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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.


  • Walter Lis

    The Eglinton West bike path was not cleared of snow until the weather did it. Clear ALL bike paths and lanes of snow.

  • New Bike Czar

    Dan Egan, time for you to go. Yes, the city needs a new bike plan… but we also need a new manager who is actually in touch with what cities are doing and how they are doing it at a far, far greater speed. We have a sad little cycling department constantly reinventing the wheel, too often with piss poor results.

  • scunny

    “The assumptions that were made in 2001 clearly haven’t borne out”

    Pray tell, to which assumptions are you referring Mr. Egan – perhaps that by 2013, the City of Toronto would no longer be treating her actively mobile taxpayers as second-class, or more recently even third-class, citizens.

    At this point in history the ongoing, 30 year-long local transportation crisis belongs to all of us, eh?

    Some openly exacerbate the problem while others, for all our nobly stated intentions, have allowed them to do it.

    The only real question now is how long our failure to deal rationally with the issue will persist.

    Each of us owes Dr. Tomislav Svoboda a debt of gratitude for standing up to such a partisan, politically-motivated attack on the street-level safety of all Torontonians.

    The good doctor should be honoured for his dedication to his professional oath, not prosecuted for his objection to the obscenely corrupt public threat to life and limb that is – again – the “new” Jarvis.

    Thanks Doc et al!!!


  • tyrannosaurus_rek

    Physician? Pff! Get a real job you pinko!

  • hamish w

    It really helps to be careful about what you ask for/demand. If crash stats are a help, then we need east/west, and continuous. So Bloor’s best, and the narrower west end of it is being redone this year – ask your politicians/staff if it will include bike lanes? Or do we have to wait another 30 years from now, as that was when the first charting of harms highlighted the dangers on this natural bike route.

  • junctionist

    Suburban neighbourhoods won’t be better served by winding bike lanes that just go through parks. If people are going to cycle, they should be encouraged to cycle for practical transportation, not just leisure. The cycling infrastructure must go to places people want to go like shopping centres and post-secondary education campuses. It can go through a ravine or hydro corridor, so long as the cycling trip remains practical. The 2001 bike plan ought to be updated, but we shouldn’t be moving backwards towards the attitude that “cycling is a leisure activity to do once in awhile”. The people of the suburbs who aren’t reactionaries opposed to change frequently say they want the same quality of infrastructure of downtown. So let them have it. All the separated cycling infrastructure that is coming with the LRT line lines is a good start.

    • ladyday001

      It would also help if said off-street bike lanes had proper lighting (most of them don’t), are cleared and maintained (most of them are not), and had real connections built to other more central networks (most do not).

      As it stands the connections for the finch corridor (west) to the humber and the east hydro corridor to the Don Valley won’t be done for about years…that helps no one, not even the leisure cyclists, really.

  • ladyday001

    Well at very least the trails they’ve cited in the actual budget PDF are needed. That lack of waterfront trail connection in Scarborugh is brutal, and extending the West Toronto Railpath to downtown should be a priority.

    That being said, I do hope the on street portion of the budget is for NEW bike lanes, and not “Hey we’re going to try an bling out your existing bike lanes but just screw them up instead.”

    I generally wonder why people don’t talk about upgrading intersections when it comes to cycling safety (or even just road safety). Most run-ins happen there, yet they receive the least amount of work or attention.

    • the_lemur

      Agreed about the trails and Railpath. Even with non-separated lanes, adding things like small traffic islands at corners would greatly improve intersection safety.

      • ladyday001

        Yeah, re: traffic islands. Heck, just using really bright paint and clear road signage would improve safety on most of our roads.

    • Gal from Vancouver

      I agree about intersections needing upgrading. In fact that’s where the separation is needed the most. If you have a limited amount of money, then a painted lane will suffice for the length of a block but should become separated at least for the intersections.
      Toronto had the unfortunate circumstances to get a suburban mayor who doesn’t understand what’s fully going on. It’s sad but can be changed. When is the next municipal election? Start working now on potential candidates. Turn this situation around.

      • ladyday001

        The not paying attention to intersections thing has been going on a lot longer than Ford. Toronto just doesn’t seem to have an interest to invest in long term urban planning strategies. Intersections, being the most expensive part of a project, are routinely put off, sometimes for years. Its frustrating.

        But I do agree that Ford does not help matters.

  • Jane

    There will be more bike lanes and people will still not reduce or eliminate eating fatty foods, drinking and smoking

  • John S. Allen

    A friend had a look at the article and remarked: maybe traffic engineers also should be giving medical advice?

    • Jannette

      Go home Forrester, you are dead.

    • rich1299

      Drs have a lot to say about protecting humans from preventable injuries, its not just a matter of moving a certain number of people from point a to point b but to do so safely. It totally makes sense for Drs to advocate for bike lanes, more bike lanes equals more cyclists, healthier lifestyles and fewer injuries and deaths from collisions with cars. Drs not only treat after the fact but also act to prevent.

  • Heather

    Desmond, I hope in our continued writing on cycling issues you’ll label cycling incidents for what they are – crashes, collisions, anything BUT accidents.

  • Patrick Clarke

    Anyone here saddened we still need to have this conversation?

    I have stopped reacting to drivers nearly killing me, that just gives the impression that cyclists are up-tight and like to attack drivers.

    I will calmly knock on the window, then have the nearest witness back-up my claim that the driver needs his licence revoked for their reckless driving that can cause harm/death.

    Just two days ago I had a nice elderly couple call a guy in his 30′s “A mother fucking idiot” (no lie) because he nearly ran me over.

    This is the kind of encounter I want, where a neutral motorist defends me without me having to flail my arms and scream my lungs out to get the point across:

    I don’t like almost dieing for no good reason.

  • Roger B

    The assumptions that were made in 2001 clearly haven’t borne out”
    Instead of putting a bike lane on Eglinton, Jane or Yonge where many cyclists are peddling on the sidewalk, they’re been painted along winding roads with frequent stop signs, put in parks or placed in the arterial buffer zone.

    Yes, there is an off-road bike next to Eglinton in Etobicoke, but this is a dead zone by design. Sam Cass’s off road bike network’s stated purpose (like Fords) was to keep cyclists off the streets. Essentially a separate bikeway and sidewalk follow the arterial positioned about 3-5 metres from the road. Unless you walk your bike across the street, it is actually more dangerous to ride on sidewalks than on-street since drivers are not expecting quick bikes to dart out well before the intersection.

    If you don’t use the street, which aren’t are quicker and better maintained, drivers honk at you to get back on the path. They Work better in large parks like south of Lakeshore Blvd, otherwise their presence lowers the number of concentrated origins & destinations (usefulness) and creates conflicts on crossable urban streets with building entrances, unlike bike lanes and separated bike lanes.