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Toronto bike share use surges, parking yet to return to pre-pandemic levels: report

The number of people using Toronto’s bike share system is surging even as parking volume at city facilities is struggling to return to pre-pandemic levels, a new city report says.

Observers say the figures are a sign that changes to how people move around the city—workers abandoning long commutes during the pandemic for remote options and an increase in cycling thanks to an expanding network of bike lanes—could be permanent.

“This is a reflection of where our city is at,” said Matti Siemiatycki, a professor of geography at the University of Toronto, adding the numbers are one reflection of a city's downtown that is not yet as lively as it was before COVID-19.

“People are looking for alternatives, and finding them by Zoom and avoiding parking costs,” he said. “Our travel patterns have shifted as we’re coming out of the pandemic.”

An annual report to city hall from the Toronto Parking Authority (TPA), which runs on and off street parking as well as Toronto’s bike share system, shows that bike share trips have surged from about two million in 2018 to 4.6 million last year.

Memberships have risen as new bike lanes give cyclists safer places to ride and bike share stations have expanded from the city’s core, in addition to an investment in electric bicycles that has increased the range any given rider can travel on a trip.

TPA materials say there are more than 500 electric bikes in the system now, a number that’s expected to rise to about 2,000 by 2025.

One rider, Harlan Hutt, said at a Queen Street bike share station that the main attraction is simply that it’s easy and cheap.

“In general, it’s a lot more congested downtown. Bikes make sense, especially these, when you can just park it and leave it — it’s really easy for people,” Hutt said.

But the Toronto Parking Authority’s main line of business is struggling to recover from the pandemic. Figures show that parking volume is up from last year, to just under 15 million cars paying for on-street parking spaces and just under 10 million users of off-street spaces.

But that’s a long way from pre-pandemic highs of 20 million cars paying for on street parking and around 13 million cars paying for off-street parking.

Even as habits seem to be shifting, the TPA is still in the black, with a net profit of $31 million last year.

Mayoral candidate Brad Bradford, who as a councillor is a TPA board member, said it will continue to be important to have “marquis” parking lots in important places.

But he also said a growing city needs to invest in infrastructure that can give people alternatives and accommodate all the ways that people move around the city, in a way that works well with what exists already.

“Every world-class city builds bike infrastructure, whether it’s New York or Tokyo or London or Barcelona. We are growing. We have to have bike infrastructure — but how we do it and where we do it matters,” he said.

Raktim Mitra of Toronto Metropolitan University has studied how safe bike lanes can bring out a latent demand to use bicycles in roadways that would otherwise be dominated by cars.

Mitra said the lanes and the addition of more electric bicycles are key to understanding the growth patterns.

“In my view it’s not a direct competition between bicycles and cars. The point is that bicycles have an important role in our overall transportation infrastructure. They make our roads safer for all users,” he said. Top Stories

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