A new Angus Reid Forum poll of 802 Torontonians shows 80 per cent support a "safe network of bicycle lanes" across the city.
That's a hugely encouraging statistic, especially because strong majority support runs throughout the metropolis. In the old City of Toronto, approval is at 84 per cent, but even in the inner suburbs of Etobicoke and Scarborough — where car use is more widespread — it's at 71 and 76 per cent, respectively. Uptown or downtown, it seems, people see the value of bike lanes even if they aren't cyclists themselves.
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Support is also strong across age groups and gender. It's super high among people 18 to 34 — 91 per cent — perhaps because many of these folks ride bicycles and see the lanes as improving their personal security. Or they may like the idea of bike lanes — quite apart from whether they use them — believing the lanes mark the city as progressive and forward-looking, a hip place to live. But approval is high even among residents 55 and older, standing at 65 per cent. Support among men reaches 78 per cent; among women it's 81.
The media sometimes portray bike lanes as controversial, divisive. The polling suggests that's not true. Clearly, there's some variation between old and young, inner-city dwellers and those living in the 'burbs. But the lanes enjoy strong majority backing across all ages and neighbourhoods.
The pollsters also posed a query specifically about the bike lane on Bloor Street, asking residents if they would like to remove or keep it. Nearly seven out of 10 (69 per cent) opted for the latter. Unlike the earlier question, which asked about something abstract and future-oriented (a bike-lane network built over the next 10 years), the question on Bloor referenced infrastructure that already exists. The Bloor lane has been operating since last August, and some in the community have criticized it for impeding access to local businesses. Despite this complaint, a strong majority want it to remain in place. Among downtown residents, support is at 75 per cent. Even in Scarborough it has the backing of 63 per cent.
The poll asked Torontonians if they support reduced speed limits on local streets. Eighty-one per cent said they do. If decision-makers heed this call, it bodes well for increased bicycle use: lower traffic speeds are crucial if cycling is to attract new riders.
This question was positioned as a trade-off. It told survey responders, "lower speed limits reduce the severity of traffic collisions but may increase travel time." Notwithstanding this reference to the "downside" of lower speeds, the vast majority of respondents embrace them. Some of these folks must be drivers, so they're saying, in effect, "I don't mind additional restrictions on how fast I can travel." It seems motorists themselves are recognizing that cars move too quickly and, for the sake of safety, need to slow down. I'd call this realization progress. Earlier ages saw acceleration as essentially positive: Why constrain the car if you don't have to? Fortunately, this view is changing.
The polling illuminates something beyond attitudes to road infrastructure. It suggests Toronto is witnessing a new social consensus: extra restraints on auto use are widely endorsed if they foster injury-prevention. In the public mind, speed takes a backseat to well-being.
[The poll was prepared by Maru/Matchbox for the David Suzuki Foundation. Its margin of error is +/- 3.5%, 19 times out of 20.]