On the removal of bike lanes

Just a few days ago, Catherine Porter from the Toronto Star asked the question: Will John Street be the next Jarvis? A more appropriate question can now be asked: Will Jarvis St. be the next Jarvis?

Yesterday, at the Public Works and Infrastructure Committee meeting, a surprise motion by Councillor John Parker to remove the Jarvis St. bike lanes passed in committee, as did recommendations to remove the bike lanes on both Birchmount Road and Pharmacy Avenue. (In positive news, the committee also voted for a separated bike lane trial on Richmond Street between Sherbourne and Simcoe streets).

Mayor Rob Ford, who seems to be on a contradictory quest to at once listen to and respect the taxpayers of Toronto while simultaneously attempting to make them obsolete, spoke about how he had received calls from people who wanted the Jarvis bike lanes gone and so he’s just doing what the taxpayers want. Apparently, in Rob Ford’s city, there are two tiers of taxpayers. Ones to listen to, and ones to ignore. Guess which ones cyclists are?

Parker also lamented the fact that the implementation of the Jarvis bike lanes was done without the proper consultation process. I guess the way to get back for that is to remove the bike lanes without a proper consultation process. An eye for an eye and all that.

Speaking about the move to remove the Jarvis bike lanes, Councillor Denzil Minnan-Wong was quoted in the Toronto Star this morning as saying “We’ve got a congestion and traffic problem. This administration would like to address that. Creating more congestion is not something we would like to do. We’d like to ease congestion in the city.”

Oh, really?

You know what increases congestion? Cars. You know what increases the amount of cars on the road? More road space. If Minnan-Wong and the other Public Works and Infrastructure gang were really serious about easing congestion on Toronto’s roads, they would encourage more people to get on their bicycles and ride. You know one way to encourage people to get on their bicycles and ride? Build them bike lanes. Hair = pulled.

What the Jarvis bike lane did cause, though, was huge increase in the number of cyclists using the route. The average number of weekday cyclists jumped from 290 to 890, while, as Dave Meslin pointed out on his blog, the number of cars stayed the same. In the parlance of Rob Ford, removing the Jarvis bike lanes is a clear waste of taxpayers money.

I’ve heard the argument that the Jarvis bike lanes are redundant due to the Sherbourne bike lanes to the west. This argument makes about as much sense to me as arguing that any given street is redundant for cars because there are other streets that run parallel. These are two different streets that serve different cyclists and car drivers. I always wondered at the poor network connectivity in Toronto’s cycling network. Now I understand. Apparently you can’t have a bike lane near another bike lane because that is redundant. I guess all those extra cyclists on Jarvis are redundant, too.

But, unfortunately for the Jarvis bike lane, reason and facts do not matter because it is more than just a bike lane. It is a symbol of a former kind of politics in this city that can be added to the list of things that apparently must be undone by the new kind of politics in this city. It’s almost as if Rob Ford is running around with a big Wite-Out pen and gleefully erasing everything he can of the Miller years. Transit City? Check. Fort York Bridge? Check. Jarvis bike lanes? Check. It’s important to note that in each one of those cancellations, Ford also forfeited any taxpayers money that had already been committed or spent on the projects. A strange way of respecting the taxpayer, indeed.

All is not lost just yet, however. The removals still have to be approved by council at their meeting in mid-July. But if the removal of the bikes lanes on Birchmount, Pharmacy, and Jarvis pass, it could very well mean that Toronto could see a negative number of bike lanes installed in the city this year.

That means that as other cities move ahead with bicycle infrastructure, Toronto is moving backwards.

Photo by Neal Jennings


  1. “Toronto is moving backwards.” Says it all. I have nothing more to add.

  2. This city is going backwards. We are again looking like fools on the world stage. It isn’t about respect for taxpayers anymore folks, it’s about petty squabbles not what’s right. Wasting money on removing bike lanes is incredibly stupid and needs to be fought.
    Let’s fight the fight to stop the foolish waste of money cancelling all these projects is doing.
    I know I’m sick to death of this.
    Let’s do something about it.

  3. There should be a concerted effort made by the bike union and the auto union to make the lanes on Jarvis seperated, as well as adding the ones on sherbourne/richmond/adelaide…any street that can support it should have them, for the safety of drivers (and cyclists)…as a driver I have accidentally come close to a few cyclists, and not because I am a bad driver, or they are a bad cyclist…just because the roadway isn’t organized…for the same reason we build fences around our playgrounds and houses so that our dogs don’t get hit by cars, and our kids can play without getting run-over we should build seperated lanes for our biker community…

  4. @Darwin: “What are they going to do with the extra space on Jarvis?”

    I agree they will not put the bidirectional lane back in; city planning staff argued against it (the only one of its kind in Toronto?) for many years. In fact, no one I talked to could remember how it got installed in the first place.

    My guess is they will just remove the bike lane stripes, thus making the two outer lanes wider. Make it faster to “pass on the right”, and cheaper too. Maybe cyclists will get sharrows? (haha! haha ..)

  5. It is fair to say the Toronto is moving backward in this case. However, on the balance I think the benefit of having a separate lane on Richmond is far greater than the loss on Jarvis. Plus if the extra space on Jarvis goes to sidewalk widening, I won’t complain at all. That was how it should have been to begin with.

  6. With the recent regime change at City Hall, I don’t think anyone could realistically expect significant improvements to cycling infrastructure in Toronto over the next four years. But to remove bike lanes? That’s the tipping point for me. If this goes ahead, I plan on taking the lane whenever I ride, traffic be dammed.

  7. This reversal is not so surprising, and for me it highlights just how messed up the processes (or lack thereof) are for bike facility planning in Caronto.

    I don’t really support the Jarvis St. bike lanes because there is Sherbourne St. really nearby it, compared to all sorts of others areas throughout 99% of TO, and there’s really nothing safe yet for east-west out to Parkdale or west of Ossington – and that includes Bloor.

    But it was far too dangerous to bike on before the lanes, and Sherbourne is crap to ride on now. Maybe any removal can be tied to actually having the rebuild of Sherbourne occur – and that will mean money will likely be found for this rebuild, and we’ll have smoother bike travel in the construction time. And various questions about what might happen after bike lane removal from Jarvis could get answered. Given everything, wider curb lanes on Jarvis with sharrows would be ok with me.

    For me, I think the bigger loss is the foregoing of the Bloor/Danforth EA for a subway-long bikeway. Not only do we have clear indications of crash and harm for cyclists along B/Danforth, with four deaths on Bloor since 1992, it’s a natural corridor for bikes, and it could help expand the subway for the price of paint.

    I think there are enough captive riders on the subway that if biking were to be made safe and continuous and maintained through the winter, that a lot of people would get out of the subway and bike instead.

  8. Thank you for not adding more, iSkyscraper.

  9. To Darwin: I also doubt they will widen the sidewalks like they were supposed to in the first place.

  10. Back when Jarvis was a “three-lane” street, it moved about 25,000 cars a day. Meanwhile, Harbord moves 20,000 cars a day and has only one lane. It seems one lane streets (with additional turn lanes at intersections) are pretty efficient.

    Meanwhile, John Parker was reportedly offended that a proposal to widen the sidewalks on Jarvis was dropped in favour of bike lanes, supposedly without community consultations. So why not make Jarvis a one-lane street, so you can have wide sidewalks AND bike lanes? I think I will suggest this at the Jarvis bike lane community consultations Cllr Parker will no doubt insist upon. Oh wait … (motion 14)

  11. I have a large bicycle stencil. The bike lanes could be re painted…I’m just say’n. 🙂

  12. Not mentioned in reports about yesterday’s crappy bike day at the PWIC:

    – Denzil Minnan-Wong moved that the City move ahead with separated bike lanes on John Street. His motion failed after John Parker joined Perks and Layton to oppose, in a very unusual tie vote (tie=motion fails).

    – Separated bike lanes for Harbord/Hoskin are back on the table, even though the report recommended against them due to lack of space and large number of intersections/driveways

    – the City will report back in October about a number of other bike lane proposals south of Queen (or at least Soho): Peter/Soho/Phoebe, Portland, Dan Leckie, Bremner, Wellington and others. These appear to be from Adam Vaughan’s Ward 20 plan and the existing bike plan. Don’t know whether this actually means anything, but the motion came from Cllr Grimes and was unanimously approved

  13. It must surprise no one that Ford is removing these bike lanes. Why were they placed on Jarvis when there are lanes on Sherborne. What I’d like to see is Toronto designate some roads as car priority and some as transit/bike priority. Vancouver does a much better job of this than Toronto. Unfortunately, Toronto doesn’t have a great grid system that would allow us to have a bike lane one block south of Bloor from Dundas W east to the Viaduct like Vancouver is able to do more often than not. Fortunately, we have streetcars instead of electric trolly buses that must glide through an intersection in order not to turn and have farside stops. The combination results in cars getting trapped behind in intersections and blocking traffic going the other was all the time. 

  14. In other words, Rob Ford uses the most unscientific polling imaginable – people who have called him.

  15. All the people suggesting because there are bike lanes on Sherbourne, there shouldn’t be on Jarvis, are ridiculous in my view.

    What if, god forbid, someone works on Jarvis and cycles to work from another end of Jarvis? Why in the world would you backtrack and use Sherbourne? Where is the logic in that?

  16. Further to Rob Ford unscientific polling, if you don’t agree with him, you are ignored.

  17. So, I’m not a lawyer, but I am a little curious about the grounds for appeal regarding Council removing bike lanes.

    Section 24 of the Planning Act requires that all Public Works undertaken by a municipality be conforms to their Official Plan:
    24. (1) Despite any other general or special Act, where an official plan is in effect, no public work shall be undertaken and, except as provided in subsections (2) and (4), no by-law shall be passed for any purpose that does not conform therewith. R.S.O. 1990, c. P.13, s. 24 (1); 1999, c. 12, Sched. M, s. 24.

    Toronto’s Official Plan has policies regarding transportation.
    Some excerpts from the Policies in Section 2.4:
    1. Travel demand management (TDM) measures will be introduced to reduce car dependency and rush-hour congestion by:
    a) increasing the proportion of trips made by transit, walking and cycling;

    7. Policies, programs and infrastructure will be introduced to create a safe, comfortable and bicycle friendly environment that encourages people of all ages to cycle for everyday transportation and enjoyment including:
    a) an expanded bikeway network; and
    d) measures to improve the safety of cyclists through the design and
    operation of streets and through education and promotion programs.

    The Province is also pretty clear about encouraging modal shift away from private automobiles in the Places to Grow Growth Plan. From Section 3.2.3:
    3. Municipalities will ensure that pedestrian and bicycle networks are integrated into transportation planning to –
    a) provide safe, comfortable travel for pedestrians and bicyclists within existing communities and new development
    b) provide linkages between intensification areas, adjacent neighbourhoods, and transit stations, including dedicated lane space for bicyclists on the major street network where feasible.

    Removing the Jarvis bike lanes, which have documented evidence of increasing the proportion of trips made by cycling in the area, is a public work, is not in conformity with the goals and policies of Toronto’s Official Plan and is thus verboten without an Official Plan amendment. Said amendment would not be in conformity with Provincial Policy in the form of the Growth Plan and thus would be appealable to the OMB.

    What am I missing?

  18. So… if I start calling the Mayor offices every day, 2-3 times a day, and ask for:

    – painting city hall pink
    – making Bay Street from Queen to Front a rowing bassin
    – adding a flying cars zone over the DVP
    – moving the ROM in the middle of High Park and move Colborne Lodge at the corner of Bloor and Queens Park

    Do you think they will do it too? Cause I am a taxpayer too after all. Don’t I deserve to see my sweet ideas made reality.

    I think those “calls” are probably voices he wish he could hear from whatever God in belives in .

  19. Councillor John Parker is incorrect to say that public consultation was not undertaken during the Jarvis EA. Unlike him, I and many others attended PICs and a street audit where citizens constantly asked staff to include the bike lanes in the design. Staff was intransigent so council voted for the bike lanes based on what the citizens wanted. Also, much (if not all) of the funds for the street redesign was provided through Section 37 money from Rogers. Consistent with road diets around the world, Jarvis is working better now since it has become a more multi-modal street that is safe for motorists, cyclists and pedestrians. Leave it be!

  20. The removal of the bike lanes on Pharmacy and Birchmount should not be a surprise to ANYONE who lives in those areas or knows people who do. They were extremely contentious and people there felt the former councillor, Adrian Heaps, pushed them through without any public consultation. The current councillor Bernadetti, who beat Heaps handily, has been quoted as saying this was the number #1 issue in the ward in the latest municipal election. Given what I’ve heard from people who live in the area, I would say she’s probably right. The general perception was that these bike lanes were rarely used — and since they required the removal of traffic lanes used by all vehicles, they significantly worsened traffic congestion. Without offering a judgement about whether these bike lanes were good or bad, I would say that successful change doesn’t happen because it was the “right” thing to do. It happens because enough people have been brought on board (or at least able to tolerate) with the change. As a councillor, Heaps chose to spend significant political capital by installing bike lanes without adequate community consultation. And it cost him the election. Maybe if he had done a little more consultation, the cost would not have been so high.

  21. The Jarvis lanes are really not worth it for this crap. They are dangerous, redundant, and end in stupid places.

    Richmond street will be a much more importan cycle route. If Sherbourne can be fixed up as a pre-condition, then it is a net benefit.

  22. I think a lot of people are forgetting how important those cars on Jarvis are for our economy. Sure, you may love to ride your bike and hang out with your friends. But there are bike lanes in parks and on the islands for that kind of thing. Leave the commercial parts of the city for those of us who work for a living, and go have fun in the leafy pastures that are all around.

  23. The bike lanes on College should be removed because Harbord to the North already has them. While they’re at it they should get rid of the Dundas Streetcar. We already have 2 parallel lines North and South of it! What a waste! Stop the gravy already!

  24. Athena, you can rig any contrived example to support anything. I suspect that the number of people that cycle end to end on Jarvis would match the number of people that would be itching to use a subway under Sheppard.

    Jarvis was a perfect example of the more militant cycling groups in the city not being able to see the forest. I can’t believe the amount of political capital they wasted by hijacking the whole project and taking it from the sidewalk huggers.

    Does the concept of picking and choosing your battles wisely not exist? So much effort fighting a small meaningless battle when they should have been looking at the big picture.

    Now because of the animosity they’ve generated from this, they’ve poisoned the whole debate and that’s before Rob Ford jumps in.

  25. @lukev

    The Jarvis bike lane is not redundant, not some political distraction from other cycling priorities, and not some needless provocation to the Moore Park people. The people opposing the Jarvis lanes are the same type of self-entitled people who have opposed all new cycling infrastructure on Toronto’s roads, the same type of people who fought the St. Clair ROW, who opposed Transit City, who freaked out over right-turn-on-red restrictions and everything else that even slightly lowers car priority in this city, even if only perceptually.

    It amazes me that this city’s so-called conservatives, people who like to lecture us about “living within our means” and the need for austerity, will turn into a shrieking mob of socialists demanding free roads, free parking and cheap gas whenever the laws of physics show the impossibility of cramming more single-occupancy vehicles onto our finite roadspace.

    Matt Elliott has a useful summary of the facts about Jarvis:

    “the total number of vehicles (cars + bikes) using the road in both directions during daily peak eight hour periods increased from approximately 13,290 to 14,180 after the installation of the lanes. 100% of this increase comes from bikes.

    “In other words: a $63,000 one-time investment in infrastructure increased the daily utility of a Toronto roadway by about 7%. That’s an incredible value-to-dollar ratio.

    “This isn’t some hippie pinko gut-based opinion. This is black-and-white fact. The Jarvis Street bike lanes aren’t preventing people from moving through the city. They’re enabling people to move through the city.”

    I actually had hopes for Minnan-Wong (and Parker, for that matter). My error was that I assumed their conservatism was real, of the Burkean variety, and not a load of self-indulgent performance art. Motorized Socialism is never going to be appeased by letting them force bikes off Jarvis.

  26. “You know what increases congestion? Cars. You know what increases the amount of cars on the road? More road space. If Minnan-Wong and the other Public Works and Infrastructure gang were really serious about easing congestion on Toronto’s roads, they would encourage more people to get on their bicycles and ride. You know one way to encourage people to get on their bicycles and ride? Build them bike lanes. Hair = pulled.”

    Well, sort of. If people get out of their cars and onto their bikes, then there will be more room for other cars. Other cars will fill in that gap. We’ve already seen this happen on Jarvis. The number of cars remained constant while number of bikes rose.

    More road space for bikes doesn’t alleviate car congestion. Higher costs for cars (congestion charges) can alleviate car congestion.

    Economics profs Gilles Duranton and Matthew Turner at the University of Toronto have been doing some really interesting research on car congestion and how it is correlated (or not) with building more roads and adding other transit options:


  27. FYI, I take my bike to work… not for leasure rides and “hanging out”. I am a sales rep for a corporation and I believe I am part of “THE economy”.

    Plus, removing the lanes won’t stop me from biking on Jarvis. So, deal with it!

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