‘Dangerous and unpleasant’: New report shows why Scarborough needs a proper walking and cycling network

Cyclist on streets
In a new report U of T Scarborough researchers have outlined what a walking and cycling network could look like in Scarborough. The report says the city has failed to build adequate infrastructure in Scarborough because of a lack of long-term planning.

Don Campbell

Cycling and walking networks remain woefully inadequate in Scarborough due to a lack of long-term planning by the City of Toronto, a new U of T Scarborough report finds.


Active transportation – including walking, cycling, inline skating and mobility aids – is the most efficient, equitable, sustainable and accessible form of transportation, but the report’s authors say current infrastructure “actively discourages” it in Scarborough.


“This infrastructure is urgently needed,” says André Sorensen, a professor in the department of human geography at U of T Scarborough and lead author of the report.


“The city has failed to develop a coherent, long-term plan for Scarborough that will meet its own policy goals for sustainability and inclusion. As a result, it continues to be dangerous and unpleasant for residents who are walking and cycling in this part of the city.”


Scarborough suffers greatly from its mid-20th century urban planning that prioritized moving cars over anything else. With large arterial roads, intersections designed to keep cars moving as fast as possible, lack of cycling facilities and safe pedestrian crosswalks, Sorensen says it’s little wonder Scarborough has the highest per capita rate of fatalities from traffic collisions in the city.  

Andre Sorensen
Professor Andre Sorensen says there is tremendous opportunity in Scarborough to create an extensive walking and cycling network. 


But needs have changed over the past 70 years. Today, close to 40 per cent of households in Scarborough don’t have access to a single automobile. Meanwhile, walking and cycling have increased in importance due to cost and the proven environmental, physical and mental health benefits over traveling by car.


At the same time, Sorensen says there is tremendous opportunity in Scarborough to develop active transportation networks because of those conditions. Its main arterial roads (for example Kingston Road, Eglinton, Lawrence, Sheppard and Finch Avenues) are wide, leaving ample room to build walking and cycling facilities without having to remove a lane of traffic. Scarborough also has higher residential density compared to most post-war suburbs, not to mention a bigger mix of high-density employment and commercial areas. It also has potential for an extensive off-road cycling and walking trail network.     


“There’s so much opportunity in Scarborough, mostly because of the wide arterial roads and existing urban form,” says Sorensen, an expert on urban planning.


“There’s so much wasted space – the city grows grass on three to four metres on either side of these roads. Unlike downtown where there’s less space and you have to remove a traffic or parking lane to build cycling or walking infrastructure, that is much easier in Scarborough.” 


The report proposes a comprehensive active transportation network for Scarborough that provides cycling facilities within 1km of all residences, which meets targets set out in the city’s official plan. To achieve this, the author’s say that an interim step is needed to begin bridging the wide gap between existing infrastructure and those ambitious goals. The “interim” network expands the existing cycling routes to around 150 km (six times larger than it is now), mostly along major roads such as Kingston, Eglinton, Ellesmere, Finch, Kennedy and Morningside.   


It also outlines the urgent need to improve walking networks in Scarborough. Sorensen says the network needs to prioritize safety and accessibility as well as creating an inviting and pleasant environment that pedestrians will want to use. These improvements include more frequent and safer pedestrian crosswalks, wider sidewalks (2.1 metres minimum), and safer intersections. It also includes more benches, shade, improved winter maintenance and empty garbage bins.    


Read the full report: The Scarborough Opportunity: A Comprehensive Walking and Cycling Network


Nadhiena Shankar, a public policy and urban planning student who helped write the report, says that active transportation infrastructure is needed to ensure transit equity in Scarborough, and that residents will keep mobilizing and advocating until its delivered.  


“This proposal isn’t unreasonable. It aligns with the city’s existing policies on safety, climate change and accessibility,” says Shankar, who was born and raised in Scarborough.


“We hope this puts the city on notice that we deserve better. It’s also a reminder that Scarborough is for everyone, whether you ride a bike, walk, drive or take public transit – no one should be sidelined.”  


The authors say a key element to creating any cycling and pedestrian network in Scarborough is connectivity. The current system can barely be considered a loose patchwork, with most relying on the existing off-road trail system. Sorensen says while off-road trails serve an important recreational purpose, what’s needed is a more direct on-road system that gets people to where they need to go. This will need to run along the major arterial roads that are connected in a grid and already cross major obstacles such as ravines, railways and highways.


“These roads are the most direct route to get people to school, work, appointments, places to eat and shop or public transit stops,” says Sorensen.


“If we want an active transportation network that people can actually use, it has to go along these busy roads.”


The authors received support from the U of T Scarborough Suburban Mobilities Cluster.