Dissecting Mayor Ford’s Jarvis Letter – Dave Meslin

dandyhorse magazine's founding publisher Dave Meslin responds to the letter Mayor Ford sent to everyone who e-mailed him concerning the motion to remove bicycle lanes from Jarvis Street:

Hundreds of cyclists, concerned about their personal safety, have been e-mailing their Councillors and the Mayor about the looming removal of bike lanes on Jarvis Street. The Mayor’s office is responding to each message, with a form letter explaining his position. While the Mayor deserves credit for being responsive, most of the information in the letter is questionable and perhaps misleading. Let’s take a look:

Thank you for your email regarding the bike lanes on Jarvis Street. I appreciate hearing from you. Toronto’s economy loses billions of dollars every year from gridlock and traffic congestion. We need to make the situation better – not worse.

Yes, that is true. But traffic engineers have known for decades that the ONLY way to reduce congestion is to provide alternatives such as cycling and public transit. Widening streets, or adding car lanes, serves to INCREASE congestion in the long run by bringing more cars into the downtown area. The goal is “modal shift”, and that’s exactly what the Jarvis lanes were designed to do. By making the street safer, bicycle usage went up 300%. Meanwhile, car usage remained the same. Mission accomplished.

The Jarvis Street bike lanes experiment has been a failure. Ninety-four percent of commuters now face longer commutes on Jarvis Street. Over 15,000 commuters each day are suffering from longer travel times, for the sake of 600 additional cyclists.

First of all, the Jarvis lanes were not an experiment. They were approved by City Council, and are part of our City’s bike network – a network that thousands of cyclists depend on. Second, the lanes have not been a failure. City staff consider them to be a success. Fact: The “longer commute” is negligible, and city staff already have a plan to reduce the wait time by adding an advance green during rush hour.

As for the “600 additional cyclists”, this is a very misleading number. That statistic is based on an eight hour count, which means only one rush hour was included (either morning afternoon). Based on city data, it’s safe to say that close to 2,000 bike trips occur on Jarvis each weekday. Those numbers have increased greatly since the installation of the bike lanes. That means 300% more cyclists, traveling safely, to work or to school at Jarvis Collegiate each day. That is called a “success”.

The City should remove the bike lanes as soon as possible and improve travel times for thousands of daily commuters. City staff have been directed to develop a low-cost plan to do so.

There is no “low cost” plan that will improve traffic times. It doesn’t exist. That’s why this administration is moving so quickly with removal: because the proposal makes no sense and they are trying to minimise both debate and scrutiny. There is no plan to re-install the signals on the middle lane, so we may even see an INCREASE in congestion because without bikelanes we’ll have hundreds of cyclists trying to share the curb lane! The lane is too narrow for cars to pass bikes, so they will all be forced into the passing lane. This will SLOW DOWN traffic, create enormous levels of tension – and someone is going to get hurt badly.

Bike lanes were never intended to be installed on Jarvis Street. The original Environmental Assessment recommended against installing bike lanes – but City Council amended the report to approve bike lanes anyway.

But the Environmental Assessment DID recommend removing the middle lane. So how does this relate to the ‘congestion’ discussion? There is nothing in this proposal to remove bike lanes that will help drivers, unless you want to ban bikes completely, re-install the middle lane with signals (huge $$$), ignore all of staff’s recommendations, crack open a 1960′s urban planning textbook, and turn Jarvis into a highway. (Problem is, where will all those cars go, when they hit the bottom of Jarvis?)

As promised during the mayoral election, I am dedicated to delivering customer service excellence, creating a transparent and accountable government, reducing the size and cost of government and building a transportation city.

“Transparent and accountable?” Nothing could be further from the truth. This process has been carefully choreographed in order to ensure that there was no public consultation. The motion was deliberately moved at the last minute (after public deputations) to stifle debate and delay opposition voices. And the local Councillor, Kristyn Wong-Tam, was completely left out of the process – along with every single resident in her ward who depend on her to represent their needs at City Hall.

The process was not ‘transparent’ – it was secretive. And it was not ‘accountable’ – it was deceptive and intentionally circumvented the proper mechanisms of accountability: Standing Committee and Public Consultation. ‘Accountability’, without consultation, is a meaningless word. Accountable to whom? To what?

Thank you again for taking the time to share your thoughts. Please feel free to contact my office again at any time. Yours truly, Mayor Rob Ford City of Toronto

Have YOU contacted the Mayor’s office and your Councillor? There is still time to be heard. Click here to join the campaign for safe streets and fair process. And click here to join us at City Council on July 12/13.

Democracy belongs to those who stand up and participate.

Originally posted to Mez Dispenser on June 29, 2011.

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