Monday, March 29, 2010

Keep Bike Lanes off Busy Streets - Toronto Star

As part of the Toronto Star's "Your City, My City" series, there's an article that takes a stance against placing bike lanes on busy arteries. While the author appears to capture many of the arguments that have been made against bike lanes, here's why I disagree with nearly everything he says:
  1. The author begins with the argument that installing bike lanes are too expensive. It's very easy to make this argument about anything, which is why I consider it a red herring. Every piece of infrastructure, from a state-of-the-art nuclear power plant to a small parkette is expensive. Running a city costs money, and we can't be afraid to spend money to get the services we desire. Besides, the social benefit in building bike lanes far outweigh their costs.
  2. The ravine system is great, and it does offer a car-free way of getting across the city, but it is an indirect route. The Humber River Recreational Trail, for example, takes about 40km to get from Humber College to Union Station. Using Finch, Albion, Weston Road, St. Clair and Yonge, the trip is about 25 kilometres. We wouldn't ask drivers or transit riders to go 15 kilometres out of their way to reach their destinations, so why should we ask cyclists to do the same?
  3. Whereas it appears that very few people ride from Scarborough to downtown Toronto, is this because there is little demand or is it because there are no safe routes? Being very familiar with the Humber River and Don River trail systems, I can personally debunk the myth that people do not cycle in the suburbs. Scarborough doesn't have an extensive north-south ravine system like Etobicoke and North York do, so I believe that it's a lack of safe routes. If the Taylor Creek, Highland Creek trail systems offered continuous north-south routes (they are discontinuous at many points) then one would see more east-end cyclists.
From my perspective, there are two main reasons why we should support bike lanes on major arterials:
  1. Because most of the "destinations" in this city are located along major arteries, we need bike lanes on arteries to allow cyclists to complete the last mile of their trips safely. Consider an office park in Markham, for example. The walk from the parking lot to the front door is short and safe, and no one has a second thought about it. But, lets move that parking lot to the other side of Highway 7, and let's remove the crosswalk or traffic light. Without safe access to the site, who would want to travel there? Bike lanes on major roads follow the same principle - they provide safe access to the places that people want to travel to.
  2. Bike lanes on minor roads are not an effective alternative to placing bike lanes on arteries. First of all, most minor roads do not require bike lanes because light traffic does not pose a danger to cyclists. Suggesting that bike lanes belong on quiet neighbourhood streets is, in my opinion, a clever way to disguise efforts to kill the bike plan. Secondly many of the smaller streets are discontinuous from block to block and many do not have crosswalks at major arteries. The result of placing bike routes on minor streets could be, as I Bike TO shows us:

Good planning calls for us to study carefully the effects of putting bike lanes of streets, but an outright ban is not good planning either. Whatever we do, the end result has to be a bike network that takes cyclists close to their destinations via the most direct route.

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