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Removing Jarvis bike lanes could face legal challenge

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The Jarvis bike lanes, slated for removal this summer, may be sticking around a little longer than expected.

The Toronto Cyclists Union announced today that they believe (as do their lawyers from Iler-Campbell) the decommissioning of the Jarvis bikes lanes requires a Schedule C environmental assessment (EA).

The 10-page document outlines their case, specifically stating that, “A Schedule C environmental assessment would address the potentially significant adverse effects of decommissioning the bike lanes and adding a reversible traffic lane on safety, air quality, efficient  transportation, healthy lifestyles, cultural heritage, and the economy.”

At the press conference, the Cyclists Union’s director of advocacy Andrea Garcia said, “City Council voted to reconfigure Jarvis Street without any consultation with the community or local Councillor. Now, we’re calling on City Hall to ensure this project is consistent with due process, and any steps to revert Jarvis Street to its pre-existing condition should be put on hold until the EA is completed and Council can make a decision with the proper information.”

To read the entire legal opinion download the PDF.

This challenge is music to my ears. For anyone who has had to endure a conversation with me on this topic over the last year has heard me state, in unequivocal terms, that the City should gets it’s ass dragged in front of a judge if the Jarvis lanes are removed. Why? Because when someone speaks in the city council chambers you’re not obliged to tell the truth. You can say just about anything without ever being held (legally) accountable. But in a court, gut feelings and ideology have to be left at the door.

Those inconvenient things, like facts and data, seem to be held in higher regard once you leave the confines of city hall and enter the real world. I doubt a judge or a panel will uphold the removal of the Jarvis bike lanes simply because Denzil Minnan-Wong says he thinks the reversible lane was cool (his words) or that Doug Ford was sworn at by an irate bike courier.

Any casual observer can see that the lane’s removal wasn’t based on facts or data; it was rooted in a dislike for a vocal and organized cycling community as well as an attempt to erase decisions made by former mayor David Miller.

By obtaining a legal opinion, the Cyclists Union has taken a very intelligent step in dealing with the Ford administration’s disdain for all things urban. Instead of the typical cycling activist action of taking over an intersection and holding bikes high overhead to piss off drivers, the Union is taking the game to the City. Too often, advocacy groups are always playing catch-up to governments or well-funded corporate lobbying groups. In this case, the City has 10 days to respond to the Union’s legal opinion that a new EA is needed or have the issue passed on to the Minister of Environment to make a decision.

What warms my heart is that potentially taking the debate into the world of judges or provincial ministers will force the City to provide documentation (ironically enough is produced by the City itself) that contradicts the vindictive decision made by a handful of councillors. Items submitted, such as traffic counts conducted by the City, will show that bike ridership on Jarvis has tripled since the bike lane installation and that vehicular traffic volume has stayed the same and caused minimal delays to travel times.

To add a little ironic gravy to this delicious situation is the costs associated with the removal of the Jarvis lanes. The installation in 2010 cost taxpayers $86,000. Removing the lanes this year will cost the City $272,000 (new wires, traffic lights, and signage don’t come cheap). And if the Union’s legal opinion is correct, the cost of a new EA — never mind the legal costs if the situation gets to court — could add tens of thousands (if not hundreds of thousands) of dollars to the bottom line.

The question to Ford and his allies on this issue is simple: is it worth it to spend close to half a million dollars or more to sacrifice safety for a minute or two of convenience? The answer should be clear — Jarvis is working for both drivers and cyclists and there is no sane reason to spend another nickel fighting this battle.

photo by Neal Jennings

EDITOR’S NOTE: Garcia’s quote was added after this post was originally published.



  1. Hear, hear, Matt. At a far lower cost, some slight tweaking of lane markings for left turning vehicles would keep 2 lanes open for through traffic (which is what there was and would be with the confusing reversible 3rd lane anyway, as left-turners block it for through traffic). And this would make the street work better for all 65,000 residents in Ward 27, cyclists and car drivers, not just the 15,000 motorists who don’t give a crap about anything other than getting from A-B most expeditiously. We’re talking about a neighbourhood road here, not a highway.

  2. I’m sympathetic to the argument; and happen to oppose removing the bike lanes at this point, at least for putting the reversible auto-lane back (as opposed to say widening the sidewalks.

    However, my recollection is that the previous EA did NOT recommend bike lanes, but instead widening of the sidewalks, and it was at committee/council that bike lanes were decided on, in contravention of the EA outcome.

    (someone will correct me if I’m wrong)

    But I do have something of an allergy to hypocrisy (all around, on both sides).

    For the record, narrowing Jarvis by widening the sidewalks was the right direction; bike lanes should have come later………

  3. What seems to be forgotten in this is the fact that the bike lanes on Pharmacy Ave and Birchmount Rd in Scarborough were already removed last year. Oddly enough though, both streets are still one lane each way, with a middle turn lane, as opposed to the two lanes per direction that existed prior to the bike lanes. At this stage, it would be much, much cheaper to simply repaint the bike lanes and markings, rather than reconfiguring the street for two through lanes per direction. Unfortunately, Jarvis seems to be getting all the attention while the two Scarborough streets are ignored.

  4. If an EA is required to remove bike lanes, would that not mean an EA is also needed to install bike lanes?

  5. Also… wasn’t there some sort of last minute compromise where they promised that the Sherbourne dedicated bike lanes would be completed + open before they removed the bike lanes on Jarvis?

  6. Sorry – $1.2m cheaper. The Jarvis streetscape improvements with sidewalk widening would have cost $6.3 million, the bike lane option was $5.1 million.

  7. Because of a change in my family worklife arrangements I have had occasion to be driving down Jarvis at 0750 daily and up it at 1645-1715 this week, which has been pretty good cycling weather. Can’t say the number of cyclists I’ve observed OR the level of traffic congestion should give comfort to either set of combatants.
    I have noted some e-bikes but if you remove those (since the CofT website says they shouldn’t be there) the bike lanes will look even more underused.

  8. I don’t think either side comes out looking great. The Ford side disregards the “before and after” data (relying on truthiness and ideology). But the bike lanes weren’t the preferred solution under the EA either, as is noted above and has been discussed at length previously. They were a simple way of being seen as doing something at a lower cost compared to the recommended solution — but they don’t really achieve the preferred solution’s objectives (which were as much about urban design and place-making as about alternative transportation).

    I would argue that the legal opinion would carry a lot stronger weight if the bike lanes had been the preferred alternative identified in the EA. In that case, repealing them involves both reversing a previous Council decision and going against the recommendations of the previous EA. But in this case, the previous Council decision already went against the recommendations of the EA.

    I think the question is whether a mulligan requires an EA. “Oops — sorry, we approved the wrong solution and would rather go with the ‘do nothing’ solution.” There shouldn’t be a need to do a new EA for this. The “do nothing” solution would have already been reviewed in the previous EA.

    A warning to bike advocates about fixating on cost: what would your response be if the City said that they would go to five lanes but wouldn’t reinstate the reversible lane signals? In other words, the centre lane would just be a normal left turn lane? Then the installation cost is nowhere near $272k, and probably less than the previous $86k as well (that included the cost to remove and decommission all the overhead signals).

  9. all arterial roads should have bike lanes…  whether it’s at the expense of car lanes or not.

  10. It seems that the cyclist union can never learn to pick the right battle. Sure, it is pretty idiotic to revert Jarvis to the original 5-lane setup. But it was not worth to fight for Jarvis bike lane to begin with (doing that involved angering both motorist and pedestrians for a bike lane that was disconnected and very close to another parallel lane), and even more so, it is not worth fighting for it now. To much political capital spent for too little gain. I’d support a fight if the goal is to avoid the 5 car lane setup, but reverting to the previous preferred configuration (4 car lanes with wider sidewalk). That way you make some more friends, regain some political capital for something that is worth fighting for, say Bloor, or speaking of a north-south downtown bike route, why not try push to convert Church into a Sherbourne style street (2 car lanes, a parking lane and bike lanes). It is nicely spaced from Sherbourne, much better connected (south all way down to Esplanade, north to Davenport). After all it does not matter if you believe or not “all arterial roads should have bike lanes”, not gonna happen any time soon. So pick your battle carefully and try to win the few crucial ones.

    This from a daily commuter who travel through that part of town on daily basis, I could use either lane but prefer Sherbourne to Jarvis.