“If you take the bike lanes off Jarvis, you’re not taking the bicycles off Jarvis,” Councillor Pam McConnell (Ward 28, Toronto Centre-Rosedale)
“If we build another highway through Jarvis, we’ll disconnect these neighbourhoods once again. I’m trying to bring prosperity back to the downtown east side. ” Councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale)
An emotional, often heated, and very symbolic debate has come to a close at City Hall. Council debated the future of three bike lanes—on Jarvis, Birchmount, and Pharmacy—yesterday evening and this morning. The upshot:
- Jarvis bike lanes will remain for approximately one year, until separated bike lanes are installed on Sherbourne; at that point they will be removed.
- Birchmount and Pharmacy bike lanes will be removed this year.
The debate was notable for the starkness of the language employed, with several councillors explicitly framing the disagreement over cycling infrastructure as a downtown vs. suburbs issue, and others as a Miller vs. Ford issue. Some charged that Ford’s allies were proceeding without any policy justification, simply motivated by the desire to undo that which Miller had done. Others said that downtown councillors were trying to impose a particular ideology on a city that had rejected it in the last election. (These divides have informed previous debates, but usually there’s at least more lip service paid to the idea that we might actually all be in this together.)
Strikingly absent: any real discussion of the original plan for Jarvis Street, which called for removing the centre/fifth lane of traffic, widening the curb lanes to accommodate cyclists, and widening sidewalks to create a pedestrian boulevard that was conducive to revitalizing the neighbourhood’s street life. Nobody proposed that today: though many charged that the bike lanes were a last-minute revision to the staff’s original proposal, and therefore ought to be undone, nobody seriously suggested that the recommendations in that original staff report be implemented. The well-being of the actual neighbourhoods around Jarvis were largely lost in the shuffle, with the debate focused on transportation issues almost exclusively.
From that report:
This solution offers the most potential to improve the pedestrian realm while offering the opportunity to implement urban design elements and street art to establish Jarvis Street as a cultural corridor with an emphasis on its heritage and historical significance. In terms of transportation impacts, the removal of the centre reversible lane will result in additional delay for vehicular traffic using Jarvis Street. However, the traffic analysis conducted indicates that with minor redistribution of traffic to other major north-south roads, overall the network in the study area will still operate at an acceptable level of service.
The decision taken today will lead to the restoration of the fifth traffic lane on Jarvis, and a rejection of both the original staff recommendations (for a wider pedestrian realm) and the amended version that ultimately passed—the one that created the bike lanes we have today.
As per the language in today’s city council agenda, this decision does not follow any recommendation or guidance provided by staff or outside planning consultants. It is the result of implementing the mayor’s preferred approach to cycling infrastructure—”a 100 km network of off-street bike trails and completion of critical on-street bike lane connections where the community supports them and where they do not impede traffic flow”—itself not a policy that resulted from any environmental assessments, traffic studies, or advice from urban planning experts (at least not any on public record).
Yesterday, we asked Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East), chair of the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee, whether he rejected the findings of numerous studies that have shown that increasing road capacity does not, in fact, reduce traffic gridlock. His reply? “I think that if you have more roads you will have traffic run better.”
And so, based on those thoughts, we are building our new Toronto.