On Cycling In The City: Then And Now

Annex / South Annex / Seaton Village, College Street / Little Italy, Corso Italia / Davenport, Dufferin Grove / Bloorcourt Village, High Park North / The Junction, Junction / High Park / Bloor West / Swansea, King West / Niagara / Liberty Village, Leslieville/Riverside, Little Portugal, Midtown, Queen West, Riverdale / Playter Estates, Roncesvalles Village, St. Lawrence Market, Swansea / High Park / Bloor West Village, The Danforth, Wallace/Emerson & Brockton Village, Wychwood / Humewood - Cedarvale, Yorkville / Summerhill / Rosedale


October, 2016:

One consistent and common purchasing factor we’re seeing as realtors who sell across the original City of Toronto, is how Buyers are prioritizing choosing a property that offers the most efficient commute to work. It certainly makes sense, given commute times are increasing given our urban gridlock, making the journey hectic and frustrating. In fact, here’s one of our past posts that explores What Are The Real Financial, Emotional And Health Costs Of Commuting?

However, today Buyers aren’t only addressing their commute by the more conventional means of automobile or public transportation, but increasingly through their use of their bike. And why not? From a environmental and socio-economic perspective, self-powering your commute is a healthy efficient way to get around the City. And, by all accounts, it’s growing popularity is signaling the way of the future.

In Toronto – like other North American urban centres – the tide of transportation-thinking has begun turning against single occupant vehicles – given the negative space, air quality, climate, safety, cost, and congestion implications. However, there remains a strong resistance among a portion of residents as well as policy and decision-makers. As a result, Toronto has fallen behind many major cities that have embraced sustainable forms of transport more fully.

While the City of Toronto has been slowly introducing bike lanes in the downtown core, right now the biggest issue swirling at City Hall is the level of delineation between cars lanes and bike lanes; with a call for bike lanes to be separated by curbs and planters, instead of just painted lines. Sometimes it seems that there is a lot of rage behind the cycling movement, but it’s important to remember the history of cycling in Toronto, and how long activists have been fighting for the simplest safety measures to be put in place.




A Look In The Handlebar Mirror

Over a century ago, the 1890s saw cycling explode across north America. At the time, Toronto roads would have been dominated by horse-drawn carts and electric streetcars, and traffic would have been slower-moving and generally safer. In 1920s, when cars started to become the norm for commercial and single-family transportation, the question of bike paths was raised, but it was decided that cyclists would share the road instead.

So how many bikes were on the roads mid-century? Surveys show the number of cyclists per 1,000 people increased from 220 in 1950 to 350 in 1960, and climbed to 480 by 1970. The 60’s saw a cycling revival because Flower Power started doing battle with nuclear and gas power over concerns of fitness, energy use, and pollution. This was the origin of the backlash against the automobile.

The creation of the City’s first committee focused on cycling safety led to Toronto’s very first bike lane on Poplar Plains Road in 1975. However, in the 70’s and 80s, the City was more focused on keeping cyclists out of the way of cars, not how to keep them safe sharing the same busy roadways.

In 2001 the City of Toronto had about 35 kilometers of bike lanes, fairly insignificant, which was the year the City created Shifting Gears. Shifting Gears was a city initiative that promised another 1,000 kilometres of bike lanes, including “495 kilometres dedicated to on-street routes, 249 kilometres of off-road paths, and 260 kilometres of signed routes, within 10 years.” These targets were never hit.

According to a 2009 study, the population of cyclists in Toronto rose from 48 per cent to 54 per cent between 1999 and 2009. Perhaps in response to this rise, a bike sharing program called Bixi was launched city-wide in 2011. The program made 1,000 bicycles available at 80 downtown locations (it was eventually shut down and replaced by Bike Share) and is considered one of the biggest wins for the cycling movement.



The Importance Of The Bloor-Danforth Arterial Road

Discontent surrounding a lack of safe bike lanes is often strongest when the conversation turns to Toronto’s main east/west vein: Bloor Street-Danforth Avenue. This is because Bloor-Danforth has – throughout Toronto’s history – served as a measuring stick for the cycling movement. Beginning in 1890 Bloor Street was served by streetcars, which were electrified in 1893. They were eventually replaced by the Bloor‐Danforth subway in 1966, which was, arguably, the decade that gave birth to the ‘car versus bike’ war. Ever since, Bloor-Danforth has been the elusive golden egg for cycling activists, who have spent 50 years petitioning the city for bike lanes for this essential artery.

Reports in 1977 and again in 1992 called Bloor-Danforth the perfect cycling vein through the city and dubbed it as most in need of bike lanes. And while both reports spurred slight increases Toronto’s cycling network, it took the city until 2015 to even begin a pilot project of bike lanes on Bloor. The majority of Torontonians and city council consider this pilot project – which opened in August – a success thus far (here’s a CBC News piece called Bloor Street Bike Lanes Open To The Delight Of Toronto Cyclists) but there is already backlash from store owners who feel the new lack of on-street parking is biting into their business (as chronicled in this October 24th piece called Bike Lanes On Bloor Hurting Bottom Line, Business Owners Say.)



Moving Forward On Two Wheels

Albert Koel, the founder of the cycling organization Bells On Bloor, said in an interview that “there is no balance in Toronto. Convenience to motorists has long meant making cycling a recreational activity—in other words, focusing on trails and parks, which is different from commuting.” The cycling movement has much work to do and many miles ahead of them, but recent wins have given them a boost. For example, in June of this year, Toronto City Council approved a Cycling Network Plan to connect, grow and renew infrastructure for Toronto’s cycling routes over the next ten years that would – as seen in The Star – Add 525 km Of Bike Routes To Create A True Toronto Network.

In response to a palpable uptick in support of cycling, Albert says: “In a world of dizzying complexity, perhaps bikes and bike lanes win us over through their very simplicity. Was there ever a more elegant response to the need for locomotion—and the ills of sedentary living, congestion, and global warming—than a pair of human-powered spinning wheels?”

As an urban cyclist myself, I’m a fan for Toronto having a comprehensive recreational and commuting cycling network. I now cycle Bloor a lot faster than driving it (and now feel safer thanks to the dedicated bike lanes). This Metro News piece supports how an Unofficial Count Shows Bike Lanes On Bloor Are Boosting Ridership. No question, it’s one of my favourite ways to traverse the City, though I use my bike more for recreational purposes given all the ravine and waterfront trails Toronto offers.



Cycling Toronto For Health And Well-Being

In full disclosure, I’m a recent convert to engaging life on a bike, in part because I recently moved to Riverdale to tackle the transformation of a 1960s purpose built duplex in Riverdale which is right beside the Don Valley (and recently announced Don River Park) that boasts a myriad of bike paths, including several which connect to the waterfront. I’ll admit for years I was a reluctant cyclist, mostly for the lack of bike lanes on downtown city streets (I lived in College Street’s Little Italy neighbourhood for two decades), making it challenging to get to the bike trails easily. Which was unfortunate really, as there’s a massive comprehensive bike path system in the City which I’ve come to love. Check out the City Of Toronto’s Cycling Network Page which shows how extensive one can discover our City by bike.

New to cycling? Here’s a great site that shows you the best route, and how long it will take, to get from one destination to another called Ride The City. How amazing is that?


At urbaneer.com, we recognize how real estate and your commute are intrinsically linked in terms of value and quality of life. Here are some complimentary pieces on public transportation in Toronto that showcase our commitment to guiding our clients in all manner of their purchasing decisions:

On The Value Of Public Transit

Toronto Life Publishes The Raw Numbers On The City’s Transit System

The Union Pearson Express As A Toronto Staple



~ Steven and the Urbaneer Team

Steven Fudge, Sales Representative
& The Innovative Urbaneer Team
Bosley Real Estate Ltd., Brokerage – (416) 322-8000


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