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Canadian Urbanism Uncovered

A bike-tastic vision for the waterfront

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Paris bike lane pic by Gadl

Last week I attended the first public meeting for the Central Waterfront redesign. I am happy to report that the presentations were very bike-focused. We were all given a waterfront workbook, along with the Quay to the City summary report, available online here.

TWRC VP, Planning and Design, Christopher Glaiseck said the numbers clearly showed a “pent up demand” for cycling infrastructure on the waterfront. The graph on page 30 of the report illustrates the massive increase in bike traffic during the Quay to the City “test drive” in August. Page five shows bike traffic increased from 10 to 661 at the west-bound evening peak. I would call a 60-fold increase an “overwhelming need” rather than a “demand,” but, hey, that’s just me.

West 8 senior designer Adriaan Geuze started and ended his presentation with slides of happy, colourfully-clad cyclists (which he continuously referred to as bikers.) Geuze talked a lot about bikers…and Paris. He said the mayor of Paris has been busy creating reams of greenways and car-free streets to make that city more livable. Paris is now a “biker city”, Geuze proclaimed.

Indeed, thanks to Paris’ go-getter mayor, Bertrand Delanoe (whose accomplishments include introducing Nuit Blanche and creating the Paris Plage — an urban beach on a former highway along the Seine), there are now over 314 kms of bike lanes (many separated from traffic) in his city. Roads along the Seine are closed to traffic on Sundays and holidays and he has even appointed a Chief of Bicycle Policy.

“Bicycling in the heart of our city preserves our environment, reduces pollution, and improves the quality of life,” Delanoe has said.
There is a good article about Paris’ turn for the better on the Project for Public Spaces website here.

Geuze also compared Toronto’s “heartbreaking” CN Tower (showing a slide of its imposing concrete base) to the aesthetically pleasing Eiffel Tower, with its open base, surrounded by greenways. In closing, he said (with an almost Parisian-like smugness) that it was time that Queen’s Quay boulevard was transformed into just that: a boulevard.

The summary report also said people felt that the bike trail is “critical to opening up the waterfront to the city.” I couldn’t agree more.



  1. This is all really neat and positive – thanks.
    And yet we need to keep in mind that somehow cyclists have to be able to GET to the waterfront trails in some safety – and the City has really only made existing dangers worse in the last decade for city cyclists travelling north/south on the main carterials, (though finally we seem to be getting the Simcoe St. tunnel underway).
    Part of the long-term fix is getting fewer cars around – they’re really the largest barrier to the waterfront. And that means doing something with the Gardiner traffic – and before tolls it should be better transit, so let’s convert the Front St. Extension to a transit fix (not the WWLRT) and even look at a Front St. Transitway, or (gasp!) 2 more GO trains at one tenth the price of FSE + WWLRT.
    Not really a bike thing, but maybe we could get more Dutch urban designers like Geuze to catalyze where we seem unable or at least officially unable.

  2. Et merci beaucoup pour le link a Paris – il y a beaucoup des choses d’interet dedans!

  3. Great to hear.

    The CN Tower is NOT heartbreaking. maybe to a Parisian, but the beast is one of the best things I’ve ever seen in a north American city. The Space Needle is prettier, but the sheer size and unique look of the CN Tower is breath-taking. I’m often critical of cement-oriented architecture, but the CN Tower is something I look forward to seeing when I return from afar.

  4. Paris is heartbreaking, in general. Because it seems to make people want to reproduce Paris everywhere.

    Based on Adriaan Geuze’s comment, I think that the decision to go with West 8 should be reexamined as I’m not sure he has an idea of what Toronto is about. Or at least he should stick to what he knows. Bikers, I guess.

  5. Just to clarify, Geuze said that the area around the base of the CN Tower was heartbreaking, not the tower itself. Here’s this giant symbol of Toronto and there’s no life or interest at all at its base. West 8’s proposal includes livening up the area around the Tower and connecting it to the waterfront.

  6. Thankjs, Val. Good to hear. I have seen some renderings of livening up the space at the base which look promising. It would be a wonderful place for a concert or light show.

  7. Ah, ok. I would agree then. Whew. We’ve always been alienated from the base (though I seem to have a vague memory from childhood of it surrounded by fountains — maybe I imagined that).

    It would be good to be able to go and lean on the CN Tower, now and then.

  8. I don’t remember fountains, but I do have a distinct (and thus, possibly false) memory of renting a pedal boat and cruising around the moat before it was turned into a mini-golf course. You couldn’t really lean on the tower while sitting in the boat, but at least you could put your hand on it.

  9. It’s funny, now that you mention it, I can’t recall what’s at the base of the tower. It has mostly been something that I’ve engaged at a distance. I agree that it could be a place for concerts and light shows, etc.

  10. Thanks for clarifying, Val. Lazy edits on my part. Geuze was definitely referring to the area surrounding the base. He mentioned making a park or greenway…something that would extent up from one of the slips (York?) I think?
    Also, I agree with Hamish – we need safe Nrth/Sth bike lanes to *get to* the waterfront – maybe one of the slips can be designed with that in mind… build the bike path up from the waterfront into the core…
    thx all for the comments!

  11. I agree with hamish that it is critical to have the best possible access TO the waterfront cycling trails. If you don’t get people down there, don’t bother.

    In my experience this was entirely overlooked in the Quay to the City “test drive”. To enter it from the west end was a struggle, and complicated.

    Hopefully a series of north-south access routes is also part of the waterfront plan. There are many places in the city that are close to the waterfront that don’t feel close at all. It is 1.5km from the Gladstone Hotel to the waterfront, which is the same distance from the Gladstone to the far end of Trinity Bellwoods Park. The trip to the waterfront feels much further, more dangerous and very complicated, largely because of all the barriers caused by mismanaged car traffic.

  12. The CN Tower, with enough time and exposure to all of the weather and atmosphere of Smogtown, will have its problems. Acid deposition, carbonation, freeze-thaw – some of which are starting to show up a little bit at the base – may some time spark a histeric preservation movement to keep it all standing. I suppose the Simcoe St. tunnel is close enough for one direct and safe way to and from, but I sometimes haul the bike up those big stairs by the CN base to avoid on-street shitty cycling to link with John St., then Beverly, then bumps, then St. George.
    And here’s something: why are we bothering with all this Waterfront renewal? Isn’t it a bit distracting from how busted up everything else is? Is that the point? In terms of a public commons, in this case the airshed, if we build even further to the wall of buildings, will we be blocking the lake breezes that bring in the “fresher” air from the lake? I have zero confidence in politicians addressing this, as one Councillor Mr. Pantalone, has known about this for about 5 years, and it’s not a new topic for some of us.
    And neither is better bike access to the lakefront.
    Shouldn’t that be a priority please some decade in the greenhouse century?, perhaps for copy too, not just politicians?

  13. I tend to agree with Hamish. Cycling infrastructure along the waterfront is wonderful, but it doesn’t address the roadways I use everyday in all seasons to get to school and work. I think this is probably an example of balancing a Toronto we live in versus one we want to promote to other people. A waterfront trail will beautify our city, make it more attractive to visitors who want to ride along our lake and enjoy the sites, but for those of us who live in the city and travel on every arterial road on our bikes this is pretty much nothing more than a recreational trail we use sometimes on the weekend or in the summer.

    I have to decide to go down to the Quay, and while it is nice, it doesn’t get me anywhere, and I have to dodge a couple of bullets on the roads I use to get down there.

    So I’d say this should be talked about as a recreational space, not a bike space. As a citizen, I love this; as a cyclist, I roll my eyes.

  14. Getting bikes to move around the city safely, and surface transit of all types to move around the city swiftly, is going to happen in only one way. One way which is not going to be easy to sell to a public who don’t understand what they will have to give up personally to live in a city that could be ‘world class’ for the community: arterial on-street parking. Bike lanes, and Spadina-type LRTs address very local problems. Taking away, what middle-North-Americans (sadly, we are that type of city) take as a right for easy parking, is the only way to address problems throughout the city.

    All other discussions are so much wind.

  15. Say it, Aidan. As a periodic driver, I hate on-street parking on main streets. It only contributes to idling, congestion, etc, especially with streetcars.

    I don’t know why drivers would even like main street parking. That’s what the side-streets are for….(I’m being simplistic, I know).

  16. Think of a street like College/Carleton, which for most of its distance is four lanes wide. Two are actually used for traffic: cars, trucks, bikes,AND streetcars. Two are used for parking. Not only does the parking halve the carrying capacity of the street, but I believe it slows it down further, with people entering/leaving parking, or making U-turns to get parking. This is not even to mention the dangers the present situation presents to cyclists, pedestrians, and transit riders. Changes could be made in increments of one to two years.

    The first change would be to get rid of the parking, which would at least make the streetcar useable through Little Italy, whereas it is intermittant at present. I live in Little Italy, but usually prefer to walk to Christie subway, because if it sometimes takes me longer to get where I am going from there, it is at least reliable.

    The next step would be to close one of the curb lanes to all motorised traffic, leaving it to the cyclists. A PAINTED LINE IS NOT SUFFICIENT. A nice foot-high alignment-damaging curb is the idea. Paint it orange: Toronto drivers are asses.

    The third step is to remove the streetcar service in the direction which has just one, rather than two lanes remaining – this would have to be planned city-wide for most efficient results. However, the best way to close a steetcar lane is to repaint the centre line so that the remaining streetcar lane is in the lane which abuts the cycling lane, with a traffic lane in the same direction to the left. Not a perfect solution, but would you rather be in a pedestrian/car, cyclist/car or cyclist/pedestrian collision. Traffic in the opposing direction would be limited to a single lane, but free of parking and of streetcars.

    The final step would be to make it a one-way street of three lanes, with cycling on the rightmost, streetcar on the second rightmost, and through traffic on the two leftmost.

    There are an awful lot of streets which could use this treatment in the city, and this treatment is going to be far less prohibitively expensive than subways, or even streetcar rights-of-way such as Spadina.

  17. Ya bunch of “roadicals”!
    My fave idea is restricting cars a bit, including their parking, beside the subway line, to make a very nice, long, direct bikeway beside it on Bloor/Danforth – and make it a living legacy for climate and bike activist Tooker Gomberg. Not news, but things are stalled at the City – we’re happy to talk about doing something about climate change but the ice caps and glaciers are melting faster than we do anything.
    Changing Bloor would just be paint – maybe $200,000 for 8kms from Sherbourne to High Park – and how much is the waterfront stuff costing us?,though we have to set an example somehow I suppose, and that’s worth a fair bit, though if you go to bikelanediary and look at what Copenhagen does for bikes, that’s cheaper, and clearly puts us to shame.