Toronto committee to vote on making Midtown Yonge bike lanes permanent

Despite a slight increase in traffic times for vehicles between Bloor St. and Davisville Ave., city staff are recommending that the bike lanes be made permanent. Mark McAllister speaks with local residents, both for and against the move.

By Mark McAllister and Meredith Bond

Bike lanes that had been installed along Yonge Street as part of a pilot project through midtown Toronto may soon become permanent.

The added space for cyclists has been in place for 18 months and has received both criticism and praise from residents and business owners in the area.

The bike lanes stretch from Davisville Avenue to Bloor Street and were first installed in May 2021.

According to data released by the city, cycling activity rose between 57 and 250 per cent, while pedestrian trips increased between 59 per cent and 145 per cent during the 18 months the pilot project was active.

There was also an increase from 10 CaféTO patios in 2020 to 21 in 2022.

RELATED: Yonge Street bike lane pilot data shows cycling jump, slight rise in vehicle trip time

At the same time, motor vehicle travel is less than a minute higher than the pre-pandemic baseline collected in the fall of 2019 at most times of day, and travel times have increased by less than 70 seconds in the peak periods in the morning and afternoon.

Robin Richardson, the spokesperson for Yonge4All, has been one of the many champions for the space.

“Yonge should be a street where everybody feels safe and welcome. Before the pilot went in, there were two lanes of motor vehicle traffic in each direction, often at high speed, and it was a very difficult place to visit by bike and not all that pleasant to visit on foot either because of the traffic speeding by right next to you,” said Richardson, who noted it has made the neighbourhood more habitable.

“We feel that the addition of the street side patios and the crosswalk, safety improvements and the bike lanes and the bus stop improvements as well have all made this neighbourhood more livable.”

Other people that live in the neighbourhood disagree, saying an increase in traffic congestion has wreaked havoc along the main corridor, like Al Manchee, a concerned Midtown resident.

“If you come anytime during the morning and evening rush hour, it’s gridlock. It’s almost impossible to get through,” he said. “So that’s something we have to contend with, but what really bothers us the most is the risk or the lack of emergency response.”

According to an evaluation from the Toronto Fire Service, while response times have increased by 49 seconds since 2019 in the area to 297 seconds, it is still a full minute ahead of the response time in the rest of the city.

The service noted response times elsewhere in the city have increased by 41 seconds since 2019. Their response time goal across the city is four minutes or 240 seconds.

Toronto Paramedic Services came to a similar conclusion, noting response times had increased but were less than the increase experienced city-wide since 2019.

RELATED: Midtown neighbourhood groups ask city to remove bike lanes

Those opposed to the bike lanes have put up lawn signs to express their concerns and have taken part in public consultations but feel the plan was to always make them permanent. As such, they believe there are alternatives.

“We’re pro-bike lane, but put them in the right locations,” Manchee continued. “Express some common sense, and don’t jam them down the narrowest busiest street in the city where you’re going to have rampant development; 10,000 more residents are coming to this area in three to five years.”

Richardson said those opposed are only focused on one class of transportation.

“They always talk about what about drivers’ time. I think we need to consider the time of everyone, and only about half of Toronto residents use a car to get around,” she said.

“The rest of us use bikes, we walk, we take the TTC or a combination of those things.”

City staff have recommended the Infrastructure and Enviornment committee endorse the motion to make the lanes permanent, at which point it will go to city council for approval.

The full recommendation from the city staff, which will be going forward to the committee Monday, can be found here.

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