A Short History of a Long Struggle – Bike lanes on Bloor

by Albert Koehl

The fight for bike lanes on Bloor has been the longest and most important cycling advocacy battle in the city’s history. Bloor is a direct, flat, useful east-west transportation route that ties various parts of the city together, especially when contiguous Danforth Avenue is included. The Bloor-Danforth subway provides a valuable option for other travellers along the route or allows people to combine trips by bike with the TTC. 

Over the past two decades, “Bike Lanes on Bloor” became a virtual rallying cry for safe cycling, not only calling attention to the need for an east-west cycling spine but reflecting the long neglect by City Hall of cycling infrastructure. One could actually go all the way back to the Bicycle Craze of the 1890s to find demands by advocates for a bikeway along Bloor Street (then the northern boundary of the city), although in those days the bicycle got a lot more respect than it does even today. But to keep this story brief, we’ll limit this summary to the modern era, beginning with the Bicycle Boom that reached Toronto in the early 1970s. 

A 1978 cycling report for the city by consultant Barton-Aschman considered Bloor for a bike lane, then settled for a wider curb lane on parallel Harbord St. In the early 1990s, another city consultant, Marshall Macklin & Monaghan recommended Bloor-Danforth for a cross-town cycling spine, but nothing came of the recommendation, although a truncated bike lane across the Bloor Viaduct to Sherbourne Street was installed in 1991. The 2001 Bike Plan, Shifting Gears, didn’t even include Bloor-Danforth but that plan turned out to be a failure for a long list of other reasons.

In 2005, a group called Take the Tooker asked city residents to “Imagine a bike lane on Bloor-Danforth.” The group, established by Hamish Wilson and Angela Bischoff (in honour of her late spouse, activist Tooker Gomberg), rolled out, to significant media attention, a tar paper bike lane on a stretch of Bloor in Yorkville. The group also held bike rides on Bloor with dozens of participants. At the time, the thinking, even among many supporters of bike lanes, was that a bike lane on Bloor was a nice idea, but “not realistic.”

Bells on Bloor, formed in 2007 (and now a member group of the Toronto Community Bikeways Coalition) brought together a number of groups and advocates including Wilson and Bischoff, as well as Don Watterson(Curbside Bikes), Albert Koehl, Kristen Courtney (Bikes on Bloor), Elizabeth Marchand, and Jode Roberts. Their original objective was to hold mass, “pedal-powered” annual bike parades along Bloor to demonstrate popular support for a bike lane. The first Bells on Bloor parade took place in September 2007 with 500 riders. In 2009, the parade drew an estimated 2,000 cyclists, the biggest-ever cycling advocacy ride in the city’s history. (The Ride for Heart is a fundraising ride.) In 2014, the parade ended at City Hall with BIKESTOCK, a musical rally which brought together Bells on Danforth, Bells on Yonge and a number of other groups.

A 2009 report by The Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation (TCAT) was another milestone in the long fight for bike lanes on Bloor. TCAT’s research (followed by similar studies with similar results) showed that among patrons at local stores only 10% arrived by car, refuting long held assumptions that merchants’ survival depended on curbside car parking. In fact, people on foot, bikes, and transit were far more important to local business, and spent more money during visits to shops.

In 2008, a group calling itself The Safe Cycling Coalition took the city to court for its failure to consider the installation of bike lanes in its revitalization project of Bloor Street in upscale Yorkville. The challenge failed although Ontario’s environment commissioner criticized the city’s approach. A year later bicycle courier Darcy Allan Sheppard was killed in the very segment of Bloor that was the subject of the court challenge.

Bells on Bloor continued its rides over most of the next decade while expanding its work into a broad range of advocacy activities. When it became apparent that a cross-town Bloor lane was far beyond the imagination of City Hall, Bells on Bloor in October 2013 proposed a pilot bike lane along a segment of Bloor to demonstrate that a bike lane would succeed. (Instead of acting on the proposal, City Council instead approved an expensive, unnecessary environmental assessment for the project, with no commitment to action.) A number of groups nonetheless rallied around the initiative for a pilot, most notably all six local residents’ associations between Avenue Road and Shaw Street, under the leadership of David Harrison of the Annex Residents’ Association (ARA). The ARA had already adopted, in 2011, a cycling policy, that included bike lanes on Bloor.

In a January 2014 letter (drafted by Bells on Bloor), the residents’ associations called for a pilot bike lane. This pilot got another boost in late 2014 when Joe Cressy was elected as the local councillor and, along with councillor Mike Layton, made the installation of the pilot bike lane a priority.

In 2015, the community coalition for a pilot bike lane continued to grow to include groups such as Cycle Toronto, Doctors for Safe Cycling, students, and the Metcalf Foundation, among others. Support for the bike lane pilot also began to include the media, including the Toronto Star, which in an earlier era had vehemently opposed bike lanes on arterial roads.

The pilot bike lane was installed in August 2016. The Bloor Annex BIA, which supported the pilot, helped fund a study of the economic impacts of the bike lane. Meanwhile The Tour de Bloor passport, an initiative by Bells on Bloor, Cycle Toronto and local residents’ associations, was launched to promote shopping among cyclists at local shops. The apparent popularity of the bike lane did not assure the permanent implementation of the bike lane, until the economic study, to which TCAT contributed, showed that business was actually up. The pilot was made permanent by a council vote in November 2017, but even though the city’s transportation manager described the pilot bike lane as the most-studied road project in recent North American history, it would take more advocacy to extend the bike lane westward. 

Bells on Bloor recruited turtles to the cause to demonstrate the slow pace of action, and partnered with other advocates and groups, including the David Suzuki Foundation, Cycle Toronto, Doctors for Safe Cycling, neighbourhood groups, the Metcalf Foundation, businesses and many others on initiatives that included bike counts, a public meeting, postcard campaign, community sign-on letter, videos, deputations at City Hall, and meetings with city councillors. The canvassing of Bloor businesses and related enterprises obtained 100 signatures for the community letter calling for the extension of the bike lane. 

In the summer of 2019, Bloor councillors called for the permanent installation of an extended Bloor bike lane by “as early as” the summer of 2020. The global pandemic intervened, spurring and securing the installation of the Bloor extension westward to Runnymede, as well as the closing in the summer of 2020 of a gap along Bloor Street East (which the city hadn’t been willing to contemplate until 2022).

Now the work continues, with advocates drawing on the same tools that have served them well in the battle to date, although supported by a far greater swath of society in a changing city where a pre-pandemic EKOS poll found that a majority of city residents identified walking, cycling, and transit as their primary mode of travel. Indeed, figures from the Ontario Ministry of Transportation showed that 55% of Toronto residents walk, cycle or take transit for their commute to work and school.

This post is also available as a pdf here.

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we ask that the Bloor bike lanes be extended to Six Points

It has been wonderful that the Bloor bike lanes were extended west as far as Runnymede. However, just past that intersection, cyclists are often confronted by a sight like this.

From that point in Bloor West Village and points further west, you are on your own, mixing it up with traffic.

At the same time, the city has put in some beautiful bike lanes as part of the Six Points redevelopment.

Sadly, they are not connected to any other bike infrastructure. The Toronto Community Bikeways Coalition is addressing this issue in one of their campaigns which is focused on extending the Bloor bike lanes to Six Points, and also to put bike lanes along Dundas W to the same intersection. As part of this effort, volunteers have been distributing postcards in the neighbourhoods along Bloor between Jane and points west. You can read about the first postcard drop here. Since that time, the distribution has been broken up into a series of smaller drops.

Today was the fifth such drop, centred on an area a little west of Royal York. I met Rob Z on the way. It wasn’t fun biking along the Kingsway, and there were plenty of close passes by drivers hurrying home.

Albert arrives with bundles of postcards. Here we are about to branch off to our different distribution routes.

The postcard looks like this.

Here is an uncropped version of the photo, taken back in March, showing how a cyclist can really be hemmed in by cars.

I cut my route short for the evening due to rain. I hope the other volunteers managed to stay dry!

At any rate, an extension of bike Bloor bike lanes as far west as Royal York is under study, and we shall see whether that actually leads to anything.

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In memoriam: cycling advocate Wayne Scott

In late January, long time cycling advocate Alan Wayne Scott passed away after a lengthy battle with cancer. Albert Koehl and Alan Sheppard have co-authored an article in NOW Magazine in his memory.

Here are some pictures of Wayne sweeping glass particles from the Bloor bike lane just a few days after initial installation.

Here he is with another long time Bloor bike lane advocate, Hamish Wilson, at the opening of the Bloor bike lane pilot.

Here he is at one of the many gatherings that he organized in memory of Darcy Allan Shepard.

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Extending the Bloor bike lanes to Etobicoke and beyond

Rob Zaichkowski has written another one of his excellent articles, this time about the potential of extending the Bloor bike lanes westward to Kipling, where it could potentially connect to a proposal BRT route all the way to Missisauga and beyond to Hamilton.

He also wrote a recent article for Spacing Magazine about the progress made in the cycling related issues across the city in 2020.

Much progress has been made, accelerated by initiatives such as ActiveTO. However, it is still important to understand that in some respects, the city is still well behind in its Bike Plan, particularly with regards to the spending of the capital budget allocated to the installation of bike infrastructure.

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A few notes on the Danforth bike lanes

Today I had the opportunity to bike over to the Danforth with a few friends. I had not been over there since the removal of the CafeTO patios, so I was anxious to see the changes. I met up with fellow bike advocate Janet Joy Wilson in Bloor West Village.

Just a reminder that even though it is wonderful to have bike lanes all the way to Runnymede, the sections under the two railway bridges between Dundas St W and Symington are still not done, and in fact may not be done until late 2021 due to hydro and metrolinx work on both the Barrie and Kitchener GO lines.

Meeting up with Albert, Donna, and Arthur at Sherbourne.

Passing this fine example of utility cycling on the viaduct.

Crossing the onramp to the DVP just before Broadview is always going to be one of the most dangerous spots on Bloor-Danforth for cyclists.

With the removal of the CafeTO patios, the bike lanes are now a straight shot. However, I would still like to see the patios back next summer. They were a great addition to a revitalized streetscape. Hopefully they will also reduce opposition to the bike lanes from the Greektown BIA.

A brief stop in Greektown.

Another stop at Mofer Coffee which was highly recommended as a good source for coffee and well as beans. In these pandemic times, it is vital to shop local, and to show merchants that cyclists are good customers.

Dave of @TorontoCycleChic has been renting an e-bike from zygg on a monthly basis, and he has been very satisfied. He says it’s a good way to check out e-bike ownership before making an investment.

Regrettably due to time constraints, I had to turn back at this point. I did check out some of the intersection treatments on the north side on the way back.

The green boxes for left turning cyclists at Greenwood and Danforth seemed too small to be effective.

There were other intersections with some traffic calming with painted bumpouts and bollards, particularly at intersections with less busy streets like this cul de sac.

This treatment at Woodycrest was interesting. I’m wondering if the large hatched area was intended as a loading zone for the pizza pizza.

The intersection at Logan had treatments on both corners, probably due to the proximity to the Alexander the Great parkette.

The city just finished a survey about Destination Danforth. One hopes that community feedback is sufficiently positive to make the bike lanes on Danforth permanent.

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Progress on Yonge St

There have been some positive things happening on Yonge St. In December 2020, city council voted in favour of REimaging Yonge which will reduce the number of car traffic lanes between Finch and Sheppard in favour of bike lanes and wide sidewalks. (It should be noted that there is no funding for the project at the moment).

There was also a vote to install temporary bike lanes between Lawrence and Bloor as part of the ActiveTO initiative.

The next Yonge related vote at City Council will be a reconstruction of Yonge between College and Queen.

Bells on Bloor advocates Albert and Michael have written a piece in the Toronto Star called “Don’t fear a car free Yonge St“.

As part of the campaign to get bike lanes along Yonge, the Community Bikeways Coalition also staged a ride with Santa down the length of Yonge St. that was very well received.

Albert also has these ten tips for the cycling advocate.

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Bells on Bloor asks for enforcement of bike lane rules

From the Gleaner:

Over a six week period, the Gleaner photographed active daytime deliveries along Bloor St. West in order to give a snapshot of which companies respect the bike lanes and which don’t. Most do. Some Sysco truck drivers obey bike lane rules, while others do not. Brinks trucks must deliver via the front door of their customers, and seem to actively ignore the rules while doing so.

Full article is here

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Taking the Tooker

Today was Tooker Gomberg’s birthday, and so it was more than appropriate that we celebrate the extensions of the Bloor/Danforth bike lanes. Angela put out the call last week for a ride from Christie Pits to East Lynn Park.

Richard and I rode over from High Park. BIke lane markings have been painted down from High Park almost all the way to Dundas W. Here you can see the intersection with Parkside, where the bike lane hugs the curb, and the right turn lane for cars remains to the left of the bike lane. In the original design, the bike lane crossed over the right turn lane.

Curb with bollard protection is slowly working its way west from Shaw St. Word is that all of the protective elements won’t be in place until the end of September, which is a bit of a slip from the original plan. Probably the delay is at least partially associated with some road work that is being done just west of the underpass for the railpath.

Lots of cyclists gathered at Christie Pits.

Angela greets us and offers us bike shaped cookies in ginger, and more ginger.

Casey is one cool pup.

The banner is here.

Angela tells us a little about Tooker Gomberg’s vision for a bike lane spanning the city from east to west. After his passing, a group of friends got together and decided that pressing for bike lanes along Bloor/Danforth would be an appropriate way to memorialize Tooker. After several years, this also lead to the formation of Bells on Bloor, a group that organized an annual ride down Bloor St, which was also eventually joined by Bells on Danforth. Finally, in recent years, these groups worked in parallel with Cycle Toronto. The Bloor bike lanes were approved as permanent infrastructure several years ago, and the westward extension to Shaw was approved earlier this summer. In the interim, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the deployment of temporary bike lanes, including bike lanes on Danforth, and the filling of the gap between Avenue and Sherbourne. So here we are, just on the edge of having 15 km of continuous bike lanes along Bloor/Danforth.

Hamish Wilson spoke next, and asked why it has taken 15 years to do the obvious. He pointed out that there is still a need to have bike lanes along all of the subway routes, especially Yonge St.

Now we get ready to depart.

Gerry corking
across the viaduct
at Broadview

Once on the Danforth, it was decided to turn the banner around so that it read “Take the Tooker” from the front.

Here is an example of the integrated of CafeTO curb space with the bike lanes.

Exiting Greektown.

Martin Reis
Janet Joy and John from Ward 4

Arriving at East Lynn Park.

Thanks to Angela for organizing the ride, to all those who helped cork intersections, and all those who rode with us. We’ll have to do this again in the fall once everything is done along the entire stretch.

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Throwback Thursday: back to 2012

Back in 2012, Bells on Bloor and Bells on Danforth participated in the Cycle and Sole Rally at Queen’s Park, calling for better infrastructure and safety for both pedestrians and cyclists.

Here is a video of Avigail and Adelaide Humphreys calling for bike lanes on Bloor/Danforth. (click on image to launch)

and here is a photo of the girls today

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Signs of the coming extension to the Bloor bike lanes

Albert posted this on Twitter this morning:

Looks like the new bike lane markings are being outlined, even in advance of the official August 4 start date for construction. I had to go check this out this evening.

The new markings start just west of Dufferin.

Here you can get a sense of the width of the bike lane and the adjacent buffer.

The protection along most of the westward extension will be curbs topped with bollards like in this artist’s sketch.

The buffer gets considerably wider as the bike lane goes under the bridge. Hoping for more robust protection in this section.

The buffer gets really narrow as you go up the hill towards Symington.

As of early Tuesday night, the markings only went as far as Symington. There is nothing marked under the second bridge at this point.

Very exciting to see even these small signs of what is to come.

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