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Opinion/Column

Turning busy roads into bike paths: why?

by Sue-Ann Levy

This past Saturday I took my e-bike down the bike lanes of  Toronto’s Yonge Street, along Rosedale Valley Road and right onto the section of Bayview Avenue which was closed for the weekend’s #ActiveTO efforts.

Toronto City Hall had put considerable resources, it seems, to close the 2-km stretch from Rosedale Valley Road down to Front St. East for the weekend — big orange barriers, signage and a police officer at each end.

Given that the Gardiner Expressway was closed for maintenance and there were already bike lanes on Bayview, it made absolutely no sense. It was nothing more than an exercise in virtue signalling by a cabal of politicians and bureaucrats who wouldn’t be caught dead riding downtown themselves.

According to its own description, City Hall had decided to close a portion of this major north south artery to “provide more space for thousands of people to be active, respect physical distancing” and to contribute to the “overall well-being of residents.”

On my trip down I ran into about a dozen cyclists going south and north. During my return, I counted the same paltry numbers.

The view on Bayview. Photo: Sue-Ann Levy

To the left of me, I noticed a bumper-to-bumper Don Valley Parkway heading south. On Rosedale Valley Road, the car traffic was backed up for almost the entire 3-km stretch from Bayview to Yonge St.  The bikes lanes, already installed on this stretch of Bayview Avenue sat pretty much empty.

Yonge Street was also bumper to bumper heading both south and north—impacted by the cycle tracks which have taken another major north-south artery and turned it into two lanes only.

There wasn’t much physical distancing, either, if you consider the Tour de France wannabes who breezed by me far closer than they should have been.

Still, to say Toronto City Hall is bike lane-obsessed is an understatement.

In fact, during the COVID pandemic, the cycle paths on council and the bureaucrats had a field day, taking the opportunity to put in dozens of kilometres of cycle tracks when they figured no one was paying attention.

Take the 2.3-km of cycle tracks from Queen’s Park Circle to nearly the foot of University Ave. They appeared overnight last summer, forcing taxis, cars, bikes, buses and EMS vehicles to compete for space on hospital row.

The $2.8-million Yonge St. pilot project – 2.8 km of cycle tracts from Davisville to Yorkville – is hardly a pilot judging from the permanency of the structures built to support it when the lanes went in about two weeks ago.

The cycle paths at City Hall made no secret of their obsession with bike lanes and road closures in the city reports, if one had the inclination to read them.

In a report from Sept. 15 of last year, Saad Rafi, who headed up the city’s Recovery and Rebuild Strategy Office for a few months, recommended that initiatives like improved cycling infrastructure and weekend recreational street closures be accelerated.

Toronto, where traffic stands still and paved lanes are filled with planters and dining tables. Photo: Sue-Ann Levy

“While COVID-19 exacerbated various existing challenges it also created conditions for accelerating good ideas,” he wrote.

Trouble is, few councillors who’ve been ramming bike lanes down our throats and seem to be completely beholden to the cycling lobby, actually ride their bikes regularly as I do.

If they did, they’d realize the poor shape of Toronto’s roads and the difficulty of cycling around ruts, craters and unfilled potholes—the result of starving basic road maintenance to pay for their cycling infrastructure and other anti-car traffic calming measures, along with a whole host of “good ideas” (or, so said Rafi).

The roads are so pathetically maintained in Toronto that I’ve already had a flat tire on my month-old e-bike.

About the only councillor who does bike regularly is Brad Bradford, who brought his constituents those ridiculous and underutilized bike lanes on Woodbine Ave., where the most recent count showed that over an eight-hour period in September: just 177 people used them.

How city officials select the roads to close is a mystery. Perhaps it is done to cause the most chaos for other traffic.

On June 5 Mayor John Tory tweeted that he was attending the closure of the Allen Rd. (from Lawrence to Eglinton), one of that weekend’s #ActiveTO locations.

That closure lasted exactly one weekend and has not been proposed again, likely because it was a flop.

It is interesting to note that the only closure that really seemed to take off last summer was Lake Shore Blvd. even though the route in its entirety is adjacent to the Martin Goodman trail.

According to the city’s own statistics, an average of 18,000 cyclists and 4,000 pedestrians accessed Lakeshore Boulevard West over 15 hours when it didn’t rain; another 6,300 cyclists and 5,700 pedestrians used Lake Shore Blvd. East on a clear day.

But as I saw on Saturday, only 2,000 cyclists used Bayview over an eight-hour period, just slightly more than those who accessed the adjacent Don Valley Trail.

For weekend road closures through the first week of August, check out this link.

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Sue-Ann Levy built up a loyal readership of both fans and detractors over her 31 years on the political and investigative beats for the Toronto Sun and the Post Media chain of newspapers. Openly gay and right-of-centre politically, Sue-Ann was one of the top read Toronto Sun columnists because of her outspoken opinions, take-no-prisoners writing style and the fearless way with which she tackled the elitists in government, other publicly funded institutions and in the media. She has made it her crusade to expose waste and mismanagement, to promote an unpopular cost-cutting agenda and to probe issues no other journalists have dared to tackle. Sue-Ann is a two-time investigative reporting award winner and nine-time winner of the Toronto Sun’s Readers Choice award for news writer.

Sue-Ann Levy
Sue-Ann Levy built up a loyal readership of both fans and detractors over her 31 years on the political and investigative beats for the Toronto Sun and the Post Media chain of newspapers. Openly gay and right-of-centre politically, Sue-Ann was one of the top read Toronto Sun columnists because of her outspoken opinions, take-no-prisoners writing style and the fearless way with which she tackled the elitists in government, other publicly funded institutions and in the media. She has made it her crusade to expose waste and mismanagement, to promote an unpopular cost-cutting agenda and to probe issues no other journalists have dared to tackle. Sue-Ann is a two-time investigative reporting award winner and nine-time winner of the Toronto Sun’s Readers Choice award for news writer.