Tucked into the southwest corner there was a humble gate , no bigger than a door, on the Queen Street campus of CAMH (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). So unassuming that it's hard to imagine it is the key to one of the most important cycling connections in Toronto. The Ward 19 Cycle Toronto group petitioned, negotiated and worked with Transportation Services staff and CAMH property management to improve the access by opening up a more visible gate. It's even better than what we had envisioned a few years ago, which was this:​

Proposed design by Ward 19 group

Metal bollards were installed to prevent the neighbouring condo from blocking the entrance with their dumpsters. Oddly enough the City owned a small sliver of land here which meant that staff didn't need to get approval from any landowner, other than CAMH's to make a hole in the fence.

The Railpath part two (soon to start) will end just a couple blocks west of here at Abell, putting bikes onto Sudbury. From there to continue towards downtown the option is to either go down Sudbury to King, possibly to Douro/Wellington, or to go through CAMH onto Adelaide, which is residential until Bathurst and has protected bike lanes (most of the way) to Parliament. This new gate is a welcome addition to this city, and I hope it'll mean even more cooperation from CAMH to improve cycling access.

Would I let my mom ride on Richmond? No, I would not. Would you? (I came to the same judgement on Strachan). Just take a look at the state of our "dedicated" bike route when there's construction:

Cyclists struggling for space on Richmond at Yonge.
Cyclists struggling for space on Richmond at Yonge. Credit: screenshot of video by Jason Slaughter

During construction, motorized vehicle access seemly must be preserved and prioritized, according to the unwritten rules of Transportation Services (even though they had no problem closing off College Street entirely). So people on bikes will just have to suck it up. And people like my mother will just have to stop cycling since what counts as the recommended "detour" for cyclists have no cycling infrastructure whatsoever.

For most of the rest of this year, Richmond between Church and York streets will be down to one lane for some major construction: "watermain replacement work, road reconstruction, sidewalk repairs and rebuilding the westbound tracks, which the TTC uses to detour streetcars." The best the City is willing to do is post some signs around the construction area to guide cyclists and warn drivers to share the road. But this could hardly be considered the high water mark of a cycling city, where a high percentage of all traffic on Richmond and Adelaide are now cyclists.

The City has so far defended their decision by stating that there are parking garages and loading bays that have access to Richmond, and that it was required for EMS access. A review by Cycle Toronto staff revealed that all of these garages and bays have alternative access from other streets. And the protected bike lane is still open to access for EMS. This means that this isn't so much a necessity as a decision on prioritizing motor vehicle access over bike safety and comfort.

As NOW points out, Toronto is congested and bikes are going to be a big part of the solution. But just how does the City expect to help encourage people to take up cycling if they so easily rip away any comfort and safety that we're given?

When I was leading my local Cycle Toronto ward group, Ward 19, we produced a report of six recommendations to the City to improve the cycling experience and safety on Strachan. Since then, amazingly, three of them have actually been implemented, thanks to support from Councillor Mike Layton. Local activist Nancy Smith Lea first got a promise from former Councillor Joe Pantalone almost twenty years ago to install a northbound traffic light for cyclists at Lakeshore and Strachan. When we asked Layton, it took only a couple years. It's amazing what happens when a local politician actually cares about the safety of people cycling.

Yet, there is still so much more we can do with Strachan to make it safer. I still wouldn't take my mother for a bike ride on Strachan. My mother grew up cycling long distances in the south of the Netherlands to visit relatives in other towns. As has been pointed out by many, the Netherlands actually puts a lot of effort into building properly protected bike lanes. Strachan, on the other hand, represents an antiquated mentality among North American planners that a little bit of paint is all that is needed. These planners have ignored people like my mother; someone who would love to bike around when she visits me but encounters streets with speed, unpredictable cars, large trucks. Strachan is by design unforgiving of any mistake by a cyclist; any wobble that my mother might make could potentially be fatal.

It would take a lot of effort to change streets like King and Queen. but I believe that we can right now easily make Strachan so much safer and forgiving. (I'm using forgiving in actually a technical sense since traffic planners have been trying to design roads to be forgiving to car drivers for decades, while ignoring people on foot or bike and usually making streets more dangerous for everyone else.)

Strachan at East Liberty looking north
Strachan at East Liberty looking north. Note the southbound cyclists have to stop between two rows of cars and the cyclist turning left is making a two step turn instead of going into the uncomfortable position of being in the left-turning lane. Source: Google Streetview

Strachan is an excellent candidate for transformation into a safe, comfortable cycling route. It doesn't have curb parking. It has wide lanes. It has painted bike lanes south of King. It is the only street with the potential to be a safe cycling connection for Liberty Village residents. Strachan is one of the few streets that connects to the lake where getting protected bike lanes would be easy. It's already being used by a lot of people with few other options. And the numbers prove it.

The Numbers

I went down to the corner of Strachan and Wellington last Sunday afternoon. From my half hour sample, there were 302 people on bikes per hour, and 928 cars and trucks. At least twenty-five percent of all traffic are bikes during a peak weekend afternoon, which is not nothing. In fact, this is pretty good when compared to other key cycling routes downtown (all bike count data comes from Transportation Services). On a weekday afternoon on Simcoe Street last year June—a street that has protected bike lanes—there were around 240 per hour people on bikes right at the peak at 5pm. I did another count on a Monday morning. When comparing the weekday morning commute, Simcoe comes out ahead, but Strachan is not that far behind (and probably would be much better if it had protected bike lanes).

Location Date Weather Bikes
Strachan Avenue at Wellington, both directions Sunday June 19, 2016 3-4pm Sunny and warm 302
Strachan Avenue at Wellington, both directions Monday June 20, 2016, 8-9am Sunny and warm 222
Simcoe Street at Adelaide, both directions Wednesday June 3, 2015, 5-6pm Sunny and warm 271
Simcoe Street at Adelaide, both directions Wednesday, June 3, 2016, 8-9am Sunny and warm 339

Simcoe has gotten a lot attention in terms of cycling infrastructure; Strachan has been overlooked. Strachan is substandard, has latent cycling demand and could potentially be a great street. This is a big frustration that City staff left Strachan out of the Bike Plan. We could have something nice (like on Richmond and Adelaide):

 Dylan Passmore)
Woman cycling on Richmond protected bike lane (Photo credit: Dylan Passmore)

We have so few opportunities to create a "grand boulevard" for cycling to the waterfront. Pretty much just Simcoe, Sherbourne and Strachan in the entire downtown. So let's not waste it.