Toronto could have done accessibility right. Like this:

Chicane for accessible access
Cycle track with chicane for accessible access. Source:

At least this is what normal cities do. Cities like: Montreal, Vancouver, American cities, European cities. But here in Toronto, instead of trying to properly make cycle tracks accessible so that people with accessibility permits for their cars can cross the cycle track easily, we just let drivers park wherever the hell they want. Like this:

Car parked in protected bike lane
Permit or no, all cars look the same when they're blocking your way. Source

Problem solved.

Not so fast.

What about people who are using bicycles because they have mobility problems? There are a lot more people doing this than you think. Bicycles are much easier to move around than walking. And as the population ages and more people start getting arthritis, more people are going to choose cycling over walking as a way to get moving. Not to mention that families with children on bikes still exist and will still want to use protected bike lanes. This decision endangers them all. All for the convenience of one narrowly-defined segment of people with disabilities.

I predict that it won't be long before someone sues the City for failing to maintain accessibility standards. The protected bike lane is part of public infrastructure and arguably this puts a duty on our government to make it safe and accessible to all users (not just the spandex wearering).

For some background, Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam got the ball rolling on this one reportedly. It started with a complaint at 24 Wellesley that someone could no longer drop someone off at the front door of their condo (even though there's access on two other sides of the building). Wong-Tam championed the removal of the protection of the bike lane in that section so that they (and anyone other schmuck) could now block the bike lane.

But that wasn't enough, there had to be a comprehensive weakening of protected bike lanes. Wong-Tam reportedly requested staff to start this process and led the advisory committee where they did their consultation (although failing to consult the wider public). This led to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee to accept the proposed "solution".

To be extra clear, Toronto absolutely should make the city more accessible for everyone. But this isn't the solution. This endangers vulnerable road users, including families, elderly and people with disabilities who choose to bike. The City fails to address any of their concerns and likely puts themselves at legal risk by doing so.

I quote Raj, one of the first members of Cycle Toronto, here since he puts it much better than I could:

I was part of the effort to have these lanes installed while I lived in Ward 27 and I still use these lanes when I go downtown. It is unbelievable to me that the city is proposing to allow parking in bike lanes! I'm not sure those supporting this proposal appreciate how seriously this would undermine bike lanes and put cyclist safety at risk. It has taken years of progress to even begin to instill into drivers that it is not OK to park in bike lanes. To allow some drivers to park in bike lanes would severely undermine this (finally) developing norm and would embolden all drivers to park in bike lanes, putting cyclists at a serious risk of injury because of the (now) false sense of security they will have. The report does not consider the sheer number of drivers who have Accessible Parking Permits (many of them improperly obtained or used) who will be able to take advantage of this exception. There is not even a requirement that the person being loaded or unloaded be disabled in a manner that requires direct curbside access. I see no evidence in the report that we must resort to this drastic measure of allowing drivers to park in bike lanes to accommodate those who are inconvenienced by their location. I fail to see why site-specific modifications can't continue to be made (or, God forbid, drivers be expected to stop in car traffic lanes) rather than undermining bike lanes and putting cyclist safety at risk. It is shocking that this proposal may be implemented on such short notice and without public consultation. I would request that this matter be deferred to so that more affected users might have a chance to consider this proposal and provide input or make deputations. This might also save the city from a great deal of embarrassment and public anger by blindsiding residents with such a drastic and ill-considered change.

I urge the City to adopt a real solution here, much like that adopted elsewhere, that allows people unload without blocking the protected bike lane.

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?