Today at City Hall (Thursday), the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee (PWIC) will be discussing, debating and voting on a package of proposals for Toronto’s bike network. Some of the report is really positive, and some of it is a huge step backwards for Toronto. I’m writing a few quick blog posts about some of the highlights of the report.
Part Three: Defending the Jarvis bike lane
I’ve spent most of the last week talking about bike lanes on John Street. I’d like to shift gears and discuss a much more important – and imminent – situation on another “J” street – Jarvis.
While the staff report does not recommend removal of these lanes, we have all heard the rumours that some members of Council want to see these bike lanes disappear. It is very likely that we’ll see a motion to amend the staff report, to remove the lanes. The motion could come at City Council (July 12/13) or could come at today’s PWIC meeting.
As you may recall, the Jarvis bike lanes were approved in 2009 and were the result of an enormous advocacy effort. Opponents felt that the bike lanes would create traffic chaos on the street – but those fears have not materialised. Rather, the staff report indicates that traffic disruption has been minimal:
“Travel time increased by approximately two minutes in both directions following the installation of teh bike lanes in the a.m. peak hour and by three to five minutes in both directions in the p.m. peak hour. Much of the increaed travel time could be attributed to the delays and queus experience in at the jarvs Gerrard intersection…….The introduction of an advanced left turn phase in the northbound direction at this intersection, scheduled this summer, will reduce the delays.”
But here’s an even more interesting figure:
Traffic counts on Jarvis Street, before and after the installation of the bikelanes, show no change in car trips but a 300% increase in bike trips! The number of cyclists jumped from 290 (per 8-hour period) to 890 (in the same period).
(note: these counts were done by City Staff – not by consultants. So I trust them).
If these lanes are removed, all 890 of those bike trips will either have to find a new route – or be forced into a dangerous situation. Jarvis was a nightmare to ride on before the bike lanes were installed.
Cyclists should be getting ready for a big fight. Losing Jarvis would be the worst set-back in cycling safety in the history of Toronto. It would put hundreds of riders at risk, and would set a horrible precedent in the downtown core. It would also be a slap in the face for two reasons:
1) Unlike the removal of the lanes on Birchmount and Pharmacy, this removal is NOT being proposed by the local Councillor – Kristyn Wong-Tam. This would be an attack on her role as Councillor, and undermines her legitimacy as an elected representative.
2) The mayor himself was asked during the 2010 election if he would remove the Jarvis lanes if elected. His answer was no. He said it would be a waste of money. I agree. The mayor has been quite good at keeping his election promises. He should keep this one too.
In 2009, we were able to organise over 100 cyclists to gather in the chamber for the vote. This time, we’ll need 1,000. Every network, every list, every blog should be put into action. We’ll need to hand out flyers to every single one of those 900 cyclists who are using the bike lanes. Volunteers will need to talk to students, parents and teachers at Jarvis Collegiate. We need to talk to business owners, the BIA and resident groups.
Personally, I’d rather focus my energies on supporting the good parts of the mayor’s bike plan (Richmond, Bloor East, Dawes Road, etc). But if they try to remove Jarvis, it will overshadow anything positive in the staff report and we’ll be forced into an important battle to defend our rights to safe streets.
Some people may paint us as being “unreasonable” for not “compromising”. But there is no room for compromise on this issue – because there is no practical reason to remove these lanes. To be clear, if a bikelane was installed on a major street – and no cyclists were using it, AND it was creating traffic chaos, then perhaps there would be room for discussion. But neither of those conditions apply to Jarvis.
There is no traffic chaos – and there are over 600 new cyclists EACH DAY using the street. Bike lane removal on Jarvis is nothing short of insanity. It’s an ideology-driven, politicised, opportunistic political stunt that will literally put lives at risk.
Please mark July 12 and 13 in your calendars. This is when you’ll be needed at City Hall. These bike lanes won’t save themselves. Everyone is going have to step up to the plate.