City has built fewer than 6 per cent of bike lanes more than two years into 10-year plan

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More than two years after council approved an ambitious 10-year cycling plan, the city has built less than 6 per cent of the bike lanes the blueprint calls for, and has underspent by millions of dollars the annual budget council allocated to expand the bicycle network.

When the $153.5-million plan was introduced in May 2016 many advocates hoped it would kick-start the kind of aggressive expansion of bike infrastructure they argue is required in a city where cycling rates are climbing. But the latest stats have them asking what went wrong.

“I’ve spoken with many members of council, many advocates, and quite frankly we all feel the same way, which is we have no idea what’s going on with this bike plan,” said Jared Kolb, executive director of the Cycle Toronto advocacy group.

He said the city’s execution of the plan “has not delivered on the expectations.”

According to figures provided by the city, in 2018, Toronto installed 3.7 kilometres of physically separated cycle tracks, 9.4 kilometres of painted bike lanes, and 4.3 kilometres of new trails.

That’s well below the annual rate required to meet the targets in the bike plan, which was approved in June 2016 and calls for approximately 560 lane kilometres of painted and protected bike lanes to be built on busy streets over the next decade.

And though council approved a spending plan that would see the city invest $12 million in the plan in 2017 and $16 million each year after that, spending has yet to reach that level. The city spent $11 million on the cycling plan in 2017, and just $10 million last year.

Kolb said a major reason the bike plan hasn’t delivered is that when councillors approved it they decided not to endorse major corridor studies that staff recommended and could lead to bike lanes on major arterials like Jane St., Kingston Rd., Kipling Ave., and Midland Ave. Studies that were already underway on corridors including Yonge St. and Bloor St. were allowed to go ahead.

Kolb also questioned why a detailed schedule included in the plan that set out which projects would be built in which year also seems to have fallen by the wayside, with projects like Donlands Ave. bike lanes listed for 2018 not being installed.

City spokesperson Wynna Brown said the underspending on the plan to date “reflects that projects take time to move through the planning, design and approval process.”

As to why some projects planned to be installed by now have yet to be completed, she stressed council adopted the 10-year plan “in principle.” Many cycling projects are supposed to be installed in conjunction with other planned road work like resurfacing, and sometimes they are rescheduled if the related work is delayed.

Brown said bike-plan spending is projected to dramatically increase this year to $44 million, thanks in part to an injection of federal infrastructure funding. Projects the city has selected for the federal program include cycling facilities on Eglinton Ave. W. and in the Flemingdon Park and York University neighbourhoods.

Councillor James Pasternak, chair of the infrastructure and environment committee that oversees implementation of the bike plan, said the city has recently scored important successes like the installation of the Bloor bike lanes and the committee vote to keep the Richmond and Adelaide Sts. cycle tracks. But he acknowledged “we’re not at the pace that we want to be as far as the 10-year cycling network plan is concerned.”

He said one factor is the city hasn’t hired enough staff to implement the bike plan. The councillor said he would look into making additional hires, but he was confident the city can still get the plan back on track. He noted there are 18 bike projects planned for 2019.

“I think we can really ramp up in the coming year and catch up to some of the lost ground. So it’s very exciting,” he said.

City staff are expected to report back to council in the second quarter of this year with an update on the bike plan, including recommendations on whether to proceed with bike lane studies on the major corridors that weren’t initially approved.

Councillor Joe Cressy, a vocal cycling advocate, said major streets need to be added back into the plan, otherwise the city will be confined to improving cycling routes on less-used residential streets.

“Without adding the major corridors into the plan, we’re not building a true cycling network,” he said.

Last year, five cyclists died in Toronto, according to statistics compiled by the Star. The number exceeded any single year total for cyclist fatalities in a police database that goes back to 2007. The police use different methodology to track the deaths than the Star.

Ben Spurr is a Toronto-based reporter covering transportation. Reach him by email at bspurr@thestar.ca or follow him on Twitter: @BenSpurr

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She broke three ribs on the job. Now this Toronto bike courier is helping others take time off for injuries

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When Leah Hollinsworth was hurt on the job she didn’t get any time off to recover.

“I remember it because it was one of those cold grey November rainy days when you have that Guns N’ Roses song in your head,” she recalls of the accident almost 15 years later.

Hollinsworth was coming down Blue Jays Way on her bike with a delivery when a car turned left in front of her, and she crashed into its rear-view mirror. She broke three ribs.

“I was a single mother the entire time I was a bike messenger so taking that time off work wasn’t an option for me,” she said, “I just couldn’t walk away.”

Her employer let her make some adjustments, walking to deliveries around the downtown core instead of cycling because that hurt too much. But she knows not everyone is so lucky.

It’s one of the reasons why the now 39-year-old is devoted to the charity Bicycle Messenger Emergency Fund.

The global non-profit donates money to bike couriers injured at work, who are mostly independent contractors without health benefits, disability leave or even sick days.

The transient nature of the industry makes it hard to pin down exact numbers of such couriers in Toronto.

But the rise of food service delivery apps means more independent contractors and a shift toward the gig economy that leaves many workers without the safety net of a traditional employer, despite the risks that come along with cycling through Toronto’s often treacherous streets.

Most courier companies and app-based delivery services don’t pay into the Workplace Safety and Insurance Board for messengers because they classify them as independent contractors, Hollinsworth said.

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“Other jobs that are dangerous generally have some sort of pay that goes along with that,” says Toronto-based Hollinsworth, one of two volunteers who run the non-profit, which was started in 2004-2005.

The wages of a bike courier vary widely from city to city depending on how many shifts they work, but she said the average is about $80-100 a day — wages that were decent in the ’90s but have stayed stubbornly low with inflation.

“Most messengers are pretty hand to mouth, so the idea of not having two or three paycheques in a row is pretty devastating,” she added.

“If you get hurt on the job oftentimes that meant not only were you out of work but you could potentially lose your job indefinitely.”

The fund takes personal and corporate donations. But Torontonians contribute the lion’s share of the funding through an annual May Day bike race event, which has raised more than $25,000 over the years.

To apply for a $500 (U.S.) grant, bike couriers need to be working full time (more than three shifts a week, according to Hollinsworth), be injured on the job and unable to work using their bike for at least a month. The money, which is the same amount for everyone, is meant to help with costs of food and medicine.

The funds made a difference for Emily Glos, 32, a former bike messenger who had to stop work in 2010 after she was rear-ended by a car and broke her arm.

“It was pretty isolating,” she said of the incident, over the phone from Sayulita, Mexico, where she is now living.

Glos couldn’t ride with her injured arm, and turned to family for financial help. She also applied to the emergency fund, which gave her money to help cover costs for food. It also made her feel less alone.

“I think it’s so wonderful that it’s there to help financially. But it also adds a sense of community, knowing that there’s something you can dip into,” she said.

“That aspect of it is really beautiful.”

After she recovered, Glos helped start the May Day races as a way to give back. The fundraiser has grown over the years and allowed the charity to contribute $500, up from the $300 she had received, toward bike messengers who need help getting back on their feet.

A few companies are starting to recognize the gap that those two-wheeled messengers can face when they fall or are hit by a car.

At Foodora Canada, one of the most visible food delivery services in the city with its bike couriers bringing Thai food, pizza and burgers in bright pink containers through snow, sleet and rain, the company pays into WSIB (or provincial equivalents) on the riders’ behalf, said managing director David Albert in an email.

“This covers them for loss of earnings in the event they get injured while working. We feel it’s important to protect our riders to the best of our ability while they are on the job,” he said.

Facing court challenges in the European Union on its relationship with its drivers, Uber announced in spring 2018 it would partner with insurance company AXA to provide insurance coverage there — including sickness, injury and maternity and paternity payments.

But nothing like that exists for its drivers and couriers in Canada.

Xavier Van Chau, spokesperson for Uber Canada, wrote in an email they are “currently in active discussions to see how we can further support coverage for our delivery partners,” in Canada “and look forward to share more on this when possible.”

Andrew Cash, co-founder of The Urban Worker Project, an organization that fights for the rights of precarious workers, said he applauds the Bicycle Messenger Emergency Fund, but its existence highlights a growing underlying problem.

“It’s a good example of how the economy is continually loading all the responsibilities and all the risk on to individual workers themselves,” he says.

“Many of them would completely fall through any kind of safety net.”

The bike courier system is also set up so that it incentivizes people to bike faster, make more deliveries and more money, which can put them at risk for collisions, he said. And the rise of delivery apps has meant that many restaurants now go that route instead of paying their own employees.

A 2018 report from the Poverty and Employment Precarity in Southern Ontario research group, a collaboration between university researchers and community groups like the United Way Greater Toronto, found just over 37 per cent of workers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area have some degree of precarious employment.

That’s defined as part-time, temporary and contract, self-employed or full-time employment without benefits, regular hours or a guarantee of at least one year’s work.

“This is a brave new world,” Cash said, where the “matrix of rules and regulations” that governed employer-employee relations has been upended.

As that world shifts, we need to start thinking about new tools to adjust to the new reality, he said. For example, extending short- and long-term disability benefits to independent contractors.

“So that fewer are a bike accident away from the financial abyss.”

May Warren is a breaking news reporter based in Toronto. Follow her on Twitter: @maywarren11

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