Construction of bike lanes on Toronto's Bloor street got underway this week — the fulfillment of a decades-long wish by citizens hoping to address global warming and air pollution, reduce congestion and boost physical fitness.
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But some of the initial media coverage has been less than celebratory. A headline in the Toronto Sun said, "Bloor bike lanes get mixed reviews", and CBC said the lanes' installation was causing "bumper-to-bumper traffic" and would mean loss of parking spaces. The Toronto Star was more upbeat, but even that progressive paper cautioned that businesses and drivers were only accepting of the project "so far".
The negative tone is disappointing. Any construction brings inconvenience, but in this case it will be short-lived. Installation should be complete in two weeks, and the project's long-term value is considerable.
The new bike lane will be a boon to local businesses when complete. Research shows people arriving by bike spend more money than those arriving by automobile. In fact, researchers at Portland State University discovered that customers who cycle spend 24 per cent more per month than those who are car-based, possibly because lower fuel and maintenance costs free up money for other things. The New York City Department of Transport found that, following creation of a protected bike lane on Ninth Avenue, local businesses enjoyed up to a 49 per cent increase in retail sales. It's not surprising that during debates on the Bloor lanes, more than 70 business owners voiced support for the project.
The project is also likely to help Toronto achieve its greenhouse gas reduction targets. A study just published by McGill and Concordia University scientists in the journal Transportation Research (August 2016) looked at the emissions cuts associated with building cycling infrastructure — and thereby reducing automobile dependence — in Montreal. Its conclusion: "A reduction of close to 2% in GHG emissions is observed for an increase of 7% in the length of the bicycle network. Results show the important benefits of bicycle infrastructure to reduce commuting automobile usage and GHG emissions." A two per cent drop in GHGs may sound small, but the researchers say that's the amount that would occur if Montreal converted its diesel buses to hybrids and electrified its commuter trains, a very extensive overhaul. It's far cheaper, not to mention faster, to create bike lanes.
I live close to Bloor and, walking by the construction each morning, I already sense the lane will bring good things. It will make the roadway fairer, officially acknowledging cyclists' presence and giving them the protection they've long deserved. It will make the road more predictable and safer, not just for bike riders but also drivers. It will offer Torontonians the option of leaving the car at home and, at least on occasion, substituting two wheels for four, which could prove an exciting change in their lives.
I suspect it will also enhance the neighbourhood's charm.
Gideon Forman is a cyclist, Toronto resident and transportation policy analyst at the David Suzuki Foundation.