James Armstrong, Global News
October 26, 2012
TORONTO – Separated bike lanes, commonly the centre of controversy in Toronto, can decrease the risk of injury to cyclists by approximately 90 per cent, according to a new study out of British Columbia.
The study, entitled Bicyclists’ Injuries and the Cycling Environment (BICE), examined several routes commonly taken by bicyclists and the various safety measures utilized by each route.
The study found that several safety measures can significantly reduce the risk of accidents and injuries to riders. Residential street bike routes and major streets with bike lanes when no cars are on the road cut the risk of injury by roughly half, off-street bike paths lowered the risk of injury by approximately 60 per cent.
Separated bike lanes lowered the risk of injury by approximately 90 per cent.
“I’m not surprised that separated bike lanes can substantially increase safety,” Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong said. “When you separate the motorists from the cyclists nothing but good things can happen.”
Jared Kolb, a spokesperson for Cycle Toronto says safety is a major concern among cyclists and non-cyclists alike.
“Fifty-four per cent of Torontonians have reported riding a bike in the last year, but only two per cent reported riding to work,” Kolb said citing safety as a major deterrent keeping people from biking to work.
The task of building bike lanes across Toronto has recently been a challenge for those councillors who support the infrastructure.
Minnan-Wong says the city suffers from several structural impediments that make it challenging for the city to build the separated lanes.
“First there is the environmental assessment process that causes significant delays,” Minnan-Wong said. “In other cities where they have separated bike lanes, they are one way streets and we don’t have one way streets.”
The city is planning on expanding bike lanes with installations on Wellesley, Minnan-Wong said, noting that he hopes for future lanes on Richmond Street and Adelaide Street. However, Kolb says the city isn’t doing enough to increase cycling networks in Toronto.
“We’ve really got to catch up to other international cities. I mean Chicago is installing 54 kilometres of separated bike lanes this year alone,” Kolb said. “Cycling is exploding in this city and we’ve got to do more to enhance cyclist safety and encourage people to ride.”
Councillor Mike Layton agrees, claiming that in the previous two years, the city has taken “major steps backwards.”
“Since Rob Ford’s been elected we lost bike lanes on Birchmount and on Pharmacy,” Layton said. “More recently even in the downtown core, we have needlessly voted to take out the Jarvis Street bike lanes.”
The controversy surrounding the Jarvis Street bike lanes has been on-going for roughly two years.
The bike lanes were installed in 2010 for approximately $59,000. Amid much argument, council voted last year to remove the lanes and re-install the fifth car-lane for a cost of over $200,000.
Removal of the bike lanes is set to begin in mid-November.
Layton tells Global News that city data shows the separated bike lanes on Jarvis Street “did not significantly impact traffic.”
Despite the net reduction of bike lanes in previous years, the city is currently in the process of building a network of downtown bike lanes for cyclists.
An upgrade of the bike lanes along Sherbourne Street from Queen’s Quay to Bloor Street is currently underway.
Going south from Elm Street to Bloor Street, the city will maintain current bike lanes. Painted bike lanes will be installed from Bloor Street to Gerrard Street and from there south to Front Street the city will be installing separated bike lanes.
Layton also says the results of the study are “encouraging” as councillors can now go to council with data proving the efficacy and necessity of separated bike lanes.
“I think that’s encouraging, because now we can go forward with some scientific data to say ‘you know what, these do protect cyclists’ lives’ and we should be implementing them wherever we can across the city to encourage more active transportation and get people out of their cars,” Layton said.