New York City lessons and Toronto’s fairy tale War on the Car

I was in New York City last month and my 24th Street hotel was a few doors away from Madison Square Park and the iconic intersection of 5th and Broadway. Iconic because of the famous Flatiron Building in the background (see above) but perhaps equally iconic (to some of us) because it’s now a fine example of the way New York City is rapidly transforming Broadway into a shared street. If you haven’t already you should listen to the recent Spacing Radio episode featuring NYC’s Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan talking (in Toronto) last month about what her city is doing.

In these photos you can see the old boulevards of Broadway and 5th, but now surrounded by a gravelly surface and planters. Bigger sidewalks, bike lanes, new public plazas with chairs and tables and, here it is, the cars still get through in the heart of one of the most congested islands on the planet. All this done quickly, with a relatively small budget.

Here in Toronto there is a historonic frenzy being whipped up by some councillors and ratepayer associations suggesting that there is a War on the Car — but is there? Much of this rhetoric swirls around Jarvis Street and the closing of its centre lane to make room for other modes of transit. Much less radical than what New York has done in the photos above, but the histrionics in Toronto are at a pitch that might be appropriate if the plan was to close down Jarvis entirely.

Take this piece in the Globe today that got to the heart of why things are getting wacky: some councillors are trying to find a wedge issue for next year’s municipal election. Even councillors who should know better, like Paul Ainslie — the pride of Guild — said this to the Globe: “I don’t get people calling my office and saying there are not enough bike lanes.” With that logic, does Ainslie not support anything that comes across council’s agenda unless he’s heard something from his constituents? That would be silly. So is conflating a lane closure into a war as others have done.

Comments like this, and other more incendiary ones, look ridiculous when we see what New York is doing and will look much worse when viewed in retrospect: political posturing is going to land some councillors on the wrong side of history, and if they care at all about their various legacies, they should act like real leaders now rather than slip and slide, waiting for somebody to “call them” and ask for bike lanes. Cities everywhere are changing, adapting, and it isn’t a war, it’s progress. Janette Sadik-Khan’s talk should be required listening for everybody who has an opinion on Jarvis or this fake War on the Cars. This is possibly one case where the equally-imaginary Toronto inferiority complex with New York may work in our city’s favour: if New York is doing it, and doing it so easily and on such a massive scale, doesn’t it make Toronto look silly if we’re using terms like “war” when talking about a few feet of bike lanes? I’m not saying that argument works for everybody — or even me — but if somebody is going around shouting there is a War on Cars, it’s likely they believe in other fairy tales. It would be fun to see hawkish Chicken Little warmongers like Case Ootes and Denzil Minnan-Wong (the councilors saying the sky is falling that war has been declared the loudest) take on Mayor Bloomberg. Could they get away with the crazy rhetoric then?

Then there is something that the car folks don’t – and possibly can’t — admit to: cars have always been in a perpetual state of war with themselves. It’s a dirty and nasty civil war that nobody wants to talk about but anybody that has driven a car knows exists (and has existed for a long time). Cars are always battling each other for space and there is not, and never will be, enough roads in most urban centres to declare a truce in that war. I drove for nearly a decade in Windsor and I’ve driven enough here in Toronto to know the war is ongoing. Whether I’m driving on College Street downtown, rolling on big fat Jarvis Street (with that middle lane intact), out in Kingston-Galloway along Councillor Ainslie’s six-lane-wide arterials or speeding along the incredible 16 lanes of the 401 near the airport, a drive in the city a constant battle with other cars for space. Civility breaks down in seconds, people hustle for position, they swear the most vile swears at each (I do it too — it just comes out), and it’s Hobbsian and brutish because there is just not enough room. There hasn’t been room for decades — the term “gridlock” is thirty years old, existing long before bike lanes were a thought. So when a proposal like Jarvis comes along that will make a negligible difference in the time it takes to drive along it, car drivers have somebody other than themselves to vent to. This fake and embarrassing War on the Car is a scapegoat for the Car on Car war and it’s bad for Toronto to let it become a wedge issue. Don’t let them get away with it.


  1. It’s weird that, for people who believe in this “war on cars,” the TINIEST bit of consideration of pedestrians and cyclists in city infrastructure is deemed a “war on cars,” rather than a mitigation of the decades-old war on pedestrians and cyclists.

  2. I was in NYC recently and was struck by the prevalence of bike lanes and sharrows. It was especially interesting to see them popping up outside of Manhattan, in neighbourhoods that are rather car-oriented. I wonder if putting in all these bike lanes (and allowing car drivers a little time to see that the sky hasn’t fallen) has helped pave the way for more radical moves as shown in your photos.

    It’s lots of fun to blame Ootes and Minnan-Wong, but council’s pro-bike wing also seems deserving of criticism. Yes, they’ve said all the right things, and occasionally take on a bold but isolated gesture like Jarvis, but have they really made much progress overall? Feels like both sides are happy to exploit this issue for political gain, without much change to the status quo.

  3. Quote vanished:

    “Regardless of how you try to explain to people it’s a ‘war on drugs’ or a ‘war on a product,’ people see a war as a war on them,” he said. “We’re not at war with people in this country.”

  4. Denzil Minnan-Wong is an embarrassment.

    It’s weird that suddenly these people become enviro-crusaders when there’s talk of doing things that might possibly cause more traffic congestion. Suddenly they’re all “think of the pollution!”

    Good article, Shawn. The framing of this issue by a lot of people as a ‘war on cars’ has been ridiculous.

  5. Its amazing how just a few councillors like Wong and Oates can hold up slow down every advance the City tries to make. Is there anything good that they are for ? I drive from time to time and on the record I support narrowing roads.

  6. –From Minnan-Wong, quote “Until the supply of transit is adequate (and we’re a long way from there) or until our downtown is bike-friendly, the city has a duty to enable its citizens to enjoy the benefits of mobility, including trips taken by car.”–

    I get pretty razzled by this feeble and woefully over-used argument. That we should spend our money on the wrong idea simply because the right idea has not yet been implemented. Well what the fuck do you think is going to happen to the right idea (walking, biking, public transit) if we funnel all the money into the wrong idea (emphasis on cars). I can tell you what will happen, we’ll have a repeat of the “mobility” development in Toronto over the last 40 years.

    We’re not waging war on the car. We’re waging war on the mistakes of the past. Mistakes which clogged the air we breath, fattened our asses and deadened our city. It’s nostalgic, populist, feckless charlatans like Rob Ford and Denzil Minnan-Wong who think that just because something happened in the past that it deserves adherence; people who refuse to believe that another world is possible.

    Which brings me to my real point here…

    If you’ll forgive a sports analogy, you can either take the man or take the puck. Focusing on the puck (the issues) isn’t moving us forward quickly enough. It’s time for the learned people on this site and those like it (myself included) to take the man. How are we ever going to get this city ahead when the Wongs, Ootes and Fords of the world are allowed to persist?

    Instead of Spacing Votes, maybe it’s time to think about Spacing Runs.

  7. historonic = histrionic + moronic. Perfect description.

    What’s weird about Minnan-Wong’s article in the Star is how mealy-mouthed and wishy-washy it is. He starts on his war on car theme and then backs right off and calls for a mobility policy — which is of course exactly what is happening now, a policy that addresses all modes of transportation equally rather than allowing the car to dominate, and maximizes mobility as a whole rather than vehicle movement. In a way, it’s a good sign that even the right realizes it can’t get away with just cars-and-nothing-else.

  8. I sympathize with car drivers, I really do! We have built a city that requires the majority of trips to be taken by car because there’s no way to get from here to there by transit in either a reasonable time or, in some cases, at all. Having said that, we really need to distinguish between the quality of transit in the core where all of the proposed changes will occur and the quality of transit in outer Scarborough, North York or Etobicoke.

    Taking a lane off Jarvis won’t do a thing to traffic congestion in North York, and drivers who stay out of downtown won’t be affected by any of the proposed changes.

    I was amused to read that Jarvis drivers claim the Richmond Hill subway as a justification for keeping road space because the folks in North Toronto (where I grew up) won’t be able to get on the subway at Eglinton. We will see how quickly they support a Downtown Relief Line and better transit service overall.

  9. Don’t forget everyone’s fave Rob Ford. I’ll never forget this quote from March 2007 during a debate on bike lanes:

    “I compare riding a bike to swimming with sharks. You can do it for a while, but pretty soon you’re going to be bitten… Roads are built for buses and cars and trucks. My heart bleeds when someone gets killed, but it’s their own fault at the end of the day.”

  10. Was gonna post this in the Fridays Headlines thread, but think it would be best here.

    Is Jarvis REALLY that smooth an arterial? I consider myself fairly moderate on transportation issues, and believe that we should plan for multiple modes of transportation, including the car. I also support bike lane implementation as long as it makes sense. For example, Bloor-Danforth is already an avenue that is highly congested. The only reason I’ve driven it was because I was curious to see if it would be faster to drive it than take the subway. I discovered that even though the subway stops far too frequently, it still stops less then the congested traffic and poorly times stop lights. In this case, adding bike lanes will do little to hamper the already stressed traffic, and in fact may help to relieve it and help local businesses prosper (no one can see your establishment underground after all).

    One argument I’ve heard against the bike lanes on Jarvis is that different roads serve different purposes. I agree with that statement fully. While I try to take transit downtown, when I do drive there I try to avoid streets like Dundas, Queen, and King and take Gerard, Richmond, and Adelaide. I do this because the former arterials are designed for transit and pedestrians and the latter are designed for cars. We are fortunate to have planned in a way that supports multiple choices for transportation. I’ve never driven down Jarvis, but if it is as great as some claim it to be, then if it ain’t broke why fix it?

    Before I owned a car, when I went downtown I hardly felt “victimized” because some streets were better designed for vehicles. Even with some roads better designed for cars, travel times are comparable whether you drive, cycle, or take transit. If you do feel victimized, take Church, Sherbourne, or Parliament instead.

    If Toronto does go ahead at narrowing Jarvis, we also need to look at alternative transportation for those traveling along the Mount Pleasant corridor. Some Bay Street big shots may change their commuting habits from car to bike, but not everyone will. And come winter, the use of the bike lane will drop dramatically. To add insult to injury, Rosedale and Summerhill subway stations are seldomly used since it is very difficult to cram into a train at these points. If Toronto does go ahead with this project, they should also increase the service on the 141 to all day to encourage transit use, and be sure to adjust the lights to favour Jarvis traffic to help keep it flowing without the extra lane. This would be the best compromise to ensure a prosperous community with multiple transportation options, all while ensuring commuters aren’t shortchanged.

  11. The thing about redesigning Jarvis is that it will have a negligible effect on traffic flow. They’re making a mountain of a molehill.

  12. I walked through the above photographed intersection yesterday and this morning on my way to meetings and, as always, my jar dropped at the number of people sitting in what used to be traffic lanes. But just wait until next week, when Broadway closes through Times Square. That’s right, CLOSES. Not taking a lane here or adding a bike lane there; they are closing the entire (*#%!$!@^! street from Times Square to Herald Square. Whoa.

    Click through this article for the before-and-after renderings:

    And now even San Francisco is doing it!

    Toronto media/politicians are embarrassing themselves. Come play with the big boys on the front lines and join the real war.

  13. To get back to the New York approach (ostensibly the main subject of the post!), I would be very interested to know if New York has done any before-and-after studies to determine the impacts that these “quick win” changes have had on traffic volumes and congestion. It would be quite helpful to be able to point to these examples and say that traffic data show that there was a negligible increase in traffic delay, or that traffic volumes have gone down by xx%.

    (It would be important to know even if the opposite effect has occurred — although it would mean that any similar projects here would need to be called for under political or strategic purposes rather than based on technical merits. e.g., “Experience elsewhere tells us we may experience this level of negative traffic impact, but we are making a strategic decision to accept this impact as the cost for these benefits to pedestrians, or to the built environment, or whatever.”)

  14. The problem with the NYC comparison is that anywhere you go in Manhattan, you are steps away from rapid transit, so NYC can take away road lanes without impacting mobility very much. This is not true in Toronto — except very close to downtown — and won’t be true for the foreseeable future.

  15. Andrew, these kinds of excuses (Toronto really is good at coming up with excuses) are getting tiresome. Toronto may not be dead last for bike infrastructure among major cities, but it’s dead last for a city where bicycling is so prevalent.

    I think I’ve heard all the excuses for not building bike lanes: “we have more snow”, “we have less rapid transit”, “we have more congestion”, “we have a more entrenched car culture”, etc. Well, Montreal has more snow – far more snow, and it has better bike infrastructure than we do. New York city has more congestion – far more congestion, and it can take the initiative to yank out roadspace and give it to bicyclists. Hell, even Phoenix, Arizona – one of the most car-entrenched cities I can think of – has five times as many bike lanes as Toronto does. That’s right, we’re no longer losing to the New Yorks and Montreals, we are losing to Phoenix.

  16. It’s not the Jarvis center lane that represents the war on the car. It’s Transit City and the admitted attempts to make car trips slower in the city like the narrowing of Lansdowne.

    All our transit investments are focused on reducing traffic speed, removing lanes, and not on improving commuting times. For some reason the least popular mode of transit has been deemed the only way, while people clamour for more subways.

    This is combined with council that is hostile to development at transit nodes. There are ridiculous fights to get intelligent development approved at such rural locations as Bloor & Bedford and Yonge & Eglinton.

    We need subways not streetcars. We need transit downtown and high speed connections to allow for intensification.

    If you live in the Beach, your options are to take the streetcar for an hour+ or drive down Lakeshore in 15 minutes. If you’re a couple, it is easily cheaper to drive in than to take the streetcar, never mind so much faster.

    It’s one thing to complicate car commutes when a reasonable alternative is offered, but there just isn’t one in Toronto. You have to live on YUS or B-D to reasonably be able to commute by transit. Otherwise it’s faster to commute from Oakville than it is from close parts of our city (never mind the far corners or places like Weston).

    Where you have subway development, you have high density that people flock to, even if its rather out of the way (Sheppard, Bloor in Etobicoke). We should be getting this development closer in, making Queen, St Clair, and Eglinton truly urban. Downtown development is focused on areas that are walking distance to Bay & Yong and other employment, intensification that happens despite the streetcar and not because of it.

  17. I hope Reality Check is willing to pay much greater property taxes or federal/provincial income taxes and give bailouts to small businesses that go under for the construction of a subway everywhere in the city.

    When RC states that council is hostile to development at transit nodes, he must be looking at a different city. Kipling and Islington are booming. Finch and Sheppard are booming. Scarborough Town Centre is booming. RC also seems to be ignoring the St Clair ROW: high density condos going up at Avenue and StC, Bathurst and StC, community hub of Wychwood barns at Christie and StC, and prime areas along StC in Corsa Italia are being scouted. Or putting ROWs along Don Mills, Finch and Sheppard where high density is coming or has already come.

    The argument that streetcars are the problem is misguided: its mixed traffic and which vehicle gets primary preference. Get the streetcars on ROWs with signal priorities and remove a handful of unnecessary stops that slow down a streetcar ride, and you’ll have the problem fixed. Seen it all over Europe cities that use trams primarily. And we have better densities than most of them.

  18. Lansdowne has not slowed nor has it run out of parking. What has happened is that people are finally driving the posted speed limit and using their back yard parking more. I drive on Lansdowne and its never been better.I only wish they had created real bike lanes.

  19. RE luke:

    Will it? I know the city is estimating a delay of only a couple of minutes, but the city’s estimates have been very questionable (they say that taking down the Gardiner will increase travel times by 5 minutes, meanwhile to get downtown via Richmond already takes 5 minutes longer than taking the Gardiner).

    Initially I fully supported the Jarvis reconfiguration, especially seeing the dire state the east-end of downtown is in. I also assumed that if one had to make their way from Jarvis and Bloor to Jarvis and King by car, one would take the DVP/Gardiner and head back up rather than take Jarvis all the way down.

    Before I can make a final judgment, I need to know just how well it moves and runs. How does Jarvis compare to nearby arterials (Church, Sherbourne, Parliament). Are all 3 lanes operating near or max capacity? Is the 3rd lane used for left turns at certain points, and how would left and right turns be handled sans one lane? Is traffic able to make its way through lights, or do some vehicles have to wait 2 or 3 light cycles to make their way through? How are light timed and programed? What road and transit improvements does the city have planned to deal with missing a lane of traffic? etc.

    These are things I would like to know before making a decision on where I stand. Is removing a lane going to have a minimal impact on congestion, or is it going to wreck a very functional arterial?

  20. Ben,

    I believe the city does have traffic engineers looking at those data, that is where the 2 minutes additional commute time come from. However, you have stated you do trust them, which is an understandable position. Now what? We can sit here and debate this forever (which is what usually happens in Toronto), or we can give the idea a try, which is what Ms. Sadik-Khan is doing in New York. Remember almost everything she is doing is temporary “pilot” project with a one-year time limit, after that, the city gets to review the result and to decide if the change should be kept. After, everything she does can be very easily reversed, just remove those planters and repaint the street. But guess what, I bet most of what she does is going to be keeper, because people love it. I wish we can see that kind of tactics in Toronto, make the change and let people experience it, instead of sitting there talking forever.

  21. The problem with most of the arguments against changing the way downtown streets work is that they focus on travel time. Whoever travels the same way to work along the same route each day and doesn’t experience delays?

    When the traffic lights were changed for pedestrians crossing University at Queen, and suddenly the new time forced walkers to cross to the middle …. wait… and then cross all the way across, was any calculation done to measure the delay in pedestrian transit along Queen Street? Ill bet it’s close to two minutes.

    The reality is that the biggest delays motorists face each day is not how many lanes go this way or that, not how quickly is snow removed or how many crosswalks there are or how many speeds. The issue isn’t a question of whether street cars are faster than buses, or if bike lanes slow traffic less than parked cars or if advanced greens help cars more than turn restrictions. The real problem is the cars themselves,

    Yet you never hear motorists advocating a ban on new car sales, in fact what we get are multi-billion dollar grants to the car industry to build more cars, cheaper cars and then we get tax stimulus aimed at making sure someone buys and drives those cars.

    Its easy to blame things at the side of the road, it’s a lot harder to look in the rear view mirror and take responsibility for congestion. if there is too much traffic and driving is getting more and more frustrating, stop driving.

    Don’t pave over someone else’s neighbourhood. don’t slice away sidewalks, re-wire a local road or slam cyclists. the real culprit in the war on cars is the drivers themselves.

    As someone else put it before… this isn’t a war on the car… it’s a war on mistakes of the past.

    Come to council Monday morning help bring Toronto into the future.

  22. Re Yu,

    Agree with running a trial. Toronto could easily put up pylons in the center lane to see just how it would effect traffic.

    I just purchased a Scangauge for my car (reads out gas mileage instantly), and went for a little drive along Toronto’s inner-loop with a detour along Jarvis. The 3rd lane was open, but the right lane was being used for parking so essentially there were 2 lanes available. Granted it was a Saturday night and not a Monday morning rush hour, but found traffic to move exceptionally smoothly, more so than most other north-south streets through downtown. However, I think this had more to do with the excellent light timings, which left me stopping mostly at major streets only, and only waiting one-cycle to get through.

    I don’t know everything about the Jarvis Street plan, but as long as lights are timed properly I think adding a bike lane would have a minimal effect on traffic. While unlikely, I also think they should look at implementing a bus lane for the 141 (even if it is only available during the rush hours) to encourage transit use into the downtown from Rosedale.

  23. Thanks for the great post.

    When I was at school in Detroit, I asked a friend of mine who was a clay modeller at GM– one of the people who work with that special oily clay to create scale models of cars that might be or will be built– why American cars had such huge blind spots compared to Japanese or German cars in the same catagory.

    She told me that it was because the American car companies adhered to “a voluntarily higher standard” for A-pillars, to protect the people inside the car in the event of a crash.

    I found it interesting that the American car companies thought about safety in terms of the people INSIDE the car, but not so much of the people OUTSIDE, the ones the driver might hit (cyclists, pedestrians, etc.)…that emphasis fits in with the worst of the political dynamics of that fair nation.

    Living in Detroit was instructive; it was interesting to go to a school that was producing car designers.

    As a non-driving commuter cyclist, I was moved by how passionate the transportation design students were, and completly blown away by their talent and drive.

    They freaked me right out, but I also came to love and admire them. My car industry graphic design teachers were awesome. They can really draw.

    I noted that many of the green students were being thwarted at every step of their development; green profs were frustrated about their working conditions.

    It was interesting to watch the potential game-changing design students, the super-talented ones whose values were different from those of the industry types, weeded out along with those whose drawing skills were not up to snuff.

    The student work that lined the halls several times a year was exceptionally well done, but terrifying.

    The cars that students were imagining were fear-mobiles designed to make suburbanites feel safe travelling through the inner city of Detroit, or perhaps out in the “Indian Country” beyond the “Green Zone” in one warzone or another…

    Other drawings were plans for cars for the afluent Chinese market, and tiny cars designed to be operated remotely by parents or staff…little one-pea-only pods designed to “drive” solitary kids to school. It was a little scary.

    The rudest and most dangerous drivers in both Detroit and Windsor are the ones who are the most scared by the collapse of the industry. Driving in their big pick-ups and SUVs, they do not check for cyclists, and even if they did, they cannot SEE cyclists, so they are frightened when we pop up all of a sudden.

    Learning not to spook them, and learning about how they are experiencing things as they get off the freeways all velocitized, is important.

    They are up to their eyeballs in debt, in their culture the car is a status symbol, and there can be a sense that they feel emasculated somehow by cyclists, perhaps by that tiny little woman who is not scared of Detroit’s downtown the way they are…

    They need a tank to feel safe in Detroit, and there we are, feeling safe and cool on our bikes, bikes we own free and clear.

    Bike lanes aren’t going to help much when the violence is intentional, as it often is.

    Lots has been written about cars and gender– former Canadian Olympic cylcist, the journalist Laura Robinson, is interesting on this topic.

    I noted with interest that the day time soaps, those classic purveyors of romance ideology to the trapped housewife set, are struggling now, because the car companies were their main source of ad revenue.

    Bike lanes or not-cleared-of-snow and not designed for women at night semi-wooded recreational “trails” are not the only piece of this puzzle.

    Issues of race and sexuality are important, too…farm worker cyclists out in the county, and inner city black cyclists (in Detroit) and Ojibwe cyclists (in Windsor) face sometimes face intentional harm. Even white male cyclists in this region have reported odd harrassment that connects cycling with homosexuality… drivers connect cycling with other ways of using city space deemed transgressive.

    Some of these harrassed cyclists have been gay, others not, but angry drivers have made an interesting pejorative connection between cycling and what they deem transgresive sexuality or politics.

    I’ve heard border city cyclists called “terrorists” more than once, too. Something bigger than bike lanes is at play in this debate.

    I’ve been facinated to be here learning about how Detroit has been designing cars for Detroit, or more properly prehaps for the strange sub-culture of car industry suburban Detroit, and for those car-company Metro Detroiter’s mental image of what “the city” means…

    They are not thinking about New York or Toronto or Berlin or Tokyo…many of those wannabe car designer kids I went to school with are not familier with the street scapes of our kind of city at all.

    When friends visited my family in Toronto, it was the first time they had ever seen a subway– seriously.

    I think the debates about bike infrastructure and cycling culture are important and wonderful. I am so happy that more and more people are talking about this.

    But I’d also like to see us all putting some thought into changing driver’s ed courses (even those driver’s ed courses offered at suburban high schools, in the kinds of communities where parents take their kids to Walmart parking lots after hours to practice driving) to teach drivers how to drive in a multi-modal transportation environment that includes cyclists.

    Regardless of the presence or absence of a bike lane, drivers should know how to drive around bikes. We should teach them how, so they stop freaking out.

    One of the key “spaces” in this debate is the head space of the average driver.

    It would be good if we could also think about the design features cars need to have to be bike friendly– small blind spots, narrow enough to leave room for us in the lane, space for a bike in the trunk, a sloped front so if there is a crash we won’t die…

    We wondered about paint jobs or external features that would give a cyclist visual cues about the extent of the car’s blind spot.

    Here in the Windsor-Detroit region, some of us are working on talking to the car design people we know…this is tricky given what a mess the industry is in, but still useful.

    We’ll keep you posted.

    My apologies to all for the long late night ramble.

  24. There’s no point in aspiring to the Sadik-Khan model, because the control freakery within Toronto’s civic apparatus would simply not permit it (and I don’t just mean the councillors and bureaucrats – I mean those who like the Jane Jacobs side of Sadik-Khan but can’t get their head around the side of her that is Robert Moses).

    Contrast the “trial” carried out on Queens Quay (dismantled almost as soon as it was erected) and the howls at the proposal to help transit on King West with this (from the nymag link above)

    That speed is possible in part because, while Sadik-Khan takes pains to involve local community-planning boards, she doesn’t run her projects past the City Council. She is careful to line up allies, but she doesn’t always court those whose input might cause trouble. So while according to Biederman she started having off-the-record meetings about the Broadway plan months before going public with it, taxi-industry representatives and some Broadway theater owners say that they were consulted barely or not at all. Her approach, says Liu, “has not been all-inclusive. It has been selectively inclusive.”

  25. Unbelievable. So now we see comments comparing Toronto to London, New York, Paris et al? Of course it’s easier to talk about bike lanes when New York has 369km of Subway routes. London has 400km of subway routes. Toronto has a whopping 68km (and that generously includes the Scarb RT.) Subways work in delivering High Speed Rapid Transit. I know you downtown elitists do not particularly care for anything north of Bloor, but it is not the mark of a “world class” city to insist that a student from Malvern going to York University will now have to catch a bus to Markham Rd, connect to the new RT, transfer to the Subway at Don Mills, Transfer to a bus at Yonge & Sheppard, and connect again to a subway at Downsview. Absolutely rediculous. Why not get in a car for a 15 minute car ride along the 401 instead of a one way, 2 hour, 4 transfer system. Ask the people of St.Clair how it is working for them (oops…forgot they are north of Bloor). High Speed Transit does NOT involve sitting on a tram and waiting for a car to turn left at the light ahead of you. I don’t always agree with DMW, but he does get one point right…you do NOT improve infrastructure by removing roads. And if bike lanes are so important, why not have them pay for it themselves by licensing and taxing it? Transit City will go down in history alright, but not for the right reasons.

  26. Dear Jeff,

    The Jarvis Street plan will pay for itself. The plan is about a lot more than bike lanes. It’s about the “street”, not just the “road”. Before being turned into a thruway during the sixties as part a 1950’s plan to build a network of superhighways in the downtown (the Spadina Expressway was just the first proposed expressway) Jarvis Street was a glorious boulevard of major churches and palatial homes. Wide sidewalks, generous lawns and glorious trees lined the road that linked the downtown to Rosedale and beyond.

    All of this environmental heritage and architectural wonder was tossed aside as Toronto tried to keep pace with US cities and their rush to build parkways in the style of Robert Moses.

    Spadina Ave also fell victim to this kind of planning. Richmond and Adelaide were also converted into the bypasses they are today.

    The reality is these truncated high speed roads are in fact orphaned infrastructure from another era. They would never get built today, they serve no real purpose and only from the view from a car do they appear to serve a function.

    Stand at the side of the road for twenty minutes and what you witness are extremely inefficient streets. A little congestion at rush hour perhaps, but only at rush hour, for the other twenty hours in the day you can stand in the middle lane of Jarvis, or in the middle of Adelaide a not even a cyclist passes you for minutes at a time.

    Other streets are not like this. A block south of Adelaide King Street is packed from Parkdale to Corktown. A block north of Richmond Queen Street is full of cars people, cyclists and streetcars.

    Why have we created this single use deadzones? Why are commercial rents (and with that commercial taxes) so much higher on congested roads? Why is it safer, more comfortable, more beautiful and more interesting to walk along Queen than Richmond. Why is Yonge Street more vibrant (top to bottom) than
    Spadina? How come Parliament has more life than Jarvis? And what is the cost of not re-claiming these rods and returning city life to them?

    As for you student from Malvern, trying to get to York, yes I agree, the transit trip you described is horrible, about as bad as trying to get from Hoboken to Brooklyn or from Long Island to Staten Island. Thanks to Robert Moses and his ilk, it will always be a trip best planned and built for car travel. But no one in New York thinks that the trip Morningside Heights to Greenwich Village (ie Harlem to NYU) is trip worth buying a car for. In the same vain students in the Annex do bike to Ryerson and UofT and George Brown College and OCAD, and if they don’t there is transit.

    So lets be clear here. No one is proposing bike lanes on the 401 to help your mythical student, no one is suggesting bike lanes will ever solve the problems of suburbs built around the car as a prime transportation tool. That being said the downtown has be built and planned in a different way.

    Again the Jarvis street redesign is about the street not the Road. Yes bike lanes are an option in this project, butthe real goal is to return Jarvis street to its better use as a city street.

    Regaining its past glory is impossible, but that doesn’t mean mistakes of the past should not be fixed. How can the city regenerate the residential capacity, what about its commercial and retail capacity, what would make it a better street to walk on, to open a restaurant on, how do we build on the successes that the ballet school contributes to the street, what can we add to the mix that will enhance and multiply the positive contributions that the boutique hotels in the old mansions make. How do we attract new office development like the Rogers building, and yes how do we make sure that commuters who need the road still have a road.

    These are all complex questions, the status quo is neither an answer nor a plan. What the study proposes is a process to arrive at a vision, one that builds a city and not just a road.

    This is not downtown elitism anymore than it is a war on the car or indifference to the city north of Bloor. It’s the future arriving just in time to correct a flawed vision of the past.

  27. “And what is the cost of not re-claiming these rods and returning city life to them?

    I’m worried some people have a rather fantastical notion of what is going to happen here. Re-claiming the road does not automatically return city life. The properties on Jarvis have organically redeveloped and adapted to its 60’s redesign and I find it hard to see “city life” spring forth from them onto the sidewalks. There are isolated pockets of potential, but there are big roadblocks beyond the fifth lane. The several residential townhouse developments were built to face away from the street, towers/offices/businesses were (re)built with loading and unloading bays at street level, not retail or residentail (including the Rogers building and the Ballet School). Some buildings just have their HVAC plants facing the street and entrances on the opposite side on Mutual.

    Take a look across the lake to Hamilton where downtown streets have been “re-claimed”, sometimes several times. There are a few successes, in places wehre the properties had not redeveloped, but in the corridors where new buildings had gone up, there is still an expressway vibe to the area.

    I don’t think taking a lane from Jarvis will make it congested, but I also don’t think will be a catalyst for the changes some people seem to think will happen overnight.

  28. Adam,

    You offer some goods points and an interesting historical perspective.

    A few points,

    Spadina Ave. has less automobile traffic today than twenty years ago and similar transit ridership. This while the city/region has increased in population. Same with most streets downtown. Unfortunately this is not due to the success of public transit or bike lanes (which I support). It’s a product of Toronto’s tax climate that has killed jobs in this city. It would also help if the city would help clean up Spadina Ave. The graffiti is among the worst I have seen anywhere. Forcing merchants to clean it up when it is so prevalent is nothing more than washing ones hands of the problem.

    Just as Toronto is over 1/4 of a million jobs behind its own estimates, with an aging and stagnant population, the city’s projections must be viewed in context. Is the vision for redevelopment viable?

    While Jarvis may have the potential to recapture some of its lost grandeur, as at the waterfront, it will most likely only be financially viable for the subsidised residential sector. It will become like most areas developed in the last decade, condos with as little commercial space as possible.

    For you…..

  29. Adam Vaughan, frankly I doubt that’s really you, because if it is, I’m disappointed that one of our political leaders would have such a one-dimensional view of the city.

    In your world, drivers should just decide to stop driving. Yet you ignore that in this city, travel time between any two points is almost always much, much faster by car. Nobody likes getting stuck in traffic, but nobody likes getting stuck on the slow-ass Queen streetcar for far longer, either, so blaming drivers for making a rational choice, as you want to do, is laughable. Scholarship, economics, and common sense all suggest that if you want to get people out of their cars, you have to provide them with a viable alternative.

    I reiterate that NYC comparisons are irrelevant — the Morningside Heights to Greenwich Village trip you mention can be done on a single express subway line. In light of that, you would have to be an idiot to own a car for only that trip. So again, where’s the rapid transit solution in Toronto, to make car use obsolete? (And don’t say Transit City. That will do nothing for people like me who live south of Bloor.)

    You’re right that these are complex questions. Unfortunately, I see you approaching them from only one direction, which is to punish and blame people for rational behaviour.

  30. Councillor Vaughan,

    Your portrayal of loans as grants and failure to highlight the tax contributions (sales, gas, income) plus the heavy economic multiplier involved in the auto industry makes the tone of contributions dismissable as a rant. Full of propaganda.

  31. Adam,

    Thank you for taking the time to respond to my post. Your comments are articulate and I have no doubt that you are doing what you think is right for the city. I respect your passion and desire for improving the quality of life for all of us, but I do have one more question for you.

    Do you really believe that Subways are too expensive for the city?

    As you have mentioned, you see cars and bicycles as competing for the same space on land. There are only 3 options when it comes to physically “moving” from one place to another. 1) On the ground – cars, buses, trams, bicycles, pedestrians, rollerblading, etc. 2) In the air (not practical/realistic) and 3) under the ground – via subways.

    Would the best interests of this city not be better served by moving people via subway where there are no weather impediments, no intersections, no idling toxic emissions…just high speed, environmentally friendly, dedicated rail lines which encourage people to move freely across the city in a cost effective manner? Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems what you describe is merely reworking Option #1 over and over again until you get the split in percentage that you want. Whether you are changing a car lane into a bike lane; from a bike lane to a widening of a sidewalk…it is still the same “x” amount of people being filtered through the same area. You are only shuffling the deck (although a more esthetically pleasing one at that).

    However if you were to choose Option #3 and provide an incentive for the car dwellers to get out of their cars, I’m quite certain they would take the subway if that option was available to them. They would always choose that option if it was 1) cost effective 2) reliable and 3) rapid. I’ve yet to meet the Malvernian (again, with the Malvern reference, but they are a part of Toronto and they pay taxes too) that eagerly looks forward to driving at any time of year (or let alone in a snow storm) to get downtown, to inch along in traffic, to hit the gas and brake every 10 seconds along the Don Valley Parkway, in order to spend a tank of gas just to pay $20 in parking to get to their job if another realistic option was available to them.

    These people are not anti-environmentalists or have some hidden agenda/commitment to destroying the air quality of this city. These people are realists who choose the only option that is practical to them. And this is where I believe it is the city’s obligation to provide them/us with other options (as New York and London have done).

    If there were even just a few more subway lines covering the city, I believe people would commit to less cars. I believe bike lanes would and should cover the city. I know I would be in favour of a Congestion Tax as there is in London. But the infrastructure must be in place first to give people a realistic option before taking away what is – at this point – an only option for many. Once a subway plan is in place, then everything should be put on the table (including turning roads into bike lanes, tearing down the Gardiner, charging a congestion tax, etc, etc).

    Thank you for your passion and effort on council.


  32. Come show your support for more bike lanes in Toronto for Bells on Bloor on May 31 to show our councillors how important this issue is to creating a healthier, safer city for everyone. Last year we had 1500 cyclists – this year we’re hoping to make it over 2000, all ringing our bells for this important cause

  33. This city is in desperate need of new subway lines. It’s deplorable that we call what we have transit. Streetcars are painfully slow, probably cause more traffic than they resolve, and block all lanes of traffic everytime they stop.

    Bike lanes are a nice thought but are only really useful for half the year. With the poor and slow snow removal in Toronto it would be irresponsible to ask any to risk hitting ice and sliding under a streetcar.

    Many comments also seem to forget that while cars are evil and are taking up all the roadway, trucks and delivery vehicles are also out there. A city needs goods and they have to be delivered somehow. Good luck delivering chicken to KFC on your bike or on transit. And emergency services also need to get through the city efficiently.

    If anything time would be better spent cracking down on cabs who don’t seem to ever signal. Pull uturns just about anywhere and pickup and dropoff from the centre lane. That’s what causing traffic problems in Toronto.

    And why the obsession with New York? Look at Canadian cities too. Montreal, Halifax, and Hamilton all, like New York, use one way streets. Think about Jarvis as a 3 lane northbound road with huge sidewalks and bike lanes. Parlament the same going south. Hmm sounds like Manhattan.

  34. The ‘war-on-cars’ is a product of a Toronto’s sixty-year
    street-widening program, a war on pedestrians, trees, lawns and neighborhoods.

    It’s about time.

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