased (4.45 per cent) along the affected stretch of Bloor more than on surrounding stretches of Bloor without bike lanes (3.73 per cent), or on the Danforth between Broadview and Chester Avenues (2.21 per cent.)

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Those results were greeted with skepticism by some Bloor businesses. Moneris transactions, they say, rise every year as customers increasingly abandon paying with cash. They argue the city should have simply surveyed business owners directly about their sales.

Miranda Black, owner of a men's clothing store called Theodore 1922 on Bloor near Spadina Avenue, stresses that she is herself a cyclist and supports bike lanes. But she says her business dropped 35 per cent when the Bloor lanes went in, although it has since been climbing back up.

Ms. Black says she can't be sure the lanes are to blame. But some of her customers did complain about traffic jams on Bloor.

"Especially when [the lanes] first came in, they would be like, 'Holy expletive,' that was crazy just getting to your store,'" Ms. Black said. "You do that once or twice, and then you don't see them again."

The bike lanes did involve a reduction in on-street parking. But the city's report says that taking nearby parking lots into account, Bloor only saw a 10-per-cent loss of total nearby parking spots.

The bike-lane question was seen by some as a key test for Mr. Tory as he looks toward next year's election rematch against Doug Ford, who is expected to seize on issues that anger drivers and appeal to some suburban voters.

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For his part, Mr. Ford tweeted his opposition to the Bloor lanes on Wednesday. But some recent public opinion polls have actually shown broad support for the Bloor bike lanes across the city, among both suburban and downtown voters.

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