North York Mirror editorial on bike lanes
Interesting commentary on the Mayor Ford maneuvers to get rid of bike lanes.
From the North York Mirror, April 12, 2012
by David Nickle
The bike lanes that Toronto City Council voted to put in on Jarvis Street are, as they stand, a very nice addition to the downtown core. If they go away at the end of the year, it will be a little bit sad for cyclists and a little bit happy for some drivers; but in the end, life in the city will persist. It will remain just so.
All right, I admit that is a pretty bland opening for a column about one of the bigger wedge issues of the very wedgy Rob Ford administration. But it is perhaps a necessary tonic to counteract the hysteria about the lines that the David Miller administration drew nearly all the way to Bloor Street.
Opponents of the plan, and the then-mayor, used it as the poster child for the "War on the Car." Proponents - in particular the Toronto Cyclists Union - didn't help matters by indicating it as a symbol for the post-automobile utopia.
Really, the Jarvis bike lane is neither. It is a work-in-progress transportation solution that turned a street that was uniquely unsafe for cyclists and convenient for motorists, and made it better for cyclists, and marginally slower for motorists.
As matters stand, the city will remove the bike lanes and restore the road to the way it was - spending about a quarter-million dollars to do so. When council made the decision to remove the bike lanes a year ago, it was just as symbolic: a declaration of victory for impatient motorists, and a message to cycling activists to remember their place in the new order.
As of last week, those same activists took their place back in a city hall committee room, and announced they would be petitioning the environment ministry to return a bit of process to the project, and insist on a full environmental assessment on the project.
It seems as though it might work. In Ontario, environmental assessments are required for most changes in public infrastructure. The installation of bike lanes are specifically exempted, due to the obvious environmental benefits that more cycling and less driving provide. There is no exemption for their removal.
Of course, the city has pulled out bike lanes before with no environmental assessment. Perhaps that is a simple omission that would have been corrected by public complaint; perhaps it is a precedent that will allow the removal of the lanes to proceed.
Whatever the outcome of that complaint, the real symbolic significance of the Jarvis debacle is this: the spectacle of a mayor and council that purports to focus on providing value for taxpayers, voting to spend a quarter of a million dollars to undo a piece of transportation infrastructure for no better reason than to score a political point.
Council shouldn't need the province to tell it to back away from this plan. Its own newly-developed sense of shame should be more than enough.