Harbord separated bike lanes get mostly positive reception from residents and business

Residents and business owners alike showed up on a rainy Monday night to discuss the City's plan to install separated bike lanes on Harbord. The section in focus this night was between Bathurst and Spadina (the full plan is for separated bike lanes from Parliament to Ossington). As one resident noted she was pleasantly surprised that the meeting did not degenerate into a shouting match, but that everyone had a chance to voice their opinions which provided for a fruitful discussion on a controversial subject. (Photo of Terrazza Bicycle Park courtesy of Dandyhorse Magazine. Terrazza is a bit further west on Harbord but don't they have awesome bike parking?)

The meeting was organized by Tim Grant of the Harbord Village Residents Association and co-sponsored by the Harbord Village BIA and the Ward 20 and 19 groups of Cycle Toronto. Cycling department manager Dan Egan spoke as did the Cycle Toronto ward groups (I was one of the co-presenters along with Nico). The City highlighted the features of a bidirectional cycle track that they think would be the best option for Harbord and Hoskin. It would have the advantage of minimizing the loss of parking to only 20 spots between Bathurst and Spadina. The City would work towards off-setting those lost spots with off-street parking in the area.

In our ward groups presentation we emphasized the positive affect cycle tracks have had in reducing injuries, increasing retail sales of area business (as found in New York and elsewhere) and that Harbord has the opportunity to attract business by being seen as a hub of cycling. Instead of fighting it, celebrate. There are a lot of cyclists who take Harbord. By the City's numbers about 20% of the traffic on Harbord are bicycles. We can confirm that with our own rush-hour numbers where the percentage of traffic that were cyclists climbed to 30%. Compare that to Amsterdam where 38% of all trips are made by bike. Toronto's average share is only 1.7%. Harbord Village looks a lot more like Amsterdam than it looks like the rest of Toronto.

The owner of the Harbord Bakery, Goldie Kosower, appeared to be apprehensive of the bike lanes as did some other business owners. Bike lanes had previously been blocked by the local councillors because of the BIA's worry of lost parking. But now there seemed to be grudging acceptance so long as their needs were accommodated in the plan. Fears may have been assuaged by news that the plan would mean only 20 spots would be lost on the north side and that the City would work on providing more off-street parking.

There was some passion among some residents for the separation, including a father and daughter who cycle the street daily. The father stressed that the only safe option is physical separation for his children. A younger woman had recently returned from Amsterdam and wants bicycle infrastructure in Toronto that is safe enough for her mother to use.

Towards the end of the night Councillor Adam Vaughan appeared (he was delayed because of dealing with media regarding a shooting death on College). Vaughan said:

When we build bike lanes they must be separated. Painted lanes are good but aren't safe enough. My son, who bikes, needs the separation to be safe. But we don't have to do it overnight. We should sit down with businesses and planners to come up with a design. Harbord is critically important. It's a complex conversation. We might not get it all done at the same time.

People in this neighbourhood cycle but they don't do it safely. We don't accept it for drivers, nor for pedestrians, but we accept lack of safety for cyclists. We need to change that.

Some opposition came from Bike Joint owner Derek Chadbourne, who said he found the newly separated Sherbourne bike lanes terrible and thought Harbord was working fine as it is. He was also concerned about delivery truck access to his bike store on Harbord, asking where they would park once the separated bike lane was installed. Currently the delivery trucks stop in the painted bike lane in front of his shop.

No doubt, delivery truck access is a tough nut. Stores need to get their goods, and trucks need to be able to park not too far from the store. But blocking bike lanes is not popular amongst cyclists. Perhaps it would be possible to turn some of the parking on the south side into loading zones, or to come up with a sensible "curb management policy" that would allow the City to deal with the delivery access problem in a smart way not just on Harbord but for all parts of the city.

Or perhaps someone could always be available to create a "guaranteed bike lane" whenever a delivery truck blocks the bike lane.


This has been Harbord Bakery's nonsense for years. And it has been years since they have had my business. Maybe, should Toronto cycling groups grow a pair, they could encourage boycotts of that business and similar.

Sorry but why should I care about businesses' delivery truck access? Trucks have no right to park wherever they please. If anything a separated bike lane would stop their constant illegal parking on narrow streets, since parking enforcement doesn't seem interested in doing anything about it.

I didn't stick around for it all, but I didn't see quite so much positive reaction - more a listen and learn, and move cautiously - even amongst the area cyclists.
It's been much improved in that four-block gap from the reworking about two years ago, which had the Cyclists Union blessing. Herb will say (again) that Yvonne's views weren't the Board views - but heck, she had the plans from the City at a Ward 20 meeting, and wasn't keen on my push for full bike lanes as we've done them, leaving it for another time. No I didn't record her or others at the meeting, unlike what the modern tech can do.
But it seems less wise - again - to be pushing for a major reworking of something that was just upgraded, compared with the less-good to dangerous riding in the rest of the City. What happens past Ossington? Why not focus on connectivity, especially in the west end?
Yes, that leads to Bloor - and its rebuilding next year. Will it be status quo carterial?

What incredibly narrow-minded thinking. Boycott Harbord Bakery?
Like bikes, small businesses are essential to thriving neighborhoods. Even the local bikestore sees the problem. I see trucks unloading goods and I see street life. Would you rather have big box stores everywhere with loading docks out back? That's the suburbs! As bikers we need a broader urban vision. These comments sound like the flip side of Rob Ford's broken record and on car traffic.

Bryan, no need to boycott anyone because I'm confident we can come up with a solution. The Harbord Bakery had some concerns but they didn't say they were adamantly against the I'm not sure how you came to the conclusion that the only alternative is big box stores. I've been to many Dutch cities with narrow streets and separated bike lanes. They have ways of dealing with unloading goods. I even suggested a similar solution at the end of my post - reserved unloading bays on the south side. I think that's a perfectly reasonable accommodation.

Hamish, you must find yourself in a weird position of advocating against bike lanes for the first time in your life. A woman at the first meeting mention meeting you many years earlier and being confronted with a loud, angry cycling advocate calling for bike lanes. Now that we're finally close to not only getting bike lanes along the entire route, but also getting the protected bike lanes that so many North American cities are starting to build, you've decided to struggle against them.

I'm guessing you're being anti-bike lane on Harbord because you think you're being "strategic". Good luck with that.

I don't see Hamish is advocating against bike lanes (as you helpfully italicised). Where does he say that we should take out bicycle lanes on Harbord?

He's making the quite sensible point that there's no need to spend limited resources on a full separation of already existing bicycle lanes when the obvious gaps in the painted lanes can be fixed up without full separation of the whole thing.

He's arguing that the resources would be better placed to extend the cycling infrastructure network rather than redoing existing bits which already have perfectly usable bicycle infrastructure.

Now, if you equate saying that the separation of bicycle lanes--as done in Toronto--is a bloody waste of bike infrastructure budget, with advocating against bike lanes altogether, well, that doesn't surprise me.

It seems that a lot of on-line voices come from an overlapping set of people who

  1. Insist that the only separate bicycle infrastructure is a "safe place to ride", and that's the only kind of bicycle infrastructure we should ever create, because anything else is "unsafe", (Let me know when the Toronto-style separate lanes eliminate all intersections and laneway crossings.)
  2. Post pictures of Dutch bicycle infrastructure in the belief that what works in Utrecht (population 316,448) will absolutely work in downtown Toronto even though it's obvious that the physical layout and the pedestrian and automobile traffic of the two locations is totally different.
  3. Dismiss the concerns of those who don't agree with their agenda with an easy "you're riding already, so obviously the infrastructure fits your needs; we need to put in infrastructure for people who don't ride."

I find the attitude of group #3 to be, by turns, infuriating, perplexing, and laughable. Pissing off existing riders by saying that their infrastructure needs don't count is almost Monty-Pythonesque in its idiocy. For someone bumping along in the door zone on Queen west, squeezing between cars and being squeezed by streetcars because there are no alternative routes, gee even a painted bicycle lane would be a really big step up. But hey, if you are riding along Queen West, it must be good infrastructure, 'cause you're riding along there. QED.

At least Hamish hasn't given up on seeing an actual usable network of cycling infrastructure that covers more of the city, instead of spending time and money "upgrading" some of the very few existing bicycle lanes--which mostly worked fine already as painted lanes. It's like "separated lanes" is all these "bicycle advocates" ever want to hear or care about. Like you said,

City proposes complete Harbord/Wellesley cycle tracks all at once in 2014: tell them yes please (emphasis added).

They're separated, so of course they must be absolutely the best thing to do, so we don't need to worry any more. And certainly, critical thinking is right out! And that's what seems to be the strategy of so much "bicycle advocacy" that I see.

Hamish has openly advocated for stopping the separated bike lane project on Harbord Street because he feels, in part, that the sharrows are working "fine". That is an anti-bike lane position, insofar as he's taken a position on the stretch of Harbord without bike lanes currently.

Hamish is certainly pro bike lane overall, but he's made what he thinks is a strategic move on Harbord. I think he's failed to take into account that by not building one piece of infrastructure, it doesn't mean something else is more likely to be built. I would say the opposite is probably true. By building separated bike lanes on Harbord, we're more likely to get them elsewhere. Staff will have practice and knowledge; the public and politicians will have something tangible to see and use.

The cost issue is often floated around. I'm a bit surprised that some cycling advocates are so stingy given how cycling infrastructure is a tiny fraction of the overall transportation budget. I'm not sure why we'd want to perpetuate a myth of expensive bike lanes.

And even so, the cycling infrastructure budget is rarely fully spent. That is because the limiting factor has been, under Lastman, Miller and Ford, political will and not budget. I fervently hope that something can be done about Queen, King, College, and on and on, but I think we should be realistic. Choose the routes that are possible right now, build momentum, and hopefully then it will become easier to convince BIAs and politicians that we should remove car parking on our main arterials to make things safer.

At the last meeting of PWIC where the streetcar study was accepted, Cycle Toronto proposed that City staff investigate removing all the parking on streets with streetcar tracks and paint bike lanes. It was summarily rejected. The option never even came up in the original report because staff knew that there was next to zero political will. No straightforward approach to getting that political will. The closest we've gotten is in the Bloor Annex where the local Annex Residents Association and Cycle Toronto have slowly built up consensus on getting bike lanes on Bloor, at least between Spadina and Bathurst. One step closer to reality.

On Harbord we now have the opportunity to emulate cities like Vancouver, Portland, New York, Montreal, Chicago. You don't need to drag out the tired argument that we're just not like those Dutch. North American cities are building separated bike lanes. The public and the politicians need something tangible to see. And we've got a chance, here and now, to build something to showcase. It'll be easier to get separated bike lanes on Bloor once we've got examples elsewhere.

Just because you're pissed off Ed (even before it's even built) doesn't mean all existing cyclists will be pissed off. And I don't think it's infuriating to point out the obvious, that we're not just building infrastructure for the minority of existing cyclists who seem to be coping, myself included. At the recent meetings on Harbord we got some great responses from people, including a story about a girl at Central Commerce who was excited to be able to finally bike to school because she'd have a comfortable separated bike lane to use.

What Cycle Toronto is trying to do is build something that will target the 60% of people that are interested in cycling regularly but are concerned. A couple studies by UBC have shown that across the board cyclists prefer separation from traffic, whether it be by bike path, boulevard or separated bike lane. These also happen to be the safest.

I agree. When Vancouver put in its first and second separated bike lanes, there was a lot of outcry and "sky is falling" talk but now that we've had them a couple years, people have been able to see for themselves that not a single business has gone under because of them, the stores still get deliveries, they are used by more and more people, etc. They can have a look for themselves what the thing is and not be scared of an unknown any longer. Now more recently, some more separated lanes have been announced and now there isn't much outcry about them, it's more discussion on how they would be done. This is different than a few years ago when the debate was about their very existance.
To me this is progress.

So yeah, even having a bit of separated lane will show people what they are. Users should give the engineering department feedback on how they find the design of the Sherbourne lanes. To my eyes they aren't the best possible and they need to know that. Some of Vancouver's earliest bike routes look very dated, having been designed in the mid '80s but they're still highly used today.

One thing the meeting brought home for me was the amount of misinformation there is out there regarding cycling and cyclists. Dan Egan provided some statistics that many of us found eye-opening: cyclists are more likely than non-cyclists to be professionals, to be university-educated, to own their homes, to own a car. Amanda Peet, one of the participants, noted that many people in this city don't realise that bike lanes are legal right-turn lanes, often the only ones, for all vehicles. And another participant whose name I didn't catch discussed a meta-analysis he was working on at U of T that showed very clearly that replacing parking with bike lanes led to huge increases in sales for local businesses.

Aside from making CAN-BIKE classes mandatory for all Torontonians, how do we inject these facts into the conversation?

I would also not advocate boycotts. On Annette St, there was a business owner who led the fight against the bike lanes. However, the year after the lanes went in, we bought a large amount of patio furniture from her. Why? I agree with Bryan that supporting local businesses is just as important as bike lanes in building vital neighbourhoods that are a key component to sustainable living in the city. I know many of the shop owners that didn't want the bike lanes. Many are good businesses that I support, and I make a point of parking my bike in front, and even wearing my helmet while I shop. Business owners need to know that a good fraction of their customer base walks and bikes when shopping.

Many small business owners fear for their livelihood if a bike lane took away precious parking spaces. Whether perceived or otherwise, these concerns are very real in the collective minds of BIAs, and they have the potential to not only stop bike lanes, but to demonize them entirely.

The better way to resolve the problem is to demonstrate the value of walking and cycling shoppers, and to open up a meaningful discussion around accommodating the needs of all.

Attempting to hurt your local store owner into seeing things your way is not going to fix anything.

Great points jnyyz! That gives me an idea. We could organize "reverse boycotts" or "carrotmobs" on Harbord or elsewhere. Provide the cycling consumers with stickers, t-shirts, whatever proclaiming that we support local business and that we support bike lanes as well.

The consistent pattern in business bike-lane anxiety is that shopkeepers overestimate how much of their business arrives by car.

Similarly, they estimate problem importance based on how often people complain. If car drivers are the only ones complaining, the shopkeepers get concerned about parking.

Multiply these two effects, and shopkeepers are hearing complaints from just one group, whose buying habits they overestimate.

So I agree with jnyyz - shop on Harbord, make it obvious you bike, and if you can find a diplomatic way to do it, complain about the sharrow / car door-zone road outside.

Can someone explain to me why a bike store is blocking a bike lane with a delivery truck? It seems like cutting off your nose to spite your face.