According to a recently published study which looked at data from 106 cities, the introduction of pop-up bike lanes during the pandemic has resulted in “large increases in cycling.” Last spring and summer many Canadian cities introduced emergency measures to create spaces for the rapidly growing cyclist population. According to a Statistics Canada survey, more Canadian commuters now walk or bike to work than take public transit.
This year, some of these “emergency” bike lanes are being made permanent, while other pop-up cycling projects are returning to various degrees. According to Canada Bikes, cities such as Ottawa, Montreal, Vancouver, Toronto, Victoria, Calgary, Moncton, Winnipeg and more have extended bike lane networks since this time last year.
In 2020 the urgency of the pandemic put momentum into the emergency bike lane approvals, which meant active transportation proposals passing in record times. This year, that urgency seems to have faded in some local councils and this summer’s pop-up bike lanes, closures and pilot projects are facing much more scrutiny. Some criticisms come down to the age old “but what about the cars?” argument, but other issues are arising, such as making parks accessible to those with mobility issues or putting pop-up bike lanes in without consulting local businesses.
Things are looking good for the Gatineau Parkway Pilot Project, which closes off the Gatineau Park roads for active users. While cyclists might delight in the idea, Jim Kyte, who enjoys the bike paths himself, recently published an opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen in which he argued that the closures cut off access to the park for Canadians with limited mobility.
“How far were Canadians with limited mobility expected to travel to enjoy sunrise at Pink Lake, sunset at Étienne Brûlé Lookout or a picnic at Mulvihill Lake,” he asks. “I would gladly share the road, as I already have for several decades, in favour of a core Canadian value: diversity and inclusion and the principle that all Canadians are deserving of full citizenship and participation.”
Last year, the City of Montreal faced opposition from business owners on St-Denis St. when the city installed one of its temporary bike lanes (voies actives sécuritaires [VAS]) on the street without consulting them about parking removal. This year, the controversial VAS project won’t return, but, St. Denis will still have a bike lane as part of the major Réseau express vélo bike network being built around the city.
In 2020, Toronto’s wildly popular ActiveTO pilot project closed major city streets to cars on weekends and opened them up for active transportation. Lake Shore Boulevard West, Lake Shore Boulevard East, Bayview Avenue and Yonge Street were opened up to give people more space to walk and cycle safely during the COVID-19 pandemic.
This year, while ActiveTO will be returning, major construction in the area will likely mean the Lake Shore West stretch won’t be part of the weekly events. The decision has been met with backlash from local cycling groups and the Globe and Mail calls ActiveTO without the Lake Shore closures a “watered-down version of 2020.” Toronto City Council will vote Apr. 7 on ActiveTO and the return of weekend closures on Lake Shore West.
Despite being colder than some other major Canadian cities, Calgary got its adaptive roads program back up and running in early March. The returning Memorial Drive and Centre Street Bridge closures were big hits last year. When the program was ended for the winter, Pete Spearing, director of Bike Calgary, argued to the Calgary Herald that people in the city are “active year-round and the coming snowfall is no reason to take away an outdoor option.”
When the Vancouver Park Board recently moved to reinstate a temporary bike lane on Park Drive in Stanley Park over the summer and early fall it was met with major criticism. There was a 180 per cent increase in bike use seen from the addition of last year’s emergency bike lane, but many any argued that the bike lane caused car congestion as the park’s horse-drawn carriages were forced to use the same lane as cars.
Despite the backlash the vote passed and the temporary bike lane will be put in along Stanley Park Drive through the summer and early fall.