FW Official
by on October 12, 2021
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Riding a bike on a main street in Scarborough is so dangerous it feels like “risking your life,” according to Nithursan Elamuhilan.

The 25-year-old cyclist and Scarborough resident says the area’s wide roads are so dominated by fast-moving traffic that the few people who do bike usually ride on the sidewalk.

“It’s almost a foreign concept to ride on the road because it’s not acceptable, it’s not safe to do so here,” said Elamuhilan, a data analyst who spent years commuting by bike to University of Toronto Scarborough (UTSC).

About two years ago, he was the victim of a hit-and-run at Ellesmere and Morrish Roads while riding through a crosswalk. He said if Scarborough had better cycling infrastructure it might have spared him a torn meniscus in his right knee and six months of physiotherapy. “You have to make it safe for people,” he said.

Elamuhilan’s experience is backed up by a new report from UTSC, which determined the city’s attempts to build bike infrastructure in Scarborough have been an “abject failure.”

But the Scarborough Opportunity report, authored by human geography professor Andre Sorensen and a team of UTSC students, says it doesn’t have to be that way, and urges the city to tap into Scarborough’s hidden potential to become a cycling superpower.

“Scarborough presents a tremendous opportunity for transformation to a more walkable, cyclable, transit-oriented, and livable place,” the report states.

According to the researchers, Scarborough, a postwar suburb spread out over almost 190 square kilometres, “suffers greatly” from its automobile-dependent urban form, which is characterized by wide main streets that prioritize the movement of cars over other road users. Cycling accounts for less than one per cent of all trips in Scarborough, compared to nearly seven per cent for the city as a whole.

In recent years, Toronto has made progress expanding its cycling network closer to downtown, where higher densities and short distances between destinations make cycling an attractive option for many. But according to the report, there has been “almost zero progress” in Scarborough.

Between 2016 and 2018 the city created about 60 kilometres of cycling infrastructure, but almost none of it was in the eastern suburb, aside from the renewal of two existing routes consisting of painted “sharrows” and signage.

Cycling lanes installed on a four-kilometre stretch of Brimley Road as part of Toronto’s largest-ever bike lane expansion last year lasted just five months before the city removed them, citing complaints from local councillors and drivers.

Sorensen said the lack of cycling options places significant burdens on Scarborough’s more than 630,000 residents. “It creates pollution, it creates congestion, it has negative impacts (on health) because people aren’t walking and cycling,” he said.

It also exacerbates inequality. Walking and cycling are the most affordable forms of transportation, and the share of the population living in poverty in Scarborough is higher than the city average.

“Enabling walking and cycling for a share of trips has real benefit for people, and that shouldn’t be restricted to just in the downtown areas,” Sorensen said.

Although the design of Scarborough’s streets has been an obstacle to safer cycling, the report’s authors argue it also presents a unique opportunity. Most major rights-of-way in the suburb are at least 36 metres wide, offering ample space to install bike lanes without removing traffic lanes or encroaching on adjacent properties.

Scarborough also has a robust network of ravines and hydro corridors that would be ideal for off-road trails. One bright spot is the Meadoway, a 16-kilometre hydro corridor revitalization project that, when complete, will link the East Don Trail to Rouge National Urban Park.

Nadhiena Shankar, a report co-author, said she hoped the report would “bust that myth” that Scarborough is inherently unsuitable for cycling.

The researchers recommend the city develop a long-term plan for Scarborough that includes a comprehensive pedestrian and cycling network, measurable targets to increase the share of trips taken by walking, cycling and transit, and an expansion of Bike Share stations throughout the suburb by 2030.

The authors say the city will need to create a network of 437 kilometres of on- and off-street cycling facilities to meet Toronto’s official goal of ensuring all residents live within one kilometre of bike infrastructure. That’s a dramatic increase from Scarborough’s current 25 kilometres of cycling facilities, and so the report recommends an interim network expansion of 150 kilometres.

“I don’t think we’re going to get there soon,” conceded Sorensen. But “we should be starting to have a conversation about what is the network that we need and how we are going to get there.”

Posted in: News & Politics, World
Topics: scarborough
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