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Jarvis Street Should Be Safe for Everyone

Arts and culture writer Steve Fisher explains why he sat down in the middle of a bike lane to protest its removal.

When I left the Jarvis Taskforce‘s emergency meeting this past weekend, I was fairly convinced that I wanted to protest the removal of the Jarvis Street bike lane in some way. It wasn’t until yesterday afternoon, though, when I heard the scrub truck power-washing the lane away through my window, that I realized I was going to take the drastic action of sitting in the street to halt its progress.

Why do Jarvis Street’s bike lanes affect me so personally? I’ve lived in Toronto for 14 years. I’ve commuted primarily by bike for 10 years, and I’ve lived just off Jarvis for five. In all that time, I’ve been hit by cars on my bike three times—and two of those incidents occurred on Jarvis, before the bike lanes were installed. I was doored by a taxi parked outside the National Ballet School on one occasion, and I was hit by a taxi driver making a right on a red at Jarvis Street and Wellesley Avenue on another.

In 2009, an environmental assessment recommended that the reversible fifth/centre lane of Jarvis (a failed 1950′s-era traffic experiment not repeated elsewhere in the city) be removed. Subsequently, city council decided to install bike lanes on the street—something which had an immediate and very positive impact on my safety. Indeed, it did for all users of Jarvis. A City study found a year later that cyclists’ use of the street had increased by more than 300 per cent [PDF]; another showed that accidents had decreased dramatically [PDF], including a remarkable 89 per cent drop in collisions between automobiles and pedestrians. Other evidence made it clear that the street was functioning more effectively for all users. The only negative impact of the new design: driving the length of Jarvis Street by car at rush hour takes about two minutes longer.

It’s for all these reasons—and the fact that every consultant and urban planning expert I’d seen discuss the street endorsed the new street design—that I had faith city council would make the right decision and keep the bike lanes on Jarvis. Local councillor Kristyn Wong-Tam (Ward 27, Toronto Centre-Rosedale) had been advocating for them consistently. And leading up to that final council vote, centrist councillors like Ana Bailão (Ward 18, Davenport) and Josh Colle (Ward 15, Eglinton-Lawrence) made public statements in support of Cycle Toronto’s campaign to keep the lanes.

So when Mayor Rob Ford’s administration reneged on his promise not to waste taxpayer money and decided to remove the lanes, and public works committee chair Denzil Minnan-Wong (Ward 34, Don Valley East) even reneged on his promise not to remove the Jarvis bike lanes until the new Sherbourne Street bike lanes (which are already having problems) were completed, I felt betrayed. I was shocked that all the jokes about Toronto being the only major city removing bike lanes were being so fully realized. I was dismayed that, in order to score political points with midtown commuters only concerned with using Jarvis as an urban highway, Ford and other councillors were willing to sacrifice the safety of the people who live and work along the street.

And that’s why, for the first time in my life, I became an activist.

As someone who lives and commutes along Jarvis, as a pedestrian, cyclist, and occasional driver, I urge all Torontonians to support the Jarvis Taskforce in their objectives. All Torontonians deserve to have their safety taken into consideration when it comes to major changes to urban planning.

A full environmental assessment was done before the fifth reversible lane was removed. Before council decided to put in bike lanes, it recommended taking out that fifth lane, creating wider sidewalks and wider curb lanes to accommodate cyclists, and re-establishing a sense of place for the people who actually inhabit Jarvis, as opposed to the ones who just use it as a thoroughfare. We shouldn’t reverse course on the bike lanes until the same due diligence is done, incorporating information about how Jarvis is working now, and unless that evidence indicates it is the best course of action. Councillor Doug Ford (Ward 2, Etobicoke North) suggested in an interview that we should count the number of cars “backed up” on Jarvis, and the number of cyclists using the street. I fully agree.

I urge the City of Toronto to properly consult residents along Jarvis, to assess how they’ve been affected by bike lanes. After all, how can Mayor Ford’s administration claim to respect taxpayers if he refuses to take their safety into account; to consult with the councillor whose ward such a decision most affects, or listen to her constituents; and claim that he’s listening to the people?

Steve Fisher is the listings editor for Torontoist. His writing can be found in several local media outlets.

Additional photos of yesterday’s protest are available here.


  • Jenn

    Well said Mr. Fisher, and thank you for exhibiting both bravery and common sense. Toronto needs more people like you. I have written letters to the Mayor asking for civility toward cyclists — it’s dangerous that his rhetoric has been cyclists don’t pay as much in taxes and therefore aren’t as deserving of returning to their families safely. Not only is that nonsense but also, pretty damn inhumane. My partner is a courier who often used the Jarvis lanes, and I thank you for your efforts to try and keep my family safe.

  • David Topping

    You rule, Steve Fisher.

  • Facts not opinion

    I like how you conveniently post figures to back up your pro-Jarvis bike lane arguments but fail to provide stats when you claim the only problem to drivers during rushhour is that it takes two minutes longer to commute.

    • Nick

      The two minute figure is widely circulating on the internet and in newspapers, @Facts not opinion, and comes from the City’s own study: from a Star article dated 3 Oct 2012: “…John Mende, the city’s acting general manager of transportation services, who clearly told council Tuesday the bike lane installation in 2010 initially increased motorists’ rush hour commute by eight minutes each way, but staff changed traffic signals and brought that down to two minutes. ”

      You’re like the perplexed-sounding Ford described in this article who told the CBC’s Matt Galloway: “I don’t know where you’re getting that information from.”

    • vampchick21

      Perhaps you like to provide irrefutable stats that we all can look up to support your assertation that there are several problems for drivers on Jarvis? You are taking a particular stance here, that is obvious. The onus is on you to support it. And none of this “my father’s brother’s Uncle’s cousin’s former roommate said” crap either. Facts or GTFO

  • Nick

    Ford drives me batty when he lies saying that “taxpayers want the Jarvis bike lane removal” because at least one taxpayer (me) has written to him, and received a reply from his office, complaining about the $250k waste of money and lack of community consultation to take out the lanes, something that a $950k EA for Jarvis expressly recommended. Basically the wishes of 15000 car drivers trump those of the 65000 residents of Wong-Tam’s ward, in the retrograde minds of Minan-Wong and Ford.

    • Anonymous

      This is a face-saving scrap of red meat for Ford Nation from their utterly ineffectual figurehead messiah, desperate for any “win” against the “downtown elites”, in a ward he will never “win” anyway. Too bad DMW had to get his paws dirty, but it seems that’s all he’s good for.

    • iwill

      Sorry Nick – there are thousand of residents of KWT ward who are against the lane. And almost all Torontonians want the removal of the lane – it was a major part of Rob Ford’s election platform. This is what happens when you install bike lanes under false pretences without community buy in. The advertisement for this lanes was put in now magazine and by thhe time the community found out, it was too late. Better luck next time.

      • Nick

        In fact there was an Environmental Assessment costing $950000 dollars, Iwill, and the bike lanes were one of the preferred alternatives. These kind of things aren’t just done behind the backs of the community, there is extensive consultation. In this EA, the reversible lane was deemed confusing for both pedestrians and drivers, that’s why it makes no sense to put it back in. Rob Ford is quoted as saying he didn’t think the lane should be put back it, it certainly wasn’t a platform item of his…ending the “war on cars” perhaps, but not Jarvis bike lane removal specifically. It got put back in because Minan-Wong thinks it’s “cool”…great way to run a city.

  • Anonymous

    Yet another decision from City Hall that is based on rhetoric, optics, sloganeering, and pandering to an uninformed and reactionary sect of the public.

    Can the city councillors and our dear mayor start making decisions by looking at some facts, numbers, any kind of logic? This isn’t about bike culture vs. car culture, North of Bloor vs. South of Bloor; it’s about poor decisions vs. smart decisions.

    City Hall needs to stop making short-sighted decisions that play into the hands of what some people want and start making decisions based on what all people need. That’s why we elected them.

  • Anonymous

    The automobile drivers will now have to SHARE a travel lane for BOTH automobiles AND bicyclists. With the bicycle lane, they had (in theory until some motor vehicle decides to park there) their own separate travel lane.

    Now bicycles will have to travel in the middle of a shared travel lane (avoiding potholes, debris, sewer grates, and parked motor vehicles), and the automobile driver will now have to either follow along at the slower speed or try to pass.

    • Michael

      Yeah, I was just thinking that. I ride up Jarvis every morning and I don’t expect this to change soon – the only thing that will change is a line of cars queuing behind me…

  • the numbers.

    30,000 cars use Jarvis every day. using the conservative estimate of 2min delay per car, that’s 1,000 hrs of wasted time each day. 1,000 hrs of engine idle for one average vehicle. So that 890 cyclists don’t have to use sherbourne’s bike lanes or church street (no bike lanes but slow traffic, so a very safe alternative).

    • Anonymous

      Traffic slows down traffic, yes, this is true of any street. If you think 2 minutes is bad, add up all the red light wait times the length of Yonge. Now, would you argue those lights should be removed?

    • jaaaames

      Y’know, if you’re concerned about the pollution, perhaps the better course (instead of trying to make people’s drive time as minimal as possible) would be to encourage people to use alternative forms of transportation that are less polluting, like buses, subways, or *horrors!* bicycles. Less cars on the road would also make it faster for those still driving.

    • vampchick21

      I bet a good chunk of those 30,000 cars don’t actually need to be driving, they could be using transit instead. That alone would reduce traffic time right there. Less drivers on the road, less cars, less traffic, less wasted time, less idle engines.

    • iwill

      I wsh it was 2 minutes… more like 15.

  • Anonymous

    Very well done.

  • Paul Kishimoto

    Who’s going to print T-shirts or similiar for Jarvis bike commuters using the now-shared lanes?


    To make it easier to read, ride extra-slowly in the middle of the lane.

  • Anonymous

    Thank you, Steve. I go to George Brown and use the Jarvis bike lanes everyday, as many students do. I’d like to see Ford on a bike… on Jarvis… before AND after the lanes are removed. Perhaps if he and others on council who made this inane decision understood the implications it has (on safety) FIRST HAND, then in the future they wouldn’t rely on the cognitive results from the damaged portions of their brains when it comes to running the city.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks again for standing up to municipal tyranny, Steve. ( :-)

  • Stephen B.

    How were you hit by a taxi driver making a right, on a red? If he was supposed to be stopped at the red light, YOU were supposed to be stopped also, behind him (or once the bike lanes were installed….beside him). If you were in either of those places, he wouldn’t have hit you when he made his legal right turn. Plus, the onus is on you as a road-using vehicle to observe, be aware of, and account for the actions of other vehicles to ensure your own safety, and theirs.

    • T

      I assumed the author was travelling perpendicular to the road from which the cab turned. I pictured him going through the intersection on the green light, and being struck just after he reached the curb lane on the far side. I wonder if either of us is correct.

      •!/gracingthestage Steve Fisher

        Hi T,

        You are. I had a green light biking south, the cab a red light driving east, and he didn’t even slow down as he made his right turn, broadsiding me—probably because he didn’t think there might be a cyclist on Jarvis, and didn’t see any cars coming.

        With bike lanes, there’s greatly improved sightlines for all users of the road—this is my best guess as to why there was an astounding 89% drop in collisions between cars and pedestrians on Jarvis after the bike lanes went in, according to the City’s Collision Report of April 2012. Both motorists and pedestrians were able to see each other.

        With on street parking going back in on the West side of Jarvis, cyclist “door prizes”, pedestrians hit stepping out from between parked cars, and other types of collisions will resume. And I sincerely hope the first person injured, or the first family to lose a loved one, sues the City and the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee for making these changes without doing the necessary Environmental (and safety) Assessment. More death and injury as a result of the return of the fifth reversible lane and on-street parking on Jarvis is inevitable.

  • john

    I love biking and I think bike lanes are a great thing but
    the number one issue against them is we live in Canada and those bike lanes are
    useless 6 months a year (extreme winter bikers aside).

    It’s a sad reality but come December those bikers are going
    to have to drive, TTC, find an alternative routes. I don’t think it’s a good
    idea making the yearlong sustainable method of transportation worse for only a
    6 month viable option.

    • Hello

      Actually, we live in a city that has tropical weather compared to the vast majority of the rest of Canada. There is snow on the roads, what, 8 weeks out of the year? Even then, it’s cleaned regularly.

      And it’s not just “extreme winter bikers” that brave these foreboding winters. The coldest month for Toronto is January, which has an average high of -1.1 degrees Celsius. (Scary, I know.)

      I don’t feel like much of a badass biking on those January days when the snow is melting. And neither does anyone else.

    • Anonymous

      Lots of people ride bikes through the winter, even with snow and ice on the roads. Car drivers are going to have to learn to share the roads we all pay for regardless whether we own or drive one. You should be thankful for any and all means of transportation that serve to reduce car congestion on our streets. That includes bicycles.

  • iseemorons