bike lanes

Will Eglinton Avenue become the next bike-lane battleground?

With the Midtown Complete Street Project that includes separated bike lanes along Yonge Street set for approval, attention now turns to nearby Eglinton Avenue where another similar project has city staff going to the public for comment via public consultations this month.

The Eglinton TOday project covers the midtown thoroughfare between Keele Street and Mount Pleasant Road. According to the consultation material, the project “proposes to implement complete street features, including Vision Zero road safety changes, bikeways, and public realm upgrades.”

According to the city, public drop-in events on the project are scheduled this month to provide stakeholders and the public with the opportunity “to view the project information panels, rolls plans and speak with City staff one-on-one.”

The first is scheduled for Feb. 21, 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School, 1107 Avenue Rd, which will be followed by a second event on Feb. 25, 2-4 p.m. at Fairbank Public School, 2335 Dufferin St.

The project was once called Eglinton Connects, but the plan has changed and taken up the TO moniker and dropped the idea of keeping more of the car lanes, according to local city councillor Josh Matlow.

“The initial plan was to keep more lanes intact on Eglinton along with the bike lanes,” Matlow explains. “And then what evolved over the years that I’ve learned about from city staff is that they made decision after decision, I really think it’s got to do with just money and resources, just the lack of a budget for the plan. My understanding is they just didn’t purchase the necessary real estate to have the sufficient property to be able to do as much with what they had.”

The fly in the proverbial municipal ointment in this situation seems to be that Metrolinx, the provincial agency behind the Crosstown LRT, was pegged to construct the bike lanes in some areas near transit stations along Eglinton as part of the deal to build the line. And that construction is underway.

According to a statement from Metrolinx, construction of the portion of bike lanes for which the agency is responsible is “largely complete between Weston Rd – Avenue Rd and Mt Pleasant Rd – Kennedy Rd.”

“Metrolinx and constructor, Crosslinx Transit Solutions (CTS), will be implementing the Eglinton Connects streetscape along Eglinton Avenue in the areas that are being impacted by the construction of the LRT stations.  In addition, Metrolinx and CTS will extend the new streetscape in between Avenue Road and Yonge Street,” added Metrolinx, via email.

What is bothering Matlow, he says, is that it seems as though the city is consulting and garnering input from the public on something that is already partially built.

“I went back to the city staff and I just said like what I don’t even understand this because you’re consulting on something that Metrolinx says contractors have already partially constructed,” Matlow explained. “So doesn’t that come across as disingenuous to the community and the BIAs (Business Improvement Associations) that you’re now consulting on a proposed idea that’s already partially constructed, right? There’s already components of the bike lanes built.”

There is always vocal opposition to separated bike lane projects such as this, especially those that remove street parking in front of stores. As evidenced by the now-approved Midtown Complete Street Project that saw some shop owners along Yonge put anti-bike lane signs in store windows and an online petition created for the removal of said lanes.

Eglinton, it appears, will be no different. But one thing that should be noted regarding these particular shop keepers is that they have just and some continue to suffer from the never-ending, years-long construction of the Crosstown LRT that ripped Eglinton apart at the seams.

Maureen Sirois is the chair of the Eglinton Way BIA and has been a strong advocate for local businesses impacted by the Crosstown LRT construction as well as the COVID-19 pandemic. She is concerned about the new Eglinton TOday plan, and the potential elimination of street parking.

“It’s not fair to the businesses who have sustained these challenges between construction and COVID, and now to add this layer of challenge as well is unthinkable,” she said, during a past interview regarding Crosstown construction. “And we’re not against bike lanes, but there has to be some kind of parking.”

She said, the previous plan Eglinton Connects has been ditched, and with it, the original scope of work that included both bike lanes and street parking. And she said, the city has not been transparent with its planning.

“It’s the biggest, deepest, darkest secret. Nobody’s talking about it,” she said. “If you look at the original Eglinton Connects plan, there was a plan to rehabilitate the sidewalks, put in bike lanes and street parking on both sides of the street. But they’re not doing the Eglinton Connects. They’re doing this other plan, which doesn’t involve sidewalk rehabilitation. So they don’t have the real estate and they’re just going to get rid of the parking.”

Another big concern on Eglinton is the bottleneck around the intersection of Eglinton Avenue and the Allen Expressway. It’s a unique situation in the city where a main street thoroughfare intersects with an expressway. And, cutting Eglinton down to one lane in this particular area will be problematic, says Matlow.

“The neighbourhoods have been dealing with a dysfunctional amount of traffic for many years where for three hours of the day you cannot get out of your driveway — it’s that bad,” Matlow says. “Unless they shut the Allen, drivers will continue to want to go to the Allen and back because that’s what it’s there for. So they’re either going to take Eglinton or they’re going to go through the neighbourhoods one or the other. And I think there is a valid concern that if Eglinton is narrowed down to only two lanes at the junction near the Allen, you will end up having a mile-long traffic jam.”

Matlow says, he doesn’t know how that traffic jam could be avoided if cars cannot pass and there is no through lane.

“I think their concerns are valid, and I think that needs to be figured out,” he says. ” I just want to reiterate this because it’s such a sensitive, controversial topic, but this isn’t bike lanes versus cars. I just I don’t think they (city staff) have presented a plan that’s functional yet. And I think they need to work on it. That’s fair.”

Grab your popcorn, this one is just getting started.

Article exclusive to STREETS OF TORONTO