City council approves contentious bike lane for Jarvis
By Allison Hanes
What started out five years ago as a local plan to beautify Jarvis Street today became the front line in Toronto’s war on the car, with Mayor David Miller leading the charge.
The Mayor made a plan to remove a lane of vehicle traffic from the downtown thoroughfare to accommodate cyclists his priority item at city council – meaning it was first up on the agenda for a lengthy and loud debate.
By championing the plan, the Mayor took a strong stand in the turf war over road space in gridlocked Toronto – and exposed the political fault lines on council that have turned the implementation of the city’s cycling network into a battle between cars and bikes.
About 100 helmet-wearing cyclists packed the public gallery to cheer Mr. Miller on. Some also jeered opposition councillors who questioned the plan’s impact on traffic for the 28,000 vehicles that use Jarvis daily.
A half-dozen Moore Park and Rosedale residents, decked out in bright yellow “Don’t Jam Jarvis” T-shirts, urged council to suspend the plan until after a temporary trial run.
Mr. Miller said he found it “amazing” that a plan as “modest” as ceding a lane of traffic to bikes, to make cycling safer, could generate such opposition.
“If you look at the scarce road space that we have, how do you ensure its use is maximized?” he said. “You use it in a way that allows the most people to use it. How many bikes fit where one car does? How many buses and how many people in a bus fit where three cars and one driver does? We know those figures. By giving priority to transit and allowing cycling as a safe alternative, you can maximize the use of road space, which in the end is good for drivers.”
Jarvis Street currently has a reversible centre lane between Bloor and Queen streets that changes direction based on traffic patterns during evening and morning rush hours.
Council agreed in a 28-16 vote to turn over that centre lane to cyclists, by creating two lanes of vehicle traffic in each direction with a bicycle lane on each curb.
Councillor Doug Holyday criticized the 4-kilometre Jarvis bike lane as just another example of the piecemeal cycling network, with a rather disconnected patchwork of lanes.
But Yvonne Bambrick, executive director of the Toronto Cyclists Union, said putting bike lanes in the wards of friendly councillors is considered “the path of least resistance.” The hope, she said, is to connect the various pieces over time.
Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong (Don Valley East) said all councillors support making roads safer for cyclists and pedestrians, but it shouldn’t come at a cost of worsening congestion.
“What we should be looking at is how we can improve mobility,” he said. “This city needs a comprehensive plan with regards to mobility.”
Urging people to get on their bikes to “lose some weight” and “look better naked,” Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker (Scarborough Centre), an avid cyclist, countered that: “People on bikes don’t cause congestion. People on bikes don’t cause pollution.”
But Councillor Michael Thompson (Scarborough Centre) said cycling isn’t practical for everyone, no matter how much they may enjoy it.
“I think there’s a lot of moms and dads out there who can’t simply get on their bikes and drop the kids off at daycare,” said Mr. Thompson, pictured above.
While some councillors insisted the debate over Jarvis has been overblown, it has emerged as something of a litmus test for the acceptance of Toronto’s bike plan, which generally tends to divide councillors depending on whether they represent suburban or central wards.
Councillor Pam McConnell (Toronto Centre Rosedale) expressed her frustration with motorists racing through core neighbourhoods, referencing a recent fatal accident involving a mother and child.
“People use this street as if it is a highway,” she said. “It is not a highway.”
But Councillor Suzan Hall (Etobicoke North) said many motorists are actually scared of aggressive cyclists.
“I don’t think we should be demonized for driving cars,” she said.