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Physicians Call for More Bike Lanes, More Quickly

A local physician who was arrested for blocking the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes has rallied support from his medical colleagues.

Tomislav Svoboda (right) sits with colleagues during a press conference at Toronto City Hall.

A group of physicians from St Michael’s Hospital are calling for more progress on the City’s bike plan—and, as part of that push, they’re standing in solidarity with Dr. Tomislav Svoboda, a colleague who was arrested in November for obstructing the now-infamous removal of the Jarvis Street bike lanes.

At a press conference this morning, Svoboda released an open letter signed by 22 physicians. It asks city council to “change lanes and save lives,” by speeding up the installation of bike lanes throughout the city. Svoboda will appear in court tomorrow afternoon to face criminal charges of mischief and obstructing a peace officer for his act of civil disobedience. He’s hoping to avoid a criminal record by offering to perform 50 hours of community service—fittingly, with local advocacy group Cycle Toronto.

Svoboda, at his press conference, scolded city council for falling behind its own targets for bike-lane expansion (set in the 2001 bike plan), and for removing lanes even as major cities like Montreal, New York, and Chicago add dozens of kilometers of new bike thoroughfares each year. Citing the six cycling fatalities and thousands of injuries that have occurred in Toronto in 2012 alone, Svoboda said that what we usually describe as accidents “could also be described as a failure by the City to protect its residents and to build a healthy city.” He urged councillors to consider the preventative benefits of cycling and active living in general. “Cardiovascular health, mental health, insomnia—all these things are treated with exercise…this is a public health issue, and an issue of primary care,” said Svoboda.

Ritika Goel, Svoboda’s colleague at St. Michael’s, echoed his concerns. “We know that when people are asked why they do not cycle, safety is widely cited as the main reason,” she said. She cited a study on cycling accidents in Vancouver and Toronto that found car-on-bike collisions to be less likely on roadways with bike lanes than on those without. “This is not new information,” said Goel, “injuries and deaths could have been prevented if there was more bike infrastructure in the city.”

The City is, in fact, planning to build some cycling infrastructure in the near future. Mayor Rob Ford tweeted earlier this week that the 2013 budget contains funding for “100 km of off-street bike trails, 80 km of on-street bike path connections,” and several thousand new bike parking spaces over the next ten years.

And Ford isn’t the only one looking to Toronto’s trail network for a cycling solution. Transportation Services manager Daniel Egan told us in an interview that while he shares Svoboda’s frustration at the pace at which the bike plan has been implemented, “the reality is that we need a new bike plan. The assumptions that were made in 2001 clearly haven’t borne out.”

Egan voiced optimism for progress on separated lanes in the downtown core, but he was less enthused about the prospect of adding lanes in suburban areas. “The lesson has been clear that we don’t need the same type or volume of infrastructure in the suburban neighbourhoods as we do downtown,” he said. He thinks the suburbs would be well served by more bike trails.

Photo by Desmond Cole/Torontoist.

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