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Four Wheels Good, Two Wheels Bad

Score one for the cycling community. After an intense and late-breaking campaign, and with a crucial assist from Councillor Kyle Rae, bicycle advocates have successfully introduced bike lanes into a major redevelopment plan for Jarvis Street. Yesterday afternoon the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) voted to remove the centre, reversible-direction lane of traffic, and use the freed-up space to install bicycle lanes in both directions from Bloor to Queen.
It isn’t all rainbows and sunshine among active-transportation advocates though. The stated purpose of the redesign is “to improve Jarvis Street’s public realm in a manner that compliments the area’s existing built form and redevelopment, while recognizing the street as a cultural corridor with an emphasis on its historical significance.” To that end, the original plan [PDF], the one recommended by city staff and endorsed by pedestrian advocates and many local residents, was to widen sidewalks in an attempt to revitalize the neighbourhood and make Jarvis a centre of vibrant street life—an area people want to spend time in rather than simply pass through on their way to someplace else.
That at least some of these improvements have given way to bicycle lanes (which only entered the fray at the final public consultation on the plan in January) has caused some distress. Several of the councillors who voted in favour of the bicycle lanes expressed deep frustration at being forced to choose between pedestrians and cyclists, and many pedestrian and cycling advocates expressed even deeper frustration at being pitted against each other. Automobile advocates, meanwhile, expressed frustration at just about everything and everybody.

Part of city staff’s recommended vision for an enhanced Jarvis streetscape: plenty of space for pedestrians and street life, but no dedicated cycling lanes. Rendering courtesy of the City of Toronto.

As the PWIC began its consideration of this matter several dozen concerned citizens, clad in neon yellow t-shirts emblazoned with “Don’t Jam Jarvis” slogans, were filling many of the seats in Committee Room 1. Their goal? Send the proposed revitalization plan back to the drawing board, or defer it pending further study, or jettison it altogether. Significantly, these were not residents of the section of Jarvis in question but of neighbourhoods to the north, such as Rosedale and Moore Park. They were worried that removing the centre lane from Jarvis—which cyclists and pedestrians alike agreed was necessary to accommodate any of their goals—would slow down traffic to an intolerable extent, rendering their commutes downtown unjustifiably long, costing them millions of dollars in lost wages, and generally making life miserable.
(Let us pause to point out that according to city staff’s best estimate, the commute in question would take two minutes longer: eight to ten minutes instead of six to eight.)
20090505jarvisgasstn.jpg Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong, who is neither a member of the PWIC nor the representative of a ward directly affected by the revitalization plan, was particularly distressed by the apparent war being waged on vehicular traffic. Speaking as a guest of the committee, he protested that “every time we put forward a proposal with regards to traffic, we make things worse.” Concerned for the welfare of suburban residents forced by selfish, bicycle/sidewalk-loving downtowners to spend ever-increasing amounts of time in their cars, he claimed that “the suburbs are persona non grata when it comes to dealing with transportation issues” and, moreover, that “we should be finding solutions to our gridlock problems—that’s our job.”
(Another pause, this time to state that last we checked Council’s job is to ensure the well-being of its citizenry as it pertains to a variety of policy areas, not to single-mindedly devote itself to the preferences of car owners who want to reduce congestion, thereby enabling them to drive places faster.)
Indignant commuters notwithstanding, it was fairly clear that the automotive contingent was going to lose this battle: with a generous five lanes, Jarvis is a better candidate than most roads for some reallocation of space. The only real question was who would wind up with the extra room—and that is the great misfortune. Though in theory city staff could have studied the effects of removing two lanes of traffic, taking Jarvis down from five to three, that idea would have required far greater political will to implement than was in evidence yesterday, and never got any real traction. Among those lamenting this situation were Nancy Smith Lea, Program Director at the Toronto Coalition for Active Transportation, and Councillor Glenn De Baeremaeker, chair of the PWIC. (For many who felt torn, the deciding factor was that pedestrians at least had some dedicated infrastructure, while cyclists had none as of yet.)
Dylan Reid is co-chair of Toronto’s Pedestrian Committee, and was disappointed that even very pro-active-transport councillors failed to back their rhetoric up with a more sweeping policy initiative. After the vote came down he told us via email that “reducing Jarvis to three lanes would have been a way to really make a stand in favour of transforming Toronto. As several of the committee members pointed out, New York has happily gone ahead and closed down significant chunks of main streets to benefit pedestrians and cyclists. This would have been a great opportunity to do something equally dramatic.”
The fate of Jarvis itself—the streetscape and its impact on the community nearby—remains unclear. Reid continued: “The goal of the project was to make Jarvis a destination, not just a transportation route—one that would benefit all of the thousands of people who live, work or study on the street, and would do justice to the street’s heritage importance.” Whether this can still be done within the confines of the current sidewalk is an open question.
Yvonne Bambrick, Executive Director of the Toronto Cyclists Union, is firmly convinced that the city can still make the necessary enhancements, and told us that “You can make improvement to the pedestrian realm without widening the sidewalks…lots of improvements. Fixing cracks and uneven parts, adding trees, relocating street furniture, adding benches and planters, etc.” can all be done regardless of the sidewalk’s size. In addition, bicycle lanes and the cyclists who use them themselves constitute something of a public space improvement, as they “help to slow the speed of car traffic, and add a ‘friendly’ buffer between pedestrians and cars. They attract physically active, healthy people to the area and provide a positive example of alternatives to the automobile.”
Though not the more ambitious redevelopment we had hoped for, we sincerely hope Jarvis residents will find that they agree, and that it is enough.
All photos of Jarvis Street by Marc Lostracco/Torontoist.


  • http://undefined woowah

    It’s great bike lanes are being put in! It’s too bad that we still let cars dictate pedestrian and cycling spaces though.

  • http://undefined friend68

    Any word on transit in the whole package?
    After nearly being run over by another cyclist this morning, I say give the focus to the pedestrian. Pedestrian spaces add real quality to the nature of a street, to those that live there, visit and shop there. I know there are a lot of cycling advocates on this site, but compared to people who walk and even (gasp) drive, they are the minority, especially seasonally.

  • http://undefined Andrew

    100% agreed — exchanging car lanes for bike lanes is a waste of an opportunity that will do nothing for Jarvis.
    Cyclists are far more threatening to pedestrians than vehicles — I’ve far more often been nearly mowed down by a speeding cyclist (usually blowing through a stop sign or red light) than by a motorist.

  • http://undefined mattalexto

    As a cyclist I agree that cyclists need to be more careful and should obey the rules of the road, but nobody should step off the sidewalk without looking both ways. Especially with those electric scooters whirring through the city these days.
    Also, I ride on roads without bike lanes all the time. I like bike lanes, and we need more. If the decision is between narrow sidewalks or wide sidewalks I’d vote for wide sidewalks.

  • http://undefined AdamSchwabe

    Wow, really? That’s such a red herring of an argument.
    I might argue that I’ve far more often been nearly mowed down by a speeding pedestrian who tramples through the crowds at rush hour on Bloor Street.
    Let’s maintain some perspective, please – I’d much rather see bikes on Jarvis than the cars who are flying down it at nearly 100 km/h as it stands now.

  • http://undefined Andrew

    Pedestrians have been both seriously injured and killed by cyclists — google “cyclist kills pedestrian”. Surely you would agree that any collision with 200lbs of bike plus rider, moving at 20 km/hr, would invite the risk of injury.
    At least those “100 km/h” cars (of which I have never seen one, having cycled, walked, and driven on Jarvis regularly) generally obey stop signs and traffic lights, and don’t drive on the fucking sidewalk.

  • http://undefined Svend

    A major road like Jarvis should have bike lanes, same with Bloor and Yonge Streets. I think the sidewalks are wide enough if we get control of the barriers put out there by the city and shopkeepers.

  • http://undefined manabouttown

    Let us not make villains of (motorized) vehicles. The efficient flow into and out of the city is absolutely essential. Every good you buy arrives by truck. Toronto is a geographically large city, and the core is dense in population. This demands quick, efficient roads. For quick routes from the lake up to Bloor, vehicles have very few options. It is noble, if a bit foolhardy, to hope wider sidewalks or bike lanes will revitalize Jarvis; but revitalization would require something far more drastic; Allen Gardens, on Jarvis, is more crack-den than public park. What good do sidewalks do in a neighbourhood that isn’t safe to walk through at night?
    Place the emphasis on efficient traffic flow; be it two wheels or many. Streets are the veins and arteries of the city.

  • http://undefined Hamutal Dotan

    Any word on transit in the whole package

    There’s nothing on the radar for Jarvis transit that would require infrastructure changes, so that issue didn’t really enter into the conversation at PWIC.

  • http://undefined canuck1975

    Jarvis has always been a thoroughfare for traffic. Now that more people in the city are moving to cycling, I’d suggest a better use of space would be to maintain all five lanes, add the bike lines and keep the sidewalks how they are.
    Jarvis simply doesn’t have the foot traffic to demand wider sidewalks; Church would be a much better candidate with all of the crap, not including the people, blocking the sidewalk.

  • http://undefined x_the_x

    Hear, Hear. I have no objection to bike lanes or wider sidewalks in principle (though wonder if putting bike lanes on a major commuter artery best serves the safety of cyclists), but as a revitalization plan, this is nothing more than wishful thinking. The fact that the plan would disupt traffic flow in an out of the city and from surrounding neighborhoods is, for the special interest groups (cited in the piece) and the councillors beholden to them, a feature, not a bug.
    While I am here, I could do without the snide asides that litter the piece. It’s possible to conclude that one side of the argument hasn’t made its case without belittling their intentions because they have committed the cardinal sin of operating an automobile. It is indicative of a city council that has no lost its sense of the city as a place of employment that it would dismiss summarily concerns by residents about their ability to reach their place of employment efficiently.

  • http://undefined Dry Brain

    200 pounds of bike plus cyclist. Where do you get a 200 pound bike, exactly?
    Anyway, point taken, (some cyclists are aggressive dicks) but this move is about fostering a more environmentally sustainable form of transport. And canuck1975: We can’t maintain all five lanes AND put in bike lanes AND maintain the sidewalks. There’s not enough space for all that. Something has to give, unless things stay exactly as they are.
    And to x_the_x: the city is not just a “place of employment.” It’s also a place of residence, and is becoming ever more so.

  • CanadianSkeezix

    It’s a big of a chicken and egg, no? As long as Jarvis operates more as a highway rather than a city street, you won’t have the foot traffic. No one wants to amble alongside a vehicular thoroughfare.

  • http://undefined x_the_x

    I didn’t say it was a place of employment at the exclusion of other functions. But no one would live here if there were no jobs. We forgot that cities are primarily conglomerations of capital, and the best ones succeed by attracting increasing amounts of same.
    Toronto has been bleeding jobs to surrounding regions for years, and the lack of attention this gets from the current city exec. is unconscionable.

  • http://undefined canuck1975

    I don’t think Jarvis is the type of street that would generate foot traffic, regardless of the sidewalk space. Outside of a few areas (Charles – Wellesley, Allen Gardens), there’s not much to bring people to walk around.
    Like I said, Church St. would benefit much more from increased sidewalk space. Making Jarvis more “liveable” will only move some of that traffic off the street, send it to Yonge, Church and Sherbourne, and just congest those more anyway.
    It’s not a problem solver at all.

  • http://undefined Andrew

    By that I meant 30-40 lbs of typical bike plus 160-170 lbs of typical (male) cyclist = 200 lbs of bike plus rider.

  • rapi

    i actually think dundas is a better candidate for improvement…it connects yonge and dundas square with the new regent park development and it is in dire need of attention. once they do a dundas facelift, pedestrian traffic will follow on jarvis, too. it is an area with high concentration of hotels and b&b’s, the tourists are there….with nowhere to go…

  • http://undefined canuck1975

    I’d agree with you there, 100%. I only suggested Church since it’s also N-S. Dundas needs more work over and above what’s been done already.

  • http://undefined AR

    Remember that moving people by cars is seldom efficient transportation, since most cars contain one person and take up a lot of road space.
    Actually providing the infrastructure is the first step for a pedestrian oriented revitalization. From there you can encourage mixed income development and make positive improvements to the neighbourhood, like improving safety.

  • Marc Lostracco

    Every time I see how they paved over the lawn over what is now the Keg Mansion and dumped a shitty-looking gas station right in front of it, a little piece of me dies.

  • http://undefined Nathan

    I commute by bike everyday and it really angers me when I see cyclists disregarding the rules of the road – running read lights, not stopping for streetcars, riding two abreast, darting in and out of traffic unexpectedly. Every time they do this, they just raise more ire from motorists and pedestrians alike, hurting our cause. I’m glad bike lanes are coming to Jarvis – Toronto desperately needs more sustainable transit options – I just wish cyclists would realize that they need to set an example.

  • http://undefined Nathan

    * red