Esplanade bike lane project divides residents

By Maxwell Loslo

The Esplanade bike lane project is planning to begin construction on its second phase and connect the accompanying traffic changes already in place from Sherbourne to Berkeley streets westward towards Yonge.

Residents from the Downtown Concerned Citizens Organization (DCCO) have been opposing the project for various reasons, including increased traffic congestion, reduced ambulance access and disrupted bus routes. The DCCO was formed in May 2020 and was primarily in opposition to the establishment of the Novatel homeless shelter. Since then they have been outspoken on various issues including safe injection sites, COVID restrictions, and now the Esplanade bike lane.

DCCO member Albert Ferranti, a deputy judge at the Ministry of the Attorney General, is especially concerned about traffic. He often drives in the area and says the street is already congested.

Last August, the DCCO said the Esplanade sees 800 cars per day, many more than bikes on the street. “Sometimes I don’t see a single bike despite being stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic,” Ferranti says.

The DCCO also claims that ambulances will have increased difficulty accessing the area. “Heaven forbid you have a heart attack,” says Ferranti.

However, Stewart Linton, president of the St. Lawrence Neighbourhood Association (SLNA), says the changes already implemented have been largely positive. Except for a few initial complaints regarding confusion around the introduction of one-way streets, there has been little negative reaction. The city has been receptive to residents’ feedback, he added.

Linton says some residents who commute out of the neighbourhood might have to drive two extra blocks but for the majority of people the traffic changes are positive.

He says the addition of one way streets is now stopping cars from cutting through the neighbourhood and thereby reducing traffic.

Ferranti’s experiences in dealing with the city have not been positive. Ferranti says he has tried writing to multiple different city administrations including the Shelter, Support and Housing Administration as well as most recently Transportation services. “Try writing an email to any one of these agencies, it will fall into a black hole.”

Ferranti says that “leftist ideology” rather than common sense is driving the project.

“They (the City of Toronto) are trying to frustrate drivers so much that they will no longer drive and that’s because of the social justice objective of net zero carbon emissions.”

Becky Katz, the city’s manager of cycling and pedestrian projects, says the city is monitoring the revamped street for problems. She says the project is now “In the settling phase, people have to discover new routes, but we have not blocked off traffic from any building or driveway.”

Katz says the project is designed to “rebalance the street and provide a safe place for people to walk and bike while also providing the most efficient route for transit.”

Where the project has been implemented, she says, “we actually see lighter traffic because you can no longer turn – so people are not infiltrating the neighbourhood to avoid major streets.”

Emergency services were consulted about the project and are on board, she added. “We did test vehicle runs with our emergency services partners.”

The DCCO also says that businesses are against the changes. However Katz says that the St Lawrence Business Improvement Area (BIA) was fully consulted and is on board for the project. The bridge made multiple attempts to reach out to the St Lawrence BIA however as of writing they have not responded.

The Esplanade bike lane project’s second phase is expected to begin when the St. Lawrence Market tent is taken down. Currently there is no exact date, however it is expected to be completed in 2022.