July 30, 2016

A Not So Yonge Cycling Idea

Cycle Toronto collecting signatures at Mel Lastman Square
While Cycle Toronto only launched their Yonge Loves Bikes pledge this month and the earliest Bells on Yonge ride happened in 2012, the idea of bike lanes on Yonge Street goes back even further. Back in 1977, when bike lanes on Bloor Street were first considered (but not recommended), the same Barton-Aschmann report recommended Yonge as a north-south spine route from Wellesley to Queen Streets with eventual extensions to Queens Quay to the south and the Toronto Reference Library (at Church Street) to the north. The report cited the high level of retail and commercial activity, the lack of on-street parking, the presence of the Yonge subway line, and the high number of collisions involving cyclists as key reasons for recommending Yonge Street. A feeder route was also proposed on Gould Street to connect with Ryerson University.
Recommended 1977 bike routes - Yonge remains missing to this day
To help prove why bike lanes on Yonge Street are needed, I biked Yonge Street from Queens Quay past Steeles Avenue into York Region on Saturday, July 23.
Next to Toronto Star building (One Yonge Street)
Right now, painted bike lanes exist from Queens Quay to Front Street. One drawback with the current design is the presence of a taxi stand next to the Toronto Star building, which lead to the northbound bike lane being placed in the door zone. This section needs separation as soon as possible to improve safety.
No bike lanes beyond Front Street
From where the bike lanes end at Front Street to Davenport Road, the street width is 12.8 metres; meaning cyclists have to take the curbside lane. Fortunately, a new environmental assessment was launched on Thursday, July 14 to reduce this portion of Yonge Street from four lanes to two, widen the sidewalks, and add separated bike lanes. The Downtown Yonge BIA has been supportive of making the street more pedestrian and cyclist friendly.
At Pleasant Boulevard (before St. Clair Avenue)
From Davenport Road to Highway 401, none of the local councillors, business improvement areas, or resident associations support bike lanes on Yonge.[1] The roadway is slightly narrower at 12.2 metres from Davenport to Heath Street (north of St. Clair Avenue), which would make it a tough sell to get bike lanes approved there. Once a pilot project can be installed south of Davenport and is proven to be successful, it should be easier to expand it north.
Note the road width at Blythwood Road (and parked cars)
The roadway widens considerably at Heath to at least 16.4 metres, which also leads to the presence of parked cars absent in the downtown section. As proven during the Bloor consultation process, this width makes it possible to install bike lanes without removing parking. Once sufficient outreach can be done to inform local residents, businesses, and organizations about these facts and other benefits of bike lanes, there would not be any excuse not to put in bike lanes.
Six lanes at Yonge and York Mills
The issue of space becomes even more ridiculous at York Mills Road where there are six traffic lanes. Why is there a need for six lanes on Yonge? Factor in the 60 km/h speed limit – meaning drivers go over 80 km/h – and the highway ramps and you got a nightmare scenario for cyclists. Cycle Toronto’s Yonge Street Working Group put up a video suggesting an idea for bypassing the Highway 401 interchange.[2]


Once past this safety hazard, we arrive at the second priority focus for the Yonge Loves Bikes campaign from Avondale Avenue to Steeles Avenue.[3] With six lanes of traffic, traffic medians, and high density, North York Centre is a prime candidate for bike lanes and is currently hosting “REimagining Yonge Street” consultations with the most recent meeting being held on Monday, July 25. Per the slide decks, there has been strong support for bike lanes, wider sidewalks, and reducing the number of traffic lanes from six to four. The final report is due to the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee in late 2016 or early 2017.
North York Centre - Toronto's satellite downtown
North of the Finch subway station at Bishop Avenue, two of the traffic lanes become bus/taxi/carpool/bike lanes during peak hours which continue into York Region. This is where the satellite downtown environment becomes suburban with big box stores, a mall at Steeles Avenue, and narrow sidewalks.
These dedicated lanes continue into York Region
In order to ensure bike lanes cross municipal boundaries – something encouraged by the Ontario government’s #CycleON strategyYork Region is planning to install bike lanes on large parts of Yonge Street by 2026 per their latest transportation master plan. An extension to Highway 7 would connect to existing cycling facilities there and enable bike-to-transit commutes with access to Langstaff GO station and VIVAnext bus rapid transit lines. (Thanks Divyesh M for the information on York Region)
This sign doesn't appear until five streets past Steeles Avenue!
You can show support for bike lanes on Yonge by signing the Yonge Loves Bikes pledge at http://www.cycleto.ca/yonge-loves-bikes.

Yonge at heart!
Rob Z (e-mail)



UPDATE (2016/08/12) - An interview based on this post was put up on Metro News on August 9, 2016. (link to article)

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[1] https://www.cycleto.ca/news/update-action-alert-reinstate-danforth-corridor-study-kill-polling-requirement
[2] The Yonge-401 interchange is subject to a separate City of Toronto and Ontario Ministry of Transportation study, which has been put on indefinite hold. http://www1.toronto.ca/wps/portal/contentonly?vgnextoid=3d04ab7006fda410VgnVCM10000071d60f89RCRD
[3] The study originally covered Sheppard to Finch Avenues, but a motion passed at the June 2016 city council meeting approved a concurrent study from Finch to Steeles Avenues.

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