Toronto city councillors are looking to restructure roadways in another of the city’s neighbourhoods creating more bike-friendly routes, but accessibility advocates worry the approach could be problematic.
At Toronto City Council’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee meeting on Sept. 17 , councillor Mike Colle introduced a recommendation to develop a protected bike lane on Yonge Street that would run from south of St. Clair Avenue to north of Lawrence Avenue.
The development, which would be modelled after Destination Danforth, is proposed to take place by the second quarter of 2021.
Councillor Mike Layton supports the proposal and said the city needs more bike paths on its north-south corridors.
“When you look at Toronto’s bike plan, there’s a glaring gap between the midtown and the downtown,” Layton said.
Layton said the city needs to ensure commuters have alternative ways to get to work while promoting sustainability and protecting residents.
“People want to be able to bike,” he said, “but they just don’t feel safe.”
Between 2017 and 2019, there were more than 15 serious collisions involving cyclists on the proposed stretch of Yonge Street, according to Toronto Police Service’s data.
David Lepofsky, chair of the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act Alliance and a part-time professor at Osgoode Hall Law School, said he supports bike lane development but warns that new infrastructure could create new barriers for people with mobility challenges.
Colle, who represents one of the corridor wards, said he wants to make Yonge Street a place where people will stop and shop. He said that right now the street is being used by “people just zooming through who don’t even live in the area.”
“This is not a highway bypass,” Colle said. He explained that accommodating a cycling corridor on Yonge Street can be done.
“The world didn’t end when we put CaféTO on Yonge Street,” he said, pointing to on-street patio dining as an example. “It has been extremely successful.”
But Lepofsky, who is blind, worries what such a change could mean for people who can’t move through the city as easily.
“Sidewalk restaurant seating areas are a nightmare for people like me,” said Lepofsky.
Councillor Josh Matlow said consulting on matters of accessibility is part of the plan.
Layton noted that the city “took great care” to protect accessibility when bike lanes were built on Bloor Street.
Councillor Stephen Holyday said he too is wary of the proposal.
“As a member of council that represents a suburban ward and people that live in various parts of the city, I get concerned any time someone proposes a significant change to a major arterial route,” Holyday said.
Holyday is worried the proposal will have “enormous traffic impacts,” and says, instead, the city should continue encouraging on-street patio developments and change parking restrictions.
Colle disagreed. “That is something out of the ’80s.”
People know that increases in cycling “take hundreds of thousands of cars off the road,” he said.
Matlow says the proposed bike lane is also a win for drivers.
“It is to your benefit to have cyclists in their own lane,” Matlow said, pointing out that otherwise they slow down traffic.
Thea Kurdi, vice-president of DesignABLE Environments Inc., said the reason the city keeps getting accessibility wrong is that the planners are not properly problem solving or taking into account diverse needs.
“Accessible design is an afterthought,” Kurdi said.
On bike lanes specifically, Kurdi explained that the city needs to consider all possible angles, including how the city will handle snow clearing and proper markings on the ground.
She said the city needs to consider clear signage, noise and lighting.
“It’s more sustainable to be accessible,” Kurdi said. “Rather than having to go back and change it, build it right the first time.”