If there is one benefit we have received from the pandemic and lockdown in Toronto over the past year or so, it’s the rapid extension of our bike lanes — new lanes and upgrades to old ones.
It’s funny how after years of the painfully slow growth of our bike path network, despite the pressures of cycling advocates and transit experts, when our city was in crisis we suddenly realized how much sense it makes to de-emphasize travel by car and re-emphasize travel on two wheels. The benefits for health, traffic, the air we breathe and the overall working of the city were suddenly obvious.
Another sign of this change in mentality is the use of closed roads by people walking and cycling on weekends. Some of our political leaders seem quite surprised how popular these road closures have been. However, that program of closing roads to cars, trucks and buses has been quite hit and miss, and quite limited on any given weekend.
Some of us walking and cycling on those roads with our new freedoms have shared among ourselves: wouldn’t it be great to make this permanent and more widespread? That is, shut down more roads — or lanes of roads — and devote them to exclusively foot and pedal traffic.
In the same vein, although we don’t get to chat about it the same way, some of us using the new protected bike lanes are visibly appreciative of the experience. Whipping along Danforth under our own power, for example, without fear of being sideswiped — it’s been joyous.
The big fear we have though is that once the current crisis is over, the city will revert to old ways instead of pushing on in the new direction. Many of the new bike lanes, we’ve been told, have been installed as temporary measures or as pilot projects. And, of course, the weekend road closures are temporary by design.
We need some assurance that city officials have learned from this successful experience and will make a concerted effort to turn our new bike lanes into permanent fixtures and extend them further. And quickly.
And perhaps begin the task of deciding which roads in Toronto we can actually do away with as routes for powered vehicles and turn over to the people on foot and bicycles. It may not be the roads like Lakeshore and Bayview that we’ve seen closed for a couple days every week, but there may be plenty of others we can shut down for our city’s longterm benefit.
We need to start driving toward both these worthy goals immediately.
Ali Nahsoor is an east-end Toronto resident.
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