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Higher Ground

Spoke folk are up over their front tires planning the city for two wheels

Urban life can be hectic, and often doesn’t leave us the time or the inclination to get to know our neighbours or our neighbourhoods. In the face of that, many people are starting to live a more conscientious, purposeful lifestyle, which often includes cycling rather than driving. In the second part of this series, we explore how developers and architects — many being cyclists themselves — are accommodating this sea change.

When developer Bill Gairdner wants to get from his College Street office to his Roncesvalles project site, he usually has to wait several minutes for a break in the bike traffic. “This has become an increasingly common occurrence,” says Mr. Gairdner, who commutes by bike from home to office to his new condo site at 383 Sorauren. “In the 10 years I’ve been riding around the city, ridership has grown.”

As a bike-riding “suit,” Mr. Gairdner isn’t unique. Concord-Adex vice-president Gabriel Leung commutes daily from his Annex home to work at City Place. Wells Baker, Minto’s manager of sustainable development, commutes from home to his North York office on a Brompton fold-up bike that stores neatly by his desk, or in hand on the subway when it rains.

Sam Crignano, who lives at London on the Esplanade, doesn’t need a bike to commute next door to his job as Cityzen’s director of development, but after hours, he cycles about 250km a week with friends. Architect Roland Rom Colthoff, who has designed a number of GTA condo projects, not only commutes to Raw’s office on Adelaide, but rides in cycling marathons, too.

Although Toronto is still far behind such cities as Amsterdam — where 490,000 cyclists ride more than two million kilometres daily — more than 50% of Toronto adults ride a bike with some regularity, according to a 2009 Ipsos Reid survey. The city’s flat terrain makes it easy, and it’s a cheap form of transit.

And with recent infrastructure improvements moving towards making cycling safer, more Toronto commuters will take to the wheel. Dan Egan, manager of Toronto’s Cycling Infrastructure and Programs, says the current council is really focused on creating bike lanes that are separated from traffic. “It’s a recent trend across North America, but has been in place in Europe for decades,” he notes.

Recently, one such lane opened on Sherbourne Street. At the moment it runs from Bloor Street to King Street East, but will extend to Queens Quay by next year. Similar separated bike lanes are coming to Harbord, Hoskin and Wellesley streets, stretching from Ossington Avenue to Parliament Street. And an Environmental Assessment study of Richmond and Adelaide streets is expected to recommend those east-west routes get separated bike lanes as well in 2014.

Michelle Siu for National Post

The waterfront trail, which already carries between 2,500 and 3,500 cyclists daily, will be an even more prominent commuter route once the Queens Quay revitalization completes the central section of the trail and the West Donlands and East Bayfront neighbourhoods are fully developed, Mr. Egan says. Across the top of the city, the new Finch Hydro Corridor Trail extends 10km from Norfinch Drive to Yonge Street and is being extended east to connect with the Don Trail by summer 2015. To connect these, north-south bike routes will gradually be added — Bay Street, for example, will connect the downtown routes, once the Union Station refurbishment is complete.

More bike routes, though, will mean more bikes — and more bike parking. And so the city has beefed up bike parking requirements in high rise projects — one spot per unit in certain downtown areas, and .75 spots per unit in areas of lower bike usage.

Although developers, especially those who cycle themselves, are sympathetic, they’re scrambling to come up with creative ways to provide parking without eating up valuable real estate.

Mr. Crignano says that a large percentage of bike parking offered at London on the Esplanade goes unused. While he understands and agrees with accommodating future bike use increases, he doesn’t believe it will ever reach 100%.

Mr. Gairdner, on the other hand, has provided 155 bike parking spots at 383 Sorauren, although only 109 were required. He reasons that the cycling population around Roncesvalles will only increase because of its ideal commuting distance to downtown (whereas at the Esplanade, people walk) and its proximity to trails.

Avid cyclist Jamie James, who is Tridel’s lead sustainability advisor, says location is key. He worked with the city on the bike-use survey results, and knows that cycling is increasing but that not every area is a “cyclist’s haven.” He says a better solution would be to expand the Bixi bike-share network.

If it were about frequency of bike use ­­— not everyone commutes — Mr. Egan would agree. But since ownership rates are consistent around the city, it becomes a question of parking the bike.

As the answer’s not to keep it in the storage locker (difficult access) or in the suite (tracking in dirt), developers are exploring creative alternatives. There are always nooks in the parking garage, suitable for bikes and the ingenious new locking systems, says Craig Taylor, director of design and marketing for Context Developments. At Spire where he lives, his bike is locked to the wall, its back tire on the floor, its front tire pointing to the ceiling. At Context’s Market Wharf project, they constructed a private bike room for a penthouse resident who needed to secure several very expensive bicycles.

For a new (as-yet unnamed) 1,400-unit waterfront project that Mr. Rom Colthoff is designing, he is proposing a combination bike concierge and bike shop. “I think there’s a solid business case for it. What could be better than leaving your bike secure in a shop, and come back in morning and it’s fixed?”

At other projects, Mr. Rom Colthoff has investigated Dutch systems with modified stairways and ramps that have troughs for the bike wheels, as well as a vertical, fully automated Japanese system where the bike rolls in for dropoff and then rolls out for pick up. The simplest system is a $10 hanger, which works well in locked and monitored garages.

At Minto’s 30 Roehampton project near Yonge and Eglinton, currently under construction, bike storage has gone up to the second floor because residents are reluctant to leave their bikes in the garage. The second-floor bike parking has dedicated elevator access with a back door, Mr. Baker says.

He admits finding places to store all the bikes required is challenging. “We looked at multi-level stacking bike racks, and vertical wall hanging racks with raising mechanisms, but the systems are expensive and I don’t know how effective they will be. You want a tight space but not so tight that it’s inconvenient.”

The city planners acknowledge that the emerging cycling trend is one they need to be flexible about.

“We’re looking at growth areas to determine what the relationship is between a unit and its need for bike parking,” says city planner Joe D’Abramo. “Essentially, this is all for review as we start to see patterns of use developing.”

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