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Toronto mayor John Tory called 8,000 people in favour of bike lanes ‘cycling enthusiasts’

City council was in debate about making some important infrastructure permanent

The bike lanes on Yonge street in Toronto

Update: Mayor John Tory has resigned after admitting to an affair with a former staffer. A by-election is now expected to fill the role.

Toronto mayor John Tory ruffled feathers when he called thousands of residents “cycling enthusiasts” during a debate on bike lanes. On Wednesday, city council voted 22-3 in favour of making a bike lane pilot project permanent, but it was not without drama. The separated bike lanes were installed on Yonge Street in midtown Toronto in the summer of 2021 as part of the ActiveTO Midtown Complete Street Pilot. It’s a busy section of road; cyclists often avoid it for safety reasons.

Some residents said that the project should be abandoned, saying lanes have increased congestion, as well as slowed down emergency vehicle access to the area. However, the data collected from the city suggests that is untrue. Information from a study demonstrates that emergency vehicles’ response times are essentially the same as they were before the project.

Warring petitions for the ActiveTO Midtown Complete Street Pilot

Two petitions were circulating prior to the vote, one from a pro-car, anti-bike lane lobby, and another from Yonge4All, which advocated keeping them. The Yonge4All petition received 8,796 signatures, indicating that the infrastructure was important for residents, young and old.

Robin Richardson: A fierce advocate for bike lanes in Toronto

The petition cited the study. “More people are walking (up over 140 per cent) and biking (up as much as 162 per cent),” the group’s statement read. “In addition, the corridor has more streetside cafes (21), an indication that CafeTO is both popular and profitable. Furthermore, we are hearing that people find Yonge to be safer, quieter and the traffic calmer. This project follows the proven success of other complete street makeovers such as Danforth Avenue and Bloor Street, while supporting Toronto’s climate goals, by encouraging low carbon modes of travel such as walking, biking and taking transit, as well as the City’s Vision Zero road safety plan.

Toronto city council debates the project’s future

During the debate, when asked about those 8,000 people who signed this petition, Mayor John Tory was not exactly effusive. He called the petition-signers “cycling enthusiasts,” and that he thought it was worth considering the people in the neighbourhood who have “signs on their lawn” opposing the bike lanes.

The mayor then backpedalled somewhat, saying he was in favour of keeping the project, but extending its pilot status. “Why is there a rush to do this?” he asked. “We can spend the time earning the confidence of the local people who I believe have spoken far more about concerns they have about this that we can fix.”

Although local residents have said that the congestion on Yonge has become terrible since the lanes were installed, the staff report stated that travel times for cars in the area have increased by an average of only 70 seconds.

Either way, the lanes will now be made permanent, along with some changes to the traffic signals and intersections to improve traffic flow.

After the debate, many Twitter users happily inserted “cycling enthusiast” into their twitter bio.