Rob Ford’s Toronto: Moving Backwards

Toronto is a beautiful, progressive, global city. I was just visiting a couple of weeks ago, and I was so impressed with the teeming sidewalks, the subways, the streetcars, the buses and, most importantly, the bike lanes. My boyfriend and I brought our bikes and that was all we needed to get around the city all weekend.

Toronto is considering removing the bike lane from Jarvis Street. Photo: CBC News

But, oddly enough, Toronto has a new mayor who doesn’t get progressive transportation policy at all. Mayor Rob Ford has abandoned plans for surface transit, and he’s made himself the adversary of cyclists. Here’s a clip of him on YouTube explaining that “cyclists are a pain in the ass.”

That explains why Toronto, a city where bike commuting has been rising at a rapid clip, is now considering removing bike lanes. Yesterday the city’s Public Works and Infrastructure Committee voted to remove three bike lanes, including the one along Jarvis Street, one of the city’s main drags.

According to Herb van den Dool at Network blog I Bike TO, this lane had been in the mayor’s sights for a while. Here’s a quote from Ford:

“I’ve never supported the bike lanes on Jarvis. Eventually would I like to see them go, absolutely, but is it a priority now? I haven’t got any documentation or anything like that so no, it’s not something that’s going to happen immediately,” Mr. Ford told reporters on Thursday. “Whoever started this rumour, it’s just a rumour for now.”

Herb writes that the mayor’s position isn’t justified by the traffic data:

Motor vehicle travel times have nudged up approximately 2 minutes between Charles and Queen Street [since the bike lane was added]. Not knowing the margin of error, I’m not sure if that 2 minutes is even significant. At any rate the actual motor vehicle traffic volume remains unchanged: averaging 13,000 motor vehicles in both directions. That means just as many cars could travel the same street in the same time period as before. Removing one car lane has had no impact whatsoever on overall motor vehicle traffic volumes. But just to be on the safe side, staff were going to look at measures to “mitigate travel times impacts” such as a northbound left turn phase at Gerrard and Jarvis. If this passes council they won’t have to bother.

The City’s cycling department had been conducting bike counts on Jarvis, as well as measuring the impact of car traffic of the bike lanes before and after their installation. They’ve started doing before and after counts on all bike lane installations – hopefully this will sway some councillors to use reason over ideology. With the automatic counters on Jarvis Street and Dundas St, bike traffic has jumped three fold from 290 to 890 cyclists!

Herb wonders whether Jarvis Street will be the final straw that motivates cyclists to stand up for their rights.

Elsewhere on the Network today: Greater Greater Washington asks whether Metro wouldn’t be better off focusing more on urban areas and less on suburban expansion. PubliCola takes on a New Yorker article that makes some contrarian points about the revival of cities. And This Big City examines the American bike-sharing trend from a European perspective.