Taxi drivers, BIAs gear up to defend business areas from bike lanes

Dennis Hanagan –

Toronto wants to build physically-separated bike lanes between Bathurst and Sherbourne on either Richmond, Adelaide and Wellington streets—or on a combination of all three.

There will be trade-offs: a 20-page city booklet says consideration will be given to “reduce negative impacts”—presumably for motorists who will be forced to give up lanes for cyclists.

Taxis picking up and dropping off fares as well as trucks making deliveries would be expected to use a layby or legal parking spot rather than stopping as close as possible to where they’re doing their business.

Diamond Taxi president Jim Bell says it’ll be a challenge for his drivers. “Taxi cabs are among the vehicles competing for curb space. That’s where the challenge comes in, especially when you start talking the downtown towers,” he told The Bulletin.

“What do you do with a vehicle that’s called to a specific address? Is he supposed to circle the block until the passenger comes out of the tower?” he asked. “A major source of our business is those Downtown towers. Are the needs of everybody being met?”

If lanes are separated with a physical barrier then taxis and trucks would have to stop in a moving lane of traffic. “It could very well create more congestion,” said Bell.

With Toronto’s core population booming—a 300 per cent increase since 1996, according to the study booklet—more cyclists are coming downtown at all hours of the day.

“It is estimated that in 2010 almost 9,000 cyclists a day entered or exited the Downtown using Queen, Richmond, Adelaide, King, Front and The Esplanade (for) employment, residential, cultural and entertainment destinations,” says the booklet.

Urban cycling consultant Yvonne Bambrick said in an interview taxis and delivery trucks can stop in traffic if need be. “It’s no different from anywhere else where you have an obstruction at the side of the road,” she said.

Toronto can take a lesson from New York City where motorists deal with bike lanes, she said. “It’s really not that complicated, and if cities like New York can handle it there’s no reason Toronto can’t adapt as well.”

East-west cycling lanes in the city’s south core “is an important component” for Toronto’s bike network, said Bambrick. She said the one-way streets under consideration are intimidating for some cyclists because vehicles there travel faster than on two-way streets.

Whatever route the city chooses, the bike lanes—called “cycle tracks” because they’re physically separated from motor vehicles with planters, a concrete island or a curb—could run the same way as traffic, or they could run against traffic in contra-flow lanes.

A bike lane could be bi-directional with cyclists traveling in opposite directions, just feet apart. Peter and Simcoe streets are being studied to give cyclists north-south connections with the east-west route.

Richmond, Adelaide and Wellington are under the spotlight because they seem the best roads to give up a lane of traffic. City council hopes to endorse a route with barriers by early 2014.

The Entertainment District BIA, through which the route will pass, is waiting to hear what it’ll look like before taking a position. “We’re still observing it and seeing how it’s going to work,” said the BIA’s executive director Janice Solomon in an interview.

She said building a route will be an opportunity to beautify the streets.

“Right now our streets are not all that attractive and they need tender loving care. Do it right and make sure it includes a beautification strategy” including road resurfacing, she said.

As well as bikes, Solomon said that pedestrians, condominiums and businesses need to be considered.

“When it comes to safety for cyclists it also has to be safe for that pedestrian (and) at the same time protecting business from interruption. There might be businesses that need some type of direct access off one of these streets.”