Yonge Street bike lanes now open!

Cycle Newmarket is thrilled to see that the bike lanes on Yonge St, part of the Vivanext Rapidway, are now open in both directions. The lanes go from Sawmill/Savage at the south end to Davis Drive at the north. They are separated from traffic by a curb, but join the regular roadway whenever there is a right-hand turn lane.
The route also features left-turn bike boxes. To make a left turn, you go straight through the intersection into a green-painted square which is cut out of the rounded curb. Then you turn your bike and wait for a green light in the direction you are turning. Be careful, though, because you have to merge with cars going straight when you join the roadway on the side street.

Bike lanes coming to London Road!

This map shows the planned bike lanes for 2020.

The Town of Newmarket’s Active Transportation Implementation Plan calls for the installation in 2020 of bike lanes on London Rd, as well as sections of Alexander Rd and Bonshaw Ave. Before doing this, the Town has to pass a bylaw prohibiting parking and regulating traffic for this purpose. When a report on this item came up at Council recently, several London Rd residents made deputations opposing the lanes on the basis that they would restrict on-street parking. Cycle Newmarket’s Stephen Harper also made a deputation, which we are sharing below. Thanks to his efforts, and to Council and Town staff’s recommendations, the London Rd bike lanes will go ahead as planned later this year, providing a vital east-west link in Newmarket’s on-street cycling network.

Here is the script of the deputation:

Deputation to Newmarket Council June 29, 2020 1:00 p.m.

Good afternoon Mr. Mayor, Councillors, and members of staff, on behalf of Cycle Newmarket I am Stephen Harper and I thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today on a matter that is very important to us.

Bike Lanes on London Rd.

  1. Why do towns and cities need bike lanes?

According to the CAA there are 7500 serious injuries and 74 deaths of cyclists in Canada each year.  64% of these are on urban roads where traffic speeds are under 70 km/h.   A transportation study in Newmarket found that average speeds were reduced by 4.7 km/h on roads with bike lanes and bollards.    So, our roads are safer for everybody when bike lanes are installed on them.    44% of Canadians say they would cycle more if they felt safer on the roads.   So, we need bike lanes to protect these vulnerable road users and encourage people to cycle in town, whenever possible, instead of always taking a car.

  • Cycling in Newmarket makes sense as a viable transportation option for the following reasons:
  • It is environmentally friendly.
  • Its active nature promotes health and well-being.
  • In a 2016 study done by the GTHA, researchers found that of the 3.14 million trips taken from home 33% are less than 5 km in length, and are classified as ‘cyclable’.
  • Bicycles are vehicles too (see HTA) and are therefore equally as deserving of tax-funded road space as are cars.
  • Cycling lessens road congestion and frequent and costly road reconstruction – (every bicycle being ridden is one less car and far less wear and tear, on the roads).
  • Why do we need bike lanes on London Rd?

Since there are no bike lanes on Davis Dr, London Rd is the ONLY East/West transportation corridor connecting the massive Bonshaw  Ave. neighbourhood and the busy Yonge St Rapidway with Main St N, providing access to shopping and services, the Tom Taylor/Nokiidaa Trail systems and the GO station on Davis Dr.

The active Transportation Implementation Plan (ATIP) mandates that a network of interconnected bike lanes be installed on streets that are being rehabilitated. London Road has been part of that published plan. Reconstructing London Road with the installation of bike lanes should not be a surprise to anyone.

  • Are bicycles popular as a transportation option?

As stated in Friday’s Newmarket Today report by Kim Champion. According to the town’s engineering services director, Rachel Prudhomme, there was a 344 per cent increase from April 2018 to April 2020 in the use of bicycle lanes on Srigley Street. Clearly the  prophetic phrase from W.P. Kinsella’s Shoeless Joe is true: “If you build it, they will come.”

The total sales of bicycles sold in Newmarket in 2019 and 2020 from Toys R Us, Walmart, Canadian Tire and Sportchek was 11,490. They project even higher sales this year and next. Tom Zielinski of Bikesports states that his annual sales of typically 1400 bikes are up over 25% since last year at this time. Clearly there is a ‘tidal wave’ of bicycles coming at us. We must prepare for this by making our roads safer for them.

  •  The arguments against installing bike lanes: The desire for on-street parking.                                      

We dispute the claim that London Road residents require on-street parking in front of their properties. Our research determined that on London Rd every house has a 2-car garage and space for 4 vehicles in their driveway from the garage door to the sidewalk. Between the sidewalk and the curb one more vehicle could also fit. Therefore, optimally, each London Road house can accommodate 7 vehicles. We respectfully submit that with cooperative, driveway-sharing among neighbours and the addition of the alternate off-London Road parking areas there is enough residential parking for even the largest of family celebrations.

Thank you for this opportunity to speak to you today. To conclude, bike lanes on London Road will benefit the Town of Newmarket.

COVID-19 makes cycling for transportation an even more important option

During the COVID-19 crisis, the need for our communities to provide safe, accessible routes for people of all ages and abilities to cycle to work, school, and other destinations has not gone away. For the roughly half of all car trips that are under 5km, cycling continues to be one of the most viable alternatives for getting us from A to B, helping to beat the automobile dependency forced on us by the last 75 years of sprawling suburban development. Why is automobile dependency so bad? Simply put, it is destructive to our environment, our economies, our health, and our social life.

COVID has, in fact, shown us that active transportation like cycling and walking have been crowded out by the immense space and expense we have devoted to moving and storing cars in our communities. Now that we need to social distance, “crowding out” takes on a whole new meaning, with walking and cycling routes too full for proper social distancing, and public transit carrying its own risks. It is an immense disappointment that while cities all over North America are temporarily removing traffic lanes in favour of pedestrians and cyclists, Newmarket and York Region have taken no such action. We are grateful, of course, that the already-planned curb-separated bike lanes on Yonge St. are set to open very soon, and we continue to call on the Region of York to expand lanes like these to all arterial roads, the ones that are the most dangerous for cyclists.

This takes us to the of crowding on the mixed-use trails in Newmarket. We have often argued that the trails are not the best option for safe cycling infrastructure. A network of safe on-street or curb-separated lanes is what is needed, with the trails providing an optional link in that network as well as a pleasant route for recreational cycling. Nonetheless, it is still important that cyclists who choose to use the trails respect social distancing rules, slowing down and alerting other trail users (remember: a bell is mandatory in Ontario) in order to give everyone enough time to pass with adequate space. The same holds even truer for sidewalks, where adult-sized bikes are prohibited but which remain a safer alternative for some riders.

Looking forward to a post-crisis world, it will be more important than ever for our communities to create opportunities for safe, environmentally friendly alternatives to automobile transportation. In the meantime, we encourage everyone to get out onto their bikes, not just for exercise, but for essential errands as well. Just make sure you respect other road and trail users while you do.

The difficulty of getting around Newmarket by bike

Like most suburbs, Newmarket is frustratingly difficult to get around by bike. Residential streets are generally safe, regardless of whether they have bike lanes or not, but few of them actually go anywhere practical, other than those in the grid-pattern downtown core. To really get somewhere–shopping, professional services, work–you need to use the arterial roads, which are actually operated by the Region of York. And these are often unsafe because they are multi-lane and traffic is too fast.
We are making some strides. From the first on-street bike lane on a stranded portion of Bathurst St, we now have lanes on Leslie St south of Mulock, an extension of the Bathurst lane to Davis, and grade-separated lanes on Yonge St from Sawmill Valley to Davis, part of the Vivanext Rapidway. (I’ll blog about my experience on that one once the snow and road pebbles are all gone). We also have lanes on mixed-use Town roads: Harry Walker Pkwy, part of Prospect St, and Main St N. Further, speed limits on arterials have been reduced to 60 km/h within the town limits.
But other arterials present an almost insurmountable barrier to cycling to the commercial and institutional destinations along those same routes. Davis Dr is of course the poster child: bike lanes were part of the initial design for the Rapidway but were scrapped due to limited space. I have nothing against Bus Rapid Transit lanes and wide sidewalks–indeed I fully support anything that is an alternative to driving–nor do I begrudge the plantings that double as low-impact water drains. But Davis Dr is highly unsafe for cycling without bike lanes.
Similarly, Mulock Dr (for which the Town is studying an off-road multi-use trail) is downright dangerous. The issue for both is speed. Drivers regularly move well over the 50 km/h (Davis) and 60 km/h (Mulock) speed limits, and rarely have any regard to the laws that state you must leave a meter of passing distance around a bike. I don’t blame the drivers as much as I blame the wide roads, which encourage speeding, and the overall car-dependent development pattern which forces people to use cars to get anywhere.
The bottom line is, I need to carefully plot my route anytime I venture out on bike for an errand. Sometimes a car is the only choice. Sometimes I have to take a circuitous route to get there. Sometimes I actually choose which plaza to visit based on its accessibility by bike! And sometimes, maybe in the early evening when traffic is a little lighter, feeling a little defiant, I just take the dangerous arterial road. Welcome to Newmarket.