Municipal Election 2010

Bike Lanes Already a Toronto Election Wedge Issue

By Ben Bull
Published February 25, 2010

The first wedge issue of the Toronto municipal Mayoral campaign has been introduced, and it is - bike lanes!

"Rocco Rossi was virtually unknown to most voters two months ago when he entered the race to become Toronto's next mayor," writes the Star's Bob Hepburn.

Now, seemingly overnight, Rossi has emerged along with George Smitherman as one of the two leading candidates to replace David Miller, gaining increasing coverage by the media and growing awareness by voters.

He's achieved this feat by shrewdly riding the wave of anger expressed by many motorists over city hall's plans to install more and more bike lanes on major city streets, most notably Jarvis St.

With an eye to raising his profile, the former federal Liberal party fundraiser is marketing himself as the champion for all those voters, especially those living outside the downtown core, who oppose bike lanes on the grounds they slow traffic and add to rush-hour gridlock.

How convenient. As I recall, Rocco Rossi was not particularly vocal during the Jarvis Street Bike Lanes debates of last year. And yet here he is, just months later, claiming to be the drivers' champion.

We shouldn't be surprised. The subject of walk- and bike-ability has been well and truly hijacked by the media.

Instead of, as [Michelle Martin recently put it](/article/1023/#comment-38444), discussing how we can move people around more safely in our various transportation modes, we are instead pitting the wants of drivers against cyclists and pedestrians.

Without wishing to reiterate it - our needs are all the same! This should not be a wedge issue. It should be a civil discussion about what kind of city we want.

Do we want downtown expressways like Hamilton, or a balanced transportation infrastructure?

Somehow I doubt the shallow, media-hyped Mayoral campaign is going to help us decide.

Ben Bull lives in downtown Toronto. He's been working on a book of short stories for about 10 years now and hopes to be finished tomorrow. He also has a movie blog.


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By jason (registered) | Posted February 25, 2010 at 17:56:04

make you wonder what hope Hamilton ever has in become a livable, progressive city if Toronto can't.

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By schmadrian (registered) | Posted February 25, 2010 at 19:39:09

It might also make some people reconsider their hoped-for path towards that livable, progressive city. Sometimes appealing to citizenry's common sense doesn't bear the desired fruit. Considering we live in a consumer society, where marketing is just about everything, maybe some choice pages should be taken from that playbook.

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By jason (registered) | Posted February 25, 2010 at 21:18:45

maybe we should get McDonalds and Tim Hortons to start selling bikes. We'd have millions of cyclists in no time.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2010 at 00:51:01

I think it is perfect. The city should be what the citizens want it to be. If the voters want bike lanes they will not vote for him they will vote for somebody who will give them bike lanes. What are you scared of? Besides that most voters will not agree with you. I think bike lanes are the way to go but if I'm in the minority ...

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By Anthony Humphreys (anonymous) | Posted February 26, 2010 at 02:40:55

Cyclists are a minority. And have become a vocal one, thanks to organized groups like the Toronto Cyclists Union and Ontario's Share the Road Coalition.

Cyclists are one of the barometer species of a livable city. A city which promotes cycling is also a city which promotes tolerance, and is inclusive.

There are many side benefits of promoting and encouraging cycling, like reduced car trips, safer streets in part due to lowered collision rates, a more compact urban form, fewer (and/or smaller) surface parking lots.

Bike lanes is the most palpable aspect of Toronto's (and almost any city's) bike plan. As such, bike lanes are the easiest to 'attack' for political gains. Cyclists also make easy targets for motorists to blame for slowing traffic, when congestion (ie an over-population of cars) is the real reason.

I think that a city's ability to adopt a bike plan really tell us more about ourselves and about the human condition than it does to help or hinder cyclists.

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By arienc (registered) | Posted February 26, 2010 at 09:16:47

For many people, voting against bike lanes speaks to what they want here and now.

They recognize that at some point in the future there is a need to rebalance our tranportation network, and relying entirely on one-person automobiles is not a sustainable situation.

But they also see that in the now, (especially late February) there are very few people actually using the bike lanes, and they have reservations about giving up their supposed ability to move freely in their cars.

For the 90% of the population who don't have a direct stake in bike lanes, what matters NOW is most important. Self-interest always wins out over enlightened future interests.

This is why governments have continued to get elected on the basis of pandering to the lowest common denominator of self-interest - for things like tax cuts, without making any connection to just what, exactly will pay for those tax cuts, and whether or not those tax cuts lead to a better society.

A robust bike lane network is the easiest and cheapest way of shifting the mix from the one-occupant automobile to other modes of transportation. It doesn't require massive capital cost, such as building new transit lines or roadways. Bike lanes have low maintenance costs. Bicycles also provide society with positive externalities (i.e. a healthier population), instead of negative ones like pollution and obesity.

But the "average voter" doesn't care about these things. They should, but they don't.

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted February 26, 2010 at 10:55:07

Part of the problem is that before many cyclists will venture onto the streets, the entire network needs to be in place. What's the use of me heading up Jarvis if I'm dumped onto bike-lane-less Bloor without the width and safety I need?

The incremental do-the-least-possible approach is only going to see these lanes used in dribs and drabs, a fact which is only going to anger motorists more.

One consideration I give, when looking at the miniscule changes that are proposed, is - would I let my kids bike on these streets? Answer: Of course not! It's a shame but there is a whole other consumer group whose needs are not being met by the modest painted line changes which are being proposed.

Part of me just thinks 'don't bother' with the whole project. Unless we get Copenhagen type dedicated lanes with raised kerbs these lanes will only ever be used by the hardy bikers who, as I've said, are a small subset of the biker community.

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By JonC (registered) | Posted February 26, 2010 at 16:14:53

Mr Meister would have a point, except his viewpoint requires a well informed citizenry, which is far from the current state of affairs. It's the same reason the markets don't reflect reality, people going with their gut.

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By Mr. Meister (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 10:36:08

JonC - So what is the answer? You or some other individual gets to impose their enlightened views on the uninformed masses? I have read about systems like that and I am not impressed

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By bill (registered) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 14:09:28

Just when I hope that we can rise up from the cynicism, a blog posting like this brings me back to the ground. Why have hope that the candidates can do better when it's so easy to pass judgement?

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By rusty (registered) - website | Posted March 01, 2010 at 14:40:58

I don't have hope that this candidate can do better - that's why I posted the blog. Neither do I have much hope that the media can be responsible and refrain from giving precious column inches to a shallow debate.

I'm not a cynic - I'm a realist. Rossi offers no tangible argument to refute the benefits of bike lanes, yet he wants to delay their installation. He's an opportunistic win-at-all-costs campaigner. If he wants to start a meaningful debate about bike lanes then offer an alternative, or some serious counter-arguments at least, and let the debate begin. Instead he's merely set himself up as a 'car-friendly' candidate pandering to the artificial 'war' that the media is hyping.

Conflict sells papers, it also helps to define candidates. But taking an anti stance against something without offering any substance does not get us any further ahead in dealing with the issue.

When I see a meaningful debate taking shape in the municipal election I'll be happy to point it out. In the meantime let's recognize Rossi's media pandering for what it is.



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By JonC (registered) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 19:52:31

The answer would be to create an informed populace and debate merits and drawbacks not to rush to conclusions (ahem). Not sure why you chose to jump down my throat like that. Of course a critical population is the most dangerous thing imaginable to any government, so I'm not holding my breath.

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By Are bike lanes a good idea? (anonymous) | Posted March 01, 2010 at 21:38:53

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 11:20:21

As usual, Ryan has responded quicker and better than I ever could, but I also wanted to point out that the article in question is almost 12 years old. I wouldn't be surprised if the author has also changed her views on the subject in the interim.

Comment edited by highwater on 2010-03-02 10:20:55

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By Are bike lanes a good idea? (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 12:42:18

"The construction of cycle tracks in Copenhagen has resulted in an increase in cycle traffic of 18-20% and a decline in car traffic of 9-10%. The cycle tracks constructed have resulted in increases in accidents and injuries of 9-10% on the reconstructed roads."

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 13:05:14

So cycling went up 20% but injuries only went up 10% in a city that already has almost 50% cycling?

Jeez, sounds terrible. :P

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By Are bike lanes a good idea? (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 13:42:13

z jones, I suppose if your goal is to maximize the number of cyclists on the road, then this study supports your position. However, if your goal is to make the streets safer for people, then this study argues against adding cycling infrastructure.

It all comes down to what you think is important, people or ideology.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 13:49:37

"this study argues against adding cycling infrastructure."

How you figure? Injury rates rise more slowly than cyclists, meaning cycling gets safer per cyclist the more cyclists are on the road.

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By Are bike lanes a good idea? (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 13:58:42

z jones, like I said, if your primary goal is to increase the number of cyclists on the road, then build out your bike infrastructure. However, if you want to make the roads safer and decrease the TOTAL number of accidents and injuries, not just the accident rate per cyclist, this study suggests that installing bike infrastructure will work against that goal.

It comes down to what your goals are, promoting cycling or promoting health and safety.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 14:31:38

No, Copenhagen has only gotten to the point of diminishing returns (still not negative returns) with cycling already at 50% of total trips. Cities starting with low cycling rates enjoy falling real numbers of casualties as the number of cyclists goes up as the links above clearly demonstrate. If you want to promote both cycling and safety it makes sense to put in the bike lanes -- especially when you factor in the health benefits of riding a bike compared to sitting in a car.

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By Are bike lanes a good idea? (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 15:10:35

z jones, why are you placing more emphasis on increasing cycling rates over people's health and safety? This study clearly suggests that installing cycling infrastructure has led to more TOTAL accidents and injuries in Denmark, yet you seem satisfied to put people at risk, just so that Hamilton becomes a "cycling" city.

Which is more important, getting people on bikes or keeping them safe?

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 15:30:45

"z jones, why are you placing more emphasis on increasing cycling rates over people's health and safety?"

I'm getting tired of this troll, but one last time:

As the number of cyclists goes up, the number of casualties goes down.

You ignore all the evidence supporting this from various cities and instead keep citing one fact on cycle tracks (not cycle lanes) from a study of a city that already has 50% trips by cycling and which in any case concludes: "The radical effects on traffic volumes resulting from the construction of cycle tracks will undoubtedly result in gains in health from increased physical activity. These gains are much, much greater than the losses in health resulting from a slight decline in road safety."

Please go troll some other board.

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By Are bike lanes a good idea? (anonymous) | Posted March 02, 2010 at 16:59:36

z jones, "As the number of cyclists goes up, the number of casualties goes down."

You keep saying this and yet you don't provide a link to a study that backs this assertion up, I wonder why that is?

As for the claims that cycling will lead to better health outcomes, that may or may not be the case, but so would walking up stairs rather than taking the elevator, or doing push ups, or jumping jacks, or shadow boxing, or dancing, or any other activity where you move your body. Furthermore, all of these can be done without being surrounded by cars or other fast moving vehicles.

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By bike lanes (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 11:32:25

Here is the article, with references, showing that "As the number of cyclists goes up, the number of casualties goes down."

Note that, surprisingly, the absolute number of casualties drops, not just the percentage.

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By Are bike lanes a good idea? (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 12:44:23

bike lanes, this "article" and the accompanying chart has no reference to any sources. Where did they get this data?

This is from the website where it is posted...

About Transportation Alternatives

Your Advocate for Bicycling, Walking and Public Transit

Our Mission is to reclaim New York City's streets from the automobile, and to advocate for bicycling, walking and public transit as the best transportation alternatives.

...So let's see, you're basing your opinion on the safety of bike lanes on an article written by pro-cyclists that contains no references of any kind.

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By bike lanes (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 13:35:02

If you don't like those references, see the following:

From the article:

"Other figures compiled by the organisation show that in Denmark, top of the continental league for cycling, the average person rides over 10 times further than his British peer every year but runs only 20% of the risk of being killed."

Now, you might object that the study was commissioned by a cycling advocacy group, but that is not enough to simply dissmiss the results, which compare cycling accident rates of different countries (and parts of the UK). Now, you need to explain why you don't believe these results.

And if you want more evidence:

"However, death and injury rates in several European countries are substantially lower. Cyclists in North America are twice as likely to be killed and eight times more likely to be seriously injured than cyclists in Germany and three times as likely to be killed and 30 times as likely to suffer serious injuries than cyclists in the Netherlands."

Read more:

"But researchers say there's also evidence of strength in numbers: more people riding bikes creates greater awareness by cyclists and car drivers which translates into lower accident rates."

Finally, if you still don't accept this evidence, look at this study from the Am J Public Health. 2003 September; 93(9): 1509–151, which is a peer-reviewed scientific journal. This is about as reliable as it gets:

"The good news presented in this article is that it is indeed possible to achieve safe and convenient walking and cycling conditions, as demonstrated by the experience of Germany and The Netherlands. Those 2 countries have implemented a wide range of policies over the past 2 decades that have simultaneously encouraged walking and cycling while dramatically lowering pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities and injuries and keeping auto use at only half the American level."

All these sources are saying the same thing: increasing cycling rates decreases cycling injuries. QED

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 14:11:36

Couldn'ta said it better myself. Thanks bike lanes.

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By highwater (registered) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 14:21:25

...So let's see, you're basing your opinion on the safety of bike lanes on an article written by pro-cyclists that contains no references of any kind.

That's pretty rich coming from someone who used a 12 year old opinion piece written by someone who makes a living teaching people how to ride in traffic, and cherry picked a stat from a study that refutes his own argument.

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By Are bike lanes a good idea? (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 17:53:26

bike lanes, let's take a look at your first link...

Where is the link to the study?

Regardless, this story still does not indicate anything about the effectiveness of bike infrastructure on reducing the TOTAL number of accidents or injuries. That is what's most important, whether bike infrastructure reduces TOTAL accident and injury rates? All this article points out is that where there are more cyclists, injuries and deaths PER cyclist is reduced.

Why does it matter how many people are injured PER cyclist on the road? Using that logic, you could have double the TOTAL number of cycling injuries and deaths in Hamilton than another community, yet because Hamilton has 4x as many cyclists, you would celebrate that our "injuries per cyclist" was only half that of the other community.

I ask you this, what is more important, reducing the TOTAL number of injuries per resident, or just the injuries per cyclist on the road? As for this article, it says nothing about how bike infrastructure affects the TOTAL number of injuries related to cycling in a community.

The next link, the CBC one is useless. It throws out some numbers, but has no links to sources. Why would you include articles that make claims based on nothing?

Let's look at the last link...

Once again, this study says NOTHING about the TOTAL number of injuries per resident for the different jurisdictions, just relative to the number of people who are cycling. I will ask you again, why is that relevant? Why does it matter how many injuries there are relative to the number of people undertaking a certain type of activity?

If an activity such as cycling on the road is inherently dangerous and it leads to higher numbers of TOTAL injuries, perhaps people shouldn't be doing it at all. Just because the injury rates per dangerous activity are lower when more people are undertaking the dangerous activity, does not mean that more people should embrace the dangerous activity.

None of the information you have presented shows that bike infrastructure reduces the TOTAL number of injuries related to cycling. Yes, your one study shows that countries that cycle more have reduced rates of injuries per cyclist, but that is not the same as saying that those communities enjoy less overall injuries related to cycling.

Like I said at the beginning of this thread, if the goal of is to increase the number of cyclists on the road, building bike infrastructure seems like a great way to do this. However, if the goal is to reduce TOTAL injury rates per resident, the study that I linked to appears to suggest that creating bike infrastructure does NOT do this, in fact, it has increased the rate of accidents and injuries.

Once again, I agree with you that putting more cyclists on the road leads to less accidents and injuries per cyclist, but that is not the metric that we should be focusing on. The most important measure is the TOTAL number of accidents and injuries per resident. If we do this, then it would appear from the Denmark study that building bike infrastructure will work against this goal.

Do you disagree?

highwater, "and cherry picked a stat from a study that refutes his own argument."

If by cherry picked, you mean I placed more emphasis on the actual results from the study, rather than the author's unsubstantiated opinion about the possible health benefits of cycling, then yes, that's what I did.

Was this wrong? And if so, in what way. I look forward to your response.

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By bike lanes (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 18:15:34

I'm not sure you looked closely at the statistics: for example, the Netherlands has seen a 45% increase in cycling and a 58% decrease in fatalities (that's an absolute 58% decrease).

See for example,

The fact that the absolute number of fatalities has dropped is backed up by figure 4 in the Am J Pub Health article, if you refuse to believe any statistics published by a cycling advocacy group. In fact, the Am J Pub Health article reported that cyclist fatalities declined 57% from 1975 to 2001, at the same time the number of cyclists was increasing. I don't understand how you can say "this study says NOTHING about the TOTAL number of injuries" when it gives the absolute figures relative to a 1975 baseline!

You are also making claims, and it time you started providing some real statistical evidence.

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By bike lanes (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 19:39:41

It's clear that "Are bike lanes a good idea?" simply didn't read the Am J Pub Health article since it directly refutes his claims about the total number of accidents in different countries compared with changes in the number of cyclists:

"The [82%] drop in cyclist fatalities in Germany is especially impressive
because it came during a boom in cycling there, with a doubling in the number of bike
trips and 50% growth in the share of total trips made by bike.10 By contrast, the 27% fall in cyclist fatalities in the United States was
due almost entirely to the sharp decline in cycling
by children.31,32"

I don't see how the evidence that increased rates of cycling are associated with lower absolute numbers of fatalities could be any stronger!

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By Are bike lanes a good idea? (anonymous) | Posted March 03, 2010 at 20:52:06

bike lanes, this is a quote from this study...

"From 1975 to 1998, the total number of pedestrian fatalities fell by 72% in The Netherlands and by 79% in Germany, compared to a
decline of only 31% in the United States"

That is impressive.

If you read further, however, you will realize that both Germany and the Netherlands have introduced many more safety measures than just bike lanes or bike tracks. It would seem they have changed their entire focus on transportation infrastructure away from cars in favour of pedestrians and cyclists. It would also appear that their dedication to the safety of cyclists and pedestrians has worked.

However, the authors of the study also say this...

"Data limitations make it impossible to undertake rigorous statistical analysis to isolate the impact each measure has had
on safety improvements."

In other words, they can't say for sure whether or not bike lanes has improved safety for cyclists, or whether it has been the result of other measures, such as traffic calming or pedestrian zones.

I will grant you this, if you want Hamilton to embark on a similar regime that they have undertaken in Germany and the Netherlands, including traffic calming and placing the focus on bikes and pedestrians and not just adding bike lanes, then you have a strong case for reducing fatalities.

However, are you confident, knowing the results from Denmark, that simply adding bike lanes will result in the reductions found in this study? Without the introduction of the other safety measures, it's quite possible that injuries and accidents increase when bike lanes are increased.

Another quote from the study you provided...

"Generally, traffic calming gives pedestrians, bicyclists, and playing children as much right to use residential streets as motor vehicles; indeed, motor vehicles are required to yield to these other users."

What are the chances of this happening here in Hamilton? Don't get me wrong, I think it would be a refreshing change, but it will require a lot of passion to change people's minds.

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By bike lanes (anonymous) | Posted March 04, 2010 at 07:30:11

It all goes together: once you get more people cycling and walking there is more pressure for improved road conditions, and drivers are more careful and respectful of pedestrians and cyclists because there are more of them. And then more people start walking and cycling, and the total number of accidents drop. It's a virtuous cycle (pardon the pun).

The message is that the best way to increase pedestrian and cycling safety is to implement policies that actual encourage more cycling and walking. Traffic calming and bike lanes are two such policies.

Examples of policies that don't work include simply exhorting more people to walk and cycle (as is done here), ticketing jaywalkers and cyclists or enacting mandatory helmet laws for cyclists (almost no one wears a helmet in the Netherlands or Germany).

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By Undustrial (registered) - website | Posted March 04, 2010 at 09:53:20

Keep in mind that the more an individual cycles, the safer they tend to be (practice, confidence, maintenance etc). So it only makes sense that as cycling increases on the whole you'd see some of those effects. Not only are they more used to it, but when more people are cyclists themselves, they're going to be a lot more conscious of bikes in traffic.

Don't just take the word of a bunch of geeks on the internet, though. Take a ride around town. Downtown has a lot more cyclists than most parts of the mountain, and you really feel the difference in the way cars act toward you.

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By z jones (registered) | Posted March 04, 2010 at 10:40:46

Don't get me wrong, I think it would be a refreshing change, but I'm going to cynically oppose doing anything constructive because I'm a squelcher disguised as a concerned skeptic.

Fixed your response.

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