Group unveils a legal opinion that makes a case for a full environmental assessment of Jarvis—one that would halt the planned bike lane removal for now.
Members of the Toronto Cyclists Union, backed by a group of helmet-clad cyclist supporters, held a press conference Tuesday afternoon to announce a legal opinion that a Schedule C Environmental Assessment be ordered to look into the removal of the Jarvis Street bike lanes, which city council voted to dismantle last July.
Commissioned by the Cyclists Union, Iler Campbell LLP’s opinion contends that bike lane decommissioning and a reversible centre-lane addition on Jarvis Street is subject to a minimum of a Schedule B project screening—that is, screening for projects that “have the potential for some adverse environmental effects.” However, the firm recommends that a more intensive Schedule C assessment (for projects that “may have significant environmental effects”) be undertaken.
“In fairness to the City, we are giving them an opportunity to comply with the Municipal Class Environmental Assessment process,” says Andrea Garcia, director of advocacy for the Toronto Cyclists Union. “If they do not comply, then there are various different next steps that we can take, including bringing it to the attention of the Ministry of Environment and requesting that they intervene to assure that an assessment be completed.” She added: “We consider ourselves to be an open, democratic organization, and we want to hold the City accountable to due process.”
Cyclists Union founder Dave Meslin points out that the issue of the bike lanes’ removal was never put on an agenda at the committee level. “If it had, staff might have recommended that this might require an [environmental assessment], especially because the number of cyclists has tripled [since the bike lanes’ 2010 installation],” he says.
Though members of the Cyclists Union would not confirm whether the nine-month delay for initiating the call for assessment has anything to do with recent tidal shifts in council, they conceded that the timing for the initiative has been fortuitous. “I think [we in this room would be] foolish not to admit that there has been a shift in city council that could benefit us in the long term,” says Garcia. “But we didn’t anticipate this shift happening.”
Cyclist Chris Drew, who lives along Jarvis and was among the helmeted supporters in the Cyclists Union’s tow, hopes current plans to remove the Jarvis bike lanes and re-install a fifth lane of traffic on the street will be halted as a result of the union’s current legal initiative. “There’s just not enough room to have five lanes of traffic and people biking along Jarvis,” he says. “I want drivers to be safe and know where I am, and I want myself to be safe and know exactly where I’m supposed to go.”
Adding to the vexed history of Jarvis is the fact that the bike lanes weren’t actually part of the original plan for the street—they were a late change to a revitalization proposal. The original Jarvis Streetscape Improvement project called for removing that fifth, centre lane of vehicular traffic, and using the space to widen sidewalks and create an enhanced pedestrian realm. The goal was to make Jarvis a destination rather than a thoroughfare, to spur street-level development and interactions that would bring new life to the neighbourhood. Once the environmental assessment for that project got added to city council’s agenda (via the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee) in 2009, cycling activists geared up and asked that the space freed up be used for bike lanes rather than wider sidewalks. After an intense campaign and with the help of then-councillor Kyle Rae, bike lanes won the day.
Additional reporting by Hamutal Dotan.