It's taken a bit of community pressure from the Bike Union, business and residents associations as well as pressure from above with Chair of Public Works and Infrastructure (PWIC), Councillor Minnan-Wong as a born-again cyclist. Things are looking up for the separated bike lanes aka cycle tracks when they go to PWIC in June. The proposal has support from the left as well as the right. Even though PWIC is packed with some suburban councillors, I'm guessing they are unlikely to try to oppose the Chair's pet project. PWIC member and environmentalist Councillor Perks has mostly sided with Vaughan and opposed this particular plan. PWIC member Councillor Layton has made some noises of supporting it in some form.
In City Council as a whole, more councillors are lining up to support the separated bike lanes. Some are more reticent than others in going against the strong-willed Adam Vaughan, in whose ward some of the proposed bike lanes will be placed. Councillors on the left and middle, McConnell, Mihevc, Lee and deBaeremaker are now supportive of the proposal. Councillors Wong-Tam supports it in principle. Even right-leaning Palacio supports the proposal. It looks more likely that it will pass the Public Works committee and hopefully City Council.
It's understandable that the left-leaning councillors are hesitant to ally with Minnan-Wong over Vaughan (who has more or less opposed most the separated bike lane proposal particularly since it would not work with his current ideas of what should happen with John Street and Richmond). Minnan-Wong has only in the last year presented some positive plans for cycling. Mr. Ford, it seems, has still not come out to express his full support for the separated bike lane proposal, instead claiming he'll support it if it doesn't "impede traffic" (just like crosswalks and traffic lights impede traffic?). All the same, it behooves the progressive councillors to fully get behind this community-supported proposal and start thinking ahead, finding more connections for separated bike lanes.
Progressive councillors should support it because it is the most ambitious proposal that can likely happen in this political climate and because it will provide some real benefits to the many people who would like to bike but are afraid of riding right in traffic.
The progressive, pro-cycling councillors that could step forward to form a coalition supporting forward-thinking proposals like Minnan-Wong's. A good first step is Councillor Layton's announcement that he will create his own cycling advisory committee if the official one is closed down by Rob Ford.
If the separated bike lane proposal is approved, there are a number of practical, politically-palatable improvements that this coalition could support (the list was forwarded to me by a reader):
- The extension of Jarvis Street lanes south to the new bicycle lanes on Richmond. (Councillors McConnell and Wong Tam)
- The extension of the Richmond lanes east to the Eastern Avenue lanes and the separation of the Eastern Avenue lanes in ward 30. (Councillor Fletcher)
- Installation of separated lanes on Bay Street from Front Street West to Queens Quay. (Bike lanes on Bay to Union Station have been approved but have been held up by one ice cream truck vendor.) (Councillor McConnell)
- Installation of separated bicycle lanes from the Queens Quay and Bay to the Toronto Island Ferry Terminal. (The ferry terminal is 200 feet south of Queens Quay and is only accessible by pedestrian sidewalk or by a driveway for motor vehicles east of the Westin) (Councillor McConnell)
- The following Railpath resolutions:
i. City Staff report how and when to extend the Railpath south as far as is practically possible with a strategy for completion of the southerly extension of the Railpath to Union Station or Front Street in this term of Council .
ii. Metrolinx and the Province of Ontario be requested by City Council to include as part of the Rail link project, the acquisition of the necessary additional lands to extend the Railpath north from its current terminus to Weston and Pearson airport so there is a separated bicycle road connecting Pearson Airport in Mississauga with the City of Toronto. (Councillors Perks, Bailao, Vaughan and other councillors on the rail corridor all the way to Pearson)
- Installation of separated bike lanes on:
a. Blue Jays Way/Peter Street from Queen Street West to Bremner Boulevard, including adding Soho Street and a contra flow lane on Phoebe Street;
b. Bremner Boulevard from Simcoe Street to Bathurst Street; and
c. Dan Leckie Way/Portland Street from Queens Quay to Queen Street West, including the pedestrian/bike bridge over the Union Station Rail corridor. (Councillor Vaughan)
Additionally, there are lots of other small useful proposals bubbling up from the Bike Union's local ward groups so this list is certainly not comprehensive. An example is Strachan Avenue in my ward, 19, where a number of simple, feasible improvements can be made to make cycling safer. (And, of course, there is also the continuing struggle to get bike lanes on Bloor which activists will inevitably keep pushing, but unluckily, councillors on the left and right are unlikely to touch the hot potato of Bloor right now. Hope springs eternal.)
And speaking of hope, in this video of 1960s and 1970s Netherlands you can see that cycling wasn't always so favoured. Cycling rates were at their lowest point as the automobile was catered too. Many politicians figured that cyclists would lay down their bikes and buy cars. Even in the Netherlands people had to struggle to get respected: