City staff recommend Yonge Street bike lanes to be made permanent despite local pushback

City staff recommend Yonge Street bike lanes to be made permanent despite local pushback

City councilors will today address a controversy brewing in Toronto’s Midtown neighborhood: whether bike lanes, which were piloted on Yonge Street, should be made permanent.

On one side are cyclists and their advocates, who say the lanes make for a healthier and safer ride. On the other hand, residents and drivers who say the lanes – which have reduced Yonge Street from four lanes to two in some parts of the busy neighborhood – are actually creating a safety hazard and unprecedented congestion.

“Our streets are completely blocked and chaotic,” Trevor Townsend, founder of, told CBC Toronto.

“Our biggest concern is that the fire engines and ambulances can get through the gridlock. We now have one northbound lane and one southbound lane in this neighborhood.”

His group says the Avenue Road bike lanes make more sense.

Trevor Townsend, founder of, says the segregated bike lanes have created a “traffic chaos” on Yonge near St Clair. (Mike Smee/CBC)

The separate bike lanes, discussed at Monday’s Infrastructure and Environment Committee meeting, were installed on Yonge Street between Bloor Street and Davisville Avenue in the summer of 2021 as part of the Active TO Midtown Complete Streets pilot project.

The staff say in a report their analysis shows the bike lanes, which are separated from traffic by concrete curbs and plastic supports, were a success and should be made permanent.

Robin Richardson, a spokesman for Yonge4All and owner of an e-bike rental company, disputes the idea that congestion has become constant on Yonge near St Clair or that reducing traffic to one lane in each direction is negative.

“Bike lanes obviously make it safer for people who ride bikes. They also make it safer for pedestrians. And believe it or not, they make it safer for motorists, too,” Richardson said.

An image of Yonge Street south of St. Clair from Yonge4All’s website shows a congested lane. (City of Toronto) An image of Yonge Street south of St. Clair from the website shows slow traffic. (

“Sometimes on roads with two lanes in each direction, drivers are just trying to get on, so they weave in and out and cut you off. But if you have a single lane in each direction, everyone keeps going in an ordered single file,” she said.

Her group started an online petition last year urging the city to make the lanes permanent. As of January 29, this petition received more than 8,500 names. A petition from had also collected just over 6,000 names in about the same period.

More than 1,100 letters sent to city employees

Richardson, who lives in the area, says local businesses and residents’ associations support her group’s call to make the project permanent — and at least seven neighborhood residents’ associations have written to the council supporting the lanes.

In one of those letters, the Brentwood Towers Residents Association writes, “Our neighborhood has changed with this pilot. Simply walking the sidewalks of Yonge Street is a much more enjoyable experience for many in our community thanks to this Midtown Complete Street pilot program and the CafeTO developments.

“The new bike lanes have reduced the crossing distances at traffic lights and created a buffer between the pavement and the car
Traffic. Tenants now feel safe riding their bikes on Yonge Street to shop for groceries, visit the library or go to work,” the statement said.

Jesse Coleman of the city’s traffic department says traffic numbers are average and may not reflect a driver’s experience on any given day. (WebX)

The letter is among more than 1,100 city employees who received it ahead of Monday’s meeting. Dozens of people are also expected to attend the meeting in person to speak for or against the bike lanes.

City officials say their research supports the idea that the lanes were good for cyclists and pedestrians, while causing only minor delays for motorists. The report includes figures collected by an outside consultant and then analyzed by city transport workers.

Driving times increased by an average of 70 seconds: report

According to the staff report, cycle lanes in the corridor have increased between 57 and 250 percent over the past 18 months, while pedestrian traffic is between 59 and 145 percent. Despite complaints from some residents who say traffic congestion on Yonge has become unbearable since the bike lanes were installed, the staff report says travel times for cars in the corridor have increased by an average of 70 seconds.

According to the report, emergency vehicles are also largely unaffected.

But despite the enthusiastic report from city officials, some community groups and businesses question the accuracy of the report’s conclusions.

Signs advertising the group in a dumpster on Birch Ave., near Yonge and St. Clair. (

Townsend, as well as some residents’ associations and the Rosedale Business Improvement Area all say the staff finding that congestion has not seriously increased and that emergency services are unaffected are the opposite of what they have been experiencing.

He said he received threatening phone calls and his group’s signs were uprooted and thrown in the trash.

In a letter to City Council, the Rosedale BIA states: “Increasing traffic congestion, limited parking and increased travel times are discouraging customers from coming to the area.

“Merchants have expressed concern about the validity of traffic data in the latest ActiveTO report, which does not match the significant congestion visually visible on a daily basis,” the letter reads.

Safety, welfare of locals ‘compromised’

The South Rosedale Residents Association said in a letter to councilors that firefighters have complained informally about the congestion since the pilot began.

“[Local emergency services] are all frustrated by the deadlock on Yonge Street,” writes director Julia Clubb. “One veteran firefighter said, ‘It’s going to take someone to die for that to change.'”

“It is concerning that the safety and well-being of Toronto residents are being traded off in favor of underutilized bike lanes.”

count. Brad Bradford supports the bike lanes on Yonge through Midtown, but he says it’s “a work in progress.” (Mike Smee/CBC)

Despite city statistics showing an increase in the use of bike lanes, Townsend asked how many of these riders use bikes compared to the number using electric bikes or scooters.

Regarding the increase in foot traffic, staff point out that these numbers may reflect the fact that people just got out more when the pandemic restrictions were lifted.

Former city councilwoman and TTC chair Karen Stintz, who lives north of the pilot area, has also objected.

“As a cyclist, the bike lanes on these roads, which are designed to create a safe environment for cyclists, are not enough. The bike lanes are often blocked by delivery vehicles making deliveries,” Stintz said in an article in the North Toronto Post.

“Parking on the street creates a situation where cyclists can be hit by a person opening a door and the e-bikes can speed through lanes.”

Jesse Coleman, the city’s manager of traffic data and analytics, said he stands by the numbers in the employee report. But he said quoted travel times for drivers using Yonge Street “are averaged over months.

“There are definitely some days that are better or worse, some hours that are better or worse,” he said. “It doesn’t show the ups and downs that happen every day.”

The final decision will be made by the council next week

Coleman added that the city’s researchers did not differentiate between traditional bicycles, e-bikes and scooters in the counts.

count. Brad Bradford, the city council’s most ardent bicycling advocate, said he supports the Yonge bike lanes through Midtown. And for those who say they’re frustrated with the project, Bradford advises patience.

“I think it’s a work in progress … it’s never perfect,” he told CBC Toronto.

“That’s how I would describe it…one of the challenges was the left turns, so we introduced four different junctions with dedicated left turns and that helped a lot.”

Regardless of the committee’s decision today, it will be up to the council to give the Midtown bike lanes one final thumbs-up — or thumbs-down — at its Feb. 6 meeting.

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