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Environment, Toronto Politics

Compromising on Bike Lanes at Toronto City Hall: Pt. II

Jarvis bike lane - Image courtesy of the Toronto Star

Yesterday afternoon, when onlookers in the crowd spotted Ford staffers handing out voting sheets to ‘Fordnation,’ as the right wing of Council is known, we who were there to support bike lanes should have guessed the issue was dead in the water. The slim chance that cyclists and their advocates on Council had in retaining the bike lane depended on Mayor Ford deciding not to whip the vote. But presented with an opportunity to strike a symbolic blow against former mayor David Miller, the left, and cyclists (who he seems to have a special hatred for), Ford took it and whipped the vote.

And the motion to save the Jarvis bike lane was lost 18-27.

It was a day of tempered losses, as some tried to put a silver lining on the outcome. In a tweet, the Toronto Bike Union claimed it was a “big victory for cyclists” to have had a motion passed which will coordinate the removal of the Jarvis bike lane with the introduction of a segregated bike lane on nearby Sherbourne Street. I cannot share their enthusiasm that this is a “big victory” for Toronto’s cyclists, but I do appreciate their optimism.

The Bike Union did a tremendous job fighting for our cycling infrastructure and in getting people out to City Hall to participate in the process: and even though we didn’t come away with the desired outcome, they have our thanks for the effort.

So the final outcome is this: bike lanes on Jarvis, Birchmount, and Pharmacy will be removed, but the Jarvis lane’s removal will be coordinated with the introduction of a segregated lane on Sherbourne St., which is part of Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s bike plan. A proposed Environmental Assessment for a bike lane on Bloor-Danforth was denied, as were motions regarding bike lanes on Bloor near Dundas St. and Keele St., and between Christie St. and Bedford Ave. A motion was also carried which will remove a proposed bike path through several Scarborough parks.

Losing as much as we did this afternoon and gaining only Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong’s bike plan is nothing approaching a victory for cyclists in Toronto. Its emphasis on segregated bike lanes over a more extensive system of painted line bike lanes assumes the supremacy of separated bike lanes, which is contested, to be sure. It is also assumed (if ‘Fordmation’ even cares) that these new lanes will be so welcomed by the cycling community that we will easily forget the loss of other critical infrastructure.

They are wrong.

All this says nothing of the hypocracy of ‘Fordnation’ going on about a $700M budget shortfall to be made up by the City by spending $500K on political posturing to remove a bike lane, an issue many Councillors commented on during the debate. Apparently, the lanes were bad for business. But as Shawn Micallef said on Twitter, “there is money burning in the streets of Toronto right now. Remember who lit it on fire.”

I am not a huge fan of segregated bike lanes. I have had this discussion with the Bike Union’s Advocacy Director, Andrea Garcia, many times, and we respectfully agree to disagree. Personally, I do not feel safe in a segregated bike lane. I have used them in Montreal, and they are too narrow. If the final decision is to use elevated curbs to delineate the lane, I cannot shake the feeling I have that if something were to go wrong, I would be trapped between concrete bumpers. During the course of the debate, Adam Vaughan voiced some interesting arguments against segregated bike lanes that I had not considered: garbage truck access to the curb, snow removal from the lane in winter, WheelTrans TTC access to picking up handicapped passengers – all valuable insights into the potential problems with these lanes.

But also, when I am on my bike, I am a vehicle, same as a car, and entitled to those same rights to the road. And I doubt I will be the only cyclist who opts to continue using the road we are entitled to instead of Minnan-Wong’s segregated bike lanes.

It’s a dark day for cycling in Toronto. But we have to keep on riding regardless.

About awreeves

Editor-in-chief at Alternatives Journal. Author of 'Overrun: Dispatches from the Asian carp Crisis'.


3 thoughts on “Compromising on Bike Lanes at Toronto City Hall: Pt. II

  1. Some feedback from NY: segregated bike paths are more popular with new cyclists who like the idea of being separated from car traffic. Rather than high concrete barriers, low ones seems to bring the safety effects without the loading problems. As for snow removal – they need to make the lane wide enough for a plow to get through. I’d hope that would come up in the environmental assessment – if there is one.

    Posted by Josef Szende | July 13, 2011, 1:27 pm
  2. Thanks for sharing, Josef! Long time, no see!

    And I appreciate the benefit that a segregated bike lane would have for new cyclist – perhaps because I have been riding so long that I have forgotten how intimidating it can be for new cyclists.

    It is also worth remembering that the city is still determining how they want to separate the lanes, I believe: there is a big psychological difference for me between an 8′ cement barrier and rumble strips.

    Adam Vaughan’s concern re: snow removal was that in the same way cars use the bike lane as a temporary parking space, that the city snow removers would use the bike lane as a snow storage gutter. And is the city then investing in special small snow removal plows just for bike paths? Who knows?

    Crazy city…

    Posted by awreeves | July 13, 2011, 1:48 pm
  3. Words fail me. No it’s true. Thet do, all the time, but especially this time. Go Bluenosers

    Posted by JReeves | July 20, 2011, 12:34 pm

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