The fate of the Bloor bike lanes hang in the balance with a vote at City Council later this month. For the over 6000 people now using it per day they may soon find themselves without any bike lanes—or some weird temporary bike lanes—if suburban politicians or a new business group gets their way. This new business group is bizarrely called the "Annex Business Bike Alliance". Or ABBA, but not nearly as fun as the band. They don't seem to be associated with the Annex BIA; rather they seem to have formed in protest to the Annex BIA working with the City on studying the Bloor bike lanes. They're concerned that the Bloor bike lanes in their current design are having a big negative impact on sales. But instead of getting rid of the bike lanes, they want to change the "design and operating hours".

It's not clear how many Annex businesses decided to join this ad-hoc group. For all we know, this group might be just one guy, Barry Alper, who I presume is the same Barry Alper that is a co-owner of Fresh Restaurants. Yes, the same Fresh restaurant that gives a discount to Cycle Toronto members.

Money, Money Money: group does their own economic impact survey

The City of Toronto is conducting an economic impact survey that is being conducted by the Toronto Centre for Active Transportation and the University of Toronto. The report is coming out shortly in order to be ready for a vote at Council. ABBA, however, decided sight-unseen that it doesn't like the report and decided to conduct their own super scientific online "survey". Despite the fact that the City's survey was agreed upon by the merchants: "Korea Town BIA, the Bloor Annex BIA, and the Metcalf Foundation, in 2015, before data collection began and before the installation of the bike lane."

Here's an example of the kind of leading question they ask:

How has the Bloor Street Bike Lane Project affected my business sales?

Already the bike lanes are damned by this survey once it inserts into the merchant's mind that there can only be one cause for crappy business sales: the bike lanes. But there's no way merchants can pull out this one cause out of all the possible influences on their retails sales: whether it be the rain/snow/sun; general downturn in the local economy; customers with less disposable cash because they're spending it all on $1 million houses; employees who are skimming; or just bad business sense. You don't have to take my word for it. One of the merchants responded to the business sales question with:

Hard to say, still limited sample. Last fall business was great. This has been an unusual year, there's been so much rain which really affects our business. I'd like to see how the bike lanes work over more time.

And we can't ask the merchants to open their books. The Ontario Association of BIAs recommends against collecting retail sales data because of transparency and uniformity issues. TCAT states "the funding partners and the research team agreed that a survey question regarding sales without data to verify it would be insufficient." So the City's research also gathers "estimated customer counts from the merchant surveys, estimated spending and visit frequency from the visitor surveys, and business vacancy counts from a street level scan."

But ABBA doesn't like that approach, saying it's coming "from a group whose opinion on economic impact from these lanes would not seek out the local business’s in a meaningful way". So ABBA crafted survey questions all on their own, and conducted the survey all on their own. Almost as if they wished to engineer an outcome that is favourable to their own preconceived notions of the prime importance of their motoring customers. As one of the merchants asked in their response: "Just curious about the purpose this survey? It's says it's an Economic Impact Study but of the nine questions 4 are about parking." I have exactly the same question.

Knowing Me Knowing You: Suspicious survey responses

We know nothing about ABBA's survey except what we can see from Surveymonkey results. We already know the questions themselves are leading, but what about the parts we can't see and which ABBA failed to tell us about? Are the responses all from actual owners of the stores, or from random employees? Did ABBA coach the responders in any way?

We don't even know for sure that ABBA didn't just add a few more data points themselves to buttress their argument. There is some suspicious activity in the responses. Out of the 63 responses, only 38 come from distinct IP addresses. And there are two time periods, June 29 and July 13 when there are quick successions of responses within 1-2 minutes of each other from the same IP address. It's almost as if someone filled out the survey multiple times themselves in one sitting.

The City really can't take this survey seriously.

Gimme! Gimme! Gimme! More Parking

The reduction in car parking on one side of the street was the biggest change with the bike lanes. I find it really hard to believe, however, that merchants have any clue if this had any effect. The one merchant who gave us the most information in the survey says, parking doesn't really make much difference:

We have never depended on street parking. There's only 2 space in front of our business and it's a total lottery for our customer to get one.

Wouldn't that be true for almost all stores along this strip? All of them have store frontages that are as wide as 1-2 parking spots. How much business can you actually get from 1 or 2 parking spots? Especially when most of your customers are likely coming by subway? According to the same merchant, even the Green P parking lot is rarely full:

There's a giant freakin' Green P in the Annex that was rarely full is still rarely full. Our customers that drive seem to be able to find it. The changes in parking have been insignificant.

"How important is street parking on Bloor Street to my business?"

Zero, not at all. I wanted to set-up business in a neighbourhood close to the subway, walkable and accessible by bike. That's why we came to the Annex. If we wanted parking we'd by out in Mississauga Dundas W and Erin Mills or something like that.

Waterloo: ABBA's final stand

ABBA is demanding of Councillor Cressy, not that the bike lanes be removed, but that they be redesigned and that the "operating hours" be reduced:

We are the Annex Business Bike Alliance who want to encourage and expand cycling in the GTA but do it in a way that does not dramatically impact local independent business’s along Toronto’s main streets. The Bloor and Bike lanes design and operating hours have created a highway that has reduced business activity along the entire strip (Madison to Shaw). Traffic to the area to shop has been reduced as cars do not come and cyclists do not stop and shop.

Where have I heard "bicycle highway" before? Oh yeah, former Councillor Adam Vaughan referring to the Richmond/Adelaide cycle tracks. This seems to be the go-to criticism now; make it seem cars are just soft pillows on wheels meandering at a walking pace and bicycles are monsters ready to eat your children.

Someone didn't give this kid the memo.

Credit: Jared Kolb

The rest of the letter kind of reads like stream of consciousness, with conflicting demands. One the one hand they want the City to "REMOVE BIKE LANES FROM BLOOR ENTIRELY AND FOCUS ON DUPONT AND HARBORD (and/or surrounding side streets) AS A MORE FUNCTIONAL BIKE ROUTE OPTION". But they also "want city council to keep bike lanes on Bloor street but redesign them so that the Annex can flourish and not transform itself into an area where only national chains survive." And these are some of their suggested design changes:


How is this supposed to work for kids biking to school? Do all children live west of their schools? They clearly have not given school kids any thought.

CREATE SEASONAL BIKE LANES (operational from May to September)

May to September?! One of the merchants had even suggested only open the bike lane during the summer months: June to August.

What about people who like to bike in all the other months without snow: March, April, October, November? It's already October and I don't see a hint of snow nor a drop in the number of people biking. But even with snow the City has been plowing the Bloor bike lanes so there's less reason to stop biking. I find it amazing that Canadians think nothing of sending their kids out to play in the snow but can't imagine biking in cold weather.


I've got a better idea. As a pilot project let's remove all car parking on Bloor and let's see if that makes as much of a difference as you assume.

CREATE MORE MOTOR VEHICLE PARKING SPOTS ALONG SIDE STREETS, DIRECTLY NORTH/SOUTH OF BLOOR (free, 1-hr parking on BOTH sides of these sections of the those streets)

Good luck fighting local residents on this proposal.


Sure go ahead. Make sure cyclists don't go over the 50 km per hour speed limit.


This actually sounds like a good idea. I'll take a basket. But you know, it's already a lot easier to stop and shop on Bloor while biking rather than drive and park. Maybe instead you should try to entice with baskets all those car drivers who lost years ago to Costco or Walmart.

Dog-shaped tour of Toronto

I was rooting through my old files and came across the 115 km route I mapped out around Toronto almost a decade ago (pdf). (The dog shape is purely coincidental). I was working at the City that summer as a Cycling Ambassador—mostly we went to events and gave out maps and info but we got a brief chance to create our own promotional event. I worked on this route. However, because of liability and insurance reasons I never did run a tour while working for the City. But I managed to do it once on my own time as a Bike Month event. There have been some improvements to suburban and urban cycling infrastructure (such as the Finch Hydro Corridor Trail) and Richmond/Adelaide cycle tracks) that it could be worth it to update this route to take in some of those sights.

It's really hard to come up with good continuous bike routes in the burbs, particularly Scarborough. I can't blame people for just riding on the sidewalk instead of trying to search all the weaving residential streets to see which ones help get them to their destination and avoid those which dead-end. Even with this route, there are large chunks of Toronto still to be explored, including at least of Scarborough and southern Etobicoke.

Feel free to print this turn-by-turn booklet, share it, clip it to your bike. And go explore!

David Stern, the owner of the Queen Mother Café—with support of a group of pro-cycling lawyers— has asked the province to reconsider the John Street EA in light of new information—namely a professionally-conducted traffic count—that shows that bike traffic is much higher than the 2% that was quoted in the EA. Cycle Toronto Ward 20 and the Toronto Bicycling Network have written letters in support.

But Councillor Joe Cressy is not backing down. Instead he is fully supporting the EA championed by his predecessor, Adam Vaughan, and also has been touting the improvements the City is making to the adjacent Peter-Soho route as an alternative to cycling on John.

I've gone into a lot of detail on deficiencies of the John Street plan over the last few years (here, here, here for example). In short, the problem with the City's current plan for John Street is that it ignores people biking and gives them no space; and it pretends to be a "promenade" for pedestrians while doing nothing about the heavy car traffic. Even though the City staff don't spell it out, they were heavily influenced by the "shared space" initiatives in places like the UK. Shared space has come under increasing push back from people biking, people with disabilities and older people as dangerous designs (thanks to @SharkDancing for the source).

As one person who bikes regularly through the UK's shared space aptly said:

"Shared space is a false promise with poor delivery … sharing is never on equal terms - as a confident but anxious cyclist, I usually win the sharing transactions, but if a particular driver doesn’t want to yield, they won’t."

The shared space scheme on John Street was backed up by some faulty numbers. The Ward 20 cyclists conducted a professional traffic count showing some substantial numbers of people biking instead of driving on John:

[P]rofessional traffic counts completed at the intersection of John and Queen Street West in September 2016 show bicycle commuters account for 71.8% of all road traffic headed south and 55.9% headed north at the weekday morning peak. During the afternoon peak commuting hour, bicycle commuters accounted for 41.2% of all traffic heading south and 74.3% of all traffic headed north. It is likely that the 2014 installation of separated bicycle lanes on two arterial roads that cross John Street have promoted the use of active transportation on John Street.

These numbers are radically different from the suspicious ones reported on early on in the EA process, where City staff claimed that no matter the day or time, the bike count remained at a flat 2%. This number was easily disproved at the time with volunteers counting and even by the data the City releases.

The Peter-Soho Alternative?

Councillor Cressy to his credit has been working harder on the Peter-Soho alternative than his predecessor:

Just last year, we also installed brand new separated bike lanes on Peter Street, to connect with the heavily used Richmond-Adelaide cycle tracks. Over the past two years, we've been working hard to address safety at the jogged intersection at Queen and Soho, to provide a safe connection between the new Peter St. lanes, and the Soho-Phoebe-Beverley route. We're happy to announce the design for a two-stage southbound crossing, and that it will be installed next year. We're working hard with City staff to finalize the northbound solution at the same intersection, and will continue to communicate updates as we finish this work.

Peter Soho
Bike box on Queen for southbound cyclists from Soho.

What an awkward crossing. So anyone just trying to cross Queen street from the north side to the south side will have to do it in two stages? Has the City provided estimated time required for crossing Queen at Peter-Soho compared to John? It looks like it could be much higher on average.

Six years after cyclists started offering ideas to City staff on how to improve the intersection, both in public and in private meetings, staff still haven't got any firm plans for improving the experience for northbound cyclists. I imagine we'll see lots of conflicts where cyclists are allowed to go northbound but all car drivers must turn right. It's not going to be pretty.

It was six years ago that Dave Meslin presented a creative solution to eliminate the jog with a bike path that cuts through the sidewalk and building. Although it was unlikely to happen, it started a conversation with City staff. But looks like staff never got around to firming up any plans. If the City is trying to push cyclists off John Street, why are they dragging their heels on the alternatives?

I appreciate the work Cressy has been putting into this, but I don't believe these are zero-sum options. The request to reopen the EA isn't presupposing how John should look. It is a request that the EA be reopened so that the City can properly account for the safety of cyclists this time. We've already had the negative experience of the pilots on John which squeezed cyclists next to cars.

Squeezed on John
Photo by Ian Flett.

Everyone knows that there's no way Petter-Soho can match the convenience and comfort of John Street, despite the City's attempts to improve the cycling experience on it. Unless the City makes cycling on John Street truly awful (or if it's closed off during a rare street closure) we'll still see lots of people choosing to bike on John over Peter-Soho.