More highrises, more bike lanes, more cyclists… the city is changing, but how bike-friendly are Toronto condos? Some wonder if we’re headed for a collision course somewhere down the road.
“There are so many more bikes on the road these days,” condo industry consultant Jeanhy Shim told NextHome. “In some parts of the city, there are tons of bikes, which is great.”
Areas with high cyclist traffic naturally include those with dedicated bike lanes, particularly along major thoroughfares such as Bloor Street and Adelaide Street. The City is planning more of them, and is investing in cycling infrastructure to encourage Greener living, a healthier lifestyle and other benefits of “growing up vertical.”
But there are challenges.
“I had no idea when I bought my condo, that I wouldn’t be allowed to take my bike upstairs,” says John Brown (not his real name). “They forced me to park it outside. The week I moved in, it was stolen.”
Two-thousand-dollar ride, gone.
It’s an example that highlights one of the challenges Toronto faces – in addition to emotionally charged issues such as cars parking in bike lanes and road safety. With all these condos going up around the city, and the cycling culture exploding here, how bike-friendly are these buildings?
While developers may not be brining bike-friendly buildings to market as fast as cycling in the city is growing (some are calling it the #SummerOfTheBike), the good news is that more condo builders are coming up to speed in catering to this growing demand.
Some builders provide access to Bike Share, itself a growing program in Toronto. Others are making bike parking a higher priority amenity, while others still are going even further.
You’ve heard of car-free buildings? How about bike-specific condos?
Fieldgate Urban has a proposal before the City to build a 16-storey mixed use building, so far referred to as 572 Church St., reflecting its address. The project comprises 98 condo units and parking spots for 117 bicycles – and zero for cars.
“The strategy for parking here is that it is a tight development with a boutique building very close to many modes of transit, including dedicated bike routes and mass public transit,” David A. Mandell, vice-president, development for Fieldgate Urban, told NextHome.
“This is a walking neighbourhood. We believe there is a strong market for residential without car parking at Church and Wellesley. We aren’t marketing it as a bike-specific condo per se, although we believe we will get attention simply due to that fact.”
The company expects to begin marketing 572 Church in late winter 2018.
OUT WITH THE OLD
Generally speaking, most (in fairness, older) condos don’t allow unit owners to bring bikes into common areas such as elevators, fearing damage, wear and tear and inconvenience to other residents. Nor do they want people storing them on their balconies, for safety and aesthetic reasons.
Some buildings require residents to lock their bikes outside, while others may choose to “look the other way” when residents bring their rides inside, says Shim.
“‘What’s the minimum required?’” has been the historical response among developers when planning bike parking, she adds.
The answer is one bike space per unit, according to a City bylaw. But how that’s delivered is determined by the developer.
“Bikes are what you squeeze into any spare space,” says Shim. “They’re kind of the last thing on the list.”
This is especially true in parking garages, where space is at a premium, with not just space allotted for cars but also for mechanical and other operations.
Some projects install bike racks in car parking spots, leasing them back to the owners. More complicated security systems, such as those that involve cameras, are cost-prohibitive, so stronger locks are usually the next step.
Such matters are generally handled through the rules of a building’s condo corporation, according to Denise Lash of Lash Condo Law, Toronto. These are put in place by developers at the time the condominium is registered. The owner-elected board can make new rules, or amend or repeal existing ones. Owners themselves can also request an owners’ meeting to amend or repeal a rule.
The problem with this process is that any changes must be put to an owners’ vote. And since the condo board is supposed to uphold the condo documents written by developers, such amendments usually require 95 per cent approval.
“Not impossible, but very difficult,” says Shim.
MORE TO COME
Fieldgate Urban’s proposed project follows at least two others on the go in the city.
Scott Shields Architects is building 24 Mercer St., a 15-storey development near King Street West and Blue Jays Way that features 12 units – with no car parking, but 30 bicycle spots.
This project is slated for completion in 2020.
One of the largest bike-friendly condos is 159 SW by Alterra Group, at the southwest corner of Wellelsey and Sherbourne. This 36-storey, 360-unit building, which recently began construction and is scheduled for completion in October 2019, will have parking for less than 80 cars – but an individual bike locker for each of its 360 units.
The building will also provide a bicycle repair area, complete with tools, and will allow owners to take their bike into their unit.
HOW BIKE-FRIENDLY IS YOUR CONDO?
So, if you’re a cyclist, before you plunk down several hundred thousand bucks on a downtown unit, you might want to ask: How bike-friendly is that condo?