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Why More Bike Lanes and Road Closures are Coming to Toronto this Summer

The city is planning to build bike lanes and close major roads in a push towards greener and healthier modes of transportation

A woman on a bike stands next to a lake with a cityscape in the background

This summer, some of Toronto’s busiest streets are getting pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly makeovers to help residents stay safe and active during the pandemic.

Through a program called ActiveTO, the city plans to install more than 25 kilometres of bike lanes, shutter major roads on weekends and erect barriers to slow traffic on residential streets. Here’s what you need to know about this initiative. These new bike lanes across the city are expected to prioritize safe walking and cycling opportunities.

Making it easier to walk and cycle in Toronto

The changes are designed to relieve pressure on Toronto’s network of parks and cycling trails, which were overwhelmed at times last year. They’re also part of a long-term push by the city to encourage active transportation. By 2050, Toronto is hoping that more than 75 percent of trips that are under 5 kilometres will be done through walking or biking.

“We’ve been steadily retrofitting the city to increase people’s ability to get around via those modes,” says Barbara Gray, Toronto’s general manager of transportation services.

Installing more bike lanes

That means dramatic changes to some of Toronto’s most recognizable thoroughfares.

This summer, the city is planning to install bike lanes and restaurant seating on a 3 kilometre stretch of Yonge Street between Davisville Avenue and Bloor Street. The pilot project, which will run for about a year, will be patterned after a similar facelift of Danforth Avenue last summer.

The city will extend a temporary multi-use trail along the southernmost section of Bayview Avenue. As well, temporary bike lanes that debuted last year along University Avenue between Avenue Road and Adelaide Street, will remain in place for a second summer, and may become permanent.

Last year, the addition of bike lanes along University Avenue, Bloor Street and Danforth Avenue drew dismay from some drivers. City data, though, found that vehicle travel times along major corridors remained largely the same as in the fall of 2019.

Major road closures are part of the plan

As it did last year, the city plans to close sections of Lake Shore Boulevard East and Lakeshore Boulevard West on some weekends, relieving pressure on a nearby trail along Toronto’s waterfront. Gray says the city is also considering one-time lane closures on Black Creek Drive and Allen Road.

The move follows a popular decision last year to close several major roads. According to city data, more than 20,000 pedestrians, joggers and cyclists took to Lake Shore Boulevard West alone some days on those weekends.

“With the major road closures in particular, there was huge enthusiasm,” Gray says. 

This year, the city is also working with community groups, including those from Leslieville and Harbord Village, to install temporary barriers on streets to slow traffic and create more space for pedestrians and cyclists. These “quiet streets” debuted last year and a Toronto city survey found that 60 percent of residents felt safer walking or riding on them.

Fundamental shift in mobility trends

The changes to Toronto roads are part of an evolution towards more active modes of transportation, says Raymond Chan, manager of government relations with CAA South Central Ontario. He says Toronto, as well as a growing number of municipalities, is starting to see the benefits of cycling and walking. In addition to being a healthy form of exercise, they also help reduce gridlock and combat climate change.

“This wave was coming prior to Covid-19, but Covid-19 rapidly shifted the focus towards this type of mobility,” Chan says.

Dedicated bike lanes and road closures could become permanent

In a report to council, city staff recommended continuing major road closures in “2021 and beyond,” and councillors have urged the city to make some bike lanes launched during Covid-19 permanent.

A 2020 CAA survey found that 37 percent of drivers backed permanently expanding cycling networks and 35 percent supported curb-lane pedestrian zones. Chan says he expects those numbers to rise as the city builds pedestrian- and cyclist-friendly infrastructure.

Making safety a priority

The key, Chan says, is to prevent collisions between drivers and more vulnerable road users. That’s why CAA has ramped up its work on pedestrian and cycling safety. 

“Our motto has been to ensure that people move safely through the transportation network,” Chan says. “Whether you’re driving a car or riding a bike or hopping on transit, everyone deserves to get where they’re going safely.” 

Road safety tips

If you've decided to take up cycling or walking this summer, here are five things to remember.

  • Pedestrians should only cross at marked intersections or crosswalks.
  • Before crossing the street, look both ways, make eye contact with drivers and ensure you are seen.
  • Avoid texting while walking or cycling and always be aware of your surroundings.
  • Cyclists should always ride in the same direction as traffic and use the appropriate hand signals when turning.
  • Cyclists should ride slowly on shared bike paths and ring your bell when approaching pedestrians or other cyclists from behind.

For even more tips and information on road safety, visit CAA online.

Image Credit: iStock/Maridav