Improving Toronto’s cycling infrastructure has been one of my top priorities as a City Councillor and has been an ongoing focus of mine since 2010. In 2011, I fought against the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes and I challenged the Ford administration to do a better job as new infrastructure was planned for Ward 27. Today, I am glad to be working with a mayor who values a collaborative approach, but there are still issues that arise as staff and City Council do their best to serve all Toronto residents.
Ahead of the 2013 Sherbourne bike lane project, I asked that staff pilot the separated lane plan being envisioned from Bloor to the waterfront. From community observations, Sherbourne is a street with numerous medical, retirement, community, and other such facilities that have very specific access requirements due to the large number of aged individuals and those living with disabilities. As Toronto's first separated bike lane of its kind being installed, I felt it was imperative that the design not create an unnecessary tension between those living with disabilities and those using the bike lanes. I also wanted to take the opportunity to promote universal design, including new lighting, beautification, and safety measures, since the street was going to be reconstructed. In the three years since, there have been many complaints about conflicts between street users. Although I am glad to see that Cycling staff have worked hard to address many of the most critical sites, I recognize that not all conflicts have been resolved. Similar issues arose with the separated bike lanes that were installed on Wellesley, with a number of residents raising inaccessibility and cycling safetyconcerns with respect to vehicles parking in the new bike lanes.
Expanding the City’s separated bike lanes are important and necessary. Part of that work, especially as this network extends further out, requires a demonstration that the lanes are safe, effective pathways for Toronto’s active transportation needs. Concerns expressed through communications received by Transportation staff and I include, but are not limited to: illegally parked vehicles in bike lanes, Wheel-Trans and EMS vehicles unable to safely service specific properties, debris gathering in the lanes, and the need for more visible and physical separations. I know from the calls and emails received by my office that cyclists have been vocal in asking for the safe facilities they are entitled to. To ensure public accountability and that these concerns were being given their due attention and by way of motions, Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) staff was asked to consider further investigations and actions to resolve the complaints.
In April of 2015, staff was asked to review illegal parking in bike lanes on Sherbourne and Wellesley and accessibility concerns for those with special mobility needs through PWIC (http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2015.PW3.12).
In September of 2015, the Disability, Access and Inclusion Advisory Committee asked staff to review cycle track locations believed to be causing a risk to others, for which complaints had been received by Transportation Services and through public input at the April meeting of PWIC (http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2015.EX9.17%202).
In July of 2016, in an effort to achieve safer road conditionssooner for pedestrians, cyclists and all other road users in the 2017 budget, I also asked City Council to accelerate the Road Safety Plan implementation timeline from five years to two. With the rising number of pedestrian deaths caused by collisions, this critical motion was unfortunately defeated at Council(http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2016.PW14.1).
Last month, PWIC approved amended staff recommendations to exempt vehicles with Accessible Parking Permits from stopping in designated cycle tracks and bike lanes(http://app.toronto.ca/tmmis/viewAgendaItemHistory.do?item=2016.PW17.10). While the recommendation cites the first two motions I had put forward previously, it does not address many of the concerns raised by cyclists and other complete streets advocates. Accessibility is absolutely a concern in Ward 27 and throughout the City, but I worry that the committee adopted recommendations will create new tensions and contribute to even more unsafe road conditions. To that end, I will be referring the staff report back for renewed stakeholder consultations and further study to review the best way forward in achieving safer travel conditions for everyone. I believe that there needs to be much more consultation – both to improve thispolicy, but also to better address the other concerns raised by cyclists.
Pitting one vulnerable group against another will not provide long-term constructive and successful conclusions. Building accessible infrastructure and expanding the cycling network requires the incorporation of an inclusive and universal design lens. This is entirely possible and anything short of this objective is unacceptable.