Friday marked a major milestone in Toronto’s mayoral race. With nominations finally closed, there are a record 102 candidates running for mayor in the city.

That is sure to lead to lots of debate in the remaining six weeks or so of the campaign.

Speaking of which, cycling was a topic which dominated much of the Toronto mayoral race this week.

Mark Saunders vowed that if he becomes mayor, he will put a halt to any new bike lanes on major roads, rip up existing ones on University Avenue and rethink bike lanes elsewhere with a new consultation process.

“This isn’t about being anti-bike lane,” Saunders said. “I’m not against bike lanes, but what I won’t stand for is putting them on major arteries that are already paralyzed by congestion. Bike lane installations must make sense for the communities they’re in.”

His platform prompted Anthony Furey, who promised a similar stance on bike lanes several weeks ago, to brand him once again as a "copycat.” Though the dig did not lessen Furey’s commitment to tearing up bike lanes.

Meanwhile, other candidates in the race who were asked to respond to the idea took issue with it.

Speaking with reporters at an announcement about his plan for transit in Scarborough, Josh Matlow was asked about the idea and said “that’s stupid.”

“He’s wrong. When we drive our cars in traffic, the reality is we are part of traffic,” Matlow said. “So when other drivers have more options to get around other than being part of the traffic that we are frustrated by, the more people who have a safe and reliable way to bike around our city means fewer people in cars in front of us.”

Speaking with CP24, Cycle Toronto’s Alison Stewart said congestion is a problem which affects all road users.

“Everyone is struggling. So there is no road user that is being well-served right now,” she said. “And part of that challenge stems from the fact that we have far too many single car use trips on our roads and we need to prioritize the movement of people through public transit through biking, through walking.”

She points out that bike lanes give more people options for getting around, noting that health-care workers were asking for a bike lanes on University Avenue during the pandemic so that they could have a safer way to travel to and from work without having to crowd onto transit.

Providing better cycling infrastructure, she said, makes it more attractive for more people to cycle instead of drive, thereby reducing the burden on road traffic.

She said Toronto's bike share program has seen an "explosion" of 300 per cent usage since 2017.

“Increasingly getting around by bike is the most efficient, convenient and reliable way to get from A to B for five kilometres or less. And right now, the bulk of trips being taken in Toronto are less than five kilometres.”

Data compiled by city staff show that bike lanes installed on Bloor Street East, Dundas Street East, University Avenue, Danforth Avenue, Bayview Avenue, Wilmington Avenue and Huntingwood Drive in 2020 had minimal impact on peak commute times for motorists in those areas. The greatest increase to travel times was on Bloor Street East, Dundas Street East and Danforth Avenue. Still, bike lanes in those areas added less than a minute to peak afternoon commute times.

Meanwhile, hundreds more cyclists used those corridors daily. The number of cyclists using University Avenue nearly doubled to around 1,080 in 2021 compared to 530 before the lanes were installed. Danforth Avenue saw 1,100 more daily cyclists after the bike lanes were installed – an increase of almost 67 per cent.

Still, speaking with CP24, Mary McDonald of the Downtown Concerned Citizens Organization, said she supports Saunders’ plan to limit bike lane expansion.

“We can't have bike lanes willy nilly, like it's spaghetti thrown on a plate. There has to be balance, there has to be common sense. Not everybody can cycle. We're not Amsterdam, we can't cycle all year round.”

She said many people have to drive to ferry around kids and elderly parents.

“Not every single person wants to drive but they have to,” she said.  

But speaking with reporters at an announcement this week, Olivia Chow said the issue doesn’t necessarily have to be about supporting either cycling or driving.

“Good Lord, let’s not do that,” Chow said when asked about tearing up bike lanes, noting the extra cars that would be added to traffic if all cyclists were suddenly driving.

“I think the bike lanes encourage more cyclists to come out, meaning there'll be fewer drivers on the street. So I think it's a win-win situation, I don't think it’s an either-or.”

She said bike lanes are an “easy target” for any driver frustrated by congestion, but said that frequent road closures for construction and a transit system that doesn't work properly are problems which have a much greater impact on gridlock.

Toronto has been moving ahead with an “unprecedented amount of new bikeways” over the past few years according to city staff, in order to keep up with “high” demand.

Council adopted a Cycling Network Plan in 2019. Toronto rolled out 65 km of bikeways from 2019 to 2021 and is forecast to roll out another 100 km of new bikeways for 2022-2024, in part by installing a greater proportion of cycle tracks on arterial roadways.

According to the city, the expansion of cycling infrastructure is aimed in part at reducing transit congestion, providing more options for the most disadvantaged groups in society to get around, meeting climate goals, improving safety for road users, and giving people healthier ways to get around the city.

An update on the progress of the Cycling Network Plan is expected in the fourth quarter of 2024.