The solution to better, more accommodating cycling infrastructure in the city of Toronto involves more than just adding bike lanes.
Canadian-Danish urban design expert Mikael Colville-Andersen spoke at the Fairmont Royal York last Monday on best practices for cycling infrastructure as part of the “Getting Cycling Right” event hosted by the Ontario Good Roads Association. While the CEO and founder of Copenhagenize Design Company — an urban planning consultation group — acknowledged efforts made by Toronto to improve bike safety, he emphasized that true reform lies in changing the way the public views cyclists.
“We have this perception of cyclists as being the rogues of the urban landscape,” Colville-Andersen said, addressing the crowd. “You cannot scold people if you have not given them proper, intelligently-designed, cohesive infrastructure to ride on.”
The city’s chief planner Jennifer Keesmaat, who also spoke at the event, described a reluctance towards building upon cycling infrastructure in Toronto and across Canada. She blamed this on the narrow understanding Canadians have of how their cities should be designed.
“There’s this tension that always emerges whenever you look at the international best practice [for cycling infrastructure], where we think that somehow…our cities are unique, that you can’t [expand cycling infrastructure] here because our cities are different, our weather is different, our politics are different,” Keesmaat said. “That’s 100 per cent in our minds.”
It was only in June of last year that Toronto city council approved a 10-year cycling plan that would involve building 525 kilometres of new cycling infrastructure across the city. Even then, the accepted version of the proposal only included studies on Yonge and Bloor streets, leaving out eight major arteries including Jane Street and Kipling Avenue.
The plan contributes to the idea of a “minimum grid” — a basic network of bike lanes connected throughout the city, instead of the bits and pieces scattered across Toronto today. The concept was developed by Cycle Toronto and calls for the establishment of 100 kilometres of protected bicycle lanes as well as 100 kilometres of bicycle boulevards on residential streets by 2018.
“Often, [cycling] doesn’t quite feel like a real choice because there’s gaps in the network or you have to take a circuitous route,” Keesmaat said. “Building out the network makes it a real choice.”
Courtesy of the City of Toronto.
But cars and bikes continue to battle for space on Toronto roads today. Data collected last September and October on a pilot project on Bloor street involving the establishment of bike lanes separated by bollards shows that while the number of cyclists using these lanes rose by 36 per cent, travel times for cars also rose by over eight minutes. The city is now considering making changes to the project to reduce its impact on motor vehicle travel times.
One of the most comprehensive studies on cycling behaviour to date was released in October by Ryerson’s TransForm Lab. The study, led by assistant professor of urban planning Raktim Mitra, looked at the potential for growth in the number of people who commute by bicycle in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Areas. According to the study, 4.35 million trips made by motor vehicles in the area were five kilometres or less in distance, making them highly cyclable.
While unsure if his research is being used by city council, Mitra says that at the university level, Ryerson’s campus facilities departments are using this data to inform their strategy planning. In August 2016, the university launched a Campus Public Realm Plan, which Mitra’s report, since its release, has been used to help guide.
The plan, set to undergo phase one this year, proposes several dismount zones where cyclists are prohibited from riding their bikes at certain times. It also suggests the establishment of more bike lanes on streets across campus. The only nearby road with any bike lanes at the moment is Gerrard street.
The plan makes no mention, however, of increasing indoor bicycle parking on campus. Currently, the only indoor parking space for bikes is Ryerson’s Bicycle Room, located behind 110 Bond St. The room has just 57 racks. Limited space along with no application fee means these spots fill up quickly at the beginning of each semester. Mitchell Mohorovich, a fourth-year computer science student, has been trying to secure a spot every semester since he started at Ryerson. He only managed to get one in January — three and a half years into his undergraduate degree.
“It’s a school of thirty-something thousand undergrads, plus staff, plus grad students, plus faculty,” Mohorovich says. “You sort of expect [the long wait] when there’s this many [people].”
Despite this, Ryerson president Mohamed Lachemi says the school will see more of these indoor parking spaces in the near future. According to the president, the Daphne Cockwell Health Sciences Complex, which is currently under construction and expected to be completed by 2018, will include a bike locker with room for over 250 bikes.
“Our office of sustainability here has recently conducted a…bicycle parking audit and…identified that…currently, we have 1,150 bicycle parking spaces of all types on and around the campus, which is a positive thing, but it’s not enough,” Lachemi says. “Increasing ease of commute and accommodation of cyclists is very important to us.”
For Mohorovich, this is a step in the right direction. As an avid cyclist and one who commutes to Ryerson by bicycle from Leslieville almost everyday, he fears having his $800 bike exposed to the elements and potentially stolen if parked outside.
“Having [my bike] in that room that has only 57 people and security…and…three cameras, there’s no way it’s getting stolen,” he says. “It’s a hell of a lot safer [than parking outside].”
While building more of these rooms across campus may help, Mohorovich says, similar to the tune of last week’s event, that change must go beyond just infrastructure.
“A lot of people [ride bikes] because they can’t afford [a car], or it’s just the cheaper alternative. There needs to be a culture shift towards not viewing the car as the only viable mode of transportation.”