Nine months after Toronto launched its Bloor bike lane, is the project a success? There's much evidence to suggest it is.
A survey released by the city in February shows 64 per cent of resident and business respondents believe the lane provides safety for cyclists while allowing acceptable traffic flow and parking. Nearly two-thirds of motorists say they feel "comfortable" driving next to cyclists now — compared to just 14 per cent in 2015, before the lane was installed.
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The research also found the number of Bloor cyclists has increased 36 per cent, while the number of cars has dropped 22 per cent.
Behind the numbers, of course, are local folks' lived experiences of the project. In recent discussions, they've told me the lane has made Bloor a nicer place to live and a better place to do business.
Ron Koperdraad is manager of the Hot Docs Ted Rogers Cinema, a Bloor Street landmark that screens edgy international documentaries that draw around-the-block crowds. He describes himself as a commuting cyclist and says he appreciates the new bike lane at a personal level: "I do feel safer now on Bloor." He also likes the fact that the lane links with other bike routes to form a downtown network. "The other day I had a meeting at the Art Gallery of Ontario, " he recalls. "Afterwards, I took bike lanes the whole way back to the cinema."
Like many downtowners, Koperdraad is a cyclist some days and a motorist others. When behind the wheel, he doesn't find the new infrastructure onerous. "I drive as well," he explains, "and don't find traffic grinds to a halt when the bike lane begins."
He also sees advantages for his theatre. The lane "benefits those who choose to bike to the cinema," he says, adding that the cycle track has made the neighbourhood more vibrant. "Before the bike lane went in, lots of cyclists were avoiding Bloor. But with the lane in place more cyclists are now in front of our business."
Tammy Thorne is publisher of dandyhorse, an artfully designed cycling advocacy magazine that began in 2008. She's also an expert on urban biking and a resident of Toronto's Annex neighbourhood, which the new bike lane borders. She says Bloor is an excellent location for cycle tracks. "It's a cultural street with lots of shopping and walking. It's not a highway."
Thorne is excited by the roadway's transformation. "You never would've seen kids cycling on Bloor without the bike lane," she observes. "I recently saw a seven-year-old there. That never would've happened before." She also believes the lane is a boon to elderly motorists. "I've driven Bloor with my dad, a retired farmer from Peterborough," she says. "The bike lane has made a huge difference for drivers like him. He knows really clearly where the bicycles are and where the cars are. It's a lot safer."
Like many commentators, Thorne feels the lane can help local retailers flourish. Biking on Bloor is now a "much more pleasant experience," she explains, so "many cyclists are changing their route. Lots of them are bringing their business to Bloor because of the lane."
That sentiment is shared by Matt Languay, owner of the Basecamp Climbing gym, which is located near the bike lane's western extremity. Now in its second year of operation, Basecamp hosts 200 to 300 climbers a day and its pool of customers is expanding steadily. Languay believes some of that growth is due to the new lane. It's "been a huge, huge help getting our members" to the facility, he says. "Getting here before the bike lane was much more dangerous."
This fall, city council will debate whether to dismantle the new infrastructure — which is only a pilot — or make it permanent. Cyclists favour the latter option — and, as research and on-the-ground discussion suggest, so do many drivers and businesspeople.